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From the St. Nicholas monthly bulletin…

On the Christian Life

Church Rules for Confession and Holy Communion

May 2011

Some have asked about how to prepare for Holy Communion. We present the following article by Archpriest Gregory Naumenko from the website of his parish, the Protection of the Mother of God Russian Orthodox Church in Rochester, NY. The article is available in both English and Russian. While some of our people may not have observed all these rules before, the following gives guidelines as to how to be better prepared. If you have any questions please address them to your priest.

If thou desirest, O man, to eat the Body of the Master, approach with fear, lest thou be burnt; for It is fire.
Behold, I approach the Divine Communion. O Creator, let me not be burnt by communicating, for Thou art Fire, consuming the unworthy.

Prayers before Holy Communion

Those who desire to partake of Confession and Commune of the Holy Mysteries must prepare properly according to the rules instituted by the Holy Orthodox Church. Namely:

1. Those who desire to Commune on Sunday must begin preparation from the previous Monday by at least being continually conscious of the fact that they are preparing to partake of the Most-precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Explanation: In the 32nd chapter of the Typicon (Book of Church Rules) we find the following rule concerning this: "When one desires to commune of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, it is most proper for him/her to keep properly the entire previous week; to remain in fasting, prayer and complete sobriety from the previous Monday; and then with fear and great reverence accept the Most-precious Mysteries."

2. Fast according to the rules of the Church.

Explanation: During the entire Great Lent and Dormition Fast, we do not partake of meat, eggs, milk and fish. (Fish is only allowed on the days of Annunciation and Palm Sunday and on Transfiguration during Dormition Fast). During the entire Nativity Fast and Apostles Fast, we do not partake of meat, eggs, milk. It is allowable to lessen the Fast only: in the case of severe illness, for small children, the feeble and elderly, for those with child or nursing an infant.

3. Be present at and attentively participate in the evening services before the day of Holy Communion.

Explanation: Communion of the Most-pure Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is the highest form of communication with the Lord God. Communing is the completion, the culmination of our communion with God. If a person comes to the Chalice not having gone through the labor of prayer through which he or she comes nearer to God; if he/she does not go through a process of ever increasing interaction with God; then this leap, as it were, from noncommunion to the ultimate level of communion (i.e. Holy Communion), is too drastic. That person is unworthy at that point for the acceptance of the Body and Blood of the Lord, and the Gifts for that person become "Fire, consuming the unworthy." In other words, for such a person, Communion brings not healing, but rather harm. This is why it is necessary to be at the Divine Services preceding Holy Communion, for they are one of the most important forms of interaction with God open to us, and thus an important component of our preparation.

4. Those (age 7 and older) preparing for Communion must receive Holy Confession before partaking of Holy Communion. This is best done at the time designated for Confession on the schedule. This is usually in the evening, prior to the evening service. Those who cannot come for the time scheduled can, as an exception, come to confession following the evening service. Confession in the morning, before Liturgy, is allowable only as an extreme exception for those who cannot come in the evening because of the condition of their health or for some other justified important reason.

Explanation: Since we must be in church on the eve of Holy Communion (see Number 3 above), it is wise for us to partake of confession at that time. In the evening there is no hurry; one can calmly and thoughtfully lay out one’s thoughts. In the morning, the priest is busy with the Holy Proskomede, there is little time, and Confession becomes hurried, incomplete. Only extreme need is cause enough to pull the priest away from the Proskomede for morning confession.

5. Read at home all the prescribed preparatory prayers out of the prayer book. [Pages cited are from the Fourth Edition - Revised 1986 of the Jordanville Prayer Book. Those who do not own a prayer book can purchase it at our parish kiosk.]

Explanation: One must definitely read The Order of Preparation for Holy Communion, which is found on pages 332–378 in the prayer book. Those who have not read these prayers should not partake of Holy Communion. The following should also be read before Holy Communion:

  • Supplicatory Canon to our Lord Jesus Christ (p. 218)
  • Supplicatory Canon to the Most Holy Theotokos (p. 233)
  • Canon to the Guardian Angel (p. 249)
  • An Akathist, either:
    • Akathist to our Sweetest Lord Jesus Christ (p.265), or
    • Akathist to our Most Holy Lady Theotokos (p.290).

The canons may be read together at this website: The Canons for Holy Communion.

6. Ask forgiveness and reconcile yourself with everyone with whom you have had an argument, misunderstanding or any deterioration in relationship. By taking Communion without full reconciliation with everyone we do ourselves great harm.

Explanation: The Church exhorts us to be in peace with everyone through the following words which are written in the prayers preparing us for Holy Communion: If thou desirest, O man, to eat the Body of the Master, Approach with fear, lest thou be burnt; for It is fire. And when thou drinkest the Divine Blood unto communion, First be reconciled to them that have grieved thee, then dare to eat the Mystical Food.

7. One must approach the Mysteries without having eaten or drunk anything from midnight on.

Explanation: We prepare ourselves with fasting for the partaking of the Holy Gifts. The final period before Communion we intensify our abstention and eat and drink nothing. Those who cannot do without certain medication may take it with Holy Water that morning, but only if this is absolutely necessary. Small children may eat before Communion in the morning. The sick (for example, diabetics) and those who are weak can receive a blessing from their spiritual father (priest) to eat a small amount the morning of Communion.

8. In the morning, one must come before the beginning of the service, respectfully venerate the icons, light candles, find a spot to stand and be prepared for the beginning of the reading of the Hours. One must listen attentively to the Hours and then the Divine Liturgy.

Explanation: The Hours are a part of the cycle of services. They are also an important part of the process of preparation for Holy Communion for the same reason as was written in the explanation of Number 3 above.

9. Men are forbidden to come to Communion (and at all times inside the church) with their heads covered according to the strict edict of Apostle Paul. Women are forbidden to come to Communion (and at all times inside the church) with their heads uncovered according to the strict edict of Apostle Paul.

Explanation: The Church follows the instruction of Apostle Paul who says in Corinthians 11:4, 5: Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth and prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head.

10. No one should take Holy Communion (or even come to Church) with lipstick on.

Explanation: Besides the fact that such practice is not fit for God’s Church, how many pages of our church Holy Gospel have been ruined by kissing with painted lips. How many of the Church vessels, cross, spoon have been treated the same way. Look at our icons at the end of a service. They are covered with lipstick. Even the Holy Shroud, the Body of Christ in the tomb Who suffered for us, has been tainted with lipstick.

11. After Holy Communion one must stay and listen to the Thanksgiving Prayers after Holy Communion or to diligently read them at home in the prayer book.

Explanation: In Holy Communion we receive a great gift from God. We express our gratitude for God’s great act of mercy through these thanksgiving prayers.

12. At the end of the service, the ones who took Communion carefully listen to the thanksgiving prayers and do not come up to venerate the Cross with everyone else. When the thanksgiving prayers are over, the Cross is brought out to them for veneration. At that time, when one kisses the Cross, it is not customary to kiss the priest’s hand.

Explanation: The people who have not taken Holy Communion come up to the Cross immediately and receive a piece of Antidoron, as a consolation that they were unable to take Holy Communion at this Liturgy. The communicants, without interruption, listen to the thanksgiving prayers and then venerate the Cross, since they have partaken of the True Gifts and have no need to receive the Antidoron ("instead-of-the-gifts"). We kiss the priest’s hand because he imparts Christ’s blessing to us. Following Holy Communion we contain Christ Himself, we have joined ourselves to Christ and therefore do not kiss the priest’s hand at that time.

13. Following Holy Communion we piously return home, retain a prayerful peaceful calm, do good works and exert all our efforts not to return to the sins from which we have been cleansed. 

Founded in 1929, St. Nicholas Church in Stratford, CT, is a parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). Read more...

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