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Is the Eucharist harmless?


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#1 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 11 July 2011 - 02:20 PM

Many people, including many clergy I know, act as if the Eucharist is only good for you and so partaking unworthily is not eating and drinking damnation unto oneself. (1 Cor. 11:29) I myself have always accepted the Apostle's words as authoritative, but his words are apparently not enough for some clergymen, so I need patristic citations to make the case to them that they are profaning the Eucharist when they knowingly commune brazenly unrepentant sinners to avoid hurting their feelings and turning them away.

These priests seem to regard the Eucharist as barely better than zapifka — just something sweet we give people to keep them coming back. By the way, the people they want to keep coming back are open gays who scandalize parishioners by telling them about their gay marriages, bringing their gay partners to church, and posting pictures of their weddings online.

Please, help me stop this.

Lord have mercy!

Dn Patrick

#2 Kyrill Bolton

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Posted 11 July 2011 - 05:12 PM

I'll let the clergy and/or the scholars answer your question.

I'll only say that I don't think that I personally have ever "worthily" partaken but by the grace of God there have been clergy willing to feed me. How can I, a lump of clay, even dare to imagine myself to be worth the sacrifice of He who made me? I can only hold on to His mercy that my partaking will not further my deserved condemnation.

#3 Alice

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Posted 11 July 2011 - 07:07 PM

These parishioners are engaging in immoral sin of a sexual nature. There are also married and unmarried heterosexuals in every pew of every church in Orthodoxy throughout the world that are probably doing the same (engaging in sexual sins of some nature) and may also be communing (because perhaps many do not have a spiritual Father confessor to tell them that they shouldn't. )

As for the homosexual parishioners that are showing off their weddings, etc in your church...I suppose that the main difference is that the heterosexual Orthodox Christian usually does not advertise their sexual sin in church; *though, on the other hand*, any unmarried parishioner who is not ashamed of saying they have a boyfriend or girlfriend these days (there are many exceptions ofcourse) could also be looked at as advertising their sexual sin, just as much as the homosexual is. So, while the newly accepted homosexual 'lifestyle' of 2011 is ofcourse, and rightfully, looked upon by us in conservative Christian circles as scandalous, we need to also remember that the accepted heterosexual lifestyle of 2011 (meaning dating relationships which are not chaste) are also scandalous. Sexual sin needs to be lovingly and pastorally condemned in all its forms outside traditional marriage (and for heterosexual men as well as women) according to the teachings of Christianity.

I am NOT condoning what is going on in your parish, and infact, I am a bit shocked, being part of the Greek Orthodox branch-because we are generally a very conservative bunch (atleast in the 'public square' of the church community) ... This conservativism is on the most part cultural (Greeks are generally very family oriented), but some of it can also be to avoid the dreaded 'wicked tongues' (this is the direct translation from Greek for those who gossip) that shame families and destroy reputations.

We live in very, very strange, ambiguous, and disturbing times, and it must be difficult to have to explain to children that the 'two mommies' and 'two daddies' that are in the Church are being something very antithetical to what our Church teaches. I just wish that this 'in your face' gay agenda would have never been,** but it has, and I don't think there is anything we can do to reverse it....(shudder, shudder). It must also be very difficult for your priest and other priests to lovingly and pastorally serve these parishioners, (who are also servants of God, who like the rest of us, are spiritually ill and in need of the Church's 'medicine') in this political climate of acceptance we live in, and in this society which now tells them that their sexual and emotional unions are not spiritually ill at all !!

May our Lord have mercy on us all!

In Christ,
Alice

(**was watching 'All in the Family' from back in the early 1970's the other day, when a man came to the door to give out a pamphlet for his organization 'The Gay Liberation Front' and Archie Bunker slammed the door in his face-- It has taken four decades since that show and since that new 'agenda' appeared, and despite social and religious conservatives fighting it tooth and nail, in the end, it has been to no avail...Those of us who do not condone it are seen as being as 'bigoted' as Archie Bunker, and worse, but now we do not have rights to condemn it for our children and our society. It is in our face, being promoted in our schools, and legal... Let's hope that our religious institutions, charities, and schools will not be 'forced' to accept it as normal in the future. )

Edited by Alice, 11 July 2011 - 07:49 PM.


#4 Eric Peterson

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Posted 11 July 2011 - 08:39 PM

What you've related, Fr. Deacon, is quite disturbing, and it's probably something that should have been addressed long before anyone approached the chalice--like in confession, though this sacrament is neglected in some places.

I would say the largest issue is the scandal--that needs to be addressed, perhaps by the bishop, since it effects more people than just the particular communicants.

With regard to these communicants, there may be unseen circumstances, or perhaps just a lot of ignorance. How to minister properly to homosexuals is a big problem nowadays. Sometimes the "line which cannot be crossed" is drawn too far to the left--to err through too much accommodation and bending/breaking rules, and sometimes it is placed too far to the right--through impatience, hardheartedness, or just a desire not to bother.

It doesn't appear, from your telling, that these communicants have a desire to struggle, in that they have entered into sham marriages, etc. Sometimes, showing love requires firmness, otherwise it is not love, but hatred wearing a mask.

Edited by Eric Peterson, 11 July 2011 - 08:54 PM.
mlast paragraph of OP


#5 Father David Moser

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 01:42 AM

Lets keep in mind that the question here is about finding patristic and other comments about the nature and efficacy of the Holy Mysteries, particularly when they are given without proper preparation or unworthily. This is not a thread about homosexuality nor is it a place to speculate on the spiritual condition of people that we don't know who are being communed by their spiritual father. Any more posts that speculate on the pastoral situation that Fr Dcn described will be deleted as that is nothing more than idle gossip. OTOH, if you have comments that address the question at hand - patristic sources on the Mysteries - please feel free to post.

Fr David

#6 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 11:33 AM

Thank you, Father. I mentioned the pastoral context to show that this is not an idle academic question but one of utmost urgency. I really am seeking sources to combat the erroneous notion that excluding people from the Eucharist is hurtful to them and therefore should be avoided so as not to turn them away forever. That is not the Orthodoxy I have been taught, but it is what one often finds in many Orthodox churches, and it is proving fatally destructive to souls and parishes. "For this cause, many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep." (1 Cor. 11:30)

#7 Rick H.

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 12:43 PM

Speaking of the apostle Paul's writing in 1 Cor. what does he say should be done with folks as described above?

#8 Father David Moser

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 01:09 PM

Speaking of the apostle Paul's writing in 1 Cor. what does he say should be done with folks as described above?


In fact the Apostle does talk about those who are sick and even fallen asleep due to having approached the Mysteries unworthily. He says, "when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world". IOW, I think it is important to recognize that such people are in God's hands not ours. This is, of course a different matter than the question at hand which deals with the nature of the Mysteries - but it does serve as a reminder that we are not the ones to judge.

Fr David Moser

#9 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 01:59 PM

This is, of course a different matter than the question at hand which deals with the nature of the Mysteries - but it does serve as a reminder that we are not the ones to judge.


And so we just give the Holy Gifts to whoever wants them, never minding how unworthy they are? Maybe that's not what you mean, but some people plainly do mean the never judging means communing anyone. That's part of the problem. People just shrug and say, "That's between him and God. I'm not to judge." But somebody is to judge, or we wouldn't have all those canons about cutting people off.

#10 Nina

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 02:28 PM

Two books regarding Holy Communion by St. Nikodimos of Agion Oros would be a very good resource.

All Fathers (I think esp St. Chrysostomos) warn us about approaching unworthily and unprepared.

#11 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 03:15 PM

There are several issues raised in Fr Patrick's original post that need to be disentangled.

First, how are we to properly understand the Apostle Paul's arguments in 1 Cor 11:17-34? This is a difficult and challenging section to exegete, and it would be interesting to compare patristic and contemporary commentataries. I do believe that this section is sometimes improperly invoked to justify various eucharistic disciplines. Rather, it is a summons to the members of the Corinthian church, and by extension the members of every local church, to examine themselves lest their eucharistic meals cease to be the Supper of the Lord. The Apostle is not speaking to the pastors here; he is speaking to every baptized adult Christian. Why is Paul urging the Corinthians to examine themselves? Because their divisions and manifest lack of charity, particularly for the poorer members of the congregation, violate what it means to be the body of Christ as created by the Eucharist. I commend Jerome Murphy-O'Connor's article "Eucharist and Community in First Corinthians," Worship 51 (1977), 56-69.

I am not suggesting that there is no biblical support for eucharistic discipline and excommunication, but a better text for this purpose is 1 Cor 5.

Second, is the Eucharist spiritually dangerous to the baptized, and if so, how and why? The holy gifts are sometimes presented as sacred objects of which only the truly holy and pure may safely partake. One thinks of the story of Uzzah and the ark of the covenant (2 Sam 6:6-7). Yet I do not think we wish to reify the Eucharist in this way. It divorces the holy gifts from the Church as the body of Christ. The Eucharist is not a sacred object; it is Christ himself. The real question is, Is Incarnate Love dangerous to the baptized? Is the one who died for sinners dangerous to sinners? If yes, why and under what conditions? When does grace become wrath?

I am reminded of the powerful scene in "The Godfather" where Michael Corleone, standing in as godfather to his sister's son, affirms the vows of baptism simultaneously with the murders he has ordered. Is this not the moment of his damnation? Michael is damned not because God ceases to be merciful and gracious, but because Michael so profoundly commits himself to a life directly opposed to the love of God. From this point on, barring repentance, he will always experience the forgiveness of God as wrath and judgment.

Third, what does it mean to be worthy for communion? Who is worthy? How do we become worthy? If we think we are worthy do we immediately become unworthy? How does one become worthy without partaking of the Eucharist? If we are "in Christ," are we not "entitled" to share in the Eucharist so we may take on the righteousness of our Savior and thus become the Church? Is not baptism precisely initiation to the Eucharist? Is there not a sense, therefore, in which Eucharist is the precondition of our faith, repentance, and prayer? As one of my favorite Russian theologians, Nicolas Affanasiev, writes:

The question [of unworthiness] itself testifies to a certain misunderstanding of the nature of the Church. If the personal unworthiness of each one of us becomes an impediment for Eucharistic communion then it simply is not allowable. It is not significant how often it takes place, frequently or infrequently since arithmetic can have no role in this matter. But this is not the most important thing which must be said in connection with the argument about personal unworthiness. The main point is this, can we even consider the idea itself, about the unworthiness of the faithful for participation in the Eucharistic assembly? The Eucharistic assembly is the revelation of the Church in all her fullness and in all her unity, and the eucharistic communion is the expression of life in the Church. If we do away eucharistic communion then what is left of the Church’s life? Can prayer alone take the place, even temporarily, of eucharistic communion? The Church’s prayer is the prayer “in Christ” but one cannot be in Christ without eucharistic communion with Him.

Catechumens were unable to take part in the Church’s prayer since participation in prayer presumed the possibility of participating in the Eucharist. By insisting on our personal unworthiness as the impediment to “frequent communion” we are confirming by this that we are unworthy to be in the Church since the latter is completely identified with participation in the Eucharistic assembly. We not only presume to judge our own worthiness or unworthiness, something which belongs only to the Church but we place a doubt upon the sacrament of baptism. In the sacrament of admission into the Church (“baptism by water and the Holy Spirit”) we are placed into the lofty calling of a member of the people of God and become worthy for participation in the Eucharistic assembly. In the ancient church, the newly-baptized, after being anointed with chrism, was solemnly led into the Eucharistic assembly. The Eucharist completes and crowns the admission into the Church. Contrary to this we profess that we are unworthy to take part in the Eucharistic assembly as if the sacrament of entry into the Church failed to attain its purpose. Personal worthiness or unworthiness must not be complicated by the question of our personal sinful state. This is always there and even human sanctity is not without sin. Salvation takes place through grace which is God’s gift and it takes place through the Church and not individually, and if in the Church, then through participation in the Eucharist “for the remission of sins”. Behind the question of worthiness or unworthiness, which is applied by school theology with respect to participation in the Eucharist, lurks the question whether the path to salvation is individual or through the Church. Christianity is the “Church of God in Christ”, and the “Church of God in Christ” is Christianity. He who says Christ, says the Church and he who says the Church says the eucharistic assembly. Therefore Christianity without the Church denotes only that which never was and can never be. “Outside the Church there is no salvation”. These words of Cyprian of Carthage have a eucharistic meaning. Outside the Church there is no salvation since there is no salvation outside the eucharistic assembly. Any other path is a path of individualism which is unknown to the Church. However, because of the influence of the empirical life’s individualism, it did invade and influence church life.


We need to understand the Eucharist more clearly as ecclesial event: the Eucharist makes the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist. I commend Affanasiev's essay "The Lord's Supper."

Fourth, I think we all agree that the Church may and sometimes must exclude specific baptized members from the Eucharist, both for the good of the community and for the good of the excommunicated. But it is a serious matter. All conscientious pastors struggle with this.


Faithfully,
Fr Aidan

#12 Father David Moser

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 04:07 PM

And so we just give the Holy Gifts to whoever wants them, never minding how unworthy they are? Maybe that's not what you mean,


No its not what I meant - my comment was about whether or not you or I judge another person which is a different matter entirely than the effect of Holy Communion when received unworthily. But then I pointed out that "This is, of course a different matter..."

For you or I to stand aside and judge a priest who is giving communion to another person (whom we also are judging) is as great a sin as any the priest or the communicant may have committed. And if they have repented of their sins but we continue to judge, then who has the greater sin?

but some people plainly do mean the never judging means communing anyone. That's part of the problem. People just shrug and say, "That's between him and God. I'm not to judge." But somebody is to judge, or we wouldn't have all those canons about cutting people off.


Now there is the question; "Who is to judge?". It is part of the task of the priest as the spiritual father of his flock to "judge" or perhaps to assess the condition of his spiritual children in order that he might give them what is needed for their spiritual well being. If a priest is not doing a good job, then it is up to the dean or ultimately the bishop to "judge" him - not you and I.

The Apostle instructs that all things are to be done "decently and in order" It is up to us to act according to the responsibility and place given to us by God and not try to do someone else's job for them.

Fr David Moser

#13 Anna Stickles

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 04:57 PM

Dcn Patrick

Many people, including many clergy I know, act as if the Eucharist is only good for you and so partaking unworthily is not eating and drinking damnation unto oneself. (1 Cor. 11:29)


I Cor 11:31-2

31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.


This does not sound to me like we are eating and drinking unto damnation, but rather eating and drinking unto salvation. We shouldn't mistake God's chastisement for our correction with eternal damnation.

People just shrug and say, "That's between him and God. I'm not to judge."

Do we really trust that God does and is actually judging? Have we considered that oftentimes these people are already suffering for their sins in ways that we may not be aware of? Much of what goes on between God and a person is never even noticed by that person themself, much less by another. Sin has dulled our vision for such things.

There may be priests who, rather then disbelieving in the power within the Eucharist, are with faith in the Eucharist, simply trusting those people to God's judgment. People who are living in blatant sin are often the most fragile about being corrected. They are most likely to be in a position where even a slight correction could push them over the line into leaving the church entirely and going into a spiral where even whatever little faith they currently have ends up dying.

As has been commented earlier, those who are scandalized by sin are sinning as much as those who are flaunting their sin. But it takes a lot of discernment to know in what degree one person's passions are harming another person and in what way, and who is likely to be able to be "drawn out of the fire" and who is blatantly unrepentant, and what the best thing for the parish at large is.

#14 Edward Henderson

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 07:27 PM

"Is this Table which is the cause of so many blessings and teeming with life, become judgment? Not from its own nature, says he (Apostle Paul), but from the will of him that approaches. For as His presence, which conveyed to us those great and unutterable blessings, condemned the more them that received it not: so also the Mysteries become provisions of greater punishment to such as partake unworthily." Saint John Chrysostom, Homily 28

#15 Anna Stickles

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 08:02 PM

We find stories in the modern saints how when those worthy approach the chalice they receive light, peace, warmth, love and gentleness and the other fruits of the Spirit in their souls, and that they in some measure partake here of the bliss to come. What does worthiness mean here? I get the impression that it doesn't mean being completely free from our sinful nature, (which won't come until the final restoration) but rather being receptive in humility to what God is giving one.

But also, and I can't find the exact quotes now, I know that I have read in at least two different modern elders that there are those who approach the chalice and what they receive is nothing more then a piece of bread. They are not even receiving hidden judgment or reward.

This may be God's mercy, as these are not in a place to accept correction, but what severer judgment can there be then that God honor the wish of our sinful nature to remain uncorrected and in sin? May we gather our courage and pray to face the judgment now, so as to be spared the more lasting judgment later.

But I also remembered the story of Eli and how God judged him for neglecting to correct his sons. The sons suffered and the whole line also, but Eli was held responsible for his part, and his family was removed from the priesthood. (I Sam 2:12-25, 3:12-14)

Just a few random thoughts.

#16 Nina

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 08:32 PM

But also, and I can't find the exact quotes now, I know that I have read in at least two different modern elders that there are those who approach the chalice and what they receive is nothing more then a piece of bread. They are not even receiving hidden judgment or reward.


Anna we must be very careful how we interpret the leaving of Grace from the HC. You are right that the Fathers have seen the Grace of the Holy Spirit leave the part when a person is unworthy (how Fathers and a person's SF determine when a person is unworthy is another issue and that was not the case - the issue they wanted to make was to confess in all honesty and obey to SF and prepare as best as we can to receive Christ).

On the other hand we have at least two Saints (I think St. Andrew of Crete and St. Nifon the ascetic Bishop) who have said how in visions they saw the faces of those who received worthily shine, but those who were unworthy became very dark. What does the darkness mean they do not explain (or i do not remember) but they said this with great pain.

So we do not know all the details what happens as it is a Mystery but the words of the Apostles are clear in 1 Cor. We do not have to try to undo them with other verses of the Bible, because this is not what Fathers of the Church do. But of course 1 Cor. spoke about any kind of sin which barres us from approaching the chalice.

I know of a person who committed a couple of grave sins... and who did not know that those were sins (let alone grave) at the time - and there was no opened church at that time. When the Church opened we told this (extremely wonderful, almost like a Saint) person to confess and not receive Holy Communion without confessing those sins because this was what we were taught first in our church. The person growing up in atheistic regime and not educated in this way at all, and out of shame because was not used to this and also those actions were not considered sins in the times growing up, did not do this. When the person got ill with a grave illness, confessed for the first time, the spiritual father told that he was going to give that person a penance, but because of the illness he did not give the penance since the illness was cleansing in this case. The person departed soon. I am not sure if the person departed because of this since I do not know what are the judgments of God, but when we were told of the words of the SF during confession, you would think that approaching in such manner is not ok. It is harmful for the soul. Any sin is harmful... remember what the Apostle tells to the person who sleeps with the prostitute and pollutes the entire Body by receiving HC?

#17 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 13 July 2011 - 01:20 PM

Fourth, I think we all agree that the Church may and sometimes must exclude specific baptized members from the Eucharist, both for the good of the community and for the good of the excommunicated. But it is a serious matter. All conscientious pastors struggle with this.


This is more to my point. Granted we all agree on this, but our agreement presumes the Eucharist is good for some people and bad for others. St. Paul himself terms the latter "unworthy" and says that they are guilty of Christ's shed blood.

#18 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 13 July 2011 - 01:27 PM

For you or I to stand aside and judge a priest who is giving communion to another person (whom we also are judging) is as great a sin as any the priest or the communicant may have committed. And if they have repented of their sins but we continue to judge, then who has the greater sin? ... Now there is the question; "Who is to judge?". It is part of the task of the priest as the spiritual father of his flock to "judge" or perhaps to assess the condition of his spiritual children in order that he might give them what is needed for their spiritual well being. If a priest is not doing a good job, then it is up to the dean or ultimately the bishop to "judge" him - not you and I.


But surely there are limits to the tolerance we owe bishops and priests who commune the "unworthy," right?

For example, if a bishop repeatedly communes a man who makes his living as an abortionist, advertising his services publicly and soliciting customers in the coffee hour, is his deacon never justified in telling his bishop, "You are profaning the Eucharist, and I cannot in good conscience continue to assist you in doing so"?

#19 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 13 July 2011 - 01:42 PM

People who are living in blatant sin are often the most fragile about being corrected. They are most likely to be in a position where even a slight correction could push them over the line into leaving the church entirely and going into a spiral where even whatever little faith they currently have ends up dying.


Anna, this is a good example of the oh-so-sensitive thinking common in America today that completely ignores the reality — according to the Apostle — that communing unworthily is actually bad for such people. Recognizing that reality, the Church has historically practiced excommunication for those who, in your words, "are living in blatant sin," without worrying much about their fagility. Following your thinking, the Church should rather commune more and more such sinners and have less and less to say to them about their sin.

#20 Father David Moser

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Posted 13 July 2011 - 02:28 PM

... is his deacon never justified in telling his bishop, "You are profaning the Eucharist, and I cannot in good conscience continue to assist you in doing so"?


Certainly you have the opportunity and indeed the responsibility to communicate your concerns to your bishop in private. If indeed this is a situation where it is the bishop's "regular" deacon, then that opens the door even more since that relationship is one of close mutual interdependence and friendship. But to publicly condemn a bishop for his actions in choosing whom he does or does not commune - that's a bit beyond the bounds of decency.

Fr David Moser




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