Closed Communion

Over the last few days I’ve thought alot about the painful reality that not all Christians can share Communion. I come from a tradition where no one is refused, so the first time I visited an Orthodox service I found myself very offended when I couldn’t partake. Instead of turning my back in my offense I chose to engage the reasons why. For me, this not only lead to a deeper understanding of Christian division and a growing conviction that I need to be very intentional about choosing where I route myself within Christianity, but it also brought me from a Protestant understanding of Holy Communion to an Orthodox one – along with all the Sacraments.

I friend of mine posted this over a year ago; I found it worth revisiting.

Fr. Steve Tsichlis:

Your Eminence, the sacrament of the Eucharist – the Divine Liturgy – is the heart and core of our worship as Orthodox Christians. What are some of the differences in our understanding of the Eucharist as Orthodox Christians from the many other Christian confessions that exist, and why are Christians of other confessions not able to receive Communion when they attend the celebration of the Eucharist in our church, the Orthodox church?

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware:

There are two questions there.

So let’s take the first of them. In the Orthodox Church, we believe that the bread and wine, through the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become the true body and blood of Christ. So we believe that the Eucharist is not simply a commemorative meal in which we recall the Last Supper. We believe Christ is objectively and immediately present in the consecrated elements. So here there is a clear difference between Orthodoxy and Protestantism, not just a recollection. In the Divine Liturgy, recollection becomes reality. So, we receive the true body and blood of Christ.

But this is mystery. We do not understand how, but we do regard the reception of the consecrated elements as the supreme moment of our personal encounter with the Saviour. Now many Anglicans [and] Episcopalians, though not all, would likewise say that the Sacrament is the true body and blood of Christ. So on this point some Anglicans differ from us but others agree with us. The Romans Catholics firmly believe that the Sacrament is Christ’s body and blood. They use to describe the change in the elements the word “trans-substantiation.” In the past from the 17th century onwards Orthodox often used that same word. I prefer to avoid because it is not a word used by the early fathers; it is a word bound up with a particular philosophical system – Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy – which we Orthodox on the whole do not employ.

But I do not see a difference here fundamentally between ourselves and the Roman Catholics. We both believe in the real presence. We Orthodox perhaps put greater emphasis on the involvement of the Holy Spirit in the consecration, but in the last 30 years, Roman Catholics have also begun to stress much more the work of the Spirit in effecting the consecration. So I would not think that is a primary difference here between us and the Roman Catholics.

If the Roman Catholics share with us essentially the same faith in the Eucharist, and if many Anglicans do as well, why can we not have Communion together? That is your second question.

I long for the day when all Christians can receive Communion together. It causes me deep sorrow that I cannot offer the Holy Communion to non-Orthodox. At the same time I believe that the Orthodox discipline here rests on important theological principles. When we come to Holy Communion, this is not simply an isolated act – me personally coming to my Saviour – I come to Communion as a member of the Church – as a member of the family of believers, not alone but with others. And when I come to Communion, I am summing up and expressing the totality of my whole Christian faith, of my entire church membership.

It is a painful reality but nonetheless a fact, that at this moment Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Protestants, we are divided; we belong to separated ecclesial bodies. We are seeking unity but we still have a long way to go. So long as we are separated as ecclesial communities, it is not realistic for us to have Communion together. Communion expresses our total unity in faith, our solidarity as members of one ecclesial family. If our faith is different and if we belong to separated ecclesial families, it is somehow untruthful for us to have Communion together. The reception of Communion should not be seen as a means towards an end, not as a means towards greater unity. It should be seen as the expression of the unity that we possess. It is a gift from God, and until that unity is fully expressed, we have to accept that we cannot receive Communion together. It would not be truthful. It would not be realistic to the facts of our separated church membership.


Conversation with Adam

My friend and I have many conversations though email from our desk at work. Some take smoke breaks, we write jokes. Although every once in a while we’ll hit on a deeper topic…


Adam Hanks

Dude… I was on a call from 3 to 6:40 last night. My head actually exploded… twice. I didn’t even know that was possible. It was with that company we’re merging with in Denver (which made the call earlier for them). They seem like pretty cool people.

In other news… I’ve been bouncing around the idea of attending Catholic Mass while keeping my reading engrossed in Orthodoxy (along with many of their ideas that I’ve become attached to such as mysticism – knowing God through the heart as opposed to the mind like in that article about CS Lewis you sent me). I’m sure there are many holes in this idea, which is why I’m telling you about it – you’ll punch many into it. I’m also getting really into the idea of confession. For some reason I was really against that idea a few years ago, but it’s been growing on me for a while. Anyway, one of the reasons for this is that there are more options for a Catholic mass around here.


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After that meeting the big question is, are you still on the pay roll? I don’t know that I would have been.

I think that’s a great idea man, and I think it’s great that this is concerning/interesting to you. I feel like that’s a good place to be. For me, it’s so interesting because both East and West claim to be the same thing – The Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (as they each declare when they recite the Nicene Creed). When they split from one another they each continued to hold this belief about themselves. I also think it’s kind of funny the words each uses to identify themselves post schism. The Church of Rome labeled themselves “catholic”, now in our society that word means one thing – Roman Catholicism. No one really knows that that word has a true meaning and that the Orthodox Church believes themselves to be the Catholic Church too. Likewise with the word “orthodox,” it’s the label that the Eastern Church uses to identify themselves although Roman Catholics would claim themselves to be orthodox too – but really only one can be both, the two words are virtually synonymous in nature. Most Protestants have adopted the term “evangelical” to describe themselves, though both Roman Catholic and Orthodox would associate this term with themselves as well. Making sense of Christendom is no easy task. But I’m glad you plan on continuing to read Orthodox theology/doctrine; it sooths the soul. I have plenty of good reading to suggest should you ever find yourself wanting something else.


Adam Hanks

The language does get pretty confusing, but I’m beginning to get that part of it. There are a lot of new words that they use that I rarely heard as a Protestant, but I’m getting used to those too. The hardest part is with the words that both Protestants and Catholics/Orthodox use but that have different meanings. Fr. Stephen has been a huge help in bridging the vocabulary gap. Since he was raised both Southern and Protestant, I think he’s in a good position to educate those like us. I’ll definitely be coming to you for more reading material, once I finish what you’ve already given me at least. You’re my official book source. To your point that only one can be both… I think that both have suffered somewhat from the split, and both have lost out on something. For an analogy of what I mean I’ll use the Civil War. If the North and the South had actually remained separated, then regardless of whether or not the North was “right”, it still would have had a part of its country taken from in and would have suffered. It would have been less influenced by MLK, Texas oil, all forms of music (rock-n-roll, jazz, etc. and by extension, every other musical form popular today), etc. You see, in this metaphor Eastern Orthodoxy is the North and Roman Catholicism is the South. If they hadn’t split, then Orthodoxy would have been influence by many more people (i.e. Francis, Chesterton, etc.) at least to a greater degree. They could have also had more protection from invaders (though this is definitely debatable), and Catholicism as a whole would have had more power to resist the second schism (i.e. Protestantism). I guess my point is that both can be “right”, but only part of the whole (to use your coin metaphor where Orthodoxy is the heads side and Rome is the tails – you still need the tails side to have a coin). Hopefully that makes sense. They’ve obviously gone different ways in many aspects but most of the core is still in both. I’m not arguing against absolute truth here and fully believe in that though I’m not sure we’ll get there this side of Heaven, but I think both may have been closer to absolute truth if together. Of course it can be argued that because of the split, Orthodoxy wasn’t exposed to the Reformation and has benefited from that. Now I’m just rambling… my main point is that both have missed out because of the separation and therefore the statement that “only one can be both (orthodox and catholic in the real sense of the term that you were using)” may not entirely be true; my view is that both have missed a closer landing of absolute truth because of the separation (though I believe that Orthodox suffered much less from the rift and that Rome was in the fault; I also think that it was because of this fault that the Reformation occurred – i.e. if absolute authority is given to a single person, the pope, then there is a higher likelihood that he’ll make mistakes such as the ones that led to the Reformation).


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Well written, and I absolutely agree with most of what you’ve said though I differ on some points. Keep in mind my answer is biased, as to why it will become clear. Both have certainly suffered. I really believe it to be the most tragic thing on earth – the split between Roman Catholics and Orthodox. I really hope for a union one day, though I don’t think my grandkids will see it. To your point about had the split not happened, in your words – “They could have also had more protection from invaders (though this is definitely debatable).” The East’s oppression by Islam (which is what I believe you were referring to) in a weird way served as protection – allowing the East to exist uninfluenced from Western thought in light of their doctrinal alterations. Being that both were now existing within different doctrinal beliefs, it created great differences in spirituality, theology, and belief about life with God. To remain separate from that was important to Orthodoxy at that time. But also to your point that “both have missed a closer landing of absolute truth because of the separation”, I both agree and disagree. I agree in that had both remained unified there would have been a tremendous amount of additional minds and hearts to add to the life of the Church, so in that sense the Church has suffered from what would have otherwise been invaluable. But keep in mind, I have come to the resolution that within the Orthodox Church is doctrinal purity – and this is offensive to many people, that such a thing actually exists. But the doctrinal positions of the Orthodox Church are not there to draw in on absolute truth, that’s more the purpose of theology (which really must remain mystical in order to do so). Doctrine serves more as a fence that guards what at it’s essence is a mystery – giving you barriers that you can not go beyond. So basically, I truly believe there exists on this earth pure and unblemished doctrinal belief despite all the Christian division; and only within this doctrine can anyone draw closer to absolute truth. I truly believe there exists a Catholic Church, full and lacking nothing; and Orthodox, right belief. But I also believe that no history lesson will bring anyone to these conclusions; it’s only after experiencing the heart and spirituality of the faith that anyone can say these things. I realize these opinions can offend so I don’t readily share them. Infact you’re the first.


Adam Hanks

I only think that would be offensive if you’re talking to someone who’s just grown up in a specific branch (i.e. Catholic, Protestant) and doesn’t know much about what he/she believes nor is searching for answers as to why/what they believe. It also might be offensive to someone who has a hard time thinking anyone who thinks different than them came by their thoughts honestly (so Republicans and Democrats are out) without some ulterior motive such as “socializing America”.

Anyway, I agree with what you said as well, and I should note that my last email was kind of scatter brained. I didn’t really elaborate on my thoughts because that would’ve been way too long. I meant to make a single point which carried me to other thoughts that I thought were worth mentioning. The point deserved more time than I was willing to put into it. There were plenty of times when I could’ve played devil’s advocate to my own argument as was the case where I had, “(though this is definitely debatable).” In no way do I think that God left us to our own measures once the split happened. By that I mean that he brought good from it also such as when you said, “allowing the East to exist uninfluenced from Western thought in light of their doctrinal alterations.” As Lewis said, “Even the evilest acts go out into eternity and rebound for good,” or something like that.

As far as unification is concerned, there is a catch-22 going on… Orthodoxy, which seems to me to be in the “right”, has the option of standing up for what they believe in or turning the other cheek and joining with Rome regardless. The problem is that both think they’re right AND that it’s something that should be stood up for. If even one side thought it wasn’t worth it, then unification/forgiveness could begin. As it is, I, as you, don’t see this happening anytime soon.


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I fully agree with this – In no way do I think that God left us to our own measures once the split happened. I want Eastern/Western unity too, but it can’t be false unity. The Orthodox Church can’t submit to the Pope and adopt the filioque. I’m not passionate about much, but on this I have a strong opinion.


Adam Hanks

I just read a section in the Orthodox Church about the filioque.  I agree that it’s a big point and that greater minds than mine should discuss it.


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So well said, agreed.

“If man in his religious life adopts the course of rational research, his approach to the world will inevitably be pantheistic. Every time the theologizing mind essays of its own strength to know the truth about God, whether or not it understands, fatally it falls into the same error in which science and philosophy and pantheism are sunk—intuiting truth as ‘WHAT’. Truth as ‘WHO’ is never arrived at through reason. God as ‘WHO’ can be known only through communion in being—that is, only by the Holy Spirit.” ~Archimandrite Sophrony

The nature of water is soft, that of stone is hard; but if a bottle is hung above the stone, allowing the water to fall drop by drop, it wears away the stone. So it is with the word of God; it is soft and our hearts are hard, but those who hear the word of God often, open their hearts to revere the Lord. ~ Abba Pimen


Things I Believe

Life with God is one of the heart: As I grow in purity of heart I grow in my ability to see Him; as I grow in darkness of heart I am unable to see Him. Sin darkens the heart and distorts the way we see God and the world. The purer our hearts the more clearly we see God. Every outward action stems from an inward reality of the heart. All outward acts of kindness and compassion come from inner realities of love and humility; all outward acts of cruelty and evil come from inner realities of hatred and pride. A good tree can only yield good fruit and cleaning only the outside of a wine glass is useless.

God is infinitely good. In Him there is no harm; in Him there is no evil. He radiates love and kindness to everyone without exception. Any correction from Him towards us stems from love and is for our Salvation – like a father’s correction to a son. Evil is not from God; it is from man who God has endowed with free-will. This free-will God will not violate, this free-will allows for brutality. Hell exists because free-will exists.

Death is un-natural. We were not created for death; we were created for life, and life eternal. Death exists because we have removed ourselves from Him Who is life, thus we died. God did not kill us. We are eternal beings, though mortal; one day our bodies will be eternal also – this is our hope. The human person is both body and soul; both are good, though subject to corruption because of sin. Both will be perfect because our Lord Who is perfect clothed Himself with each. God has assumed the entirety of our humanity, healing our humanity entirely.

The Scriptures are God’s revelation to man – Eternal God to mortal man – Holy God to sinful man – Infinite God to finite man; as such they are mysterious, will never be exhausted, reveal eternal truths, and are for our salvation. Man’s personal interpretation of Scripture is subject to much flaw. God’s Truth comes to The Church – the Bride of which He is the Bridegroom – the Body of which he is the Head. The Church is Catholic and Apostolic.

Fr. Ted on Scripture

Good thoughts concerning scripture from Fr Ted…

“The Bible is God’s Word, but God spoke through the prophets and inspired humans to write it down; God did not try to free the scriptures from human influence or mediation.   Rather God chose humans to be His heralds of the divine revelation and used their languages and cultural concepts to convey His eternal truths.”

 “The New Testament has numerous quotes from the Old Testament which it claims are prophecies of Christ – but the texts in their original context don’t necessarily say they point to Christ.  For that is the Christian community’s understanding of these texts; it is the community of believers which sees in the text the fulfillment of God’s promises and prophecies.  The New Testament, which is the Christian understanding of the Old Testament promises and prophecies, doesn’t just read the Old literally; it sees in the Old a deeper meaning which is revealed only in Christ.  The literal reading is but one reading of the text, and may not be the most important one.  The Church followed a Christocentric reading of the Old Testament, not necessarily a literal reading.  As Jesus said in John 5:39-40, the scriptures bear witness to Him, they don’t have eternal life in them; rather the scriptures serve to bring us to Christ.”

” …It has been said that you can find a verse in the Bible to justify just about any thought or behavior. Most believers, however, do recognize that taking verses willy-nilly out of context and quoting them does not in any way reflect truly understanding them nor does it bring us to the message that God wishes for us to understand from them. Part of what the 16th Century Reformers alleged against  Roman Catholicism was the Church’s ability and willingness to justify most any practice by quoting some verse of scripture regardless of how the verse had to be twisted or decontextualized to give it the meaning claimed.   This pushed the Protestants toward accepting only “the plain” or literalist interpretation of the text, which they naively in turn imagined would be free of human error. Yet nothing has so relativized the scriptures, and caused endless denominations from dividing from the rest of Christendom than the rejection of Church tradition and authority in interpreting the Bible.”

~Fr Ted

 These feelings I’m not very proud of, but I can’t help but write them down.

I must admit, after experiencing the richness and fullness of the Orthodox faith I have had a very hard time with Protestant Christianity. I don’t want to be this way; I would like to be more gracious in my feelings towards Protestantism. Most everyone I know is Protestant – my family – my friends – my girlfriend. I have been Protestant my entire life, having left only recently, though my heart has been long since gone. My feelings towards what I have left are harsh and would be offensive to virtually everyone I consider close. I feel that Protestantism has distorted and diluted the faith, and with endless teachings that go in every direction I see it as very chaotic and full of confusion. In addition, within Protestantism no one has any authority to say what is truth because they all use the same source to justify endless interpretations of Scripture, rendering false teaching meaningless. I feel a little frustration when hear someone in a Protestant tradition talk about something being “Biblical” simply because you can go in any theological direction you want and justify it with scripture when it is used on its own. I really do not understand why the vast majority of sincere Protestant Christians do not seem to question their Protestantism. I see it as broken – routed in and producing endless division. I hope to not always feel this strongly; I would prefer to feel sadness. I pray for healing, but these are honest feelings – Lord have mercy!