On the Question of the Frequent Communion of the Holy Sacraments

Most likely, it wasn’t accidental that the Holy Fathers decided to dedicate the Fourth Sunday after Easter to the issue of paralysis. They were thinking of spiritual paralysis that wraps up our entire life. How do we fight this spiritual sloth? How do we keep the spiritual flame burning and not fall into despondency that steals our Easter joy? Saint Nicodemus the Hagiorite and Saint Macarius of Corinth, who compiled the Philokalia, agree that spiritual paralysis and sloth are rooted in infrequent communion of the Holy Sacraments. If we don’t want to spend 38 years paralyzed spiritually, like the paralytic man in the Gospel, let us hearken to the Holy Fathers.

The Holy Eucharist is said to be a fearsome endeavor, and thus everyone who takes communion must be holy, perfect, and Angel-like. Holy Fathers respond to it that everyone who received Holy Baptism have thereby undergone a revival from above and are therefore holy because they belong to God who is holy. Holiness is also acquired by observing God’s commandments and by partaking of the Holy Body and Blood of Jesus. If we are baptized, we become holy children of the Holy God, and therefore should take communion frequently, St. Nicodemus concludes.

What about our sinfulness? Doesn’t it disqualify us? St. John Chrysostom points out, “The problem isn’t that our hearts aren’t clean. The problem is that we don’t come to the One who can make them clean when they are unclean.” (Homily 26). The Fathers don’t demand spiritual perfection from the communicants because each person is on a different spiritual level, and each brings his or her fruit to the Lord according to his or her ability. The crux of the issue here, as St. Macarius and St. Nicodemus emphasize, that one can never achieve spiritual perfection without constant communion.

The authors of Philokalia pose the following rhetorical question: Do those who oppose frequent communion take communion once every 40 days as perfect saints or as sinners? If they deem themselves perfect, they should take communion more often. If they regard themselves to be sinners, they should also take communion more often to become perfect. An infant cannot grow into a healthy adult without daily intake of food; likewise, a Christian cannot grow in the Spirit without taking communion often. That is why Saint Basil the Great writes that those who were reborn by the Baptism must henceforth partake of the Divine Mysteries. (See his Homily 8, On Baptism).

Nicodemus and Macarius conclude: “It is necessary and soul-nurturing to take communion as often as possible. It is in keeping with God’s commandment; it is perfectly good and pleases God. The closer one gets to the light, the brighter one becomes; the closer one gets to the fire, the warmer one feels; the closer one gets to the Sacrament, the holier one becomes.” (St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite, “The Most Soul-Nurturing Book on Frequent Communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ”).

Hence, the main idea of Nicodemus and Macarius is that constant communion of the Holy Gifts is a prerequisite and the means to achieve holiness and to wash away one’s sins. Sins don’t make us ineligible for communion because we can defeat them only by renewing our connection to Christ all the time. “Christ accepts all communicants every day; He enlightens and sanctifies those who are worthy; as far as those who are unworthy are concerned, He makes them feel pangs of conscience, and then, if they improve, He accepts them mercifully.” (Ibid.) Eager to unite with our Lord more often, let us prepare for communion more frequently by paying more attention to our thoughts and by confessing more. That rhythm of preparation, followed by gratitude for communion and the next round of preparation for the Eucharist, will keep us concentrated so that the spirit of depression and idleness won’t bother us.

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