No Holy Communion to non-Orthodox

Why Can't non-Orthodox Receive Holy Communion?

by Fr. Evan Armatas


“This food we call Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives according to the way Christ handed down to us (Justin Martyr, First Apology).” These powerful words were written over 1500 years ago. Today our Church makes the same statement; Holy Communion is reserved only for those who are baptized and confirmed Orthodox Christians. They must be in good standing and hold to the teachings and traditions of the Orthodox Church.

For many of us, however, this statement is not enough. Many people want to know why this is so. They question why we do not allow non-Orthodox to participate in Communion. Such a practice appears to be rude, unfair, discriminatory, or even un-Christian. More importantly, many wonder whether or not Christ himself would have held to such a standard.

To begin to understand the Church's position, we must first set aside the notion that participation in the Holy Eucharist is a means for inter-denominational communion and union. Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ, should not be used as a tool or a method. To use it as such would be a gross misuse and misrepresentation. Rather, Holy Eucharist is the visible and tangible sign of true communion between Lord and we, his servants, as well as between we and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. This means that the vehicle for uniting separate groups (denominations) of Christians should never and can never be Eucharist. Eucharist, however, is the symbol that different Christians are united in their belief. For example, a friend of mine who was offended that he was not able to take communion at an Orthodox Church at the same time disagreed and even denied the Orthodox Church's teaching concerning the Holy Eucharist, namely that it is the real Body and Blood of the Lord! His own understanding of Holy Communion did not match that of the Church and her faithful. Therefore we can say that the Church did not refuse to allow him to receive but rather his own beliefs excluded him from participating in Holy Communion.

The second thing we must understand with regards to the Church's position on Holy Communion is the way in which it is received. To my friend, I pointed out that no one should ever simply take Communion; Communion is not a right; it is not something we earn or deserve. Holy Communion is a gift, and because of this fact, it is something that is never taken but always received. It is the Church's responsibility to pass that gift along. Yet, in doing so, the Church must exercise restraint and discernment. For just as physical food can actually harm and even kill a starving man, the spiritual food of the Eucharist can do the same. St. Paul warns us of this very phenomenon in his first letter to the Corinthians chapter 11 vv.27-30. Here he cautions the Corinthians how the reception of the Eucharist in an unworthy manner has caused physical harm. The Church then has a responsibility to guard against distributing the Body and Blood of Christ to those it would harm. Notice that even Orthodox Christians are at times excluded from receiving the Eucharist. The Church then does not deny anyone the Eucharist, but rather she safeguards it against its improper use and reception.

Finally, we can argue that if one who exists outside the Orthodox Church should desire to receive the Holy Eucharist, then only one thing is needed. Let them examine the Church's teachings and her witness to Christ. Let them investigate what it is we teach and believe, and if in so doing, they come to proclaim as we do that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ and that salvation is found through membership in His Church, then let them approach with the fear of God, in faith, and love. Christ gave Himself for the life of the world and His Body and Blood were broken and shed so that through Christ, we might have eternal life. This is an amazing gift, and, at the same time, an awesome treasure; the responsibility of so great a gift falls on each one of us. Thus, with boldness we all must preach the good news and with steadfastness, we must faithfully adhere to the teaching once and for all delivered to all the Saints (Jude 1.3).


Holy Communion in the Orthodox Church

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