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Question 8.

Dear Fr. Christopher,
In St. Chrysostom's Easter Sermon we read: "Ye who have fasted and ye who have not, rejoice this day." Some Christians believe that St. Chrysostom allows us to receive the Holy Communion on Easter without any preparatory fasting. Is this interpretation correct or the Holy Father means something else?
 

Answer to Question 8.
Dear Constantine,
To understand the blessed words of our holy father John Chrysostom you need to understand the fuller meaning of the Divine Liturgy, what is fasting, and its relationship with Holy Communion. Before analysing the Divine Liturgy read the following which was part of a sermon I gave my congregation at the start of the Lenten Fast. It is written fairly simply because the majority of my congregation are of little education and would not apprehend deep theological matters. 
 

"I Mentioned that we need to partake of Holy Communion regularly and I want to talk a little more on this issue. From time to time I speak to you about various traditions that you keep, which are not within the true spirit of the Church and ask you to put them aside. On the majority of these occasions, the changes I ask of you are not welcomed, because that is how you have been taught from years past and as Christ says: "No-one puts new wine into old wineskins", in other words, you cannot put a new teaching into old minds. But the issue of regular Communion is not a new teaching, but rather the oldest of teachings. Most of you were raised with the teaching that people are not allowed to have regular Communion and especially not until 40 days have past from the last Communion. Many of you have Communion only on the Great Feasts and some of you have not had Holy Communion from the time that you were children. You Commune only on the Great Feasts because before each Great Feast there is a fast, and you believe that to have Holy Communion you must first fast. Of course, this teaching is not the teaching of the Church, but rather the invention of the Evil one to distance Christians from the Holy Chalice and the Source of Life. In contrast, the Church teaches that Christians must and are obliged to have Communion every time they attend the Divine Liturgy. In times of old, it was not allowed for someone to remain in Church if he/she was not to have Communion. If for example they were under a penance and were not allowed to receive Communion, they had to leave the Church after the reading of the Gospel or at the latest when the Priest exclaims "The Doors, The Doors", whereby the doors of the Church were shut. If Christians in those days had regular Communion, can we assume that they fasted every time before partaking? Of course not! During the first centuries, the Church only had the fasting days of Wednesdays and Fridays and the fast of Great Lent. The other fasts entered the Church's calendar after the 4th century. Logic tells us that if the Church teaches us to have holy Communion every Sunday but at the same time forbids fasting on Saturdays, then food has nothing to do with Holy Communion. You see therefore that fasting does not make us worthy to partake of the Most Pure Mysteries. The purpose of fasting is something else. It is first of all our obedience to the will of God, because the first commandment he gave to Adam was not to eat of the forbidden tree, but because he disobeyed the will of God, he was exiled from Paradise. Fasting together with prayer are the means which help us to cultivate our souls and pull out the roots of bad habits. What then is it that makes us presume to be worthy of Holy Communion? The truth is that whatever man does it cannot make him worthy to partake. We partake only because Christ commands us and calls us to commune of His Precious Body and Blood. Jesus said: "If you do not eat of my flesh and drink of my blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on that last day".

We cannot and do not have the right to call ourselves Christians if we do not Commune of the Precious Gifts. Everything that I have said doesn't mean that everyone without exception can come and have Holy Communion at every Liturgy without some kind of preparation. Christians ought to be always ready and their way of life should be such that does not allow for any impediments. They should observe all the fasts in the Church's calendar and especially the fasts of Wednesdays and Fridays. They should have regular confession and have the guidance and blessing of their Spiritual father to have Communion, because there is also a great danger in regular Communion. We may become so accustomed to having regular Communion that we take it for granted and instead of it being for the remission of our sins, we add a greater sin onto our already heavy shoulders".
 
Fasting was never intended to be the instrument, which would prepare us for Holy Communion. The Divine Liturgy in the Ancient Church was in fact served in the evening and after supper according to the practice initiated by Christ himself at the Mystical Supper. By imitating that very first Divine Liturgy, the Apostles organized the so-called “Agapes” which was a common feast of love where the Christians gathered to eat and give praise together and after supper they would then perform the Divine Liturgy and everyone partook of the Divine Mystery. The Agape Feasts were soon separated from the Divine Liturgy because they were at times disorderly. The Church moved the Eucharist service to the morning so that the Lord’s Body should take precedence of all other food entering the mouth of a Christian. This was the original meaning of the Eucharist fast. No food should enter the mouth before partaking of the Divine Mystery.

With the fall of Constantinople, the Ottoman occupation of the Greek lands, and the prohibition of education, the Church suffered greatly because the priest themselves had but a basic education with no theological training. The Eucharist fast was misinterpreted as a normal fast before the Eucharist, which was a burden on the people. They couldn’t fast every week from Wednesday to Saturday so that they could have regular Communion. This caused the people to stop having regular Communion and they just Communed on the Great Feasts as these were preceded by a fast. This became the normal up to our age, with people believing that they couldn’t have regular Communion or at least not until 40 days had past. Over the past 50 years, the educated Priests are beginning to outnumber the uneducated Priests and the Church is finally returning to her true teachings, although it is difficult to wipe away the old teachings which people had been brought up to trust and hold as the truth. In our day and age, most Priest will tell you that if you keep all the fasts in the Church’s year, that is: every Wednesday and Friday, The Lenten fast, Holy Week, The Apostle’s fast, The August fast, and the Advent fast, and have the blessing of your Spiritual Father, then you can have regular Communion. Some Priest insist that on the Evening before, the person intending to have Communion, should have a no-oil fast. Personally, I think it is a hypocritical ordinance, because they themselves do not follow the practice.

Now let us try to understand the Divine Liturgy. The Liturgy, although performed in our earthly time, transcends our time and becomes one with the “aeon”. To acknowledge this, it is needful to understand the very essence of time. In Genesis, we read that the heavens and the earth were created ‘in the beginning’. Time therefore began from the onset of creation, but there is an earthly time and a heavenly time, a temporal and a non-temporal. Earthly time is measured by change and motion. Its nature is to begin, to endure and to have an end. Heaven and the angels, exist outside of earthly time. They are not eternal, for they have a beginning, but have their existence ‘in the age’ [aeon, αιώνι], which according to St. Maximus is motionless time, for it remains without any change. God Himself, being uncreated, exists outside of time as we know it and outside of the aeon, for God has no beginning or end, but is eternal. The Church is not only the visible congregation worshipping here on earth, but also the invisible congregation of the saints and the angels worshipping in heaven. The Church visible on earth lives in complete communion and unity with the whole body of the Church of which Christ is the Head. It stands at a point of intersection where the past, present and future of our earthly existence are merged with the unchanging and motionless time of the aeon. All the events of Christ’s life, from His Birth to His Resurrection and Ascension, are re-acted by the Church, but they cease to be just an act and become a reality in that all the events are forever taking place in the motionless time of the Kingdom of heaven.
Thus the Mystical Supper was performed in a large room by Christ himself [Mark 14: 15]. He took the bread and the wine and transmade them into His Body and Blood. This event is united to the "aeon" and what Christ performed that one time, was performed for all times. Christ had only one body and so when the priest re-acts the same event, in the Divine Liturgy, he does not make another body because then we would have millions of bodies and would be quite absurd. He prays that the bread and wine become the same Body and Blood that Christ Himself offered to His disciples. When we attend the Liturgy and partake of His Body and Blood, it is as if heaven and earth have been joined together and we are at that same upper room participating at the some table and of the same Sacred Supper as did the Apostles. In this same way, all the events of Christ’s life, from His Birth to His Resurrection and Ascension, are re-acted by the Church, but they cease to be just an act and become a reality in that all the events are forever taking place in the motionless time of the Kingdom of heaven. Therefore, we become witnesses of His birth together with the wise men and the shepherds, we follow His earthly life, hearing His divine words of salvation and bear witness to the countless miracles He performed; we stand and gaze at His crucified body, in pain and disbelief that the Jews preferred the murderer Barrabas to Christ; and we become co-mourners with the Mother of God, the Apostles, the Myrrhbearers and all His followers; we follow Mary Magdalene and the Apostles to the empty tomb and rejoice with them at the news of the Resurrection.

Every Sunday Service is a Resurrection Service but the Easter Service has a special peculiarity. Although we don’t know when, it is believed from the times of the Apostles that the Second Coming of Christ will happen on this Special night. So the Easter Service not only transcends our earthly time, but also transcends the “aeon” and is in fact the Feast, the Banquet of the New Kingdom. St. John has this in mind when he says “Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has appeared.”
His Easter Sermon transcends the resurrection of the dead “Christ is risen, and no one remains dead in a tomb. For Christ having risen from the dead, has become the first-fruits of those that have fallen asleep.” He anticipates the Universal Resurrection because that is the true meaning of Christ’s Resurrection.

This teaching we find not only at the Easter Service but also at every Eucharist Liturgy. Just before Communion, the Priest exclaims “The Holy things unto the Holy” [Τα Άγια τοις Αγίοις].
If we understand this with our earthly time then no one can receive Communion for no one is holy but God, and to this we reply “One only is holy, One only is the Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.” If the Holy things are only for those who are Holy, how do we dare approach and partake of these dread Mysteries? We partake because we anticipate the Universal Kingdom. We say “The Holy things unto the Holy” because we have been transcended to the banquet of the New Kingdom. We are with Christ at the Wedding banquet which means that we have been saved and if we have been saved then we are saints and therefore Holy. St John Chrysostom invites all men to partake “Ye who have fasted and ye who have not, rejoice this day.” “The calf is plenteous, let no one depart hungry. Let everyone enjoy this banquet of faith.” precisely because if they are found standing with Christ after the General Resurrection then Christ has found them worthy to be among the ranks of saints and therefore worthy to partake of the Wedding Banquet.

This understanding should not be used as an excuse not to fast during Lent and Holy Week. Fasting, if done properly and accompanied with prayer, is a powerful tool, which helps us, cleanse ourselves of deep-rooted passions. When the Lord came down from Mount Tabor after His Transfiguration, he was met by a man who begged him to cure his son who was possessed of a demon. His disciples had tried to cast out the demon but without success and when they asked the Lord why they couldn’t, He replied that “this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” The same applies with our passions, we cannot cleanse ourselves of them but by prayer and fasting. We humans are weak, but if our struggle is sincere, the Lord sees our efforts and sends his grace to help, strengthen and enlighten us so that we can understand the mysteries hidden from the masses but revealed to those that love him. And if we truly love Him then we would do all that is in our power to be closer to Him. Fasting and prayer would no longer be a burden but means to help us come closer to God.

Fasting and Holy Communion are two different things. In theory, one doesn’t always need to fast to have Communion and one doesn’t always need to have communion because one fasted. Those who don’t fast during Lent and Holy Week and use St. John’s sermon to justify themselves worthy to partake of Holy Communion at Easter, treat the Precious Body and Blood of our Lord in a very casual and trivial manner and will I’m sure be asked to justify their actions when they come before the Judgement seat of God. As for us Priests, we would not dare refuse anyone [Orthodox] the Mysteries, for although some men’s actions might appear to us as disrespectful, their health or some other reason might justify their actions. It is not for us to judge, for God alone knows the hearts of men.