Monday, May 30, 2016

Receiving Holy Communion in Non-Orthodox Churches and Blessing others

This is the first of our “Ask Father” sermons for Summer 2016. This week’s questions both deal with relationships with others, inside and outside the Church. Can I receive Holy Communion in a non-Orthodox Church? What is the proper way to bless others as a layperson? These questions are simply but serve a very practical role in our relationship with others.

Hello. My name is Father Athanasios Haros and I'm the Pastor here at the Transfiguration of Our Savior Greek Orthodox Church in Florence, South Carolina, and I'm your host for Be Transfigured Ministries.

Here at Be Transfigured, as we say, we invite you to live a new life in Christ. We feature our sermons and our Bible studies and other special events in the life of the Church. We do it to inspire you to join us in living a new life in Christ. I hope you'll join us.

I'll be back in a moment after this video to share some information about our ministry.

In this morning's Gospel, there is an interaction, a dialogue between Christ and the Samaritan woman and the line that Christ uses which is a wonderful inspiration for our “Ask Father Series” is in this dialogue Christ says to this woman, "If you knew who it was in front of you, you would ask him for a drink." and He invites the Samaritan woman whom by the way we know is Saint Photini.

Christ invites Saint Photini into a dialogue for the salvation of our souls, our souls. Christ knew we were going to read this, and so Christ is also inviting each and every one of you my brothers and sisters, if you knew the grace of God that was in the Church, you would ask the Church any of your questions and the Church would provide the blessed answer from 2000 years of life experience. Experience living a life in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Today's questions, there's two questions, two simple yet very practical questions. The first one is a follow up to a topic we talked about a couple of years ago. I know that many of our young children, our teenagers and children go to private schools. There's a Catholic school here in town. There's an Episcopal school here in town.

One of our children asked me if it was okay to receive Holy Communion in that other Church, and I said, "No. It is not okay for us to receive Communion in a non-Orthodox Church."

Here's the answer. It isn't because we are afraid of strangers. It isn't because somehow we think we are superior to the other Churches. It's just that, as I mentioned a couple of years ago about Holy Communion, when we share Holy Communion with another person, the expression we use in the Church is in communion with. The Greek Orthodox Church is in communion with the Russian Orthodox Church and the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

There's 14 Churches throughout the world, Orthodox Churches and we are all in communion with each other. We can go to anyone of these Churches and receive Holy Communion. When we do that, it is a realization of the unity that exists between our Churches. Not just in the theology about the chalice.

I remember having a question from a grown man, he was in his 60s, several, several years ago and he saw all of our little babies coming up for Holy Communion and he was not an Orthodox Christian and he said, "Can you explain to me why you will allow those little babies who do not know anything about Jesus Christ to receive Holy Communion? But I'm in my 60s, I believe Christ is in that chalice. Why can't I receive Holy Communion?" I said, "Because we don't believe the same thing about Jesus Christ."

The Lutheran Church has a particular theology about Jesus Christ. The Baptist Church has a particular theology about Jesus Christ. The Episcopalian Church has a particular theology about Jesus Christ. The Roman Catholic Church, et cetera, et cetera.

Because we do not share the same understanding about Jesus Christ, we do not share the Holy Communion. It isn't a statement of judgment. A lot of people accuse us, "Well, that's not fair. You should be able to receive Holy Communion. That's not fair."

Life's not about being fair. It's about being in communion with God. When we go and visit other Churches or if we're in private schools and our schools have communion services, we sit back politely and we do not participate in the Holy Communion.

I know this is also not just private schools, but I know sometimes wedding services have Holy Communion as part of them in the other Christian Churches. Our responsibility as Orthodox Christians is to very respectfully sit in our pew or in our chair and allow the others to do what they do in their faith. If someone says, "Why didn't you come for Holy Communion? Don't you believe in Jesus?" "Yes, I believe in Jesus." "Well then why didn't you receive?"

That, just like this morning's Gospel, if we are knowledgeable enough about our faith, can open up a dialogue about what we believe about Jesus Christ.

I want to remind you as of 2012, that's four years ago, so it's probably higher now than it was then. As of 2012, Gordon-Conwell Seminary discovered there were 43,000 denominations of Christianity. 43,000 answers to the same question.

For those of you who are teachers, can you imagine answering a test with 43,000 different possible answers? It's impossible. Every question has only one answer. It is not possible if there's 43,000 different answers to the question, "Who is Jesus Christ?"

When the Church says, "We cannot receive Holy Communion." It is simply being honest. It's not being judgmental. It's simply being honest that we do not believe the same thing about Jesus Christ as the Roman Catholic Church, as the Episcopalian Church, as the Lutheran Church, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

I hope that understands that question. That is for when we visit other Churches and when other Churches visit us. It isn't judgment. It's just being honest.

Unfortunately, honesty is not a very widely spread practice in our society today. Everyone wants to say whatever the other person wants to hear rather than simply being honest.

Our second question is a little bit even more practical. Someone asked me to clarify how we as Orthodox Christians can bless each other. I know it's very common especially down here in the south to say, "God bless you." When we see each other. When we sneeze, "God bless you." Right? I was asked to clarify how we as Orthodox Christians can properly bless each other more than just the habitual saying, "God bless you."

I as Priest of course have a unique gift from the Church. Through the laying out of hands. Through the ordination. Through the ancient tradition of the Church. I have received the grace of the Holy Spirit to bless you and to bestow Christ's blessings upon people. You'll notice that I as the Priest or any Priest or Bishop, when we bless, we hold our hands in a particular way. It is an icon of the name of Jesus Christ, Ιησούς Χριστός , because that's not my blessing. It is God's blessings.

The clergy through ordination have received a special grace from the Holy Spirit to bestow the grace of God and to bless the people, and so during the various services of the Church, I come out, I bless the people and I say, "Peace be with you." What do you say? Oh! See. That was a pop quiz. What do you say? "And also with you." Right? Και το πνεύματί σου in the Greek. That is your way to ask God to bless me. As laypeople, you don't go like this like the Priest does. You simply ask God to bless.

The question is and part of the question that I was asked to answer this morning, "How do we bless our friends?" What is the appropriate Orthodox way to bless our friends?

For those of you who are not Priests, just like we bless ourselves. We hold our hand like this when we bless ourselves, "Father, Son, Holy Spirit, one God, fully God, fully man." We bless ourselves like this, "In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit." That's what we do when we bless ourselves. Correct?

For you, the laity, when you want to bless other people, that's how you hold your hand and you say, "God bless you." or your food when you're sitting there at the table, "God bless our food."

Here is a unique thing now. When you see a Priest or a Bishop, it is not appropriate to say to a Priest or a Bishop, "God bless you." because the Priest and the Bishop, we have a responsibility to bless you. The appropriate interaction when we see a Priest or a Bishop is to ask to receive the blessing from the Priest or the Bishop because that is our unique responsibility in our relationship as a Church.

The laity have what they have to do. The Priests have what we have to do. These different roles have been established. These are nothing new. Saint Clement of Rome wrote 1,900 years ago. It's a long time ago. Saint Clement of Rome was writing to the Church in Corinth and he said that the clergy have their responsibilities and the laypeople have their responsibilities.

Unfortunately, I think there's a tendency in our society that we are so preoccupied with what we think is equality. That we seem to think that everyone is interchangeable in our society. I touched on this a little bit last week just with the gender question. It's not just about bathrooms. It's not just about marriage. It's about the family.

We are living in times where we are mislead to believe that individual people can be interchanged like they're not of any consequence. That has found its way even into our Churches. We have a relationship, clergy and laity together. We are not all laity. We are not all clergy. We are not all men. We are not all women. We are not all fathers. We are not all mothers. We all have our unique responsibility in the life of the Church.

I would suggest that anything in our society that encourages that there is no longer anything that distinguishes between men and women or anybody else in our society. It's a very dangerous thing, because equality has nothing to do with diversity.

God created man and woman in the world and he established in the Church clergy and laity. Different does not mean not equal. Just as a reminder, I cannot celebrate liturgy by myself. You cannot have liturgy without a Priest. Does that make us one more important than the other or does that make us equal in importance in the Church?

Do you see what I'm trying to express? Every time we see something that distracts from the truth of God's creation, we have to be careful. We have different roles to play in life, in our families, at work, among our society and here in the Church.

During the Divine Liturgy, we bless each other and that's built in to the worship of the Church and just as you bow to receive the blessing, I bow to receive the blessing when you ask God to bless me. Then we'll go out into the world, let's all bless our friends, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and you're going to bless your friends, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are going to think, "What are you doing?" "I'm blessing you." "Wow! Thank you."

Our senior citizens were at the Swan Lake the other day for the Iris Festival. Two complete strangers came up to me, "Are you a Priest?" "Yeah." "Can you bless me?" and I said, "Of course, I can." What a beautiful opportunity that God's grace can come upon a complete stranger just because he saw me walking through the boardwalk there at the lake with the senior citizens.

Don't forget to turn in your questions, and we're going to spend our summer answering whether they are simple and practical. Whether they are deep theology. Whatever questions that are lingering in your minds about our faith. Turn them in so we can answer throughout the summertime. Christ is Risen!

I'm back and I hope this video was an inspiration to you. I hope it helps you live a new life in Christ. Please share our message of hope with your friends and family and invite others to live a new live in Christ.

Find more information about Be Transfigured Ministries by joining us on our website at You can also find many of our videos at the Orthodox Christian Network, our partners at

As we say at Be Transfigured, until next week, God bless you and don't forget to live a new life in Christ.

Be Transfigured is a production of the Transfiguration of Our Savior Greek Orthodox Church in Florence, South Carolina and presented by the Orthodox Christian Network. Contributions and support of this ministry may be sent to Be Transfigured 2990 South Cashua Drive Florence, South Carolina 29501 or online at our website at

No comments: