St. John Climacus, summarizing the early Holy Fathers’ experience, calls upon all Christians “to follow the royal path”. It is also called “the middle path”, and, according to The Ladder of the Divine Ascent, it “befits many” (that is, it is suitable for every man). It is a matter of “patience while living in community”, which is relevant not only for monks and nuns, but also for Christians living in the world. The Ladder of the Divine Ascent is a spiritual treatise, written chiefly for coenobitic monasteries, so it focuses on the virtue of obedience, its fruit and wonderful examples (see The Ladder, Step Four). Obedience is absolutely essential for everybody’s salvation. Unlike virginity, unceasing prayer, or non-acquisitiveness, obedience is a “universal” virtue that is available to anyone. In this sense, we—lay-people—can find many interesting and useful things here.
When a stranger approaches the Holy Gifts during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy it is the norm in the Orthodox Church for the priest to ask the person to “kiss the chalice”. Not knowing if the person is Orthodox, or whether they are in good standing with the Church, the priest can not give them communion. This “closed communion” is not meant as a way of separating ourselves from visitors as though we were better than them, but as our way of guarding the Holy Mysteries from being received by someone who is not part of the Church and who may hold to views concerning the Eucharist that are in opposition to the teachings of scripture and the dogmas of the Ancient Apostolic and Catholic Church.
Priests are guardians of the Holy Mysteries and must make sure they are not defiled. The priest must also protect the person who may receive without proper preparation and belief. Every Orthodox Christian is expected to have prepared for communion by abstaining from all food and drink from midnight on, as well as having said the pre-communion prayers. A good confession is also an important part of proper preparation for Holy Communion.
When a person believes that the things which we teach are true and has receive baptism in the Orthodox Church unto regeneration, and who is so living a life in Christ, the communion is not simply common bread or common wine we are receiving, but the very Body and Blood of the Saviour. The Logos (Word) Who took on our flesh for the salvation of the world, is received into our bodies through the action of the Holy Spirit and the prayer of His word (this is my body….this is my blood). At this moment our blood and flesh, by transmutation, are nourished with the flesh and blood of Jesus who was made flesh.
Closed communion is the way the Church protects anyone who does not hold to these beliefs from receiving unworthily and therefore hurting their soul. As well, when the priest co-mingles the commemoration particles after the communion of the faithful, with the Body and Blood of Christ, he commemorates the union we have with each other as members of the Body of Christ, the Church. This union is not just with those who are communing with us in this Liturgy, but a union of both the Church Militant here on earth, and the Church Triumphant in heaven. Within the life of the Church there is no separation from each other at death. The Body of Christ is made up of both those who have gone on before us and those who are still alive, for we are all alive in Christ. In a very real way we are not only communing of Christ’s true Body and Blood, but we are communing of each other as the Body of Christ, the Church!
Love in Christ,
In his Centuries on Theology St. Maximus the Confessor refers to the nexus of the dualism of pleasure and pain, which, by any standard, is an important subject. This means that we cannot discuss Orthodox Theology if we fail to face this crucial point, because the transcendence of pleasure and pain is, precisely, a prerequisite for correct Orthodox Theology. As St. Maximus the Confessor says, the transcendence of pleasure and pain proves that man has cleansed his heart from the passions.
As we pointed out above, the whole of modern life is governed by pleasure and pain, since, in our age, enjoyment and the gratification of the senses dominate, while at the same time deep grief, an inner pain, prevails. In reality, modern man tries to escape pain through the satisfaction of sensual pleasure. All contemporary problems, such as AIDS and drugs, are to be found in this connection. This is why I believe it is extremely important to see this link between pleasure and pain, as elaborated by St. Maximus the Confessor.
a) The origin of pleasure and pain
The world was created by God in Trinity. The most perfect creature is man, for he is the apex of creation, the microcosm in the macrocosm. Analyzing the issue of the creation of man and its relation to the birth and the origin of pleasure and pain, St. Maximus says that God the Word who created man's nature, made it without pleasure and pain. "He did not make the senses susceptible to either pleasure or pain." He insists on this point by saying: "Pleasure and pain were not created simultaneously with the flesh."