Monday, July 12, 2010

Abusing the Lord's Eucharist: Part 27 of a never ending series

I have written before about how many in the Orthodox Church seem to have a less than reverent attitude towards our Lord's Eucharist. And I must admit that I am guilty of such abuses myself. I have recoiled in horror about how the faithful will "jump lines" so that they can receive the Eucharist from the priest rather than from the deacon or how the faithful, in a mistaken act of piety, will take time to reverence the icon for the feast or saint at the front of the church BEFORE consuming the Eucharist or how many will not fast to prepare for the Lord's Body and Blood preferring to have food of the earth be the first thing that touches their lips rather than the flesh of our incarnate Lord. I'm sure that if I actually took the time and had the wherewithal, I'm sure that I could come up with a substantive list of how the modern faithful abuse the Eucharist, but, since my faith is so weak, I'm sure that all I would do is lose heart very easily. I'm also sure that a great many priest see such actions by the faithful many times in the course of their priestly vocations and do what they can to correct them.

Yesterday was a rainy day. We had started Orthros right at about 8:45. As it was a 3rd class feast, the Great Polyeleos was chanted for St. Euphemia the Great Martyr, whose miracle at Chalcedon was commemorated. There were also additional kathismata, exapoteilaria and praises which made the service go a little long. We started the Great Doxology at about 10:00 and got through it with the concluding troparion, "Having risen from the tomb" at about 10:05. When "Blessed is the Kingdom" rang out from the sanctuary, the church was less than full, the choir had only 6 people there and people would still be stumbling in from that point up until and after the Cherubimic Hymn!

When the priest finally brought out the Eucharist after singing the common Communion Hymn for Sundays, he reminded everyone, as he does every Liturgy, that anyone not Orthodox or not prepared from recent confession, prayer and fasting, should not present himself. The priest then went further and said that if anyone was not present for the Scripture readings from the Epistle of St. Paul and the Gospel, he was also not prepared. I'm not kidding when some people just dropped their pew service books as if this were some new "rule", which it wasn't. Our priest has said this many times in the past and people know it.

The Eucharist is the conclusion of our liturgy, our daily work. Yes, it takes a long time to get to the point where the faithful may partake of the Body and Blood of our Lord. The reason should be obvious. You don't just enter into the church and immediately enter the presence of God and thus transformed. It takes time with prayers and contemplation because we can't just enter the presence of God as we are defiled with sin. Most people don't want to hear that. A lot of Orthodox want the Liturgy shortened to 59 1/2 minutes and get their Eucharist and get out. They don't want to prepare. And how can you consider yourself prepared if you have not fed your minds with the words of life contained in the Holy Scriptures?

I recently read another blog where the author (a Lutheran pastor) lamented that the Eucharist was being served every Sunday in some parishes at the expense of preaching. I agree with his basic premise that the mind must be fed with the Word so that the soul may be fed with our Lord's Body and Blood, but I don't place a near sacramental label on preaching as he does. The Liturgy and the Scripture which buttresses the Liturgy, at least for the Eastern Rite, are quite sufficient "preaching" elements to feed the mind that a 30 minute sermon can only provide supplements, but not replace.

The Liturgy is the work of the people. And we work by training and setting our minds on the words of salvation given to us by our Lord and His saints. The words, "Let us attend" are frequently said throughout the Liturgy for the faithful to direct all of their very selves to the Lord.

Too many Orthodox view the Eucharist as a right to which they are entitled. I remember visiting a Greek church and an old lady went up to the priest before Orthros for St. Basil's Day started and was pleading with him to give her the Eucharist right then and there. And the priest gave in! The old woman and some of her friends partook and left the church. There can be no question that our Lord freely gives and freely calls us back to Himself even though we do everything possible to ignore or thwart Him. But, isn't the Eucharist not only for the forgiveness of sins but also for the attainment of the Kingdom?

I'm sure priests have a tough enough job, but the frequent abuses of the Eucharist that I have seen in just one parish only make me wonder just how widespread such irreverence is grounded in modern Orthodoxy. It's not a convert vs cradle problem, nor an ethnic problem. It's a problem of bad catechesis, from children to adults and that needs to be seriously addressed by local assemblies, synods and even the Great Council, if it is ever convened!

It's nothing short of God's providence that no matter how much we, the faithful, keep screwing with the gifts He has given us even refusing them, He still keeps giving, because our Lord does not desire the death of the sinner but that he should return and live. Amen.


  1. I was told by a man (now a novice) who had been told on Mt Athos that we are to venerate the icon prior to communing, but not after communing. After communing we are icons.

    I agree with the rather free communion in Orthodoxy. Yes, it is closed communion, but it is so lackadaisical in the discipline surrounding it - well, at least in the 'mainline' Orthodox jurisdictions (ROCOR and the Serbs tend to defend more rigorously communion discipline - at the stavropegial Serbian convent in Indiana no one communed except for the hieromonk and a few children (not even the abbess!)

    I like to shock Orthodox priests telling them how WELS/ELS required you to sign in before communing and that you be reminded of the danger of communing unworthily by not recognizing the Real Presence. I think most priests are usually being treated as if they are too strict and assume all Western Christians are laissez-faire with communion, so to hear of schismatic Protestants defending the Eucharist even more...

  2. Venerating an icon after communion, I've been told, is also dangerous because any "unswallowed" portion of the Eucharist could be left on the icon.

    Sacramental theology has gained by leaps and bounds over the past 30 years with the publication of many books on the subject, not least those of the late Protopresbyter, Fr. Alexander Schmemann of blessed memory. But, despite that, basic catechesis seems to be lacking with regards to what the Eucharist is and how we should approach. I think if people really meditated on the didactic verses in the HTM Prayer Book before they commune, they might come to some realization that the Eucharist is not just something we do, week in, week out; the Eucharist is intrinsic to who we are and who we may become in our Life in Christ.

    BTW, Chris, have you ever read Nicholas Cabilisas (sp?) work "The Life in Christ?" From the synopses I've read, I think such a work speaks volumes for these modern times.

  3. St. Nicholas Cabasilas's "The Life in Christ" is outstanding, as is his book on the Divine Liturgy!

    Required preparation for Communion including the prayers before Communion would be required for people to really meditate on their meaning. Communion ain't a soup line, but 'frequent communion' seems to have been equated with 'no need to prepare, come one, come all'.

    My son is named with an anglicized version of one of the Magi's name (commemorated Dec 25 and named in the Prologue of Ochrid). I am always heartened when priests double take and ask whether we are Orthodox - it means they actually care about whether we're Orthodox as we are about to commune in an Orthodox church.

    My GOA priest quotes another priest or bishop, "We do it backwards: we teach the kids and play with the adults". The cultural medium that transmitted Orthodoxy in the villages of Greece broke down in the immigration, but nothing has taken its place to truly teach the adult faithful what it is they believe, why they do what they do, and no restrictions are placed on actions allowed previously due to the context of an Orthodox society.