Document approved at the Hierarchal Consultation of the Russian Orthodox Church, February 2–3, 2015 in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow
The requirements for preparation before Holy Communion are determined for each member of the faithful by the definitions and regulations of the Church, which are applied by each spiritual father, taking into consideration the frequency with which the person receives the Holy Mysteries, his spiritual, moral, and physical state, the external circumstances of his life, such as his occupation or whether he is overburdened by taking care for those close to him.
A person’s spiritual father is a priest, to whom a Christian regularly confesses, who is familiar with the circumstances of his life and his spiritual state. The faithful may go to confession to other priests if it is impossible for them to confess to their own spiritual father. If a faithful Christian does not have a spiritual father, he should address the questions relating to the reception of communion to the priests of the church where he desires to receive.
Both the spiritual father – who is guided by ecclesiastical definitions and regulations and, based on them, gives direction to a Christian – and the communicant as well need to understand that the goal of preparation does not lie in an external fulfillment of formal prerequisites, but in the acquisition of a penitent state of soul, the forgiveness of offenses, reconciliation with one’s neighbors, and, finally, attaining union with Christ in the Holy Mysteries. Fasting and prayer are means to assist the person preparing for communion to acquire this inner state.
Remembering the words of our Saviour, who denounced those who impose upon the people heavy burdens hard to bear (see Matt 23:4), spiritual fathers need to understand that unjustified strictness, as well as excessive leniency, can impede a person’s union with our Saviour Christ and can harm him spiritually. The preparation of monastics for their participation in the Sacrament of the Eucharist is performed in accordance with the Statute on Monasteries and Monasticism, as well as following the statutes of specific monasteries.
1. The practice of fasting in preparation for communion is regulated by the ascetical tradition of the Church. The fasting as abstinence from animal products and abstaining from distractions, accompanied by assiduous prayer and repentance, traditionally precedes the communion of the Holy Mysteries. The length and extent of fasting before Holy Communion can differ, depending on the Christian’s inner state and objective life circumstances. Particularly, in the case of an acute or chronic illness that requires special dietary rules, as well as during pregnancy and nursing a child for women, the time of fasting can be shortened, lightened, or set aside altogether. The same rule concerns Christians who temporarily or permanently live in secular institutions which presuppose living and taking meals in common (military units, hospitals, boarding schools, special schools, or prisons).
The practice that has taken shape in our time that everyone who receives communion several times a year fasts for three days before communion fully corresponds to the tradition of the Church. At the same time, the practice when a person who receives communion on a weekly basis or several times a month, while observing lengthy and one-day fasts established by the Typicon, approaches the Holy Chalice without any additional fasting or keeping a fast on the day or in the evening before communion, is acceptable as well. This matter has to be resolved with the blessing of the person’s spiritual father. The requirements concerning preparation for Holy Communion, intended for the laypeople who receive communion frequently, are also applicable for members of the clergy.
Bright Week, the week following the feast of Christ’s Pascha, creates a special case regarding the practice of preparation for Holy Communion. The ancient canonical norm regarding the obligatory participation of all faithful at the Sunday Eucharist was in the seventh century expanded to include all of the Divine Liturgies during Bright Week:
From the holy day of the Resurrection of Christ our God until the New Sunday, for a whole week, in the holy churches the faithful ought to be free from labor, rejoicing in Christ with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs; and celebrating the feast, and applying their minds to the reading of the holy Scriptures, and delighting in the Holy Mysteries; for thus shall we be exalted with Christ and together with him be raised up (canon 66 of the Council in Trullo).
It follows from this canon that the laypeople are called to receive communion during the liturgies of Bright Week. Considering that the Typicon does not foresee any fasting during Bright Week and that Bright Week is preceded by seven weeks of struggle in the course of Lent and Holy Week, it ought to be acknowledged that the practice that has been established in many parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church that Christians who observed the Great Fast receive holy communion during Bright Week, while limiting their fasting to abstaining from food after midnight, is fully consistent with the canonical tradition of the Church. Similar practice can be expanded to the period between Nativity and Theophany. Those who prepare for communion during these days should take special care from excessive consumption of food and drink.
2. One should distinguish the preparatory fast from the Eucharistic fast in a proper sense, i.e. the complete abstinence from food and drink from midnight until Holy Communion. This fast is mandated by the canons (see canon 41/50 of Carthage, cited above). At the same time, the requirement of Eucharistic fast is not applied to infants, as well as to persons who suffer from grave acute or chronic illnesses which demand a regular intake of medicine or food (e.g. diabetes), and to those who are dying. Moreover, at the discretion of the spiritual father, this requirement may be facilitated for women who are pregnant or nursing a child.
Canon law prescribes abstinence from marital relations during the period of preparation for Holy Communion. Canon 5 of Timothy of Alexandria refers to such abstinence on the eve of communion.
The Church encourages those Christians who suffer from the harmful habit of smoking tobacco to abandon this habit. Those, however, who do not yet have the strength to do so must abstain from smoking from midnight and, if possible, from the evening before communion.
Since in accordance with the Typicon, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is combined with Vespers, its celebration during the evening hours constitutes a liturgical norm (even though in practice this liturgy usually is celebrated in the morning). In accordance with the decision of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church of November 28, 1968,when the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is celebrated in the evening, the abstention from food and drink for those who receive communion must be no less than six hours, however the abstention before communion from midnight of the day is quite praiseworthy and those who have physical strength may keep it.
One should also apply the standard of no less than six hours of abstinence while preparing for communion at the Divine Liturgy that is celebrated during the night (e.g. on the feasts of Holy Pascha and the Nativity of Christ).
3. The preparation for communion consists not only in abstinence from certain food, but also includes the more regular attendance of church services, and in the performance of a rule of prayer.
The Order of preparation for Holy Communion, consisting of a special canon and prayers, is an inalienable part of this prayerful preparation. The prayer rule usually also includes the canons to the Saviour, the Theotokos, the Guardian Angel and other prayers (see “The Rule for those who are preparing to serve and wish to partake of the Holy Divine Mysteries of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ” in the Liturgical Psalter [Sledovannaya Psaltir’]). During Bright Week, the prayer rule consists of the Paschal canon, and also the canon and prayers before communion. A personal rule of prayer should be recited outside of services, which always presuppose the joint prayer of the entire assembly. Special pastoral care should be given to the people whose spiritual path in the Church is just beginning, and who are not yet accustomed to lengthy prayer rules, as well as to children and those who are ill. The Liturgical Psalter presupposes a possibility to replace canons and akathists with the Jesus prayer and prostrations. In the spirit of this direction, with a blessing of the spiritual father, the above-mentioned rule of prayer may be substituted by other prayers.
Since the Liturgy is the summit of the whole liturgical cycle, the attendance at the services that precede the Liturgy – primarily, Vespers and Matins (or the Vigil) – is an important part of preparation for the partaking of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
If a person was absent at the evening services on the eve of communion or did not recite his prayer rule in its fullness, his spiritual father or a priest who hears his confession must urge him to a more thorough preparation for communion, but also must take into account the circumstances of his life and possible existence of excusable reasons.
Preparing themselves for the reception of the Holy Mysteries of Christ at the Divine Liturgy, the children of the Church must gather in the temple before the service begins. To come late for the Divine Liturgy, especially when the faithful arrive after the reading of the Epistle and the Gospel demonstrates neglect toward the Mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ. If such tardiness occurs, the priest who hears confessions or distributes communion may decide not to admit such a person to the Holy Chalice. Exception can be made for people with limited physical capabilities, nursing mothers, small children, and the adults who accompany them.
After the end of the Divine Liturgy, a Christian must hear in church or himself read the thanksgiving prayers after Holy Communion. While prayerfully giving thanks to God for the gift he has received, a Christian must strive by all means to preserve this gift in peace, piety, and love for God and neighbor.
Considering the unbreakable bond between communion and the Divine Liturgy, the clergy must not permit the practice where in some churches the faithful are prohibited from receiving Holy Communion on the feasts of Holy Pascha, the Nativity of Christ, Theophany, on Memorial Saturdays, and on the Day of Rejoicing (Radonitsa).