The Eucharist is the central purpose of the Divine Liturgy. It is important for Orthodox Christians to take Holy Communion every time we attend the Divine Liturgy. We need to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, as often as possible for our own healing. Therefore, we should be taking Holy Communion every Sunday, and not once or twice a year, as many of us do. But to participate in the Holy Eucharist, each of us needs to do some preparation first. First, in preparing to attend the Divine Liturgy, we must seek reconciliation and forgiveness from those who have insulted or offended us in any way. Also, we must ask to be forgiven by those whom we may have insulted or offended. Jesus Christ instructs us, saying, “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt. 5:23-24).
Second, we must prepare ourselves spiritually to receive the Divine Body and Blood by attending Saturday eve- ning Vespers and Sunday morning Matins. The earliest Christians set an example for us to attend Church when ever there is a service. We read in the Acts of the Apostles, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42) It is with our whole being that we understand that we are not forced into going to Church. We attend because we have a spiritual need and an ardent love of God that fills the heart of every true Christian.
In our own private, home-based prayer life, there are certain things that we should be doing as well. For example, we read the evening and morning prayers as well as the Preparation for Holy Communion as a minimum before we approach for Holy Communion. These prayers can be found in our prayer book. This simple act will help us to prepare ourselves spiritually to partake of the Divine Body and Blood of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
In addition to our spiritual preparations, Orthodox Christians also prepare bodily. We must prepare ourselves outwardly when we enter into God’s temple. Our bodies must be clean and our attire must reflect the sanctity of God’s presence. Bodily preparations also include the Eucharistic fast, which involves fasting from midnight the night before the Divine Liturgy. We must completely refrain from eating, drinking and smoking from midnight until after we have partaken of the Holy Eucharist and after the completion of the Divine Liturgy.
At the same time, there are certain medical conditions which prevent some from fasting to this strict level. For example, one condition that prevents the adherence to this rule is diabetes. Today, many people have diabetes and they must eat or they risk serious health complications. For a person with diabetes who wishes to come to Holy Communion, they must only eat the basic requirement to manage their condition. For example, this could include having some toast with a little jam and a glass of orange juice, but not overindulging in a large meal. This rule applies to anyone with a medical condition where they must eat and cannot follow a strict fast. An other integral part of the Eucharistic fast before Holy Communion requires those who are married to refrain from marital relations during this fast period.
Before one approaches for Holy Communion, it is important that we go to Holy Confession, which is associated with Holy Communion. They each complement the other. The two act to sanctify life, the highest purpose of human existence. In modern practice, Confession is usually done before and after Great Vespers, and before the beginning of the Divine Liturgy. However, Metropolitan Ilarion (Ohienko) in his epistle, How to Behave in God’s Temple wrote, “We must go to Confession a day before taking Holy Communion, so that we may have sufficient time to assess our transgressions. Confession on the day of receiving Holy Communion is an exception rather than rule.”
Now that we have prepared ourselves for the Divine Liturgy, we go to Church. But what do we do when we get there? First of all, we must arrive on time. Before entering the Church, let us pay attention to our outward appearance. Dirt and snow needs to be cleaned from our feet before we enter and not inside. As we enter the Church, one must remember that we are entering the house of God. So, we must enter with propriety and reverence, in awe of God and with a sense of piety because we are going into a place that is sanctified, and where God dwells with us. As the Book of Psalms says, “In the fullness of Your mercy I will come into Your house; In fear of You I will worship toward Your holy temple.” (Ps. 5:8) All of our earthly cares must be left outside, so cell phones must be shut off. We can even remove our watches and place them in our pocket.
Once inside the Church, we should direct our gaze at the Holy Altar and in awe give proper veneration. We cross ourselves three times and bow from the waist after each crossing, repeating the Publican’s Prayer “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” (Lk. 18:13) Then, we walk quietly to the Tetrapod, where we cross ourselves twice, venerate the icon and cross ourselves again. During Great Lent, we cross ourselves with a full prostration twice, venerate the icon, and cross ourselves with a full prostration again. According to Ukrainian Orthodox custom, after venerating the icon on the Tetrapod one turns towards the congregation and bow to those sitting on the left and then to those on the right, saying softly, “Forgive me, a sinner.”
Next, there is an accepted practice from the earliest Christian times. Having entered the Holy Temple, the faithful light a candle in the candle stand as a symbol of the individual’s sincerity of prayer and purity of faith. More than one candle may be lit. Next, we go to a pew to wait for the service to begin. Another customary practice is that, before sitting, those who are physically able kneel and pray Otche Nash or Our Father, or Bodorodytsia Divo or Holy Virgin, Mother of God.
Now that we have prepared ourselves both bodily and spiritually to the best of our ability, we pray quietly as we wait patiently for the priest to begin the Divine Liturgy.