He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me and I in him (John 6:56)
What can be loftier and more desirable than these most comforting words of our Saviour in which He expresses all His love, all the boundless abyss of His compassion which is given to man in the Mystery of Communion! With what can we compare the state of a man who is united with the Lord Himself! This is the Mystery of Mysteries, so exalted that it can only be grasped in part by man’s limited mind. It is sufficient for us to know that in the Mystery of Communion we are vouchsafed the greatest of God’s gifts, and therefore we must by all means try to live in such a way that we may more often approach this most Holy Mystery, which the ancient Christians were vouchsafed daily.
Holy Communion, strengthening our spiritual and bodily powers, also serves as an invincible weapon for us in defeating the invisible enemy of our salvation – the devil. This enemy is extremely dangerous for us. How many snares he sets out for our ruination, in which he tries with all his power to entrap us; wherever we go, at almost every step this evil spirit tries to wound us, ever trying to deceive and tempt us. We want to do good, but he lures us into evil; we want to pray, but he brings upon us foul thoughts, laziness, heaviness and so forth, taking advantage of our weaknesses and our inclination towards sin. How much care , attention to self, and self-discipline is required of us, lest this cruel spirit of malice prevail over us! He is so much the more dangerous in that he is invisible to us and is exceedingly cunning and evil. Against such a dangerous foe we must use a mighty weapon; but what can be more powerful than the most holy Mystery of Communion? In itself it is an almighty power, for in partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ we receive the Master of heaven and earth, Whose might is infinite. On the other hand, it contains within itself all the power of our great redemption which was accomplished for us by our Saviour, the fruit of which was victorious triumph over the dark kingdom of the devil.
He that rarely approaches this saving Mystery is estranging himself from salvation. Even common sense can grasp the truth of this. He who receives Holy Communion often, also cleanses his conscience often in the Mystery of Confession, and in reliving his grief and contrition over the sins he has committed, he sets the saving fear of God as seal on his soul, keeping him from sin. To attain this, he must arm himself more often with good thoughts and good works which keep him from sin and draw him nearer to God. Then, according to the frequency of Communion, good dispositions and virtues acquire great power and become essential to the sol. Each of us knows from experience that frequent repetition of any thing forms a habit in us. He that repeats a sin often makes himself a slave to sin; he that strives for virtue becomes a struggler of piety. Thus, the person who partakes of Communion often necessarily acquires the disposition to serve the Lord with fervor, for he truly believes in the power of this Divine Mystery; he praises God with gladness and hope, for he truly trusts that the Lord is his helper and defender; he submits to Him with humility and love, because he truly loves the Lord Who has loved him and bestowed upon him every heavenly gift.
Present-day Christians, for the most part, approach the saving Mysteries of Confession and Holy Communion once a year (in mid 19th-century Russia, and many still today -ed.) but Christians of the first centuries were vouchsafed this gift daily. From this it is evident how piety has decreased in our days, and that it will do so further in the future. 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). Others are so caught up in the vanity of the world that they find no time to prepare for Communion, or only prepare haphazardly for this most holy Christian duty. What carelessness concerning such a lofty gift of God, what negligence concerning the salvation of one’s soul! Throughout the whole year they cannot set aside even a few days for the salvation of their soul, when before their eyes there are almost daily examples of sudden death. And we will not remain silent about the person who indeed approaches the Chalice of Christ unworthily. Of such people the word of God says: He that eateth and drinketh uworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body (I Cor. 11:29). Approaching this awesome mystery, we say, “Neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss.” Who is it that gives the Lord the kiss of Judas? Without a doubt, it is those who, not having cleansed their consciences by heartfelt repentance, not having grieved over their sins, approach the Chalice of Christ without the fear of God, or those who, having been joined to the Lord, having been sanctified by His most holy gift and freely cleansed of their innumerable transgressions, the spawn of the spirit of malice, return again to their foul deeds, again become enslaved to Satan. Woe, eternal woe, to such people!
Let us conclude our discourse on the communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ by pointing out some of the innumerable blessings which it bestows upon those who receive Communion worthily. According to the teaching of the Church (cf. the Order before and after Communion), this most Holy Mystery of the Body and Blood gives to those partaking of it worthily strengthening of joints and bones, healing of divers infirmities, health, strength, preservation, salvation and sanctification of soul and body, estrangement and cleansing of a defiled soul, preservation from every soul-corrupting deed and word, protection from every action of the devil, a rampart and aid in dispersing the enemy (i.e., evil spirits); the driving away of every fantasy, evil act and work of the devil acting mentally in our members; the burning up and utter destruction of wicked thoughts and undertakings, and of nocturnal fantasies of the dark and evil spirits; correction of life and confirmation in holiness of life, keeping of the commandments, increase in virtue and perfection, enlightenment of the senses, peace of the powers of the soul, unashamed faith, fullness of wisdom, enlightenment of the eyes of the heart, boldness and love towards God, the gift of the Holy Spirit, an increase of divine grace; the abiding in our soul of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; strengthening of life, an earnest of the future life and kingdom, provision for eternal life, a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ, and communion of heavenly blessings. With a conscience cleansed by the Mystery of Confession and with a sincere desire to correct our life, let us more and more often come to partake of the Heavenly Meal given us in the Mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ, that by worthy reception of this lofty gift, we may also receive those innumerable gifts which are bestowed upon us through this great Mystery, that worthily tasting this most Holy Bread here on earth, we may be vouchsafed to partake of Christ more completely in heaven as well, and remain eternally in communion with and in the face to face vision of Jesus Christ, our Creator, Master and Redeemer, of which may we all be deemed worthy through His good pleasure and beneficence.
Translated from Athonite Leaflets, No. 105, 8th ed., St Panteleimon’s Monastery, 1905, by Seraphim F. Englehardt, published in Orthodox Life, No. 6, 1978.