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Priest

DANIEL SYSOEV

HOW OFTEN SHOULD ONE COMMUNE? Deacon

GEORGIY MAXIMOV

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE PRACTICE OF FREQUENT COMMUNION Translated by Deacon

Nathan Williams

The Rev. Daniel Sysoev Missionary Center Benevolent Fund Moscow 2014

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BBC 86.372 UDC 271.22 S 95 Approved by the Publications Board of the Russian Orthodox Church PB 11-114-1486

S 95

Priest Daniel Sysoev. Deacon Georgiy Maximov. How Often Should One Commune? The Truth About the Practice of Frequent  Communion. Moscow, 2014. The Rev. Daniel Sysoev Missionary Center Benevolent Fund. — 128 p. ISBN 978-5-4279-0019-5

Every Christian gives thought to the question of how often one should commune. In asking the advice of various priests, one may hear opinions that discourage frequent communion by the laity, or on the contrary one may be advised to approach the Holy Chalice as often as possible, especially on holy days. In certain churches it has been the practice since Soviet times not to commune parishioners on Pascha and Bright Week. But what does the Church say about this? What canons and rules exist to determine the frequency with which the faithful take part in the sacrament of Holy Communion? This booklet explains the necessity of frequent communion, presenting the reader with detailed supporting arguments from the works of the Holy Fathers and the church canons.

BBC 86.372 UDC 271.22 © Yulia Sysoeva, 2014 © The Rev. Daniel Sysoev Missionary Center Benevolent Fund, 2014


Priest Daniel Sysoev

How Often Should One Commune?


Priest Daniel Sysoev

How Often Should One Commune?

The mighty right hand of God brought down the fiery scourge of persecutions upon the Russian Church in vengeance for mass apostasy from God. And this punishment has not gone without fruit. Whereas in the Synodal period people were predominantly lukewarm with regard to their salvation, for which they were severely denounced by such great saints as Ignatius (Brianchaninov), Theophan the Recluse, and John of Kronstadt, these purifying sufferings lead to a recovery of spiritual life, evinced by a growing desire to be united with Christ in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Before the revolution those who strove to commune frequently were few and far between, and communing each month was considered a feat of near asceticism, with most people approaching the Holy Chalice but once a year. With the onset of the persecutions, however, communing each week became the norm. Thus, the Holy Spirit Himself enlivened the hearts of the children of God. The New Martyrs of Russia understood that they would never have been able to endure the onslaught of persecutions had they not been strengthened by the Body and Blood of Christ.


Several Abuses of Frequent Communion

This eucharistic rebirth was so forceful that it even gave rise to several excesses. For example, in 1931 the Patriarchal Synod was petitioned to permit the Divine Liturgy to be served on weekdays of Great Lent to facilitate daily communion. The Synod decreed: “The desire that Orthodox Christians commune as frequently as possible, and that the most proficient of these should even commune each Sunday, shall be deemed acceptable; while the proposal of obligatory daily communion, being frequently not unto the spiritual benefit of the communicants and not in keeping with the age-old practice of the Holy Church — and, consequently, in particular the petition of Countess L.E. Ivanova and company to restore the practice of serving the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts on every weekday of the Holy Quadragesima and on Great Friday — shall be dismissed” (Order № 85 dated 05.13.1931; Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate 1931, № 5). Another abuse of the practice of frequent communion involved perceiving the Eucharist as a kind of duty (as preparing for Holy Communion was in fact termed in prerevolutionary texts), where people en6


Several Abuses of Frequent Communion

amored with the mindset of the “Parisian school” began perceiving communion as a means of “maintaining church unity”. They began to assert that Communion is not to be received for personal sanctification, thereby radically contradicting the very spirit of biblical personalism and the explicit words of the Lord Jesus Christ (see Jn. 6).


Communion in Practice Today

And yet, despite all we have said, it is the practice of frequent partaking of Holy Communion that gave the church body the strength to endure the theomachistic persecutions, and to see the fantastic renaissance of the 1990s. Divine Providence so arranged things that at this precise point in time the inspired work of Saints Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain and Macarius of Corinth  — A  Most Edifying Book on Constant Communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ  — was published in the Russian language. This book draws on the clear and direct witness of Holy Scripture, canon law, and the Holy Fathers to demonstrate in detail the necessity of piously communing with all possible frequency, and refutes all objections raised by the lazy against frequent union with Christ. This work so clearly and precisely expounds the sound teaching of the Church that it would seem to leave no need for any other. It is no accident that the majority of experienced and authoritative contemporary priests voice their support for frequent partaking of the Lord’s Cup, as shown at the Moscow pastoral conferences of 1996 and 2006. 8


Communion in Practice Today

Unfortunately, however, the renaissance years gave rise not only to the wheat of pure Orthodoxy, but also the tares of lukewarmness and spiritual laziness, justified by referencing the practice of the Synodal period. While the majority of authoritative priests voice their support for partaking of the Holy Mysteries of Christ as frequently as possible, in accordance with the practice of other local churches as well as Holy Mount Athos, certain fathers (frequently those appointed in the time of the USSR) do not suffer pious Christians to come unto Christ. These assert that, allegedly, over-frequent communion invariably leads to spiritual delusion and degradation of spiritual life. Furthermore, they claim to be defending a tradition of sorts that can be traced back to the New Martyrs. Unfortunately, this tendency has found support in Holy Fire magazine, authoritative for many by virtue of its uncompromising stance in defense of Orthodoxy (№ 16, Moscow, 2007). In it, two works against frequent communion were published (by Archpriest V. Pravdolyubov, “The True Significance of the Over-Frequent Communion Preached Today”, and Rev. I. Belov and N. Kaverin, “Over-Frequent Communion and Renovationism”), under the heading of “liturgical counter-reformation”. These works may be called a manifesto of the opponents of those who wish to be united with Christ.


Where The Opponents of Frequent Communion are Correct

Let us begin by saying in what we must agree with the authors. Indeed, certain proponents of frequent communion attempt to turn communing with Christ into a mere means of demonstrating one’s unity with the community. Increase text size to match precesing paragraph.

Nevertheless, we strive primarily to be united not with men, but with the God-man. For one earthly thing cannot heal another, as says John of the Ladder. And Communion is the medicine of immortality, leading us up into divine eternity. It is in the Heavens that the Church has its foundation. And it is in the Chalice that the hateful discord of this world is overcome. The emphasis which the Reformationists place on the union of men actually stems from the fact that, for many of them, Communion is not the actual Body of Christ, but a symbol. For the sound Orthodox mind this heretical approach to the Eucharist is completely inadmissible. Likewise inadmissible is the view of adherents of the “Parisian school”: that the royal priesthood of the laity finds its expression in their concelebration of 10


Where The Opponents of Frequent Communion are Correct

the Eucharist. The Gospel says that it was specifically the apostles whom the Lord commanded to perform the sacrament of Communion. And the apostle Paul says: Let a man so account of us [apostles] as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1). The apostle Paul differentiated sharply between the ministry of the celebrant and the common ministry of all God’s children (1 Cor. 12:27-30). Not one document of the ancient Church states, nor in the entire history of Orthodoxy has any of the saints ever said, that the laity concelebrate with the presbyters as priests or, still less, that they have delegated that authority to the celebrants. On the contrary, it is obvious to us that the true Offerer of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is Christ Himself, acting through the celebrant. In the Church everything is from God the Father, through God the Son, in the Holy Spirit. In discussing how the royal priesthood of the laity is manifested in the Eucharist, we might point out how, according to Chrysostom, priests and laity are equal in the very act of communion. Whereas in the Old Testament the laity could not partake of the great sacrifice, today both priest and layman commune of one and the same Body and Blood. Here we see that the Orthodox Church (unlike medieval Roman Catholicism) has remained faithful to the Lord’s command: “Drink ye all of this Cup”. 11


How Often Should One Commune?

The opponents are likewise correct in emphasizing the need to remain vigilant over our hearts so as to commune worthily. Indeed, the modernists categorically lack sufficient fear of God not only in communing, but in general in their approach to any holy thing, including God’s Word.


False Views of the Opponents of Frequent Communion

However, these misguided zealots frequently draw false conclusions from the accurate statements above, thinking that frequent communion by definition deprives us of piety. No, the fear of God is in no way dependent on external factors (such as frequency of communion, frequency of attending God’s temple, etc.); rather, it is dependent on attentiveness to one’s heart. If the zealots are correct, does this not mean that all priests are lost? Has Eternal Life brought death upon them and upon all those who commune frequently? Then Saint John of Kronstadt must have been wrong to serve the Liturgy daily and call others to commune with all possible frequency. Or perhaps he was no man at all, but some other kind of creature? Does the Lord and Savior Himself really consider the time when men approach, rather than their hearts? Were the holy apostles who daily communed with Christ somehow bereft of reverence? No, this teaching is foreign to the Holy Fathers. According to the wonderful words of Saint John Cassian of Rome, “Though we know that we are not without sin, yet we must not depart from Holy Communion … 13


How Often Should One Commune?

And whoever shall be purer in spirit shall all the more see himself as impure, and shall find more reasons for humility than for exaltation … We must not refrain from communing of the Lord because we acknowledge ourselves sinners; rather, with ever increasing thirst we must needs hurry to Him for healing of soul and cleansing of spirit, though with such humility of spirit and such faith that, while considering ourselves unworthy to receive such grace, we might desire still more balm for our wounds. Otherwise it would be impossible to commune worthily even but once yearly, as do some who, living in monasteries, so esteem the merit, sanctification, and beneficence of the heavenly Mysteries that they believe only the holy and unblemished should partake of them. It would be better to believe that, by communicating grace, these Mysteries make us pure and holy” (Talks, 23:21). Similar advice is found in the Questions and Answers of Saints Barsanuphius and John: “Therefore, do not forbid yourself to approach, condemning yourself as sinful, but acknowledge that a sinner who approaches the Savior is vouchsafed remission of sins. In the Scriptures also we see those who approached Him with faith and heard that divine voice: ‘Thy sins which are many are forgiven’. Had the one who approached Him been worthy, he would have had no sins; but as he was a sinner and a debtor, he received forgiveness of sins. Hearken to the Lord Himself, Who says: I am not come 14


False Views of the Opponents of Frequent Communion

to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance; and again: They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. Thus, acknowledge yourself to be sinful and sick, and approach Him Who is able to save the lost” (Answer 460). “When sinners approach the Holy Mysteries as ones wounded and begging for mercy, the Lord Himself heals them and makes them worthy of His Mysteries. For He said: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance; and again: They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. And no-one should consider himself worthy of communing, but rather should say: I am unworthy, but I believe that I am sanctified through communion. And this will be performed in him by our Lord Jesus Christ according to his faith” (Answer 461).


The Opponents’ Denial of God’s Presence in the Church

It may come as a surprise that, while speaking out against Renovationism, the ‘communoclasts’ actually profess true modernism. They claim that the Church continues to grow and develop even in those matters that concern both the Sacrament and God’s commandments. Being unable to deny that ‘over-frequent’ Communion, as they call it, was practiced in biblical times (as testified in the book of Acts), they claim that at that time all people without exception were saints, whereas today such sanctity is extremely rare (if indeed it is possible at all). Consequently, the practice of that time does not apply to our own. Of course, they do not indicate where this line of applicability is drawn. In the minds of the communoclasts (and other injudicious zealots), the Church’s history is one of unbroken regression. In apostolic times everything was wonderful; then things took a turn for the worse; in the 19th century Saint Ignatius wrote that everything was terrible; and our own times do not even bear thinking about. In fact, this is the same mythologem to which the Renovationists adhere, though in slightly more pessi16


The Opponents’ Denial of God’s Presence in the Church

mistic form. Both hold that Christ failed to keep His promise and has forgotten the Church, and that the Holy Spirit has gone off somewhere. In both cases we find the subconscious conviction that today’s society is bereft of God’s care. In fact, the only difference is that the communoclasts simply throw up their hands and try to retain the remnants of the past by inertia, while the Renovationists try to rectify the situation through their own human abilities. But both share the same outlook. It is the oppressive sense of man’s autonomy, and the idea that sanctity is supposedly not possible for anyone today, except perhaps for a few isolated supermen. Even the very idea of attempting to live in constant communion with God is seen by both as either fanaticism (the Renovationists’ view) or spiritual delusion (that of the zealots). And the idea that communion with God must occupy the life of an entire society is perceived as downright scandalous: what kind of eucharistic rebirth can there be when apostasy is all around us?! (Bear in mind that according to the fathers of the Church — Chrysostom and others — apostasy will come only in the time of the Antichrist.) Theologically, this position could be deemed radical Pelagianism, and with regard to the Church — a denial of its divine heart. In fact, the Son of God has not deserted the Church, and the Spirit of God leads her just as in the first, and the nineteenth, and the twenty-first centu17


How Often Should One Commune?

ries. Yes, the Synodal period ought not to be considered a barren desert. But neither is the Church a barren desert today. In our own time achieving sanctity is as possible as it was a hundred or a thousand years ago. But today, as then, sanctity can only be obtained from the Holy Chalice.


The Scriptures on Frequent Communion

Where, then, can we find the criteria for the rightness of this or that practice? The answer is simple: in Holy Scripture and the glorified fathers of the Church. If we look to this source, the answer will be obvious. The great Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain (who, incidentally, is the compiler of the Philokalia — the original handbook on spiritual life) says the following: “Before administering the sacrament of Communion, our Lord Jesus Christ said: the bread that I will give is My Flesh, which I will give for the life of the world ( Jn. 6:51). In other words, the food which I want to give you is My Flesh, which I want to give to give life to the whole world. This means that, for believers, Divine Communion is an essential, integral part of spiritual, Christ-emulating life. But inasmuch as this spiritual, Christ-emulating life must not be quenched and interrupted (as the apostle says: Quench not the spirit — 1 Thess. 5:19), but rather must be constant and uninterrupted, that the living might live not for themselves, but for Him Who died for them and rose again (as says the same apostle — 2 Cor. 5:15); in other words, so 19


How Often Should One Commune?

that the living faithful might no longer live their own, fleshly life, but the life of Christ, Who died and rose again for them — it is urgently necessary, therefore, to likewise maintain uninterrupted that which comprises this life: Divine Communion. “And in another place the Lord says imperatively: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of man, and drink His Blood, ye have no life in you ( Jn. 6:53). “From these words we see clearly that Divine Communion is as essential for Christians as holy baptism, inasmuch as the same twofold command which He gave concerning baptism, He likewise gave concerning Divine Communion: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God ( Jn. 3:5). And similarly, of Divine Communion: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of man, and drink His Blood, ye have no life in you. Thus, just as it is impossible for anyone to live the spiritual life and be saved without baptism, so also it is impossible for anyone to live without Divine Communion. However, inasmuch as these two [sacraments] have that distinction that baptism occurs but once, while Divine Communion takes place continually and daily, this leads us to the conclusion that in Divine Communion there are two essential elements: firstly, it must take place, and secondly, it must take place continually. 20


The Scriptures on Frequent Communion

“Furthermore, when the Lord administered this Sacrament to His disciples He did not say to them, by way of advice: ‘If any man will, let him eat My Body, and if any man will, let him drink My Blood,’ as He said: If any man will come after Me (Mt. 16:24) and If thou wilt be perfect (Mt. 19:21). Rather, He declared imperatively: Take, eat; this is My Body, and Drink ye all of it; for this is My Blood (Mt. 26:26-28) — i.e., it is imperative that you eat My Body and you must absolutely drink My Blood. And again He says: this do in remembrance of Me (Lk. 22:19) — i.e., I administer to you this Sacrament that it might be performed not once, not twice, not three times, but daily (as the divine Chrysostom explains) in remembrance of My sufferings, My death, and My entire economy of salvation. “These words of the Lord clearly present two essential elements in Communion: one lies in the imperative command they contain, and the other in the duration indicated by the continuous tense of the verb to ‘do’, which clearly signifies that we are commanded not merely to commune, but to commune unceasingly. Thus, each must now see that an Orthodox person is not permitted to violate this command, whatever his rank; rather, he is charged with the duty and obligation to preserve this unfailingly, and to accept this as the commandment and institution of the Master. “At the outset of the Gospel preaching the divine apostles, following this emphatic command of 21


How Often Should One Commune?

our Lord, began gathering at the earliest opportunity with all the faithful in a secret place for fear of the Jews ( Jn. 20:19), taught the Christians, prayed, and, in performing the Sacrament, communed themselves along with all those gathered, as the apostle Luke testifies in the Acts of the Apostles, where he says that the three thousand who believed in Christ on the day of Pentecost and received baptism were with the apostles in order to hear their teaching and gain benefit from them, to pray with them, and to commune of the Holy Mysteries, that they might be sanctified and be better confirmed in the faith of Christ. And they continued steadfastly, he says, in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:42)” (Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain and Saint Macarius of Corinth, An Edifying Book on Constant Communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, 1–2). The Holy Scriptures say nothing about limiting the times for admission to the Holy Mysteries. The only limitation concerns not time, but the condition of the human heart. The first prohibition that the apostle gives is that no-one may come to Communion who eats food sacrificed to idols: Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than He? (1 Cor. 10:21-22.) 22


The Scriptures on Frequent Communion

This requirement is particularly pertinent today, when even churched Christians dare to partake of the Holy Mysteries while also partaking of matzo or of the sacrificial meat of Islamic feasts. But these words have absolutely nothing to do with the purported soul-destructiveness of frequent communion. For this reason the communoclasts usually cite what the apostle Paul says in another place: When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread: and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is My Body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of Me. After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in My Blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till He come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh un23


How Often Should One Commune?

worthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s Body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come (1 Cor. 11:20-34). From this text [the opponents of frequent communion] draw the following logical chain: it is dangerous to commune unworthily, not discerning the Body and Blood of the Lord. If one communes frequently, it is impossible to preserve reverence. Ergo, people should commune infrequently. Upon carefully rereading the sacred text, however, we see that the second premise is ‘penciled in’. It is not found in the words of Holy Scripture. The apostle Paul did not say “commune less frequently”; rather, he proposed that people evaluate and examine themselves, and that those who are hungry eat at home. Thus, the apologists for infrequent communion are using God’s Word as a hook on which to hang their own ideas. God’s Word in no way requires that communing be limited to a certain time; rather, it commands us to cleanse our hearts through remorse for our sins and the desire to reform, and then to approach. 24


The Scriptures on Frequent Communion

Chrysostom explains these words likewise: “Instead of trying to come [to Communion] prepared, cleansed of all evil, and with full reverence, we try to come on the feasts and when everyone else is doing so. This is not what Paul commands. He knows but one time for participation in the Sacrament of Communion: when the conscience is pure. If we do not go to a sensory meal when sick with fever and emitting noisome fluids, so as not to suffer death, all the more so ought we not to partake of this meal when afflicted with corrupt desires, which are worse than fever. By corrupt desires I mean both carnal desires and acquisitiveness, anger, remembrance of wrongs, and all corrupt inclinations in general. One who approaches should be cleansed of all this and only then partake of this pure sacrifice, and not with negligence and slothfulness, as though obligated to approach simply because it is a feast; conversely, when contrition and preparedness are present, he should not postpone communing because it is not a feast. The feast is the doing of good works, piety of soul, and austerity of life: if you have these, then you may always celebrate and always approach. For this reason [the apostle] says to let each man examine himself, and so let him eat. He commands not to examine each other, but each himself, holding closed court, and accusing without witnesses� (Homilies on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, 28:1). 25


How Often Should One Commune?

Blessed Theophylact of Bulgaria gives a similar explanation of these words: “When in any given statement Paul is obliged to include something additional, he customarily follows up on the latter. The same is true here. The meals were mentioned first. But having mentioned the Sacrament, he turns his attention to this subject as being the most essential, and indicates the greatest good to be had in approaching with a pure conscience, saying: I do not appoint another to be a judge over you, but you yourself. Therefore, be justified before your conscience, and in this way approach, not when there is a feast, but when you find yourself pure and worthy.” (Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians). Thus, Saint John and Blessed Theophylact understand the apostle’s words to mean the opposite of what the opponents of frequent communion wish to read into them. The apostle Paul is convinced that a man must cleanse his conscience himself through contrition over his sins, and furthermore must stand witness against himself. The Russian Church (in contrast to the Eastern Patriarchates) has departed from this principle, introducing obligatory confession before Communion; but then this is beneficial for our weakened society, which frequently does not consider even abortion a sin. On the other hand, it is important to remember that neither God nor the Church has given the priest 26


The Scriptures on Frequent Communion

the right to bar from Communion those who, having committed no mortal sin and having repented of their day-to-day transgressions, wish to partake of this great Sacrament. We see that the opponents of frequent communion have no supporting evidence from Holy Scripture, while their references to God’s Word contradict the explanation of the Holy Fathers, in violation of the 19th canon of the Council of Trullo.


The Church Canons on Frequent Communion

It is no accident that the opponents of frequent communion are obliged to grossly reinterpret canonical resolutions directly related to frequent communion. There are in fact three church canons governing the issue of frequency of communion for Christians not excommunicated from the Church. The 8th apostolic canon punishes a clergyman who refuses to commune at Liturgy, while the 9th apostolic canon imposes a penance on a layman who does not participate in communion. Here we cite the text of this canon: “All the faithful who enter the church and listen to the Scriptures, but do not remain until the end for the prayer and for Holy Communion, should be excommunicated as causing disorder in the Church.” The meaning of this canon is fairly obvious. As explained by the best known commentator of the canons, Patriarch Theodore Balsamon, “the dictate of this canon is most severe. For it excommunicates those who come to church but do not remain until the end and do not commune. And other canons (the 80th canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council and the 11th canon of the Council of Sardica) similarly dictate that all must 28


The Church Canons on Frequent Communion

be prepared and worthy of communion, and subjects to excommunication those who do not commune for three consecutive Sundays.” John Zonaras explains this canon likewise: “This rule requires that all remain until the end while the holy sacrifice is being made, for the prayer and for Holy Communion. For at that time the laity were also required to commune continually. There is a canon of the Council of Sardica, and another of that of Trullo, and also a canon of the Council of Antioch, that prescribes excommunication for anyone who is present at the divine service for three Sundays and does not commune”1. In order to exclude any possibility of understanding this canon differently, in the second canon of the Council of Antioch the Church decreed: “Let all who enter the church and listen to Holy Scripture, but through a certain deviation from order do not take part in prayer with the people, or shun communion of the Holy Eucharist, be excommunicated from the Church until they make confession, manifest the fruits of repentance, and ask forgiveness, and thus are made able to receive it.” Explaining this rule, Zonaras writes: “The Fathers determined that those who enter the church but do not remain for the prayer and do not commune through 1

 The Canons of the Holy Apostles and the Holy Fathers with Commentary, Moscow, 2000, pp. 28–29. 29


How Often Should One Commune?

disorderliness, i.e., without a blessed reason, but rather in disorderly and unreasoned manner, be cast out of the Church, that is, excommunicated, and remain outside the assembly of the faithful. The deviation which the fathers mention here is not when someone hates Divine Communion and for this reason does not come to commune, but rather when someone avoids it out of piety, perhaps, and out of supposed humble-mindedness. For if they were avoiding Holy Communion out of hatred and disgust, they would not merely be barred from Communion, but would be cut off permanently from the Church and declared anathema”2. Thus, according to the canons, the person called to account is not he who wishes to commune at Liturgy, but he who avoids Communion. The “blessed reason”, as we see, cannot be “reverence” for the Sacrament or “humble-mindedness”, which the opponents of frequent communion consider something great. On the contrary, the canons prescribe strict punishment for such “reverent” people. If we cite the authority of Chrysostom, a valid reason might be an inner passion (for example, irritation on Sunday morning that cannot be calmed). The canons likewise include things such as lust-induced defilement, or menstruation for women. 2

 The Canons of the Holy Local Councils with Commentary, Moscow, 2000, p. 144. Aristin writes the same in his commentary on this canon. 30


The Church Canons on Frequent Communion

It is for these, says Balsamon, that antidoron is intended. Balsamon likewise says that those who leave the church along with the catechumens immediately after the Gospel reading do not transgress this canon. Nevertheless, the standard is to commune at each Liturgy that the Christian attends, but not less often than once in three weeks. An Orthodox Christian who preserves the Nicean faith, does not fall into mortal sins, and observes the canonical fasts (including the eucharistic fast, from midnight) is entitled to commune unless proven otherwise. Finally, in defense of communing as frequently as possible we have the 66th canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council: “From the holy day of the Resurrection of Christ our God until the next Sunday, throughout the whole week the faithful in the holy churches must continually be occupied in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, rejoicing and triumphing in Christ, and attending to the reading of the divine Scriptures, and enjoying the Holy Mysteries. For in this way we will be resurrected and ascend together with Christ. For this cause on the days indicated by no means let horse racing or other public entertainments be held.” This canon is often grossly violated. In addition to the fact that in many churches that remain open the Holy Mysteries are not given on the night of Pascha itself (in direct violation of the canons and contrary to the words of Chrysostom: “The table is full-laden, de31


How Often Should One Commune?

light ye all. The calf is fatted; let none go forth hungry. Let all enjoy the feast of faith”), Communion is also refused to faithful Christians on Bright Week. This very year, on Bright Monday one Orthodox Christian woman who had faithfully observed Great Lent was refused Communion in three churches! This is an outrageous trampling of the canons in the name of the “tradition of the elders”. According to Balsamon, “all the faithful must be prepared to partake of the Holy Mysteries of Christ each day, if possible, as other canons likewise state. How is it, one might ask, given this definition of the canon, that after the first three days of this week tradesmen return to their work? I think they are wrong in doing so…”3 We see that the church canons do their upmost to facilitate access to the Holy Chalice for faithful and pious Christians, while barring the way for the heterodox and those engulfed in mortal sins. This approach has its origins directly from Holy Scripture and is confirmed by the teaching of the Church Fathers, yet is rejected by the advocates of infrequent communion. Of these the Gospel says: For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers (Mt. 23:4). 3  The Canons of the Holy Ecumenical Counsels with Commentary, Moscow, 2000, p. 499).

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The Church Canons on Frequent Communion

They transgress the commandment of God by the tradition of the elders (Mt. 15:3). Rightly did Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain denounce such ones: “Priests who do not commune Christians who come to Divine Communion with piety and faith are judged by God as murderers, as it is written by the prophet Hosea: The priests concealed the way [of the Lord]; they acted the murder at Sikima. Because they committed iniquity (Hos. 6:9)4 — i.e., the priests concealed the way, the will, and the commandment of God, and did not proclaim it; they murdered Sikima and committed iniquity in the midst of My people. But I am amazed and perplexed when I see priests who drive away those who approach the Mysteries. It does not even occur to them that the very words they speak are made false. For at the end of the Liturgy they themselves loudly proclaim and summon all the faithful, saying: “With the fear of God and with faith and love, draw nigh”; i.e., approach the Mysteries and commune. Then again they renounce their own words and drive away those who approach. I do not know what to call this kind of disorder.”

4

The Holy Bible, from the Greek Septuagint text in the English translation by Charles Thomson. Printed by Jane Aitken, No. 71 North Third Street, Philadelphia, 1808. — Trans.


The Holy Fathers on Frequent Communion

If we turn to our patristic heritage, we will see that the ocean of evidence supporting frequent communion is so vast as to simply swallow up the drop of evidence of its opponents. We need only list the saints who spoke out in favor of communing as frequently as possible to ascertain that this practice is an integral part of Holy Tradition. Those who spoke in favor of frequent communion include Saints Ignatius the God-bearer, Justin the Philosopher, the Martyrs of Africa, Cyprian of Carthage, Athanasius the Great, Ambrose of Milan, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nissa, John Chrysostom, Gennadius of Constantinople, Cyril of Alexandria, Onouphrius the Great, Macarius the Great, Anthony the Great, Barsanuphius the Great, John the Prophet, Hesychius of Jerusalem, Abba Apolonius, Jerome of Stridon, Theodore the Studite, John Cassian of Rome, Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, Macarius of Corinth, Nectarios of Aegina, John of Kronstadt, Alexis (Mechev), Seraphim (Zvezdinsky), and a countless multitude of others. Numerous citations confirming this may be found in the excellent work by Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain. 34


The Holy Fathers on Frequent Communion

Here we will cite but a few instances by way of evidence. Saint John Chrysostom writes the following: “I observe many partaking of Christ’s Body lightly and just as it happens, and rather from custom and form, than consideration and understanding. When, says a man, the holy season of Lent sets in, whatever a man may be [by inner disposition], he partakes of the Mysteries, or, when the day of the Lord’s Epiphany comes. And yet it is not the Epiphany, nor is it Lent, that makes a fit time for approaching [the Sacrament], but it is sincerity and purity of soul. With this, approach at all times; without it, never. For as often says [the apostle], as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till He come (1 Cor. 11:26); i.e., you make a remembrance of the salvation that has been wrought for you, and of the benefits which I have bestowed. “Consider those who partook of the sacrifices under the old Covenant, how great abstinence did they practice? How did they not conduct themselves? What did they not perform? They were always purifying themselves. And do you, when you draw near to a sacrifice, at which the very Angels tremble, do you measure the matter by the revolutions of seasons? And how shall you present yourself before the judgment-seat of Christ, you who presume upon His body with polluted hands and lips? You would not presume to kiss a king with an unclean mouth, and the King of heaven do you kiss with an unclean soul? It is an outrage. Tell 35


How Often Should One Commune?

me, would you choose to come to the Sacrifice with unwashed hands? No, I suppose not. Rather, you would choose not to come at all than to come with soiled hands. And then, thus scrupulous as you are in this little matter, do you come with soiled soul, and thus dare to touch [the great Sacrifice]? “And yet the hands hold it but for a time, whereas into the soul it is dissolved entirely. What, do you not see the holy vessels so thoroughly cleansed all over, so resplendent? Our souls ought to be purer than they, more holy, more brilliant. And why so? Because those vessels are [washed and made clean] for our sakes. They partake not of Him that is in them, they perceive Him not. But we do — yes, verily. Now then, you would not choose to make use of a soiled vessel [during worship], and do you approach [the Sacrament] with a soiled soul? Observe the vast inconsistency of the thing. At other times you come not, no, though often you are clean [in soul]; but at Easter, however flagrant an act you may have committed, you come. Oh! The force of custom and of prejudice! In vain is the daily Sacrifice, in vain do we stand before the Altar; there is no one to partake. “These things I am saying, not to induce you to partake any how, but that you should render yourselves worthy to partake. Are you not worthy of the Sacrifice, nor of the participation? If so, then neither are you of the prayer [at the Liturgy of the faithful]. You hear the 36


The Holy Fathers on Frequent Communion

deacon, standing, and saying, As many as are in penitence, all pray. As many as do not partake, are in penitence. If you are one of those that are in penitence, you ought not to partake; for he that partakes not is one of those that are in penitence. Why then does [the deacon] say, Depart, you that are not qualified to pray, yet you have the effrontery to stand still? But no, you are not of that number [of those that are in penitence], you are of the number of those who are qualified to partake, and yet art indifferent about it, and regard the matter as nothing. “Look, I entreat you: a royal table is set before you, Angels minister at that table, the King Himself is there, and do you stand gaping? Are your garments defiled, and yet do you make no account of it? — or are they clean? Then fall down and partake. Every day [the King] comes in to see the guests, and converses with them all. Yes, at this moment is he speaking to your conscience: Friends, how are you standing here, not having on a wedding garment? He said not [to him who had no wedding garment], Why did you sit down? No, before he sat down, He declared him to be unworthy, so much as to come in. He says not, Why did you sit down to eat, but, Why did you come in? “And these are the words that He is at this very moment addressing to one and all of us that stand here with such shameless effrontery. For every one that partakes not of the mysteries is standing here in shameless 37


How Often Should One Commune?

effrontery. It is for this reason that they which are in sins [the penitents] are first of all put out; for just as when a master is present at his table, it is not right that those servants who have offended him should be present, but they are sent out of the way: just so also here when the sacrifice is brought forth, and Christ, the Lord’s sheep, is sacrificed; when you hear the words, Let us pray together, when you behold the curtains drawn up, then imagine that the Heavens are let down from above, and that the Angels are descending! “As then it is not meet that any one of the uninitiated be present, so neither is it meet that one who is defiled be present, even if he be initiated. Tell me, suppose any one were invited to a feast, and were to wash his hands, and sit down, and be all ready at the table, and then refuse to partake; is he not insulting the man who invited him? Were it not better for such a one never to have come at all? Now it is in just the same way that you have come here. You have sung the hymn with the rest: you have declared yourself to be of the number of them that are worthy [of the Holy Mysteries], by not departing with them that are unworthy. Why stay, and yet not partake of the table? I am unworthy, you will say. Then are you also unworthy of that communion you have had in prayers. For it is not by means of [the gifts] offered only, but also by means of those [sacred] canticles that the Spirit descends all around. 38


The Holy Fathers on Frequent Communion

“Do we not see our own servants first scouring the table with a sponge, and cleaning the house, and then setting out the entertainment? This is what is done by the prayers [in the temple], by the cry of the deacon. We scour the Church, as it were, with a sponge, that all things may be set out in a pure church, that there may be neither spot nor wrinkle (Eph. 5:27). Unworthy, indeed, both our eyes to see [what here meets our gaze], and unworthy are our ears [to hear what is here pronounced]! And if even a beast touch the mountain, [the Lord once] said, it shall be stoned (Ex. 19:13). Thus, then, [the Israelites] were not worthy so much as to set foot on [the mountain], and yet afterwards they both came near, and beheld where God had stood. And you may, afterwards, come near, and behold: when [God] is present, however, depart. You are no more allowed to be here than the catechumen is. For it is not at all the same thing never to have reached the Mysteries, and when you have reached them, to stumble at them and despise them, and to make yourself unworthy of this thing. One might enter upon more points, and those more awful still; not however to burden your understanding, these will suffice. They who are not brought to their right senses with these, certainly will not be with more. “That I may not then be the means of increasing your condemnation, I entreat you not to forbear coming, but to render yourselves worthy both of being present, and of approaching. Tell me, were any king to give 39


How Often Should One Commune?

command and to say, If any man does this, let him partake of my table; say, would ye not do all you could to be admitted? [And here God] has invited us to heaven, to the table of the great and wonderful King, and do we shrink and hesitate, instead of hastening and running to it? And what then is our hope of salvation? We cannot lay the blame on our weakness; we cannot on our nature. It is indolence and nothing else that renders us unworthy. “So far have I spoken of myself. But may He that pricks the heart, He that gives the spirit of compunction, pierce your hearts, and plant the seeds [of piety] in the depth of them, that so through His fear ye may conceive, and bring forth the spirit of salvation, and come near with boldness. For thy children, it is said, are like olive plants round about thy table (Psalm 128:3). O, then, let there be nothing old, nothing wild, nothing harsh. For of such sort are the young plants that are fit for fruit, for the beautiful fruit, fruit I mean of the olive tree. And thriving they are, so as all to be round about the table, and come together here, not in vain or by chance, but with fear and reverence” ( John Chrysostom, Homily 3 on the Epistle to the Ephesians1). 1

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 13. Buffalo, NY, Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1889. Translated by Alexander Gross. With slight amendments by the translator. — Trans. 40


The Holy Fathers on Frequent Communion

What terrible words Chrysostom speaks! Like thunder they strike into every heart! But what do the opponents of frequent communion answer to this? They say that Chrysostom’s purpose is not to convince people to commune frequently and to seek healing from their sins, but simply to show the sincere contrition of soul of one who has recognized his own sinfulness. How can these words be thus construed? This is blatantly twisting the meaning of the saint’s words! Have those who write thus no fear of God? The saint’s logic is obvious. He does not desire mere admission of sin, but rather that men reform and abide unceasingly with Christ. He exhorts men to universal holiness, while our communoclasts exhort them to general laziness and laxity. I would understand their indignation if they were demanding excellence, and people had no desire to achieve it. But no! They tell people: “Our times are such that living a holy life is impossible, so don’t even try. And so the Lord won’t get too angry, you need to commune less often.” And this is considered following the saints? Did not Symeon the New Theologian call this approach the worst of heresies? To confirm the absolute fidelity to patristic tradition of Saint Nicodemus’ teaching, I will cite the words of Saint Basil the Great’s epistle to Caesarea (Letter 89 [93]): “It is good and beneficial to commune every day, and to partake of the holy Body and Blood of Christ. 41


How Often Should One Commune?

For He distinctly says, Whoso eateth My Flesh, and drinketh My Blood, hath eternal life ( Jn. 6:54). “And who doubts that to share frequently in life, is the same thing as to have manifold life? [We,] indeed, communicate four times a week, on the Lord’s day, on Wednesday, on Friday, and on the Sabbath, and on the other days if there is a commemoration of any Saint”2. Here the hierarch responds directly to Fr. Vladimir Pravdolyubov’s fabrication that at that time many in Caesarea did not commune. This epistle is included in the supplementary canons in the Eastern Churches and in Serbia. Its significance for us is enormous, since the ecumenical teacher counters the modern contrivances of the “zealots” by speaking of the extraordinary benefit of communing as frequently as possible. Thus, when your priest advises communing as often as possible, he is merely humbly repeating the teaching of the ecumenical hierarchs, and those who dispute with them dispute with the Church. With regard to the harm caused by communing infrequently, this, too, is obvious. We need only recall an incident from the life of Saint Macarius the Great: 2

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 8. Buffalo, NY, Christian Literature Publishing, 1895. Translated by Blomfield Jackson. With slight amendments by the translator. — Trans. 42


The Holy Fathers on Frequent Communion

“A certain impious Egyptian became inflamed with impure love for a beautiful married woman, but could in no way incline her to infidelity to her husband, for she was chaste, virtuous, and loved her husband. Desiring intensely to possess her, the Egyptian went to a certain magician and asked him to use his magic charms either to cause the woman to love him, or to cause her husband to hate her and drive her away. “Having received rich presents from the Egyptian, the magician employed his customary enchantments, attempting with his magic charms to seduce the chaste woman to this vile act. Unable to incline the stalwart soul of the woman toward sin, the magician cast a spell on the eyes of all who looked upon the woman, making her appear to all to be not a woman in human form, but an animal in the form of a horse. “Upon arriving home, the woman’s husband was horrified to see a horse in place of his wife, and was greatly amazed to see the animal lying in his bed. He addressed it with words, but received no answer; he only noticed that it became infuriated. Knowing that it  had to be his wife, he realized that someone had done this out of malice, at which he was greatly saddened and wept. Then he called the presbyters to his home and showed them his wife. But they could not understand that before them was a person, not an animal, since their eyes were enchanted and they were seeing an animal. 43


How Often Should One Commune?

“Three days had now passed since the time when the woman began to appear to all to be a horse. In that time she took no food, since she could eat neither straw like an animal, nor bread like a person. Then her husband remembered Saint Macarius, and decided to take her to the desert to see the saint. Putting a bridle on her as though she were an animal, he went to Macarius’ abode, leading behind him his wife in the form of a  horse. When he approached the saint’s cell, the monks standing near the cell indignantly asked him why he wanted to bring a horse into the monastery. But he told them: ‘I have come here that this animal may obtain mercy from the Lord through the prayers of Saint Macarius.’ “‘What evil has befallen it?’ asked the monks. “‘The animal which you see,’ replied the man, ‘is my wife. How she has been turned into a horse, I do not know. But three days have now passed since this occurred, and in that time she has taken no food.’ “Upon hearing his story, the brethren immediately hastened to Saint Macarius to relate it to him, but he had already received a revelation from God, and had been praying for the woman. When the monks related to the saint what had happened and showed him the animal that had been brought, the saint said to them: “‘You are like animals yourself, for your eyes see a bestial form. But as she was created a woman, so a woman she remains, and has not changed her human 44


The Holy Fathers on Frequent Communion

nature, but merely appears as an animal to your eyes, which are deluded by magic charms.’ “Then the saint blessed water and poured it with prayer upon the woman brought to him, and she immediately assumed her customary human form, so that all who looked upon her saw a woman with a human face. Commanding that she be given food, the saint made her completely whole. Then both husband and wife and all those who saw this most glorious wonder gave thanks to God. Macarius instructed the healed woman to go to God’s temple and commune of the Holy Mysteries of Christ as often as possible. “‘This has happened to you,’ the saint said, ‘because it has now been five weeks since you communed of the Divine Mysteries.’ “Having instructed husband and wife, the saint let them both depart in peace.” Such are the dangers to which the communoclasts subject those whom they drive away from the Holy Chalice. Today, when magic and occultism run rampant in the media, to separate people from Christ’s protection is simply a crime, one that threatens the gravest consequences. It is known that evil spirits are unable to attack Christians who piously and frequently approach Christ’s Mysteries. As Saint John Cassian said concerning this: “Why are those possessed by evil spirits separated from the Lord’s Communion? … If we hold the opinion and have faith that all things are the Lord’s 45


How Often Should One Commune?

work and all is done for the benefit of souls, then only will we not disdain them, but we will even pray unceasingly for them as for our own members, and will begin to co-suffer with them with all our heart, with complete goodwill. For when one member suffers, all the members suffer with it. We must know that without them, as without our members, we cannot fully move towards perfection … And we recall that our elders did not forbid them Holy Communion; on the contrary, they held that if it were possible, it would be proper to administer it to them each day … Upon being received by a person, like a consuming flame it drives out the spirit that holds sway or conceals itself in his members … For the enemy will increasingly attack the one whom he possesses when he sees that he is deprived of heavenly treatment, and will torment him still more frequently maliciously the longer he avoids spiritual treatment” (Saint John Cassian of Rome, Talks, 7, 30). The canons do, however, limit communion for the demon-possessed to once per week. According to Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, “to commune continually is at once necessary, beneficial for the soul, in accordance with God’s commandment, and perfect, well-pleasing good. But to commune only three times per year is not in accordance with the commandment, and is not perfect good, for that which is not done unto good cannot be good. Hence, as all God’s other commandments require a specific time, as 46


The Holy Fathers on Frequent Communion

Ecclesiastes says: there is a time … for every purpose (Eccl. 3:17), so also we ought to set aside an appropriate time for fulfilling the commandment concerning communion. In other words, the appropriate time for communion is the moment when the priest exclaims: ‘With the fear of God, and with faith and love, draw nigh!’”


Arguments of the Opponents of Frequent Communion

What arguments do the opponents of frequent communion present to substantiate their absurd position? There are several. The first of these is defamation of their opponents. I  will not attempt to justify the adherents of the “Parisian school”, still less our own Reformationists. They have God as their judge, all the more so considering that there are things in their perception of Communion that are inadmissible for the Orthodox. But attempting to call all proponents of frequent communion ‘Reformationists’ is false and slanderous. It is perfectly clear that neither Saint Nicodemus, nor the Athonites (including Fr. Nikolai Generalov), nor the numerous experienced priests in Moscow and Russia can be considered Reformationists. What we have here is simply an attempt to use the pretext of political conflict to dismiss as Reformationists all those who precisely follow the Holy Fathers and the canons. Just because the Reformationists speak out in favor of frequent communion does not mean that people should not commune. Just because the Catholics believe in God does not mean we should become atheists to spite them. 48


Arguments of the Opponents of Frequent Communion

In exactly the same way, the fact that Saint Nicodemus employed Latin sources in writing Unseen Warfare does not mean that his teaching is incorrect or that he himself borrowed the practice of frequent communion from the Catholics. We must not forget that the entire Synodal period, so dear to the hearts of the zealots, was permeated with things borrowed from Rome or the Protestants. The very structure of Metropolitan Peter Mogila’s Orthodox Confession is taken from the Roman catechesis. Saint Demetrius of Rostov likewise drew copiously on Western sources, to the point of recognizing the Immaculate Conception of the Theotokos. The excellent sermons of Saint Philaret have their roots largely in Buddei and Bellarmin. What matters, however, is not that this borrowing occurred, but rather how well the content conforms to the Orthodox faith. For example, the requirement for obligatory communion each year (in the Catechesis and the Orthodox Confession) is not found in the canons (as we have seen, the canons mention three Sundays): it was copied from the requirements of the Roman Catholic Church’s Council of Trident. Now we will address the accusation in depth. Firstly, the Kollyvades were never pro-Catholic, for which they actually suffered considerably; hence, they could not have borrowed the idea of frequent communion from Rome. It is thanks to Saint Nicodemus and his Pidalion that the standard of rebaptizing Catholics tri49


How Often Should One Commune?

umphed in the East, as introduced by the Council of Constantinople in 1755. Thus, though the saint knew how to employ Western wisdom, he was in no way enslaved to it. And for him the Catholics’ Communion was mere bread. How then could he have relied upon the practices of Rome? And secondly, it would have been impossible to borrow frequent communion from the Catholics because the Latins themselves did not practice it at the time. In the 17th–18th centuries the Eucharist in the West was in dreadful decline. Participation in the Mass had largely been reduced to adoration of the Host (precisely what Saint Philaret spoke of in his Catechesis), and if the parishioners did commune it was amid commotion, after the Mass, on an individual basis. The current practice of frequent communion was borrowed by Rome from the Orthodox East, under the influence of the ideas of the Kollyvades and proponents of the “Parisian school”, not vice versa. In general, the Kollyvades pose a real problem for the opponents of frequent communion. The arguments of Saints Nicodemus and Macarius are irrefutable, their sanctity is undeniable, they can’t be dismissed as Reformationists (the reverse being closer to the truth), and yet their teaching is undesirable! This leaves the opponents scrambling, the more so since the Eastern Church also very quickly accepted [the Kollyvades’] point of view, and Saint Theophan the Recluse (whom 50


Arguments of the Opponents of Frequent Communion

the zealots consider their confederate) translated Unseen Warfare, which likewise contains an exhortation to frequent communion. And the saint translated quite loosely, omitting whatever he did not like; yet that which so displeases our opponents Saint Theophan held to be quite useful. Still more surprising is the assertion that the Kollyvades’ practice was purely monastic. Anyone who has read the works of Saint Nicodemus knows that in principle the saint considered frequent communion essential for all Christians. It is for this reason that all pious Christians in the East try to commune every Sunday. Now let us examine the positive argumentation of the opposers of frequent encounters with Christ. The first thing we note is that the list of authorities cited in support of their theories is limited both geographically and chronologically, consisting of authors from Russia in the XVII–XX centuries. This approach contradicts the principle for defining Holy Tradition proposed by Saint Vincentius of Lérins: universality, constancy, and globality. “To adhere to universality means to acknowledge as truth only that faith that the whole Church confesses all around the world. To adhere to antiquity means to never retreat from that teaching which our Holy Fathers and ancestors held with certainty. Finally, to adhere to concordance means even in deepest antiquity to accept only those definitions of faith and expla51


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nations that were held by all or nearly all pastors and teachers� (On Expositions of the Faith in General, or On the General Nature of Orthodox Dogmatics). The opinion of the opponents of frequent communion does not meet a single one of these criteria. Thus, this teaching contradicts Church Tradition. Now let us examine the quotes themselves. They break down precisely into the following categories. The first are references to the minimum frequency of communion. It is this that is mentioned by the Orthodox Confession, the Orthodox Catechesis, Saints Demetrius of Rostov, Ignatius (Brianchaninov), and Theophan the Recluse, Saints Macarius of Optina, Barnabus of Gethsemane, Barsanuphius of Optina, and Seraphim of Sarov. Not one of these authors ever spoke out against more frequent communion, though they did require that the Sacrament be regarded with reverence. I will note that for Russia, where at the time communing once per year was normal, the fact that many of these saints would bless people to commune once per month was unusual, and at times was even perceived as a sort of modernism. Another category cites the practice of pious ascetics themselves with regard to communing (the examples of Ambrose, Leonid, and Macarius of Optina). Their example tells us absolutely nothing. They were physically ill, and thus they strove to follow the standards of the Council of Trullo. 52


Arguments of the Opponents of Frequent Communion

Based on the logic of the opponents of frequent communion, why not take as our standard Saint Mary of Egypt, who communed only twice in 47 years? Incidentally, it is unclear why the opponents of frequent communion forget the examples of Saint Theophan the Recluse or Saint John of Kronstadt, who communed every day. Why do they not propose that we imitate the examples of these saints? Why are the Optina Elders alone so unique? Both the former and the latter were of clerical rank, so according to the logic of these zealots it is impossible to imitate them (the zealots draw a fundamental distinction between the communion of laity and priests, in spite of the explicit words of Chrysostom). There is no answer, for what matters to the advocates of infrequent communion is not the teaching of the Church, but proving their own point of view. Finally, indeed, they cite the viewpoint of someone who categorically speaks out against frequent communion, considering it spiritual deception and “of the evil one”. This is the opinion of one priest, and not one glorified in the ranks of the saints: Schearchimandrite Andronik (Lukash). But can the opinion of one little-known priest outweigh the teaching of dozens of saints, a number of holy canons, major canonists, and, most importantly, Holy Scripture? How is Fr. Andronik’s opinion fundamentally superior to, say, the opinion of Fr. Tavrion? After all, the Church has glorified nei53


How Often Should One Commune?

ther, and if it is a question of influence then Fr. Tavrion has of course had far greater influence on Christian consciousness, all the more so since Father Tavrion is known and respected by far more people. Why try to pass off personal taste for fidelity to the Orthodoxy of the Fathers? This is apart from the fact that Fr. Andronik’s opinion directly contradicts not only the Gospel and the canons, but even the words of Saint Theophan that the zealots themselves love to quote: “It is impossible to say anything disapproving about frequent communion.” Was Saint Theophan really ignorant of the wiles of the evil one?


About the Practice of Preparing for Communion

Perhaps the weightiest argument in favor of infrequent communion lies in citing the Typicon’s requirement of week-long preparation for the Sacrament. The opponents of frequent communion state that reviving canonical and patristic practice will lead to a cessation of the institution of preparation for Holy Communion and, consequently, to a loss of reverence for the Sacrament. This may be answered as follows: the required preparation for Communion specified in the Typcion (fasting for an entire week and attendance at church each day) contradicts the holy canons (the 9th Apostolic Canon, the 2nd canon of the Council of Antioch, and the 66th canon of the Sixth Council of Trullo), and for this reason alone cannot be considered the standard. Even in secular court proceedings, if a court order contradicts current legislation it is the order that is reevaluated. The authority of the Typicon is incomparably inferior to that of the Book of Canons. And the Fourth Ecumenical Council states that even imperial laws that contradict the canons shall be held null and void. 55


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This is the more significant in that this very chapter in the Typcion on preparation for Holy Communion is one of the most recent. It is unlikely that it predates the early 17th century. Thus, what we have here is simply another monument to that era of decline that lead to the triumph of secularization. Agreed, for someone who communes but once a year the standard of the Typicon is beneficial, to ensure that for at least one week he approaches the standard of Church life. But how can this be required of those who already live an intensive life in the Church? It is no accident that for nearly a hundred years Church practice has disregarded the requirements of a week-long fast and daily attendance at church. This institution of stringent preparation for Holy Communion has already practically disappeared, and there are no apparent reasons for reinstating it. In the overwhelming majority of churches that follow the Russian tradition, one who communes monthly is required to fast for three days and be present at the service the previous evening. If a person is striving for a deeper spiritual life and therefore wishes to commune more frequently, in practice (as approved by two Moscow pastoral conferences) he is required to fast for two days if communing bi-weekly, while if communing each week he need only refrain from eating meat the day before. But it should be remembered that all these requirements are merely pious recommendations, prescribed neither by the canons nor by concordance of 56


About the Practice of Preparing for Communion

the Holy Fathers. The canons require only one fast: that of abstaining from food after midnight. Everything else is left to the conscience of the communicant. Naturally, this pertains only to those Christians who have not been suspended from Holy Communion for mortal sins. As has already been said, the practice of other local churches likewise gives no grounds for introducing such harsh discipline. Incidentally, it should be noted that, aside from the Typicon cited, there is another artifact in the Russian Church that governs preparation for Communion: this is the “Instructional Notice” printed in the clergy Service Book, approved, unlike the Typicon, by a whole series of late 17th-century Moscow Councils. Here we find a detailed list of all the conditions for receiving the Holy Mysteries, and the repeated statement that these are the same for both priest and layman. This includes reading a specific prayer rule, being present for the full cycle of services on the day of Communion, abstaining from the marriage bed the day before, eating little the previous evening (with no indication of what foods may or may not be eaten), and an absolute prohibition of eating after midnight. The “Notice” likewise requires that the Christian (whether priest or layman) absolutely first make confession if he has fallen into a mortal sin. As for lesser sins, while acknowledging the sacrament of confession to be desirable, the Service Book permits communing without 57


How Often Should One Commune?

this if the communicant is sorry for his sins. This requirement is far more in keeping with the holy canons, besides helping a person to maintain reverence for the great Sacrament. Still more helpful in this regard are the Service Book’s suggestions of pious contemplation of the greatness of Holy Communion and the redeeming feat of Christ the Savior. By so doing, the pious Christian will avoid both the Scylla of “hobnobbing with God”, characteristic of the Reformationists, and the Charybdis of the Pelagian attempt at self-salvation demonstrated by the communoclasts.


Contents

Contents

Priest Daniel Sysoyev How Often Should One Commune?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Several Abuses of Frequent Communion . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Communion in Practice Today . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Where The Opponents of Frequent Communion are Correct. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 False Views of the Opponents of Frequent Communion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 The Opponents’ Denial of God’s Presence in the Church . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 The Scriptures on Frequent Communion . . . . . . . . . . . 19 The Church Canons on Frequent Communion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 The Holy Fathers on Frequent Communion . . . . . . . . 34 Arguments of the Opponents of Frequent Communion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48 About the Practice of Preparing for Communion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55 Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59


Contents

Deacon George Maximov The Truth About the Practice of Frequent Communion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65 Part One . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65 Notes and Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 92 Part 2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95 Preparation for Communion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95 Notes and Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .114


PRIESTS HAVE DIED, LEAVING FAMILIES BEHIND …

Together we can help them! May the Lord grant His faithful servants eternal rest in the tabernacles of the righteous! For your generous donations: 1. Wire transfers: Account number: 9345081388; Citibank, N.A. BR. #764 1760 Market street, Philadelphia, PA, 19130; Routing number: 021272655; Swift code: CITIUS33; Payment purpose: gift. 2. PayPal: ssv379@gmail.com with payments pls add a note, choose — for family or friends, gift. 3. With debit or credit cards. On a web-site: http://mission-center.com there is a button on the left column: Donate «For USA with PayPal or credit card»


THE REV. DANIEL SYSOEV MISSIONARY CENTER Benevolent Fund was established in 2010 by priest Daniel Sysoev’s wife, Yulia Sysoev, to aid the needy families and widows of clergy. Unfortunately, there are many financially disadvantaged clergy families in Russia, but the greatest financial need is felt by the widows of priests who have fallen victim to murder or tragedy, and we Christians have a duty to care for them. In recent times we have seen a rise in sudden deaths among our intercessors before God – those who pray for us more often than others, through whom the Lord forgives our sins, from whom we receive comfort. At present the Fund has learned of and established contact with 45 such families, and is constantly searching for clergy families in need so as to provide them with uncompensated aid. We call on Orthodox Christians to contribute their two mites to supporting the work of the Fund. Contact information and donation options are located on our website, www.missioncenter.com, in the “Charity” section. Donors, as the Word of God says, lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven and robe your hearts in works of charity; and you who are in need, offer up prayers for your benefactors’ salvation! For your generous donations: 1. Wire transfers: Account number: 9345081388; Citibank, N.A. BR. #764 1760 Market street, Philadelphia, PA, 19130; Routing number: 021272655; Swift code: CITIUS33; Payment purpose: gift. 2. PayPal: ssv379@gmail.com with payments pls add a note, choose — for family or friends, gift. 3. With debit or credit cards. On a web-site: http://mission-center.com there is a button on the left column: Donate «For USA with PayPal or credit card»


OTHER BOOKS OF PRIEST DANIEL SYSOEV CATECHETICAL HOMILIES his book is compiled from the catechetical homilies presented by missionary priest Daniel Sysoev, beginning in 2001 in Moscow. The printed texts of the homilies preserve his spoken conversational style, which draws the reader in with numerous straightforward examples and clear answers to the catechumens “tricky” questions. The majority of those who attended Father Daniel’s homilies became regular parishioners at Orthodox Churches following their baptism. This book will benefit catechisers, clergy, theology students, and all who in their lives and work find themselves needing to explain the principles of the faith. Being actual dialogues on questions of faith and the Church, these homilies will likewise be of interest to those who are catechumens themselves.

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INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE IMMORTAL, OR WHAT TO DO IF YOU STILL DIE n the few months since it appeared, this unusually-titled book by the famous priest and missionary Fr. Daniel Sysoev has quickly become a bestseller. What should you do if you end up dying after all? Unfortunately, many people try to avoid the question of death; yet death, like it or not, is unavoidable. Following divine revelation and the experience of the Church, Fr. Daniel paints a perfectly logical picture of the human soul transitioning from mortality to eternity. The author gives us advice on how to behave correctly at this most important of events for every person, how not to be afraid, how to pass through the Aerial Toll-houses, and what will await us after death. The author likewise describes the church doctrines regarding heaven and hell.

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A PROTESTANT’S WALK THROUGH AN ORTHODOX CHURCH ruth can endure no falsehood, and herself finds those who seek her. But there is one condition: one must reject one’s own opinion and prefer the Lord’s, and seek not oneself, but God. It is no easy thing to leave off your former way of life and the things of which you were convinced, thinking you were on the right path. But it is those who are willing to do this that God calls His chosen. This book is an actual conversation with a young Protestant, who himself approached an Orthodox passer-by one spring morning. Was he seeking the truth? What answers did the Orthodox Christian give him and how did he behave? Did anything change in their hearts after their dialogue, and who was proven right? The reader will witness their conversation and will hear numerous arguments grounded in Holy Scripture.

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TALKS ON THE PASSIONS e must know our enemies. The passions and those who help to reinforce them are the enemy’s seed. And God summons us to do battle with them throughout our life. But how do we learn the tactics? Using the experience of the Church and the works of the holy fathers, Fr. Daniel explains how sin operates in a person’s soul, and the techniques for fighting it. These lectures will move each to give thought to the need for making a concentrated effort to cleanse his soul for God.

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WHY GO TO CHURCH EVERY SUNDAY? ven some people who call themselves Orthodox are of the opinion that going to church every Sunday is bordering on fanaticism. There are plenty of justifications for this view: “Sunday is my only day off”; “I can pray just as well at home”; “It annoys my family”, and so on. In this book an Orthodox missionary priest invites the reader to see for himself the invalidity of such views.

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Priest Daniel Sysoev How Often Should One Commune? Deacon Georgiy Maximov The Truth About the Practice of Frequent Communion Translator and editor in chief Deacon Nathan Williams Layout Olga Bochkova Cover Igor Yermolayev 101000, Russia, Moscow, Maliy Zlatoustinskiy pereulok, 5. mission-center.com mission-shop.com mission-center@yandex.ru +7(495)922-03-31 Format 70100/32. Printed sheet size Offset printing. Offset paper. Print run 3,000 copies. Order № Printed at Ulyanovsk Printing House


How often should one commune