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def.williams
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« on: May 28, 2009, 10:42:25 PM »

I kind of feel confused about communion in Orthodoxy.

I was in a small Russian church where the priest encouraged weekly communion, but more or less insisted on weekly, or at least frequent (depending on the person) confession prior. And so he would mostly try and have times available for confession.

Then I moved to a large Greek church of many hundreds of people on a normal attendance. Only a few percent, mostly children were going up for communion, so I assumed this priest must be fairly strict also which is why not many people go up. Even so I was assuming in a church this big the priest must make available special times for confession. But it came to holy week and it didn't happen, so I arranged to do confession after a  holy week service.

It felt kind of odd, that having just finished a holy week service of maybe 500 people, that my family and I are the only ones doing confession. After going to this church for months, I've never seen any other confessions taking place. Especially since I know that even in churches of infrequent communion people are wanting to commune at easter, so if hundreds of people are going to confess, when are they going to do it?

Anyway, so I quizzed the priest on what he requires. He is Greek so the language is a little awkward to have a deep conversation, but he isn't actually strict at all. He said we should feel free to have communion every week unless I feel like I've done a major sin and need to have confession. I asked how often I should go to confession if I don't have a "major sin" and he said maybe 4 or 5 times a year, although I get the feeling he's not fussed if it is even less often.

Anyway, so Pascha came and every Greek came out of the woodwork in the area, and seemingly every Greek went up to take communion. And having seen how and when the priest organises confession, I would probably bet that 98% of them hadn't done confession. Now Pascha is over and we are back to a few Greek children having communion plus my family and I, and several hundred Greeks not taking communion.

So I don't understand the thinking that goes on.

* If they are really pius and strict and don't want to commune without strict confession, why is every one of them going up at Easter, and why does the priest (who has been there for an eternity) not strict at all? Or why aren't they taking communion at least a bit more often than they appear to if they are pius about it?

* On the other hand, if they are simply nominal and indifferent about communion, why are they so careful to take their children every week, and to go up on Pascha?

* If the priest is happy and even encouraging of us to go up for communion every week, why are we the only ones to take him up on the offer?

I know I don't have to worry about what everyone else is doing, but it just seems really odd.





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« Reply #1 on: May 29, 2009, 12:52:42 AM »

Welcome to the board!   Smiley

I would not use one Greek Orthodox Church as a barometer to how parishioners receive Communion.

Confession is not performed as often in the Greek Orthodox Church as in Russian Orthodox Churches.  Some of the reasons have been discussed on related topics.

Others can clarify things a little better than I can.   Smiley
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« Reply #2 on: May 29, 2009, 09:02:21 AM »

Dear Def.Williams,

Greetings, and welcome to the forum!

From what I heard about the tradition of the Eucharist and from what I read on this forum, there is no universal rule about the frequency with which we should go to the Chalice, and neither there is a consensus that the Holy Confession must precede the Eucharist each time.

It seems to me that it is more or less a tradition in the Slavic world to partake in the Eucharist only when you have confessed your sins to the priest the day before, or even in the early morning prior to the Divine Liturgy at which you go to the eucharistic Chalice. Some bishops and priests in Russian and Ukrainian jurisdictions even go as far as to say that unless a person has gone to the Holy Confession the day before the Eucharist or the morning before the start of the DL, this person's partaking in the Eucharist will be "unworthy" and harmful. When I was in Ukraine one year ago, I heard priests say during the DL, literally, this: "(Chanting:) With the fear of God, faith and love, draw near! (In a speaking voice, loudly:) People, please, ONLY those who prepared themselves will be given the Eucharist." And by "preparing themselves," they mean - confessed to them yesterday or earlier this morning. They remember those who confessed, and if a person whom they do not recall confessing approaches them during the Communion, they will refuse.

On the other hand, in the Greek world, there seems to be no such mandatory, compulsory "tying" of the Eucharist to the prior Confession. If I understand correctly, this is based on the notion that the Holy Confession and the Holy Eucharist are BOTH Holy Mysteries of the Church and they act on the person each on its own merit. My parish priest always reminds us that it is good for us to go to the Holy Confession "regularly," but there is no custom in my parish that a person must confess immediately prior to receiving the Eucharist.

As far as the frequency goes, it cetainly is a very personal, individual matter. Unfortunately, I do not recall the name of this writer right now, but I read a while ago in a sermon by one Russian Orthodox priest approximately the following: "When should we go to the Chalice, how often? It's always a matter of debate, but I only know this. Zachheus, a sinner, a dishonest tax collector, saw Jesus and immediately invited Him in his house; he did the right thing! But the Roman centurion, about whom the local people reported that he was "worthy," said to Jesus that he was not worthy to receive Him in his home; and again, he did the right thing! So whether we go to the Chalice with fear of God, faith, and love, or refrain temporarily from going because we feel the burden of our sins and our unworthiness - we might be doing the right thing. There is no universal rule, therefore, when to commune and when not to, and there should not be any debate about the frequency of partaking in the Eucharist."

Best wishes to you and your family,

George

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def.williams
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« Reply #3 on: May 29, 2009, 09:59:37 AM »

Well... I don't necessarily want to debate how often people should partake. I just feel confused about why I am the odd one out. I've got to make the long trip down the aisle while hundreds of people look on and stay put. So I'm thinking, "what are they thinking, that I'm not thinking"? My inner self says to partake often. The priests tell me to partake often. Everybody else, other than children, apparently partakes once per year. That everyone would suddenly feel worthy on pascha, but not other days, sounds odd. I mean, we're all unworthy all the time, all the more reason to partake as far as I see, unless you have a sin you feel you need to confess, in which case confess it. But if everyone else is not going because they don't feel worthy, does that me look prideful because logically I do feel worthy? It's very confusing for a convert. It sometimes seems like I'm not practicing the same religion as the church I'm in.


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« Reply #4 on: May 29, 2009, 10:34:22 AM »

In a word... the answer to your questions can be boiled down to ignorance, plain and simple. I've seen it before but in this case it was my godfather's Ukrainian church. Only a few elderly women and some little children went forward to be communed on a weekly basis. The remainder of the church simply stood in their places. They are ignorant of the real teachings of the Church relating to communion and confession. Years ago it was the practice (albeit a wrong practice) to commune once a year after fasting and confession. This wrong practice is passed on from generation to generation via the family rather than most priests. And it's almost impossible to root it out. It's sad and frustrating, particularly for you.
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« Reply #5 on: May 29, 2009, 11:15:36 AM »

At St. Tikhon's Monastery, it was the tradition to only approach the chalice after going to confession that morning.  I remember once visiting NYC with my godchildren, I wasn't in the UOC of USA at that time, but we visited St. Volodymr's Cathedral.  At communion time the priest came forth with the Gifts and immediately went back into the Altar...no one received.  That was totally unnerving for me.
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« Reply #6 on: May 29, 2009, 11:16:23 AM »

In a word... the answer to your questions can be boiled down to ignorance, plain and simple. I've seen it before but in this case it was my godfather's Ukrainian church. Only a few elderly women and some little children went forward to be communed on a weekly basis. The remainder of the church simply stood in their places. They are ignorant of the real teachings of the Church relating to communion and confession. Years ago it was the practice (albeit a wrong practice) to commune once a year after fasting and confession. This wrong practice is passed on from generation to generation via the family rather than most priests. And it's almost impossible to root it out. It's sad and frustrating, particularly for you.

What Douglas said. Exactly. Local customs, or should we say "prejudices."

I'd say, do not worry about it and just go ahead and partake in the Eucharist, without reflecting too much on why other people do or do not do this and that, and what are they thinking about you.

I know, it is perhaps easy to say it "from the side." I am praying that the Lord will help you in this situation.
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« Reply #7 on: May 29, 2009, 11:26:49 AM »

In a word... the answer to your questions can be boiled down to ignorance, plain and simple. I've seen it before but in this case it was my godfather's Ukrainian church. Only a few elderly women and some little children went forward to be communed on a weekly basis. The remainder of the church simply stood in their places. They are ignorant of the real teachings of the Church relating to communion and confession. Years ago it was the practice (albeit a wrong practice) to commune once a year after fasting and confession. This wrong practice is passed on from generation to generation via the family rather than most priests. And it's almost impossible to root it out. It's sad and frustrating, particularly for you.

What Douglas said. Exactly. Local customs, or should we say "prejudices."

I'd say, do not worry about it and just go ahead and partake in the Eucharist, without reflecting too much on why other people do or do not do this and that, and what are they thinking about you.

I know, it is perhaps easy to say it "from the side." I am praying that the Lord will help you in this situation.

Good advice. And who knows... perhaps your faithfully communing each week will begin to turn things around in that parish. Who can say?
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« Reply #8 on: May 29, 2009, 11:30:14 AM »

Parish customs, but it might also be cultural.  I regularly attend 2 local churches: one Greek, one Antiochian.  Both filled with cradle Orthodox (if I said 99%, I wouldn't be exaggerating).  The Greeks appear to be much more conservative as to when they go up for communion on a typical Sunday... very few people approach the chalice.  Many approach with infants and while the child receives, they don't.  My wife made the comment that at the Antiochian parish a much larger percentage of people approach every Sunday.  The vast majority of them have probably done no preparation.... maybe a Sunday morning fast, if that.

Look, at the end of the day it's between you and God.  I try not to be judgmental (but I know I often am).  I have a lot more respect for someone who approaches in humility knowing that they have inadequately prepared to receive than for someone who is full of themselves for fasting, praying, and going to confession.  There truly is nothing that we can do to make us worthy to receive communion.  So if I was to err, I'd err on the side of receiving too often.  And don't worry about what anyone else thinks.
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« Reply #9 on: May 29, 2009, 11:34:56 AM »

Well... I don't necessarily want to debate how often people should partake. I just feel confused about why I am the odd one out. I've got to make the long trip down the aisle while hundreds of people look on and stay put. So I'm thinking, "what are they thinking, that I'm not thinking"? My inner self says to partake often. The priests tell me to partake often. Everybody else, other than children, apparently partakes once per year. That everyone would suddenly feel worthy on pascha, but not other days, sounds odd. I mean, we're all unworthy all the time, all the more reason to partake as far as I see, unless you have a sin you feel you need to confess, in which case confess it. But if everyone else is not going because they don't feel worthy, does that me look prideful because logically I do feel worthy? It's very confusing for a convert. It sometimes seems like I'm not practicing the same religion as the church I'm in.





I would say try not and let any of this bother you! I know it's hard, but all you need to know is that it's "their" practice that is slightly off and not what you're doing. I'm in a Greek parish and we have frequent communion of adults and children, anywhere between 60 and 90 people every Sunday. That's probably 3/4 of the people in attendance. And no one is going to confession every single week or the night before either. That seems to be a Slavic practice, custom and small t tradition that has developed for historical reasons over the centuries. Fr. Schmemman as well as a couple 19th century Russian saints wrote about (and in opposition to) this custom. You're right though, it is odd to see people taking Communion once a year at Pascha, and realizing they never went to confession, and probably haven't been in years. That tends to be a Greek "custom" or whatever one wants to call it. And it is the opposite extreme of the "confess 2 hours before you partake so you can be worthy" POV. Both are incorrect and not really in line with true praxis, or so I've read for many, many years. You're not doing anything wrong. And btw, you don't have to go to confession with this particular priest, you can use any priest you want. It's best to use the "same" priest over and over again, but if this Greek priest only wants to do confession with you a couple times a year, and you want to go more often (say once a month) then just use a different priest. There is no rule that says you have to use your parish priest. However, most priests, will be glad to do confession with you more often if you so choose. However they'll kind of feel your intentions out in the beginning to see if you're doing it for "legalistic" reasons, or for true repentance. If they feel you're doing it for "legal" reasons they'll try and explain that. However if you're just looking to do confession 4 or 5 times a year, most will be more than happy to do that with you. Some people like to do Confession once a month, but that's usually in the context of the confessor being a true spiritual father, and not just "my parish priest". (at least that's been my experience) In the end it really does depend on each individual, the circumstances the priest, etc....Some people who want to do confession once a month will be doing it for the wrong reasons, and in fact may be encouraged to confess less often, and of course the opposite is true as well. It really does depend on the individual and the relationship with the confessor.


As for the Communion thing, I know it's an odd feeling, because I've taken Communion in a Serbian parish where adults almost never Commune except at Pascha, but the best thing you can do is to shrug it off. If we always worry about what everyone else is thinking then we'll never take Communion again. (at least I wouldn't....LOL!)

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« Reply #10 on: May 29, 2009, 12:39:51 PM »

The varying jurisdictions and traditions in the United States and Canada have differing rules or traditions about approaching the Eucharist.  It is always advisable to meet to discuss parish practice and pastoral expectations with the local priest before you approch the chalice to assure you will be admitted to the chalice on you initial visitation to a new parish.

I was in a parish  early in my Orthodox life in which few approached the chalice, however when some of the newly iullumined , like myself, continued after chrismation to go  at every opportunity to recieve many of the cradle born began to do so. In some cases it is a simple measure of observing  that a priest does not  respond negatively to the frequent communion and overcoming generations of folk teaching that  no one communes but annually or on very special occassions. Many of the newly illumined fresh from their catechumen classes do continue their preparation with  frequent confession and appropriate fasting, their example can often lead those who do not  frequently  recieve or appropriately prepare themselves  to begin to do so as well. My greatest challenge in the past has been a priest being willing to make themselves available to offer confession when I am able to do it.

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« Reply #11 on: May 29, 2009, 09:58:17 PM »

In our Holy Orthodoxy, we should, individually, have a spiritual father, (typically, the presiding priest of our parish), who offers his rule for reception of Holy Communion.  The only canon in this regard is to fast from everything, from midnight of the morning the Liturgy will be conducted.  The frequency of Holy Confession and the amount of fasting, are spiritual disciplines, the extent of which they are utilized, depend on the status of your own spiritual growth.  There is a lot of writing in the regard by the Church Fathers, and other writers.  There are other, older, discussions of this topic on this forum.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America website, "goarch.org" has a recommended fasting discipline issued by the Holy Eparchial [Provincial] Synod.
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« Reply #12 on: May 31, 2009, 05:12:26 PM »

As others have already pointed out, the answer to the question is "custom"--"it is what we have always done."  Again, their are other threads on the relationship of confession to communion, and the story is long as to how we have a difference with the Russians and Greeks.   I take it that this Greek parish is the only option for attending in the area, so I would say continue to take the priest up on his offer, pray that the rest of the parish's once a year is beneficial to them, and be prepared for questions like "why do you feel you have to go up to communion every week."  The latter question will function as a witnessing tool if you are prepared to answer it, and may make a difference in the lives of many (you'd be surprised) and broaden their faith. 
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« Reply #13 on: May 31, 2009, 06:38:55 PM »

When I was growing up in the Russian tradition we did not take communion very often. My greatgrandmother who actually fled St. Petersberg during the Revolution for Paris only communed at Christmas, Easter and her name day.
I now attend a GOA parish in a southern city and people partake quite frequently as do I. It feels right.Father complains about people not coming for confession.
I often wonder, and this could be my sinful nature speaking, if it means as much..people talk in the lines going up to the solea and shake hands with the ushers but I think I should only worry about my own soul and behavior..I did have an usher ask me why I didn't shake his hand when he offered while I was going up for communion and I replied that I personally didn't think that that would be appropriate.To prevent this I now walk up to the chalice with my head bowed and eyes on the ground.
I remember my mother who took communion a little more often coming back from communion with tears in her eyes. I could also tell when she was going to receive as those would be the days that she wouldn't wear lipstick to Church and we would keep a strict Lentan fast the previous week.
I often wonder how my episcopalian father handled that.I bet he had meat and dairy for lunch at work!
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« Reply #14 on: May 31, 2009, 08:16:10 PM »

When I was growing up in the Russian tradition we did not take communion very often. My greatgrandmother who actually fled St. Petersberg during the Revolution for Paris only communed at Christmas, Easter and her name day.
I now attend a GOA parish in a southern city and people partake quite frequently as do I. It feels right.Father complains about people not coming for confession.
I often wonder, and this could be my sinful nature speaking, if it means as much..people talk in the lines going up to the solea and shake hands with the ushers but I think I should only worry about my own soul and behavior..I did have an usher ask me why I didn't shake his hand when he offered while I was going up for communion and I replied that I personally didn't think that that would be appropriate.To prevent this I now walk up to the chalice with my head bowed and eyes on the ground.
I remember my mother who took communion a little more often coming back from communion with tears in her eyes. I could also tell when she was going to receive as those would be the days that she wouldn't wear lipstick to Church and we would keep a strict Lentan fast the previous week.
I often wonder how my episcopalian father handled that.I bet he had meat and dairy for lunch at work!

Very interesting (and thanks for sharing this). I find it informative to hear these sorts of reminiscences from those whose background (unlike my own) is Orthodox. As an aside, I wonder if you crossed your arms over your chest while going forward to receive... would the usher still try and shake your hand?  Huh
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« Reply #15 on: May 31, 2009, 08:20:47 PM »

It's the Slavs who cross their arms over their chests (a lovely pious custom), I've never seen it among Greeks.
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« Reply #16 on: May 31, 2009, 08:33:33 PM »

I've never seen arms crossed across the chest in a GOA Church but I used to in my Russian Church..they also cross their arms across their chests at the local Antiochian Church..its comprised of people who left the local GOA parish because of problems and a few converts..
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« Reply #17 on: May 31, 2009, 10:29:38 PM »

This is a reply to what I considered the ethnic related issues you raised in your original post/inquiry.  Remember, the Church is "One," but practices vary among parishes, dioceses, and jurisdictions.  Typically only serious monastics adhere to the preparation for Communion articulated by the Church Fathers.  Again, the only canon regarding preparation for Holy Communion, is the midnight fast of the morning for the planned receipt of Holy Communion; and fasting and confession are distinct spiritual disciplines that are experienced as a member of the faithful grows in his spirituality; and your spiritual father is responsible for the guidance he gives you.

I'm somewhat surprised at the parish practices you refer to.  I'm 56 yrs. old and what you describe, reminds me of my youth.  Their is a Greeky parish in my area that practices as you've described.  Priest tend to refer to Holy Confession as "the forgotten sacrament."

What I am about to describe and explain is not related to the practices given by our Holy Orthodoxy.  It is, though, the practices of the Greeks, Greek immigrants primarily, though I've read that many clergy in the Church of Greece attempt to correct this practice.  The adults fast for 3 days strictly  before their 3 times per year participation in Holy Communion; usually it's a strict fast.  They feel they sin too much to go more frequently, plus the fasting they adhere to is too difficult to do routinely, so it's easier to do it 3-4 times per year; Pascha; the Falling Asleep of the Mother of God Feast; and the Nativity of Christ Feast.  The children are perceived to not be responsible for sinning, so as Communion is good for you, they can go.  To break them of this practice, the priests emphasised that they are never "worthy;" that they should fast year round as generally perscribed, Wednesday's and Friday's, Great Lent, etc.  But, there are those who don't hear these teachings.  I would say, since the 1960's, in the US, the priests in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America have taught frequent communion; and it's been my experience they have succeeded in that regard.  I've been told that this 3 day rigorous fasting, comes from the Kolivades movement in Greece in the 19th century, who, to break the faithful of the 3 times a year practice, told them to fast for 3 days before returning for (regular) communion.  Remember, I am not putting this forward for any reason other than to explain the Greek behavior which you are witnessing.  It's not due to Orthodox teaching.  Writing this, I've thought back to my youth when there was a devout older parishioner, who communed every Sunday.  The congregation thought this pious man had done something terribly sinful in his youth that he was trying to overcome!
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« Reply #18 on: June 01, 2009, 06:01:25 AM »

Does that also shaking hands with the ushers and talking with fellow parishioners as one goes up to the Chalice? I hope that is indigenous to this parish.
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« Reply #19 on: June 01, 2009, 10:14:12 AM »

When I was growing up in the Russian tradition we did not take communion very often. My greatgrandmother who actually fled St. Petersberg during the Revolution for Paris only communed at Christmas, Easter and her name day.
I now attend a GOA parish in a southern city and people partake quite frequently as do I. It feels right.Father complains about people not coming for confession.
I often wonder, and this could be my sinful nature speaking, if it means as much..people talk in the lines going up to the solea and shake hands with the ushers but I think I should only worry about my own soul and behavior..I did have an usher ask me why I didn't shake his hand when he offered while I was going up for communion and I replied that I personally didn't think that that would be appropriate.To prevent this I now walk up to the chalice with my head bowed and eyes on the ground.
I remember my mother who took communion a little more often coming back from communion with tears in her eyes. I could also tell when she was going to receive as those would be the days that she wouldn't wear lipstick to Church and we would keep a strict Lentan fast the previous week.
I often wonder how my episcopalian father handled that.I bet he had meat and dairy for lunch at work!

Very interesting (and thanks for sharing this). I find it informative to hear these sorts of reminiscences from those whose background (unlike my own) is Orthodox. As an aside, I wonder if you crossed your arms over your chest while going forward to receive... would the usher still try and shake your hand?  Huh

The crossing of the arms/wrists over the chest I believe to be a remnant of a part of a canon that was written when communion was still written in the hand, from the 6th Ecumenical council which states that those who come up to receive communion are to cross their hands right over left, to receive communion (the same way as when you ask a blessing from Bishop or Priest).  However, once Communion came to be taken wholly from the chalice, this posture became not very practical, in that you are receiving the Body now from the chalice, and could bump the chalice.   The Greek remedy was to do away with the practice altogether, in that one no longer received any part of Communion with the hands, and the Slavic remedy was to cross the arms (or wrists or hands, depending on region) to observe the maintaining the "form of the cross" with the hands without bumping the chalice. 
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« Reply #20 on: June 02, 2009, 09:13:56 AM »

Thanks for the information Father HLL.  It is interesting that in the Antiochian Archdiocese there is a mixture of this being done probably dating back to the Time of St Raphael --- those following Russian Practice cross their arms those following Greek practice keep their arms to their sides.

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« Reply #21 on: June 02, 2009, 09:17:01 AM »

May I also add my thanks. One can still learn something new here.
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