Sacraments and Services
“Those who have received from God authority to bind and loose must take into consideration the quality of the sin and the willingness and the readiness of the sinner to return, and thus offer a treatment suited to the sin in question, lest by employing an immoderate adjustment in one direction or the other, they fail in compassing the salvation of the one ailing… for all that matters to God and to the person undertaking pastoral leadership consists in the recovery of the straying sheep, and in the healing of the one wounded by the serpent.”
(Canon 102 of the Penthekte Council)
The above canon beautifully captures the essence of confession and spiritual direction within the Orthodox tradition as a therapeutic science, concerned not with legalistic details, but with the healing, restoration, and salvation of the whole person.
The sacrament of Confession provides the opportunity for the reconciliation and restoration of a person’s relationship with God and the Church when this relationship has been distorted by serious or habitual sin. Moreover, within the context of confession, the priest/confessor also has the opportunity to offer spiritual direction and guidance in a personal, individualized manner.
Confession should not be seen as a prerequisite for every reception of Holy Communion; however, neither should its importance in the life of every Christian be diminished. Regular confession is essential in order to be in proper relationship with God and the Church, and this is a prerequisite for receiving Holy Communion. Anyone who receives Holy Communion frequently should also receive the sacrament of confession on a regular basis.
To schedule a confession with a priest, one should call the church office to make an appointment.
“If thou hast purposed, 0 man, to eat the body of the Lord, approach in fear lest thou be scorched, for it is fire. And before drinking the Divine Blood unto communion, first reconcile thyself to them that have wronged thee…”
(From the prayers of preparation for Communion)
Participation in the Eucharist, the communion of the body and blood of Christ is the most awesome of mysteries: it is sharing in the divine-human life of Christ Himself. As St. Nicholas Cabasilas exclaims “O how great are the Mysteries! What a thing it is for Christ’s mind to be mingled with ours, our will to be blended with His, our body with His body, and our blood with His blood!” (see Life in Christ). For this reason, Holy Communion should always be approached with proper preparation. Two false assumptions need to be addressed in this regard. The first is that one should not partake regularly of the Eucharist because one is not worthy; once or twice a year is sufficient. In fact, this reasoning is faulty, since one is never worthy to receive Holy Communion; this is precisely why they are called the divine gifts. On the other hand, another false assumption is that participation in Holy Communion requires little or no preparation at all. As the above prayer indicates, the Holy Mysteries must be approached with proper respect and preparation, which includes not only self-preparation through prayer, fasting, and spiritual disciplines, but also reconciliation with the believing community, one’s brothers and sisters in Christ.
- 1. Holy Communion may be received only by those who:
- 2. have been baptized and/or chrismated in the Orthodox Church;
- 3. have had their marriage blessed (if married) in the Orthodox Church;
- 4. have properly prepared to receive Holy Communion by prayer and fasting;
- 5. have participated in Holy Confession on a regular basis;
- 6. arrive on time for the Divine Liturgy (at the latest, before the reading of the Gospel).
In Orthodox theological perspective, participation in Holy Communion is an all-embracing event, presupposing full communion in doctrine and practice. For this reason, Orthodox Christians are not permitted to receive Communion in any Protestant or Roman Catholic Church. Likewise, Protestants and Roman Catholics are not permitted to receive Holy Communion in the Orthodox Church. When you bring visitors to the Church Services, please be sure they are aware of this practice of our Church. Only when all the churches become fully united in faith and practice will we be able to receive Holy Communion from a common chalice.
This Sacrament is celebrated every year on Holy Wednesday, and may also be celebrated occasionally throughout the year, at which time everyone in the parish may be anointed with the Holy Oil for the healing of spiritual and bodily ills.
The Sacrament of Holy Unction may be celebrated any time of the year in case of serious illness. Please call a priest to make arrangements.
The Special Regulations and Uniform Parish Regulations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America defines membership as the following:
“Any person, eighteen years of age or older, who was baptized according to the rites of the Church, or who was received into the Church through chrismation, who lives according to the faith and canons of the Church, who has met his or her stewardship obligation (part of which is to meet his or her stewardship financial obligation to the Parish) and abides by the regulations herein and the by-laws of the parish, except that a person under twenty-one shall not serve on the parish council when such service is contrary to local law.”
The responsibilities of membership may be divided into the fulfillment of three distinct areas of commitment to Christ and to His Church: (1) our liturgical/worship fulfillment (regularly), (2) our stewardship fulfillment, and (3) our canonical fulfillment. In order to be a “member in good standing” at Greek Orthodox Church of Our Saviour, each person must have fulfilled all three aspects of his/her total commitment to the Church.
The fulfillment of our liturgical commitment to the Church requires our regular participation in the services and sacraments of the Church. Without such a commitment to participation in the Church’s life, one cannot be a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word. As our Lord said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you . . . he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:54, 56). It is therefore essential that each person commit themselves to frequent participation in the Holy Eucharist (Communion), as well as regular participation in the Sacrament of Confession. Any questions regarding one’s participation in these sacraments should be referred to Fr. Dennis, or to one’s own spiritual father. Furthermore, it is important that each person commit themselves to participation in the other services of the Church, including Saturday evening Great Vespers, Sunday morning Orthros, feast-day liturgies, and the other regular and occasional services offered by the Church, as well as following the Church’s calendar of fasting and feasting.
Fulfillment of our commitment to Christ and to the Church also requires the stewardship of our resources in a manner which follows with the precepts of the Gospel. This includes a commitment on our part to support the local Church through the offering of our financial resources as well as of our own unique gifts and talents. In order to be a “member in good standing” of Greek Orthodox Church of our Saviour, each person or family must make a financial commitment (pledge) to the church on an annual basis. and fulfill that commitment throughout the year. Members are encouraged to use a “percentage giving” method, whereby each person or family sets aside a certain percentage of their income for the church. It is understood that situations change and unforeseen events arise; a pledge may therefore be amended by simply calling the Church office. It should be emphasized, moreover, that our stewardship commitment goes far beyond financial matters; it is rather a commitment of the totality of life to God. Stewardship, therefore, also includes volunteering to serve on church committees, helping to organize and execute church functions, singing in the choir, teaching Sunday School, cleaning and maintaining the Church, and other forms of ministry; it is engagement in the total life of the church.
The fulfillment of our commitment to the Church last of all includes our commitment to live within the canonical standards which the Church has established as normative for the life of every Orthodox Christian. Such standards are not intended as limits upon our freedom, but should rather be understood as constituting the very basis for the communal life of the Orthodox Church. These include the following:
- 1. Each person must have been baptized and chrismated (confirmed) in the Orthodox Church; in the case of one converting to the Orthodox Church from another Christian confession, he/she must have been baptized in a manner acceptable to the Orthodox Church (generally defined as baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit within the context of a church which confesses the doctrine of the Holy Trinity), and have been chrismated in the Orthodox Church.
- 2. If married, the couple must either have been married within the Orthodox Church, or had their marriage blessed within the Orthodox Church.
- 3. If a divorce occurs between a couple married within the Orthodox Church or whose marriage has been blessed in the Orthodox Church, an official ecclesiastical divorce must be procured from the Archdiocese.
Orthodox Christians are not permitted to receive the sacraments of other Christian churches; to do so is regarded as tantamount to embracing the faith of the other church over against that of the Orthodox Church. Any person, therefore, who has participated in the sacraments of another church is ineligible to receive the sacraments of the Orthodox Church until he/she has been received back into sacramental communion by a priest through the rite of Confession.
The Church’s canonical regulations are closely linked to its liturgical and sacramental life; it is therefore essential to note that any person who does not fulfill the above canonical requirements is not eligible to receive the sacraments of the Orthodox Church, to serve as either a godparent (nounos/nouna) at a baptism or a sponsor (koumbaros/koumbara) at a wedding, or to receive an Orthodox funeral.
“Taking up the armor of the Cross, let us make war against the enemy. Let us have as our invincible rampart the Faith, prayer as our breastplate, and as our helmet almsgiving; and as our sword let us use fasting that cuts away all evil from our heart. (Ainos of Forgiveness Sunday)”
The above hymn beautifully summarizes the Church’s teaching that true fasting is always accompanied by the spiritual disciplines of prayer and charitable works, as was taught by our Lord Jesus Christ (Mt. 6:1-16). Fasting is an important element in a healthy spiritual life. Since the human being is a psychosomatic whole, our spiritual lives must not neglect the body and bodily discipline. Within the Orthodox tradition, fasting is not regarded as “giving up” certain foods and behaviors; rather, it is understood as a “making room” in our over-saturated lives for the presence of God, an opening of ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit.
- The following days are FAST days:
- All Wednesdays and Fridays (with the exception of the week after the Sunday of the Pharisee of the Publican, the week after Pascha, the week after Pentecost, and the period from December 25-January 4
- January 5 (the eve of Epiphany).
- During the last week before Great Lent begins, no meat is permitted, although dairy products may be eaten even on Wednesday and Friday.
- Great Lent and Holy Week.
- The Apostles’ Fast: Monday after the week following Pentecost up until June 29.
- The Fast of the Dormition (Kimisis) of the Theotokos: August 1-14.
- The Beheading of St. John the Baptist: August 29.
- The Elevation of the Holy Cross: September 14.
- The Nativity (Christmas) Fast: November 15 – December 24.
- The following are fast days on which fish (and wine and olive oil) is allowed:
- Annunciation: March 25.
- Palm Sunday.
- The Transfiguration: August 6.
- The following days are completely fast-free:
- The first week of the Triodion, including Wednesday and Friday
- Bright Week (the week following Pascha)
- The week following Pentecost
- December 25 through January 4
General Guidelines for Fasting
As a general rule, on a fast day no meat or animal by-products, dairy products (foods containing milk or eggs), fish, olive oil, or wine (or other alcohol) should be eaten. On a fast day which coincides with a feast of the Church (for example, St. Nicholas’ day during the Nativity Fast), wine and olive oil are permitted. On days in which a Great Feast coincides with a fast day (for example, Annunciation during Great Lent), fish is permitted together with wine and olive oil.
During both Great Lent and the Fast of the Dormition, all weekdays are strict fast days, while wine and olive oil are permitted on the weekends. During the Fast of the Apostles and the Nativity Fast, Monday Wednesday, and Friday are strict fast days, while wine and olive oil are permitted Tuesdays and Thursdays, and fish, wine, and oil are permitted on the weekends.
A complete fast is observed in the mornings (such as Sunday) before receiving Holy Communion.
Decisions regarding fasting have significant implications for one’s spiritual and physical well-being, and should never be made without guidance from one’s own spiritual father; such decisions should also be made in consultation with a physician whenever health issues (such as pregnancy) may be present.