More on Confession and Communion
Dear Fr. Andrew,
Christ is risen!
Thank you for your continuing efforts to inform through your website.
As a convert who has been blessed to belong to OCA, ROCOR and Antiochian parishes at various times, I am struck by the serious differences in these jurisdictions regarding the connection between Confession and Communion.
Understanding that the Mysteries of the Church are therapies of healing for soul and body, it would seem that your point about Confession nearly always being necessary before Communion implies that Communion is harmful in itself. If this is so, are not the priests who weekly partake of Communion without Confession at great risk?
An explanation would be appreciated.
He is risen indeed!
Thank you for the message.
I would never say that communion is harmful in itself. NEVER! That would be blasphemous. What is harmful is what is in our souls and therefore in our minds, that is, the proud thoughts that by taking communion we are 'already saved' (which is a Protestant reflex and can occur especially among converts of a Protestant or Protestantised background). To say that communion is harmful in itself is like saying that the prayer of the heart is harmful in itself. This is not so - in itself. But if I start saying the prayer thousands of times a day (in imitation of the somewhat dubious, anonymous booklet ‘The Way of the Pilgrim’ - which has always been read far more by Non-Orthodox than more sober-minded Orthodox) and then I imagine that I am as a result holy, harm is done. Not by the prayer, but by me - in my attitude to the prayer.
Harm comes from inside ourselves, not from outside. Thus, fanaticism often has a religious origin, but you should not blame religion for fanaticism. Fanaticism comes from a sick psychology, which then exploits religion, justifying it sickness, hiding behind religion as an excuse.
It is sad that some small parts (perhaps in the USA large parts?) of the Orthodox Church have so secularised (protestantised) their practice on confession and communion – like the Catholics before them. Confession before communion IS the norm. For priests in normal parishes ( = usually, sadly, not in the Diapora) where there are two or more priests in the parish, this is not a problem. For our parishes in the Diaspora, it is a real problem and I have spoken about it for the last 27 years (including at clergy conferences). Nothing seems to be done for lack of means. All we can do is keep a careful check on ourselves and take advantage whenever another priest visits, relying on the prayers of the laity to keep us on the straight and narrow. But I agree with you completely - it is not good and priests are at risk. It is a heavy cross to have to take communion at every liturgy we celebrate. As ever, we can only rely on the mercy and forgiveness of God. The priests have to sacrifice themselves for the people. This is what the priesthood is.
The point is that the Church is sacramental. If we ignore any of the sacraments, for example, confession, we deprive ourselves and put ourselves at risk of losing grace.