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October 14, 2010

The Holy Fathers On One's "Worthiness" Before Receiving Holy Communion

We must not avoid communion because we deem ourselves to be sinful. We must approach it more often for the healing of the soul and the purification of the spirit, but with such humility and faith that considering ourselves unworthy, we would desire even more the medicine for our wounds. Otherwise it is impossible to receive communion once a year, as certain people do, considering the sanctification of heavenly Mysteries as available only to saints. It is better to think that by giving us grace, the sacrament makes us pure and holy. Such people [who commune rarely] manifest more pride than humility, for when they receive, they think of themselves as worthy. It is much better if, in humility of heart, knowing that we are never worthy of the Holy Mysteries we would receive them every Sunday for the healing of our diseases, rather than, blinded by pride, think that after one year we become worthy of receiving them.

- St. John Cassian (Conference 23, Chapter 21)

But since I have mentioned this sacrifice, I wish to say a little in reference to you who have been initiated; little in quantity, but possessing great force and profit, for it is not our own, but the words of the Divine Spirit. What then is it? Many partake of this sacrifice once in the whole year; others twice; others many times. Our word then is to all; not to those only who are here, but to those also who are settled in the desert. For they partake once in the year, and often indeed at intervals of two years. What then? Which shall we approve? Those [who receive] once [in the year]? Those who [receive] many times? Those who [receive] few times? Neither those [who receive] once, nor those [who receive] often, nor those [who receive] seldom, but those [who come] with a pure conscience, from a pure heart, with an irreproachable life. Let such draw near continually; but those who are not such, not even once. Why, you will ask? Because they receive to themselves judgment, yea and condemnation, and punishment, and vengeance. And do not wonder. For as food, nourishing by nature, if received by a person without appetite, ruins and corrupts all [the system], and becomes an occasion of disease, so surely is it also with respect to the awful mysteries. Do you feast at a spiritual table, a royal table, and again pollute your mouth with mire? Do you anoint yourself with sweet ointment, and again fill yourself with ill savors? Tell me, I beseech you, when after a year you partake of the Communion, do you think that the Forty Days are sufficient for you for the purifying of the sins of all that time? And again, when a week has passed, do you give yourself up to the former things? Tell me now, if when you have been well for forty days after a long illness, you should again give yourself up to the food which caused the sickness, have you not lost your former labor too? For if natural things are changed, much more those which depend on choice. As for instance, by nature we see, and naturally we have healthy eyes; but oftentimes from a bad habit [of body] our power of vision is injured. If then natural things are changed, much more those of choice. Thou assignest forty days for the health of the soul, or perhaps not even forty, and do you expect to propitiate God? Tell me, are you in sport? These things I say, not as forbidding you the one and annual coming, but as wishing you to draw near continually.

- St. John Chrysostom (On Hebrews, Homily 17 10:2‐9)

The Bread which truly strengthens the heart of man will obtain this for us; it will enkindle in us ardor for contemplation, destroying the torpor that weighs down our soul; it is the Bread which has come down from heaven to bring Life; it is the Bread that we must seek in every way. We must be continually occupied with this Eucharistic banquet lest we suffer famine. We must guard against allowing our soul to grow anemic and sickly, keeping away from this food under the pretext of reverence for the sacrament. On the contrary, after telling our sins to the priest, we must drink of the expiating Blood.

- St. Nicholas Cabasilas (The Life in Christ)

One can sometimes hear people say that they avoid approaching the Holy Mysteries because they consider themselves unworthy. But who is worthy of it? No one on earth is worthy of it, but whoever confesses his sins with heartfelt contrition and approaches the Chalice of Christ with consciousness of his unworthiness the Lord will not reject, in accordance with His words, "Him that cometh to Me I shall in no wise cast out" (John 6:37).

- St. Arsenius the Russian of Stavronikita (Athonite Monastery of St. Panteleimon, Athonite Leaflets, No. 105, published in 1905)