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Question 94.

Dear Fr Christopher,
Thank you so much for your detailed answer to my query.
The question occurred to me when I came across an article in an orthodox news website ( http://www.romfea.gr). From the first moment I read it I realized that some of the views expressed by the priest who wrote it are extremely problematic. And thatís when I started reading the references he uses to support his argument that Christians did not partake frequently and to imply that this is the correct practice. I knew that something was wrong with this idea because all the books and commentaries I have read explicitly state that frequent and worthy communion is the ideal.
Thank you for your comprehensive answer, which helped me understand the true meaning of Chrysostomís words.
As a follow up question, I would like to provide two more extracts from Homily III - Against the Jews: 4.
Why, then, do we fast for forty days? In the past, and especially at the time when Christ entrusted to us these sacred mysteries, many a man approached the sacrificial banquet without thought or preparation. Since the Fathers realized that it was harmful for a person to approach the mysteries in this heedless fashion, they came together and marked out forty days for people to fast, pray, and gather together to hear the word of God. Their purpose was that we might all scrupulously purify ourselves during this time by our prayers, almsgiving, fasting, vigils, tears, confessions, and all the other pious practices, so that we might approach the mysteries with our consciences made as clean as we could make them.
So if a Jew or pagan ask you why you are fasting, do not tell him that it is because of the Pasch or because of the mystery of the cross. If you tell him that, you give him an ample grip upon you. Tell him we fast because of our sins and because we are going to approach the mysteries.

In the first extract the Holy Father states that the reason why Lenten fast was established is the fact that many approached the holy mysteries unprepared. So at first reading thereís a connection between fasting and communion. The same applies to the second one. How could we address these two extracts having in mind your previous reply?
Thank you so much for your help.
Have a great Lent, too, full of Godís grace and help.
Kissing your hand,
Steven


 

Answer to Question 94.

Dear Steven,
I read the text from the Romfea site and have to agree with you that the archimandrites view's are not in line with what is generally accepted as church history even though he is referring only to the church of Antioch.
We know from the Acts of the Apostles and from Corinthians that the early church assembled on the first day of the week to celebrate the Eucharist, through which they proclaimed the Lord's death and confessed his resurrection. Eventually they gave this day a Christian name, the Day of the Lord, Kyriaki Hmera (Rev 1:10). We do not know much else about the practices of the first century church but from the second century we have a letter from St. Irenaeus to Pope Victor where he makes mention of the fasting practices that were being observed in his time by various local churches. He wrote concerning the Pascal fast that some thought that they should fast for one day, others for two, other for three days; others fasted by counting forty hours. Irenaeus observes that this variety did not begin in his time but was traditionally handed down by their ancestors. By the third century the fast was extended to include the whole week before Pascha and by the fourth century this was the universal practice and the week became known as Holy and Great week.
The Lenten fast of forty days was something completely separate and distinct from Pascha. Various opinions are available as to its origin, the most prevalent being the Alexandrian explanation that it began immediately after the feast of Theophany in imitation of the forty day fast of the Lord in the wilderness after his baptism. In the fourth century this fast was moved and joined to the Pascal fast, but separated by the two day festival of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday. Thus the Lenten fast ended with the Friday before Lazarus Saturday and the fast of Holy Week began on Holy and Great Monday. These two fasts are still separate today even thought it seems like one continuous fast for almost fifty days. The separation of the two is seen in that we eat fish on Palm Sunday.
Now let's see the text in question. In the first paragraph Chrysostom is not saying that people should not commune during Lent. He approaches the problem of people coming for communion without proper preparation and I would say that he is again referring to the majority of the faithful who only partake once a year or on the Great Feasts. They have become consumed with their daily preoccupations and the cares of this world and have forgotten the true meaning of life, sinking into a world void of Christ. Without any spiritual preparation they partake only out of a duty and for the namesake of being a Christian. The fathers, understanding that approaching the mysteries in this careless fashion can cause them more harm than good and also understanding that the individual cannot undertake the difficult journey to spiritually return on his own, decided to establish the period of Lent, where with the help of the church through fasting, prayer and readings, repentance, confession and almsgiving, the person is given the strength and support to help him safely reach the desired destination. In other words, Chrysostom says that Lent is a period for purifying ourselves from the passions and elements of this world, which darken our understanding of spiritual matters and having accomplished this, we can then approach the mysteries with a clear conscious that we have done all that is in our power to not take the Body and Blood of our Lord in a casual manner.
He does not say this only for the Pascha communion, but for every Liturgy. Before the said paragraph he says that: Our Pascha and Lent are not one and the same thing; Pascha he says is one thing and Lent another. Lent comes once each year, but Pascha is celebrated three or four times a week or whenever we wish, meaning that every Liturgy is the celebration of Pascha. Pascha he says is not the fast, but the offering and sacrifice which is celebrated at each religious service, and he continues: as often as we approach the sacrificial banquet with a clean conscience we celebrate Pascha. In other words we do not fast for Pascha, but so that we can approach with a clear conscience the divine mysteries at whatever liturgy we desire.
So that we understand what he means he repeats the message: You celebrate Pascha not when you fast but when you share in that sacrifice. "For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord." Our Pascha is the proclamation of the Lord's death. The sacrifice which we offer today, that which was offered yesterday, and each day's sacrifice is alike and the same as the sacrifice offered on that Sabbath day; the sacrifice offered on that Sabbath is no more solemn than today's, nor is today's of less value than that; they are one and the same, alike filled with awe and salvation.
I do not know if I have misunderstood what Chrysostom is saying but nowhere in the text can I deduce that he implies that we fast during Lent to partake only once a year at Pascha.
The next paragraph only verifies this understanding of Lent. If a Jew or a Pagan asks you why you are fasting don't tell him that it is because of Pascha or because of the mystery of the Cross. Tell him we fast because of our sins and because we are going to approach the mysteries. He has already said that Pascha and Lent are two separate things and that Pascha is celebrated at every Liturgy. We do not fast for the feast but so that we can cleanse ourselves to be able to approach the mysteries with a clean conscience. We do not fast for Pascha he says because fasting has a mournful character and Pascha is not a reason for fasting or grief; it is a reason for cheerfulness and joy. Also the Cross has taken away sin, it was an expiation for the world, a reconciliation for the ancient enmity. It opened the gates of heaven, changed those who hated into friends; it took our human nature, led it up to heaven, and seated it at the right hand of God's throne. And it brought to us ten thousand other blessings.

With love in Christ
Fr. Christopher