How Often Should We Receive Holy Communion? A Story
Probably the one thing that I found most puzzling during my Romanian monasteries pilgrimage is their attitude towards Holy Communion. All the days of the Suzana monastery retreat, during the Holy Liturgy nobody in the church received Holy Communion, other than the priest, not even any of the nuns, nobody! This is probably the only thing I did not like about ‘Romanian’ Orthodoxy , and I am not really sure if this attitude of theirs is an appropriate interpretation of the Fathers’ teachings.
In Greece, at the US, at the UK, everywhere I have been and I can remember having participated in Holy Liturgy, when the priest takes up the holy Cup, he proceeds to the Royal Doors, raises the holy Cup, and ‘issues an ‘order’: “Approach with the fear of God, faith, and love.” It feels so strange to listen to this in a Romanian church and immediately proceed to “Save, O God, Your people and bless Your inheritance”, with the priest lifting the holy Cup and saying: (Blessed is our God.) “Always, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Alleluia”, while NOBODY in church has received Holy Communion! I repeat NOBODY! Who is the priest blessing then?
What is the point of all Pre-Communion and communion hymns, recited and chanted, nonetheless? So, during an ordinary day, this part of the Holy Liturgy, “The servant of God (Name) receives the Body and Blood of Christ for forgiveness of sins and eternal life” is blatantly omitted! Are they then re-writing the text of St Chrysostom’s Holy Liturgy? And what about: “We have seen the true light; we have received the heavenly Spirit; we have found the true faith, worshiping the undivided Trinity, for the Trinity has saved us.” Why bother chant this, when NO ONE, I repeat NO ONE receives Holy Communion!
What is then the point of chanting “Let our mouths be filled with Your praise, Lord, that we may sing of Your glory. You have made us worthy to partake of Your holy mysteries. Keep us in Your holiness, that all the day long we may meditate upon Your righteousness. Alleluia. Alleluia. “, if NO ONE partakes of the Sacrament? And is this canonical for the meaning and existence of the Church as Christ’s mystical Body that only the priest partakes of the Sacraments? I am certainly open to suggestions and other pinions, but isn’t this ‘exclusive’ treatment of the priest distinctively non-Orthodox, possibly reminiscent of a Roman Catholic influence?
I found even more puzzling the fact that instead of the Body and Blood of Christ, the faithful are ceremoniously offered at the end of the Eucharist Holy Water and Antidoron instead ! [ie. antidoron (Greek: Ἀντίδωρον, Antídōron) is ordinary leavened bread which is blessed but not consecrated and distributed in Eastern Orthodox Churches]. In all Greek monasteries I have been, Holy Water and Antidoron are offered daily at the end of Matins [ie. Morning Prayers Service] to everybody, certainly not at the end of Holy Liturgy. Lest I be misunderstood let me add here that this custom is strictly observed on days when no Eucharist follows. For surely why on earth would there be Antidoron and Holy Water at the end of Orthros if one is going to partake of the Holy Communion, or even if they wouldn’t? Antidoron (instead of the gifts) is given out after communion, and after the liturgy is completed as a blessing from the celebrant priest. To offer it after Matins would break the fast for the Liturgy. But when no Holy Liturgy follows, then they offer it as a gift and a blessing for the day. But what a confusion with what is going on in a Romanian Holy Liturgy! It really feels as if the Romanians have kept the text of the Holy Liturgy, but re-invented some of its ‘events’, the ‘happenings’, its ‘conclusion’ indeed!
Sadly (as far as I am concerned) such an attitude is observed everywhere, not just in a ‘strict’ monastery environment, but in all Romanian parishes. This would never happen in Greece, indeed COULD NOT, and maybe in all other orthodox countries I have visited. I am told by the abbess that even nuns, whose lives are dedicated to prayer, normally receive Holy Communion only once a month (!) and only during major feasts (!), unless they ask for a ‘special’ blessing to receive Holy Communion as an exception (!), because they feel a very deep urge and need. Lay people need to make their confession immediately preceding each Holy Communion, 1 or 2 days before at the latest, to the extent that a priest will not offer Holy Communion to them at all, even if they want to; he may even refuse them Holy Communion, because he suspects the faithful has not offered properly his Confession before. Interestingly enough, no priests were available, even though we were in the church, to listen to anybody’s confession, should someone decided to ‘go by the rules’, and confess in order to receive Holy Communion.
I remember having a particular conversation with a Romanian priest, very close to me, like a spiritual father or godfather, asking him if I am allowed to receive Holy Communion here at the monastery, reassuring him that I had confessed to my spiritual father 9-10 days before the trip. I received the following very sobering answer: “Mmm, I am not sure. So many days have lapsed. I will have to ask him to see what he thinks right.” (Sigh) Oh dear, but surely we are NEVER worthy of Holy Communion, even if just an hour has lapsed from our last Confession!
In the end, I did receive Holy Communion, right before I left Romania, holding a lit candle, following the Romanian style. Again I was the only one to receive Holy Communion in a packed church, full of faithful reverently praying, bowing, making prostrations, kneeling. The ‘exception’ was made for me because the priest who knew me explained my ‘situation’ to the Romanian priest and allowed me to receive Holy Communion because I was traveling that day, as a special blessing and protection.