Brothers and sisters, in our last two monthly newsletters, we talked about orderly matters in our beloved church, the importance of being attentive and focused in our prayers in the church, and about appropriate church attire; including what is and is not appropriate. This month we will talk about communion and why we participate in it. The purpose here is not to talk about our church’s belief in communion, the transubstantiation (the changing of the simple bread and wine in the body and the blood of our Lord), or even its historical development; but, to discuss how to properly partake in the holies.
Iam sure you heard the announcement right before taking communion that “Those who approach communion must be prepared and have attended the reading of the gospel,” and then a reminder during the announcements to “Please, come early, attend the gospel, and then take communion.” I think there is a huge misunderstanding about the purpose of this announcement. For example, one time, right after I gave this announcement, a gentleman, with all sincerity, whispered in my ears, “Father, I came very late to the liturgy, but I stood on the side, opened my bible, and I read today’s gospel. Can I then take communion?!” Questions like these clearly indicate there is a great misunderstanding to the orderly matters in our church and probably in all the orthodox churches. Symptoms of this problem appear during communion time, especially during busy feast days. Things like pushing, shoving, short tempers flaring, children running away from their parent to be first in line, parents yelling at their kids to behave, and elders hurrying to get back to their seats or catch their “Access” transportation. All this is happening as the deacons chant, “Praise God in all His saints” to those who are supposed to be participating in communion.
In the Corinth church, similar observations were made that showed lack of love among the church participants. St. Paul addressed this by saying, “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” (1 Cor 11:27) Likewise, St Augustine stated, “What does it mean to receive unworthily, to receive in mockery, to receive in contempt.” “Unworthy manners” apply to our hearts that are not prepared to participate, our bodies that are not purified to hold the body and the blood of the Lord, our minds that are wondering away from the church, our lack of repentance and participation in the sacrament of confession, and most recently, our deacons who are focused only on the tunes, cymbals, triangle and working the projector. We bring great condemnation on ourselves when we partake in “unworthy manners.” We bring on ourselves sickness and death as St. Paul tells us (1 Cor 11:30).
We should now be clear on what “worthy manners” we need to focus on as we participate in the Lord’s Supper. But, we still need to understand why we need to attend the gospel if we are going to participate in communion. Is there a relationship between the gospel and communion? Can I read the gospel at home and just come at the time of communion line? The answer is no. According to the “The Principles of the Church Rules’” book for Ibn El Assal (14th century author) says, “Whoever is late coming to Church, and does not attend the reading of the Gospel, should not partake of the Holy Communion.” But, you still ask why… because, the gospel readings prepare our minds, souls and spirits for communion. The gospel puts us in the right mind set, pierces our hearts, convicts our consciences, and edifies our intellect. We cannot think that communion works magically without preparing the rest of our being to be ready to cooperate and grow. Is coming late better than never? Well, yes, but the problem is this behavior may become a bad habit. There is a difference between coming late due to unforeseen circumstances and coming late because of bad planning or laziness. Our attempt to arrive early puts pressure on us that may cause us to yell and/or scream at our families. While we arrived early, we are still unworthy of taking communion, but we may have sinned. So, let us approach Sunday as the “Day of the Lord.” Let us say with Isaiah, “with my soul I have desired you in the night” (Isaiah 29:6). Let us prepare our minds, hearts, families and homes for the Lord to come into them as we partake in communion even the night before.