Thursday, September 4, 2014

'In the Fear of God and with Faith, Draw Near!'

Dear Parish Faithful,

"In the fear of God and with faith draw near!"

As we embark upon another liturgical year in the Church, I find it helpful to "review" some of our practices with the goal of perhaps reviving or restoring a sense of vigilance and care with what we do in the Church and how we do it.  With that in mind, I am appending below an outline of "Preparing to Receive Holy Communion in a Worthy Manner."  Please read this over carefully. 

This "list" is not meant to be understood legalistically or mechanically.  It is a series of guidelines meant, once again, to help us maintain a healthy, spiritual vigilance.  We want to be careful and not careless in how we approach the Chalice on any given Sunday.  An awareness of preparation will help us resist turning the reception of the Eucharist into one more weekly routine, even if that is a "religious routine."  Nothing more deadly than routine in our ecclesial lives!

"It is time to begin the service to the Lord"

While on the subject of the Liturgy, I would like to raise the topic of arriving at the Liturgy on time for the opening doxology "Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit ..."  That opening blessing is the announcement of our destination in the Liturgy - the Kingdom of God, anticipated in our reception of the Eucharist which we receive from the heavenly banquet table in communion with the Holy Trinity and our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

One of the most set patterns in your lives can be your arrival time at the Liturgy on a weekly basis.  This may have initially been determined by the age (and behavior) of your children. (There are reasons besides having children that can also lead to just such a pattern). But that pattern sets in, perhaps never to be changed, though your children continue to grow up and mature! 

So, arriving at church at 9:45 for a Liturgy that begins at 9:30, takes on the quality of being "written in stone" week and after week - and year after year - as the saying has it.  After awhile, "late" becomes "normal," though the reasons are no longer justifiable. 

It is difficult, but not impossible, to change those patterns.  It will take some conscious planning and determination on your part, and cooperation from all family members.  Perhaps, then, as a family you may need to reconsider these seemingly unchanging patterns.  Your presence is essential to forming the Body of Christ in our liturgical assemblies.  When you do arrive at the Liturgy, it is wonderful to see you there, but please be vigilant about being careful and respectful in your approach to the Lord's Day.

The following is my breakdown of late arrival for the Liturgy:

+ After the opening blessing - late
+ After the Little Entrance - rather late
+ After the Gospel - real late
+ After the Great Entrance - no comment

Please remember the pastoral directive that if you arrive after the Gospel on any given Sunday, you should not receive Holy Communion.  That is simply too late for approaching the Chalice.

Confession of Sins

When did you last come to Confession?  If it was last Great Lent, that is already many months and a couple of fasting seasons ago. Have you been to Confession in 2014?!  If not, should you still be approaching the Chalice?  Be aware of this too.  Seek God's forgiveness within the sacramental grace of Confession as an integral and essential component of your ecclesial life.

I would be glad to answer any questions or concerns that you may have. Please contact me at your convenience.

Fr. Steven


Preparing to Receive Holy Communion In a Worthy Manner *

     We need to periodically re-examine that most important of acts that we, as Orthodox Christians, “do” on a regular basis:  receive Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ.  I heard Bp. Kallistos Ware once say when he was in the Cincinnati area, that he “was a strong proponent of frequent Communion; but an equally strong opponent of casual Communion.”  I am in full agreement with his balanced approach. Based upon his words and my own pastoral approach after many years in the priesthood, I would offer the following guidelines:

Being Prepared:

  • We are reconciled with those who have something against us  (see MATT. 5:23-24).
  • Based upon “self-examination” (I COR. 11:28), we must periodically confess our sins with a certain regularity (see JAS. 5:16; I JN. 1:9-10). The fasting seasons of the liturgical year are perfect for this.
  • Participate in the full cycle of Great Vespers - Divine Liturgy.
  • Keep the fasting discipline of the Church:  Wednesdays and Fridays and the four lenten seasons.
  • Eating or drinking nothing on the morning of the Liturgy.
  • Praying as part of our preparation (the pre-Communion prayers, etc.).
  • Be present for the whole Divine Liturgy; but certainly no later than the Epistle and Gospel reading.
  • Realizing with our mind and heart that we are receiving a gift from God, not something that we have “earned.”

Being Unprepared:

  • Not having reconciled ourselves with someone who may have something against us (see MATT. 5:23-24).
  • Neglecting to “examine” ourselves (I COR. 11:28) and confess our sins with any regularity or pattern.
  • Being absent from the Liturgy for a period of time (Canon Law states three consecutive Sundays).
  • Neglecting to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.
  • Neglecting to keep the total fast on the morning of the Liturgy.
  • Neglecting to pray as part of our preparation.
  • Arriving for the Liturgy later than the Gospel.
  • Believing that we have “earned” Holy Communion by keeping all the “rules” of the Church.

The observant reader will immediately notice that being unprepared is simply the opposite of the liturgical discipline outlined above as a means of approaching the Chalice in a worthy manner. Therefore let us prepare so as to be regular communicants and not casual communicants.

* Read Fr. Steven's original, full-length, article, with many further insights and references from the Scriptures and the lives and writings of the saints: 'Preparing to Receive Holy Communion in a Worthy Manner'.

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