This is potentially a hot topic, and I'm not looking to start a huge debate/argument.
I'm on the road to becoming Orthodox. However, one thing that greatly troubles me and is holding me back from becoming Orthodox is the tightly closed Eucharist. I've been to Protestant churches that had a somewhat closed Eucharist/communion (they would want to talk to you before hand to make sure you are an actual believer), but completely closing off the Eucharist to those who aren't "in" is worrisome to me.
Do the Orthodox feel they own the body of Christ? Do the Orthodox know where Christ does and does not operate? Are they not blaspheming the work of the Holy Spirit by denying the Spirit anywhere He isn't branded as Eastern Orthodox?
How is someone who daily pursues the will of their heavenly Father less qualified to receive the Eucharist than an infant who was simply born into a family that is already Orthodox?
Candora, I ponder these questions also. I am currently a catechumen of a ROCOR parish. It was not my first choice of jurisdiction. I landed here after a lifetime, yes a literal lifetime of searching for a church that at bare minimum adhered to the Bible. I was baptized a Roman Catholic, so the journey started as an infant. So as you mention above I have been pursuing the will of my heavenly Father which may have led me here yet He also led me to other places. My parents left the Roman Catholic church when I was young, so when I went back as an adult it had changed. And as listed also in this thread I have seen all those heretical groups active in every protestant denomination that I have been in AND left because I recognized or learned of the heresies. I am like the Bereans, who search the scriptures. I know my shortcomings and I have always been seeking the truth.
I first encountered what is called 'closed communion' on my first trek backwards in trying to find the 'true church' at the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). They had a glitch in their requirements for communion, because I had just dis-membered myself from an apostate-independent-charismatic to reformed-non-denominational congregation I wasnt eligible. Yet had I simply been visiting this OPC and in good standing with the apostate church I would have been communed. This started my researching into this 'closed communion' dogma. It was very damaging to my soul to be passed by during communion and being denied to participate. I left the OPC a very hurt Christian. Then I encountered it at what I thought was THE first reformed church, Lutheranism. I put up with their confirmation process and partook of communion only to have been so emotional I could barely get back to my pew from the sheer overwhelming joy. Then we had a pastoral change that led to the rapid deterioration of our local church but learned that the whole denomination is based on schism from the Roman Catholic faith and what led us to try Orthodoxy. If the original pastor was still there I would probably have died a Lutheran. A God thing. That pastor would make a wonderful Orthodox priest.
Anyway, in my research I find that even Judas was offered the sop, he took it and then left. To his detriment I suppose. St. Paul's words
"Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body."
say for a man to EXAMINE HIMSELF
not the church, not the priest, not the guy sitting next to him in church.
That is the problem I have with closed communion
You do not know the damage you do to one who knows what they are partaking of to be denied. Yes, I cry everytime I see a baby or a child who does not know what they are partaking being given the Eucharist. I die a little bit every Divine Liturgy. Its why I left an Antiochian parish after several months, it got too hard to bear standing while everyone else partook. The ROCOR parish being smaller I had at least a better chance to talk to the priest and start the catechumanate but I may not survive the waiting. Lord, have mercy.
While I am not a cradle (as you ask for in a later post), I am a recent enough convert that had to overcome some similar problems on my way to Orthodoxy, that perhaps I can help.
First, it helps to realize that the Church does not begin and end in Scripture- or at least not the New Testament portion. The Scriptures your Bereans examined were the Old Testament, and most likely the Septuagint, given their location in Greece. They searched to ensure that the Gospel that St Paul preached was in harmony with the Old Testament teachings. The Church precedes the New Testament, indeed it was necessary to have the Church beforehand in order that the New Testament might be written- the inspiration of the Holy Spirit does not happen in a vacuum, the writing of Scripture requires believers, the Israelites first and the Church second.
Still, we know from the New Testament that even the Early Church practiced closed communion. St Paul did not preach in the streets of Athens and distribute the Eucharist to all who heard him preach. He preached, they believed and were baptized, and the Eucharist came later. Even Judas had been baptized before he was invited to sit at the Lord's table and partake of that first Eucharist.
When we examine the history of the Church, once the persecutions began, more stringent requirements were put in place before baptism, creating the Catechumen. This was a necessary creation for the time, the Church's way of being "wise as serpents yet harmless as doves". Faith had to be displayed, lest the local Church be opened to an unnecessary martyrdom from those who simply professed belief to turn the local Christians in to the government.
It is indeed up to each Christian
to examine his own conscience before approaching the Eucharist, but it is up to each Bishop and (and by extension, priest) to do as St Paul instructed and "Guard the rich deposit of faith". If a man approaches unworthily, with secret sin in his heart, and eats and drinks to his own condemnation, that is on him. However, by holding "open communion" the celebrant invites people to eat and drink to their own condemnation, people that might not know the consequences of their own actions. There is a vast difference between a man knowingly approaching the Chalice and condemning himself, and someone else offering what could be your condemnation to you. Our Lord has very harsh words for those spiritual leaders who lead people into damnation.
Now, a lot of the heartache you express is due to our rather confusing times. There are many denominations out there, and recently some of these have adopted the practice of offering communion to all baptized Christians (and then there are some toying with going beyond this and offering communion to all, regardless of the "official position" of their denomination). But, this idea of "open communion" has one flaw. No church that offers open communion could consider itself a "true Church". By offering open communion they are essentially saying that there is no way to determine what church is the True Church, that all denominations have a little bit of good and a little bit of bad. This might not necessarily be a wrong view (I believe it is, but that is a matter for a different thread, I believe). By offering "closed communion" to only those members that belong to the church, the church is declaring itself to be THE Church.
Note as well, the local churches of the New Testament did not accept everyone willy-nilly on their own say-so. People went with letters of recommendation from other Apostolically founded churches to ensure that they were indeed members of the Church. When Apollos was heard preaching the Gospel of Christ, he was not invited to the local Church to partake of the Eucharist, they inquired of his provenance, of what Baptism he had, and they ensured that in all ways he received what was required. Even then, in the New Testament, the communion was closed until the Church knew that the person was ready to receive.
I, too, know the pain of the catechumen for one who had previously been receiving communion all their life. I do wonder, though, is it damaging to your soul or simply wounding to it to be passed by? There is a difference. Damage to one's soul is what happens when one receives unworthily. Wounds can be healed, and this wound can be healed at once with a touch of that Immaculate Body and Precious Blood. The wound is the same wound that any has had during courtship- that torture of seeing the beloved yet not being able to touch, the painful and burning desire to seize that which cannot yet be lawfully seized. The pain at watching infants commune is no more than the pain of seeing that man (every man) married to a woman he cannot fully appreciate. The solution to this pain, the balm for this wound, is found in the Sacraments- that of marriage for the lovers, that of Baptism and Chrismation for the Christian, and both these Sacraments are jealously guarded by our clergy in keeping with the admonition of St Paul. To take, to seize, to demand before one's time is damaging- indeed it is damning. To borrow a phrase from my own Evangelical youth- True Love Waits.