Toward the end of every Orthodox Divine Liturgy, we partake of Holy Communion. When visiting one of our churches for the first time, it can be difficult to know who can and cannot go up to the chalice to receive Communion from the priest. For nearly 2,000 years, the Church has not allowed non-Orthodox Christians to partake of the Eucharist. Moreover, only those Orthodox Christians who prepared for Communion through confession, prayer, and fasting should approach and partake. And should an Orthodox Christian attend a non-Orthodox church service, he or she should receive “communion” from them.
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Who can receive?
In order to receive Communion in an Orthodox Church, you must:
- Believe what the Church believes
- Practice the Faith by displaying the love of Christ
- Be in “good standing” (i.e. have no obstacle that would prevent you from receiving)
If you do not fulfill all three conditions, you should not step forward to partake of the Holy Mysteries. St. Justin Martyr attests that this has been the accepted practice in the Church since the beginning:
After we have thus cleansed the person who believes and has joined our ranks, we lead him in to where those we call “brothers” are assembled to offer prayers in common for ourselves, for him who has just been enlightened, and for all men everywhere. It is our desire, now that we have come to know the truth, to be found worthy of doing good deeds and obeying the commandments, and thus to obtain eternal salvation. This food [we partake] we call “Eucharist,” and no one may share it unless he believes that our teaching is true, and has been cleansed in the bath of forgiveness for sin and rebirth, and lives as Christ taught.St. Justin Martyr (d. ca. A.D. 165), First Apology, ch. 65.1, 66.1
Orthodox Christians can receive communion immediately upon their baptism. This means that baptized infants can receive the Eucharist. This is very different from the Roman Catholic and Protestant practice of not allowing the first communion until the child reaches a certain age they deem the “age of reason”.
Read More: On Being Worthy Of Holy Communion >>
But why can’t someone who isn’t Orthodox take communion?
To understand why only the Orthodox can receive communion during the Liturgy, we need to look at what the Eucharist means to the Orthodox. Father Alkiviadis Calivas summarizes it beautifully:
For the Orthodox, the Eucharist is not an instrument or means for achieving Christian unity, but the very sign and crowning of that union based on doctrinal truths and canonical harmony already held and possessed in common.“An Introduction to the Divine Liturgy,” in Aspects, p. 172
When Orthodox Christians pray and worship together, when we participate in the Sacraments together, we express a unity in faith that already exists. Thus, the Eucharist is not the cause of our unity, but its fruit. Put another way, the Eucharist is a confirmation of our Faith. Outside the Eucharist and Communion, there is no Church. Communing with the non-Orthodox would mean admitting that all receiving Communion belong to the One Apostolic Church, when in reality they do not.
The Real Presence
In closing, we leave you with a video from Theoria, in which Frederica Mathewes-Green touches on the theological side of the Eucharist. Because the Orthodox believe Communion to be the True Body and Precious Blood of Christ, this adds yet another dimension to the Church’s wise decision not to commune the non-Orthodox.
Read More: 8 Things To Expect In An Orthodox Church >>