Regarding Frequent Communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ
Taken from a 2005 interview with the Very Most Reverend Hilarion, Metropolitan of Volokalamsk and reprinted in the Parish Life publication of St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Washington, DC.
(...) The foundations of Christian spiritual life, and of the life of the church community are the Eucharist, the Liturgy, and Holy Communion. Eucharistic piety is the rock upon which any religious community is founded. I note that wherever Communion is infrequent, where people approach the Holy Chalice only on major feasts or on other special occasions, it is very difficult, nay, even impossible, to form a strong church community, for it lacks the foundation on which it could be built. Without that foundation, it is impossible to build a strong family, which is called to be a “little Church,” for it can become such a little Church only if its members regularly commune. For that reason, in my homilies, I call upon parishioners to commune as often as possible, and consider that in principle, every Christian has the right to commune each time he attends the Liturgy. Of course, this is with the condition that he observes the rules of the Church, that he lives according to the Church calendar, and that his manner of life corresponds to the moral norms established by the Church. If all of those conditions are observed, there is no impediment to communing at every Liturgy.
Moreover, I consider it ecclesiastically nonsensical to attend the Liturgy without communing. Christ’s words, spoken by the priest: “Take, eat, this is My Body,” and “Drink of it all of you; this is My Blood of the New Testament…” and the deacon’s words, “With fear of God, and faith, draw nigh,” are addressed to everyone in the church, not to some category of people, e.g., those who have prepared for Holy Communion. Of course, here it is necessary to avoid extremes, and it is important that, in accordance with the words of the Holy Apostle St. Paul, one should approach the Holy Mysteries of Christ with discernment, lest Communion become a ritual formality, and frequent Communion engender a sense of becoming accustomed to that greatest of Mysteries. But I repeat that frequent, regular Communion should be the foundation of the spiritual life of any Christian. It is hard for me to imagine my life without Communion at least once a week. In a certain sense, I live from one Sunday to the next, from one Feast to the next. It is Communion that gives one the strength to be a Christian. 3
Vladyka, a question regarding the [prayer] rule: According to the ustav of the Russian Orthodox Church, there exists an entire collection of prayers before Communion, that one is to read before approaching this Mystery. If you take into account the rhythm/pace of daily life of most people, especially young people, it is quite difficult to read all of these prayers. As a result, many do not approach the Holy Chalice because they are incapable of preparing for Communion as required.
First of all, there is no official ustav in the Russian Orthodox Church that would dictate what one must read before communing of the Holy Mysteries of Christ. Prayer books include an Order of [preparation for] Holy Communion: Prayer books contain the Order of Preparation for Holy Communion. That Order is not part of the daily cycle of services, is not mentioned anywhere in the Typicon, but is a collection of prayers, composed over the course of centuries, which help Christians to get in the proper frame of mind and to appropriately prepare for Holy Communion. I think that it is not something requiring a great deal of time or great sacrifices to read that Order once a week, on Saturday evening, in preparation for receiving the Holy Mysteries of Christ. I think that those students, educators, workers, and those who are raising children can all find the twenty minutes needed to read that rule. If finding even twenty minutes is impossible, the Rule may be shortened to but a few prayers. After all, the point is not to simply read a certain number of prayers, but to focus oneself in an appropriate manner, and to spiritually prepare oneself to receive the Mysteries of Christ. Sometimes it is more beneficial to read but one prayer, several times, slowly, with due comprehension, reflecting on and feeling every word, than it is to read the entire Order absentmindedly, with one’s thoughts straying elsewhere.
There also exists the practice of reading canons and akathists before receiving the Holy Mysteries of Christ. There are spiritual directors who require of their spiritual charges that they follow that practice. For example, they say that before communing, one must read at least three canons, and one akathist, in addition to the Order of Preparation for Holy Communion. Personally, I do not agree with such a requirement. First of all, they are not prescribed by any Church ustav; it is but a pious tradition 4
not directed in any Church ustav. Secondly, if one wants to read canons and akathists and has the time to do so, he can but reap benefit from such reading. However, I consider making reading those canons and akathists a condition for Communion to be quite incorrect. By doing so, we only frighten people away from the Holy Chalice, depriving them of what is the very heart and foundation of the Christian life, Communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ.
As with other like questions, you need to look for the answer in the Church ustav, in the Typicon. Is there place in the Typicon that directs observing fasts in addition to those established by the Holy Church? No. Does any other ustav adopted and approved by the Church as generally obligatory direct such fasts? They do not. For one who communes infrequently, who does not observe the Fasts, who is far removed from the Church, it is useful to fast for a few days before Communion. However, it seems to me that if one observes the Fasts established by the Church – and these include four lengthy Fasts, in addition to fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year – he should not be required to observe some kind of supplementary fasts. Moreover, open up the Orthodox anti-Catholic catechism published in the 19th Century and still used in some seminaries as an educational resource, and you will see that the Catholic Church is criticized for instituting Saturday as a Fast day. It also says that fasting on Saturday is contrary to the Church statutes. Thus, people who observe the Fasts and Church rules should not be given any kind of additional obligations. I would recommend to those who fast on Wednesday and Friday that on Sundays and Feast Days, they approach to commune of the Holy Mysteries of Christ with an untroubled conscience.
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