By Protopresbyter Fr. John Romanides
According to the Fathers, the one who takes Holy Communion is in the state of illumination. When it was ascertained that he was not in the state of illumination, he did not take Holy Communion. This was the criterion. In the phrase "those who communicate worthily," they did not mean by "worthily" those who avoided sin and were morally correct, but those who were in the state of illumination and so took Holy Communion. Of course this had moral foundations, but it was not identified with morals.
The Body of Christ comes into being through the descent of the Holy Spirit. The experience of theoria is also an experience of the human nature of Christ within man. For that reason the Fathers emphasize that anyone who does not sense Christ within him, does not have Christ within him. It is not a matter merely of saying that we are the Body of Christ. Someone who senses that he lacks this awareness, does not have it. The one who senses that he has this awareness within him, has the proof within him.
One of the greatest difficulties that exist in Orthodoxy today is the [pietistic] movement of Makrakis and the members of Zoe. They have destroyed this concept. According to the Fathers of the Church, in the early Church they took Holy Communion every Sunday. And the Canons of the Church presuppose that Christians will naturally take Holy Communion every Sunday. Yes, but only until it was proved that someone had lapsed from the state of illumination. After falling from illumination, he was excluded from Holy Communion, because Holy Communion is for the illuminated. He lapses from illumination and no longer takes Holy Communion.
This was the reason why the Fathers constructed the sanctuary with curtains and so on. The majority of the faithful were no longer in the state of illumination, as well as most monks and some pious people in the villages, so that the ceremonies could take place as they do in monasteries today. That is why even monks sometimes abstain from taking Holy Communion and communicate at intervals, according to their spiritual state.
To be sure, if one is in the state of illumination and theoria, one can take Holy Communion every week. Someone who is not in this state does not communicate. However, the spiritual father knew if his spiritual child was in the state of illumination.
Then the clever people of today came along. They read the Canons of the Church and said that we ought to take Holy Communion every Sunday. The Canons do not say that we should communicate every Sunday. They imply that the illuminated should communicate every Sunday. And now Holy Communion has been reduced to a sort of magic, particularly among the pious.
The very ones who did this and talked about frequent Holy Communion, went and abolished monasticism for us. They told the children, "Don't go to monasteries." They made out that all the monks were illiterate. Only now, in the last few years, have they begun to wake up a bit.
In Holy Communion we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. Provided we are in the state of illumination, this is beneficial to us. If we are not in the state of illumination this Holy Communion does not help us. This is what we mean by "worthily". When someone approaches unworthily, he derives no benefit, but rather sleeps because he remains dead and not alive in Christ. This Holy Communion in the Body and Blood of Christ in experience is not just a reality, but even becomes visible. This is the purpose of the Divine Eucharist: the glorification of the faithful. Read the prayers of preparation for Holy Communion and you will clearly see the aim of the Divine Eucharist.
Recently a Bishop asserted, somewhere where I was present, that we are all glorified, as we read in the prayer of preparation for Holy Communion that it "glorifies and nourishes me." Well, this is a prayer by Symeon the New Theologian and refers to his personal experience, not to the experience of every Orthodox Christian who takes Holy Communion today. This is Symeon the New Theologian's prayer. Consequently, when we pray in this way, we say it "glorifies and nourishes me," because only those who communicate worthily are glorified and nourished in the manner of Symeon the New Theologian.
Today things have reached such a state that not even the priest ought to take Holy Communion. If you read what St. Basil the Great says about the preparation of the clergy for the Liturgy, it is clear that St. Basil lays down that at least the clergy ought to be in the state of illumination in order to celebrate the Divine Liturgy.
Excerpted from Empirical Dogmatics of the Orthodox Catholic Church According to the Spoken Teaching of Father John Romanides, vol. 2, pp. 346-349.
An Additional Note on this Subject from St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite
Child, know that if you wish to communicate unworthily, you will become guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord, as St. Paul says (1 Cor. 11:27), and you will commune unto your condemnation and perdition, becoming a second Judas and like the Jews. For just as the Jews pierced the body of the Lord then, not in order to drink His blood, but in order to spill it, as Chrysostom explains, you should also consider that you are spilling the pure Blood of the Lord and not that you are drinking it, on account of your unworthiness....
Child, know that with abstinence from Communion your repentance will be more firm. You will be greater assured of the grace of God and you will better understand the harm which sin caused you, especially when you see others communing while you abstain, saying to yourself what the Prodigal Son said: "How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger?" (Lk. 15:17). And by this you will hate sin forever and in the future you will protect well the grace which you lost, so that your "mishaps will become lessons." "For everything that someone builds with great labor, he is diligent to protect," says Basil the Great. And Gregory the Theologian says: "For people cling tightly to that which they acquire with labor, but that which they acquire easily they quickly throw away, because it can be easily recovered."
From Exomologetarion: A Manual of Confession, pp. 180-184.
See also: On the Worthy and Unworthy Participation of the Divine Eucharist (St. John Chrysostom)