Question: How many times a year must one
receive Holy Communion? Is the Sacrament of Confession necessarily tied to
is not absolutely linked to Confession. In the ancient Church, people had the
Grace of God in them; they were in a state of enlightenment of the nous* and they
of course prayed and received Holy Communion frequently. When someone committed
a sin, it meant that they had forfeited the Grace of God, in which case, they
would remain outside the Temple, together with the catechumens. This is because
one cannot have the Grace of God and yet deny Christ. When one sins, and
especially in the flesh - and I am not referring to the carnal relations within
an in-Christ marriage - it shows that they are preferring carnal pleasure more
than Christ and as such, are denying Christ in practice. This reduces them
to the ranks of the repentants, and they will need to re-attain the state of
enlightenment of the nous, following a specific procedure.
In Basil the
Great and other Fathers, we notice that there were four ranks of Christians.
Firstly, there were the "forgiveness-seekers", who sat outside the Holy Temple
and asked for forgiveness from the Christians that went into the Temple.
Secondly, there were the "beseechers", who remained in the Temple only up to the
recitings of the Divine Liturgy and would depart along with the catechumens.
Thirdly there were the "aligned", who remained in place until the end of the
Divine Liturgy, but without receiving Holy Communion. And fourthly, there
were the partakers of Holy Communion. In other words, when someone committed a
sin, they would have to go through a period of repentance and repentance meant
that the person had to reach the enlightenment of the nous through catharsis -
he would have to alter his nous, and from darkened make it light again.
The Bishop would then read a blessing and that person could afterwards receive
That is why I
mentioned that Confession is not absolutely tied to Holy Communion. If someone
sins and he needs to confess, then he must confess. If there are certain
sins - the so-called "excusable" ones - they are forgiven with the service of
Communion and with the prayer "...and forgive us our trespasses...." which is
included in the "Lord's Prayer".
As to how many
times a year one can receive Holy Communion - well, that is determined by one's
Spiritual Father. That is, we go to our Spiritual Father and we open up our
heart completely; we tell him all of the problems that we have, we report on the
condition we are in, and he will give us the appropriate instructions. The same
thing takes place here, as it does with doctors. We visit the doctor, we
inform him of our ailment and the doctor will make the appropriate diagnosis and
prescribe suitable medication and treatment. For example, he might tell us to
abstain from certain foods because our organism can't tolerate them, and that we
will be free to consume those foods only after we are cured.
It is in this
context that we should also look upon Holy Communion, because to some, Holy
Communion can be Light, while to others it can be fire.
Fathers say that when we place two objects - that is, mud and wax - under the
sun, then the sun's rays will harden the mud and melt the wax. Although
the sun's energies are the same, however, the substance of the objects is
different, which is why the results are different. In the same way, God and Holy
Communion become [are experienced as] Light to some, and to others, fire.
In the Temples
of Monasteries they depict the scene of the Second Coming. At the top of the
icon is the Throne, and from the Throne emanates the Light which illuminates the
saints, while from the Throne flows the river of fire that consumes the sinners.
Saint Isaac the Syrian says that "hell" is God's "whip of love" - a love that
mankind cannot comprehend, because their hearts are unclean and incurable. God
loves both the righteous AND the sinner, but not everyone can experience God in
the same manner.
Great wrote that the Light has two energies: the illuminating and the caustic,
and as such, it illuminates and it burns. Whoever has eyes will avoid its
caustic energy and will enjoy the illuminating energy of the Light. Those who
have no eyes to see, will accept the caustic characteristic of the light. That
is what will happen during the Second Coming: the righteous will perceive God's
light and sinners will perceive His fire.
The exact same
thing takes place during the Divine Liturgy. Some receive Holy Communion and are
illuminated, while others receive Holy Communion and are condemned. The Apostle
Paul says in his Epistle to Corinthians: "For this, there are among
you many who are weak and sick, and a great many are reposed." (1
Cor.11:30). That is why the work of a priest is not to distribute tickets so
that people might enter Paradise; he must heal people, so that when they
encounter God, God will become Light and not fire to them.
clarify at this point the question of how frequently a healthy person and a sick
person can receive Holy Communion; for example, a paralytic person. It
appears that a healthy person has many more sins and a paralytic does not have
as many. But that is not correct. It does not mean that a healthy person sins
and a paralytic doesn't. Sins are committed with one's thoughts and one's
desires as well as with the body. One can be healthy and spend all day
glorifying God and live an angelic life, and the other - a sick person - can
live with faithlessness and indignation. What is important, is for one to
glorify God - whether in health or in sickness.
*Nous = The human nous in Eastern
Orthodox Christianity is the "eye of the heart or soul" or the "mind of the
heart". The soul of man is created by God in His image; man's soul is
intelligent and noetic. St Thalassios wrote that God created beings "with a
capacity to receive the Spirit and to attain knowledge of Himself; He has
brought into existence the senses and sensory perception to serve such beings".
Eastern Orthodox Christians hold that God did this by creating mankind with
intelligence and noetic faculties. Angels have intelligence and nous, whereas
men have reason - both logos and dianoia - nous and sensory perception. This
follows the idea that man is a microcosm and an expression of the whole creation
or macrocosmos. The human nous was darkened after the Fall of Man (which was the
result of the rebellion of reason against the nous), but after the purification
(healing or correction) of the nous (achieved through ascetic practices like
hesychasm), the human nous (the "eye of the heart") will see God's uncreated
Light (and feel God's uncreated love and beauty, at which point the nous will
start the unceasing prayer of the heart) and become illuminated, allowing the
person to become an orthodox theologian.