The Unworthy Impediment

While piety sometimes can make us believe we are  not worthy to receive Holy Communion on a particular day when the Eucharistic Liturgy is being offered, the reality is Christ came to call the sinner to repentance, to heal the wounds caused by sin and to end the separation of humanity from their Creator.  Christ came precisely because we are unworthy to approach God, in order to make it possible for us to be restored to unity with God again.    The incarnation is about God taking on sinful flesh to heal us and restore us to union with God. Christ did not become incarnate because we all were so holy that He was drawn to us.  He came because we are sinners and unworthy.   The God who is love sees our unworthiness and in His loving compassion reaches out to us, cutting through all bonds and barriers in order to save us from the consequence of our own sins.  Christ comes to save us from our unworthiness.   Before ever cutting yourself off from Holy Communion, speak with your father confessor or parish priest.  Do not disobey Christ’s commands to “Take, eat” and “Drink of it, all of you.”   Russian Orthodox theologian Fr. Nicholas Afanasiev writes:

“If personal unworthiness was indeed an impediment against receiving communion, then practically no one could ever be admitted to the Eucharist…. The Eucharistic gathering is the manifestation of the Church in all her fullness and all her oneness. Eucharistic communion is the very expression of life in the Church. If we eliminate Eucharistic communions, then what is left of our life in the Church? Is prayer even temporarily able to replace communion? The prayer of the Church is prayer ‘in Christ’, but it is impossible to be ‘in Christ’ apart from Eucharistic communion with Him.”  (Living Icons by Michael Plekon, p 169)

If we have a sense of our unworthiness, our own sinfulness, then we are in the proper frame of mind to approach the Chalice in humility and repentance.  We always are unworthy of Christ dying on the cross for us.  We are always unworthy of having our sins forgiven or entering into God’s Kingdom.   It is that knowledge which makes us humble ourselves before God and beg His mercy.

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3 thoughts on “The Unworthy Impediment

  1. Pingback: The Unworthy Impediment | OrthodoxPost.com

  2. Fr Bill

    In 1988 I heard Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh, may his memory be eternal, say in a sermon, that all should prepare properly to receive Christ in the Eucharist but no one should forgo the Sacrament on ground of unworthiness as no one is really worthy of themselves but Christ makes them so. Moreover Christ desires not the death of a sinner and as truly unworthy lips close upon the his body and blood, “He withdraws Himself” and thus is only bread and wine taken and the sinner shall live (and hopefully come to repentance).

  3. juliania2

    In all humility, fathers, I would remind us all that to God nothing is impossible. So while the Holy Eucharist is the pinnacle of Communion with Christ, and the points about the unworthiness excuse and proper preparation for such Holy Communion are good ones, our Creed says nothing about such things and there are indeed impediments for some that conscience or the Church itself imposes. My feeling is that Christ Himself denies Communion to no one, and it is he who sees a true penitent and welcomes their approach, whether churched or unchurched.

    Saint Mary of Egypt is one example of this. It was her joy at the end of long and austere preparations during which she became purified to at last receive the gift of Communion – a path not of her own choosing but made possible by the compassion of Christ and his mother, who accompanied her on her long journey. When St. Zosima came upon her the first time in the desert, both he and she were humbled by the presence of the other. It’s a beautifully human moment, each fully aware of his/her own impediment of unworthiness.

    Sometimes that is what it takes.

    Thank you, father, for your many reflections here, and the beautiful icons that accompany them.

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