Preparation for Communion

For understandable reasons, people are generally quiet about their own devotions. The means whereby people prepare for Communion is a very private affair, best kept among God, the communicant, and the communicant's spiritual father or mother. Because of that, it is very easy to assume that what we do as inidividuals is the norm, without giving it a second thought. I realised a few days ago that I had fallen into the same trap when, on two separate occasions, I was put to shame by two people who innocently made their apologies as they absented themselves to make their particular preparations which made mine appear paltry by comparison. I know that the aim of these devotions and prayers is not to try to appear before God to be holier than another - after all, we know the story of the Publican and the Pharisee - but rather to humble ourselves before our Lord and God. I know that there is no question of contest or anything like that but I know that there are times when I could benefit from more rigorous preparation and I wonder whether I am perhaps too lax sometimes. I have thought about this a little more since a recent exchange on another blog.

I wonder whether I may put upon readers to take part in a poll about your own practice. It is entirely anonymous and if you choose to comment on the post with or without having taken part in the poll, you mustn't feel under any obligation to share the detail of your own practice. However, I think it may be useful for us to see how what we do compares to the custom of others, and to perhaps stir us to question ourselves about whether what we do truly is most beneficial for us. Perhaps, as well, we should remember that some work full time while others do not, some have children while others do not, some drive long distances to get to church while others do not, and that while others may do much more than we do, it may not necessarily be reflective of any lack of desire for Christ in our own hearts.

So here it is. The answers come from the rule of preparation in the Old Rite prayer book, with the exception of the penultimate one, which I think is a monastic practice but which I have heard of being insisted upon by some parish clergy.

6 responses:

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

This should prove interesting, with very different practices prevailing amongst the Greeks as compared to the Russians :-)

Michael said...

Indeed, Elizabeth. Actually, while only a few people have taken part so far, I am already somewhat surprised by the high percentage (so far) who would not receive if they hadn't taken part in the previous evening's services.

I had expected that most people would observe the fast from midnight so that comes as little surprise but the truth is that, due to my recent experiences with others, I had expected that more people would include the pre-communion devotions in heir preparation than attendance at the previous night's services.

I suppose it just goes to show just how different our expecttaions can be and how we can't make assumptions.

It has certainly given me food for thought.

Keep voting, everyone. If nothing else, I'm excited that I now know how to include a poll. :-)

Ian Climacus said...

In my great ignorance please forgive me, but what is "Vigil": Orthros? And I will also ask what the devotions prescribed are, or can be found?

On Confession, showing my vote, I took that to indicate regular [a slippery word I know] Confession. I believe the Russian Church is somewhat stricter on this than other jurisdictions. This is something that has taken greater precedence in my preparation and life of late.

Michael said...

There's nothing to forgive, Ian. :-) It all stems what what I consider to be a pastoral problem of the arrangement of Byzantine services. The ustav (typikon) that directs when, how, in what order, and everything about how, the services are performed is monastic. It was written for a monastery and assumes a community of monastics living within the confines of a monastery, having devoted their lives entirely to this way of life, with their days revolving around the divine services. Unlike in the west, where there developed different rules for monastic practice and parish practice, the parishes of the east simply adopted the monastic rules.

But it doesn't work! People have jobs, and children, and tend not to live next-door to the church. So what happens is that the monastic practice has to be altered to suit parish needs but because there is no standard way of doing this, different trends have developed in different places.

I think (but have little experience so cannot be sure) that the Greek answer has been to offer fewer of the services, but the services they do offer happen something approximating their correct times, so Vespers will be served on Saturday evening, then Matins & Lauds (Orthros) will be served on the Sunday morning, followed by the Liturgy. The Russian solution has generally been to do as many of the services as possible, and to follow something more akin to the monastic practice of the vigil, which is essentially the services strung together on Saturday evening. So it begins with Vespers, then goes straight into Matins, then concludes with the First Hour. Then on Sunday morning, you have the Third Hour, the Sixth Hour, then the Liturgy. It seems a little strange to me because the services happen at completely the wrong times but I think it's part of the otherwise commendable Russian mindset of eschewing omissions and abbreviations. Because Matins happens in the evening, at 8 o' clock at night, the deacon is singing "Let us complete our morning prayer to the Lord", and you can easily have the sixth hour (noon) being prayed at 8 in the morning.

Yet it became a staple of Russian church life, and at one time attendance at the Saturday evening vigil was required for anybody wanting to receive communion on Sunday. Fr Alexander Schmemann said that the people often preferred it to the Liturgy. They would come out at night and enjoy worship by candlelight, then go home and not make their communion the next day, which, of course, is a complete misunderstanding of the nature of the Church and the Eucharist within its life. Perhaps this has been addressed today with more freedom and better catechesis.

I think the Greek tradition does prescribe the vigil for the evening before certain feasts but again, I can't be sure. My own parish only started doing Saturday Vespers last summer. We've always done the Third and Ninth Hours on Sundays before the Liturgy, and we're talking about trying the Vigil for our patronal festival this year, then maybe introducing it for great feasts. I don't think we'll ever do it every weekened, though.

I hope that helps.

Michael said...

Ah, you also asked about the communion devotions. Well, this is the specific practice I encountered in others that instigated the train of thought leading up to this post, so I'll confess to not being one of the people who do this.

It's the Trisagion prayers, psalms 21, 22, 23, and 115, three troparia, psalm 50, a beautiful pre-communion canon, and more troparia, then a series of devotional prayers, of which the previous post is one example. At my parish, somebody usually reads some of those devotional prayers during the communion of the clergy but that is the nearest I have ever got to doing it.

The devotions are in the Old Orthodox Prayer Book and, in the new rite version (shorter, with fewer psalms and prayers), in the Jordanville prayer book. Some similar devotions, arranged slightly differently but with much of the same content, appear in A Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians by Holy Transfiguration Monastery. I assume the difference is because this book represents Greek custom

Ian Climacus said...

Thank you greatly Michael; exceptionally helpful and informative as always. Much appreciated.

And yes, the pre-Communion Canon is beautiful. As, I am finding, are many Canons I am now discovering. And the Akathist to the Theotokos chanted during Great Lent is a blessed service to be part of also. I am so thankful for the Orthodox Church and its receiving me, for it is so richly endowed with prayers and hymns which speak to the deepest desires of the heart.

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