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Frequent Communion

Receiving communion frequently is the reality of the Orthodox world. Every Orthodox Church encourages frequent communion but there are still certain pockets of resistance towards communing frequently. This is due to our habits or due to our lack of understanding of the liturgy itself. If we focus on us Serbs, there is only one reason for being afraid or not wanting to take communion frequently: it is the instilled habit that came to us from our ancestors. The question here is, should we take communion frequently or not? The simple answer to this is yes but, let us examine the reasons why those who lived before us were not taking communion every liturgy. 

The history of our Serbian people was very hard. We were under Turkish slavery for 300 years. During that time, liturgical celebrations were hidden and rare. Liturgies would be celebrated during the day in the times where no one would expect them to be celebrated. This also applies to the Paschal liturgy which would never be celebrated at midnight at that time but in the morning or early afternoon or sometimes not at all. If under Turkish invaders we rang bells in the middle of the night or started shouting that Christ was Risen that would definitely cause bloodshed. Without the proper liturgical life and without the liturgy at the center of the Church many Serbs have fallen away from communing frequently. Part of the reason is because so many were in the military fighting Turks or just trying to survive foreign invaders, and the liturgical life and fasting fell by the wayside. This continued through the Balkan wars for liberation from the Turks, as well as World War I and World War II. After many wars, the plague of communism hit Serbia. Needless to say, this caused damage way greater than any war we fought.

What then was happening in the meantime in Serbian Churches under these very difficult circumstances? Priests would ask people to fast seven days or three days before taking communion and to have confession with that. These individuals who were asked to do this were people who for various reasons did not come to Church at all or rarely. Due to the wars and the non-liturgical lifestyles many people had, their priests wanted to integrate them better into the liturgy and fasting and would require the mentioned fasting period. It is important to bear in mind that these instructions of fasting seven days before communion and having confession before communion applied only to those who did not come to Church for years or simply ignored Church in their lives altogether. When people started following fasting and started attending Church more regularly, the rules of fasting 7 days before communion and taking communion twice a year started subsiding in favor of the true Orthodox praxis which is to take communion every time it is offered. In fact, fasting like this, and infrequent communion is traditionally used as a penance, and is not the norm at all for most Orthodox Christians. 

Although the Churches in Serbia are very close to completing their spiritual rebirth and have communicants in every Church whenever communion is offered, here in America, this process still lasts. This is mostly due to our forefathers who brought the praxis of infrequent communion described above from the old country. This is understandable considering the environment from which they came. However, regardless of the understanding of communion our forefathers had, their praxis was deeply rooted in a particular historical context which is now, thank God, inexistent for us in America. This means that we should, if we do not already, live in the present time and take advantage of the fullness of the liturgical life which is offered to us. There are no wars in America, there is no communism and liturgical life unfolds without interruptions. Normal historical circumstances demand from us to act accordingly and commune frequently. If we are willing to start living the fullness of liturgical life, which is without any question necessary for our salvation and eternal life, we should express this desire to our priests who can instruct us further about frequent communion. For now, suffice it to say that if we are not living according to the Orthodox standards, our Church wants us to raise to that level and live sacramental life to the fullest. This is further expressed every liturgy in which priest, on behalf of Christ, points towards bread and blood as says:

TAKE, EAT! AND DRINK OF IT ALL OF YOU!

Whenever we hear these words and do not react to them, we are directly going against Christ’s commandment. These words do not indicate something optional, they are direct orders to all those who want to live the fullness of spiritual life and reach their salvation.,

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6 Responses

  1. ‘Thank you’ is all I can say!
    Clearly, the ‘ball’ is in our court.
    Up to each of us to get into the game.

  2. Thank you Fr Stefan. Fr Branislav share a condensed version of your blog with me around confession and communion during the Nativity fast. I felt like I was doing something wrong to partake in communion without being “prepared”by fasting which was required by our families and our priests in the past. What you are explaining makes sense and is much needed in our lives.

  3. Ever since I was a little girl we were taught to fast, go to confession then communion for Christmas & Easter. I’m a little confused, are you telling us now we do not have to fast before we take communion? I assume we still cannot eat or drink anything before church. Can you please let me know what is the proper thing to do. Thank you!

    1. Dear Georgia,

      In short, pre-liturgical fasting is necessary and it means that we fast 6 hours before liturgy in order to take communion.

      This, however, was not the topic of the blog. The blog addresses the practice that people should partake of communion more frequently, if not every single liturgy. The requirements for this, speaking in very general terms, are that we fast every single fasting period which Church prescribes, and then we can partake of the Holy Communion every time is offered.

      Together with this comes confession which does not have to happen every time before communion. It all depends on your particular case and what your spiritual father blesses to you upon hearing your confession.

      The blog also explains that the practice of fasting 7 days twice a year and then receiving communion was a product of a particular historical context (or maybe a penance given to us by our priest) which does not exist here in America nor in Serbia for that matter.

      For more details, please contact me so that we can arrange the meeting face to face or talk to each other over the phone.

      God bless you!

      Fr Stefan

  4. Thank you Fr. Stefan. I now have a better understanding about communion in the Orthodox religion.

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