Monday, April 7, 2008

Open Communion, Orthodox Style

(HT to TitusOneNine)

Fr. Peter-Michael Preble, a Byzantine Orthodox priest, has raised the issue of "open communion" in a series of posts on his blog, Monasticism, the first of which is here. This, predictably, has instigated some intense discussion, both on Fr. Peter's blog and on the TitusOneNine post, linked above. Just to be clear, Fr. Peter is NOT advocating giving Holy Communion to the unbaptized, and not, apparently, to those who deny the Real Presence. However, in suggesting that it may be appropriate for a Byzantine Orthodox priest to communicate, say, faithful Roman Catholics, or even Anglicans or Lutherans, he is certainly challenging extremely longstanding and prevailing assumptions of the ecclesiology of the Byzantine Orthodox Churches.

The Church in which I serve, the Antiochian Catholic Church in America, routinely communicates baptized non-members. However, we also follow St. Paul in that we encourage prospective communicants, whether members or non-members, to "examine themselves" prior to receiving the Body and Blood of Christ (I Corinthians 11:28). In a sense, this puts at least part of the onus on the recipient of Holy Communion as to whether or not said recipient should be receiving at that time. Thus, I suggest that the following statement provides useful guidelines in continuing this practice and is applicable equally to both members and non-members of the ACCA:

"All Christians who are baptized in water 'In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,' who hold to the Christian Faith as stated in the Nicene Creed, and who, being repentent of their sins, are commited to following Jesus Christ as Lord, God, and Savior, are invited to receive the Holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ with us."
Let's unpack that a bit. First, baptism: certain rites of baptism, in which the Trinitarian formula is used, do not qualify, specifically that of the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints (the Mormons). Why not? Because in both cases, while the Trinitarian formula is used, the Doctrine of God is not that of the historic Church. This exclusion is implied in the next statement, referring to the Nicene Creed, which is the bottom line statement of faith of all orthodox Christianity, whether Orthodox, Roman, or Protestant. Next, repentance: if one is aware of unrepented, unconfessed major sin, one should by all means seek the sacramental Mystery of Reconciliation prior to receiving. One should also be intentionally commited to following Christ. Finally, the issue of what one is receiving: we are absolutely clear about what we believe and teach the Holy Mysteries to be: the Body and Blood of Christ. If you do not so believe, everything else being equal, know that this may change if you DO receive. We've seen it happen before.

Finally, a word about the integrity of Christian initiation: IMHO, the Roman Church and the Anglican Churches would do themselves a great favor by, in all cases, immediately confirming/chrismating and then giving First Holy Communion to ALL whom they baptize, including and especially infants and small children and then, communing these "little ones" regularly. For a baptized child, the "sacrament of conversion" is not Confirmation, it is Reconciliation.

Just my $0.02...


Fr. Peter said...


Thanks for your kind words and dare I say support. What you said is exactly what I am advocating. I am going to link your post for sure. Blessings!

FrGregACCA said...

Fr. Peter:

I am saddened, but not particularly surprised, by the nastiness of which you have been the recipient. It is unfortunate. You are in my prayers and I have added a link to "Monasticism" in my "Blogs and other links" section.

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arturovasquez said...

I heard that St. John Maximovitch used to give Holy Communion to Roman Catholics under certain circumstances, and not necessarily emergencies either. I wonder if you have heard this as well.

FrGregACCA said...

I have not heard that, Arturo, but it wouldn't surprise me. St. John had a real affection for the pre-schism Western Rite and consecrated a bishop for the Western Rite Orthodox Church of France when it entered into communion with ROCOR. He was not dogmatic about ikonographic style. Somehow, I think that he and St. Padre Pio have become good buddies in the Kingdom of Heaven.