The Compilers of the Philokalia Answer the Opponents of Frequent Communion

There was a certain crisis of the Eucharistic life in the Russian Orthodox Church during the Synodal era. People received communion only sporadically, on the day of their birthday and once in the Lent, and it was considered quite godly. The communion on every great Church feast and in the major fasts was thought to be ultimate godliness and piety. However, the rules of the Church and countless Holy Fathers have always called for a full-fledged, regular, and frequent communion of the Holy Eucharist. Here are some examples of the patristic arguments of the authors of the Philokalia against infrequent communion.

Some Claim That Frequent Communion Is the Privilege of Priests

St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite and St. Macarius of Corinth, the compilers of the Philokalia, respond that the work of priests is the offering of the Holy Gifts, so that sanctification could take place through them, as through some organs of the Holy Spirit. They must also perform other priestly duties and pray for the people of God. When the moment of the communion of the Holy Mysteries comes, priests are no different from the faithful, except that they dispense the Mysteries, and the lay people accept them. Clerics also partake of the Sacrament in the sanctuary and directly, while laypersons do it in the nave and with the Holy Spoon. The fact that there is no difference between clergy and lay people when it comes to communion is also stated by St. John Chrysostom:

“One Father gave birth to us. We all had the same birth (of the Holy Font)”

“…In some things the priest is no different from a layman… We all enjoy the same things, unlike in the Old Testament: the priest ate one thing and the uninitiated ate another thing. The Law did not allow the people to eat that which the priest ate. This is not the case today, but one Body is offered to all, and the Chalice is also the same.” (Commentary on Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Homily 18).

Some Argue That Infrequent Communion Is a Sign of Reverence for the Sacrament

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Saint Nicodemus the Hagiorite responds to this by saying that such fear is not from God, as the Psalmist says: “There were they in great fear, where no fear was” (Psalm 53:5). Fear can be a matter of wrongdoing rather than obedience. St. Cyril of Alexandria points out that under the guise of “exaggerated reverence” the devil himself casts his nets, so that the faithful would not communicate with Christ for a long time.

“If you are always afraid of your smallest sins, then you should know that as a human being, you will never stop doing them – Who can understand his errors? (Psalm 19:12), – and so you will remain completely untouched by the saving Sacrament” (St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Book 3, Chapter 6).

The Communion purifies us of our smallest transgressions and brings life to the one who constantly engages in it.

Also, Rule 2 of the Council of Antioch penalizes those who “turn away” from the Communion with excommunication. Zonaras explains that the turning away should not be understood as outright defiance of the Sacrament, which leads to a full banishment and anathema, but rather reluctance to take part in the Eucharist due to false humility.

St. Mary of Egypt and Other Ascetics Received Holy Communion Once or Twice in Their Lifetimes and Were Saved Anyway

“It is not the hermits who run the Church, and the Church did not tailor Her rules to hermits,” St. Nicodemus says.

Without being physically present at the Liturgy, only the souls of the dead are sanctified, as well as all those who roam deserts and mountains, caves and valleys of the earth (See Hebrews 11:38). Nevertheless, the Hagiorite adds, if hermits had the opportunity to attend the Liturgy and to take communion but they didn’t, they should also be condemned as contemptuous of the Divine Mysteries and as violators of the sacred rules.

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Can Laypersons Be Blessed by Attending the Liturgy but Not Receiving Communion?

This seems likely because they are in the Church, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies the whole assembly. Yet, to what extent do they unite with Christ? Clearly not as much as they are when they partake of His Body and Blood. Saint Nicholas Kabasilas was convinced that those who were present at the Eucharist and could partake of it, but did not do so, never received sanctification.

Every Christian should ask themselves one question: do you want to be with Christ or not? If you would like Jesus to dwell in your heart and mind, to sanctify and heal you from every sinful affliction, you should remember the Lord’s words, Take, eat; this is my body… Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament. These words apply to each of us, and the only right thing for us to do is to obey the voice of the Good Shepherd if we want to be His faithful disciples.

 

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About Fr. John A. Peck

Director of the Preachers Institute, priest in the Orthodox Church in America, award-winning graphic designer and media consultant, and non-profit administrator.
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