Greek Orthodox and First Holy Communion

by Christina Strynatka

While all Catholics partake in the holy sacrament of First Communion, also called the Eucharist, Greek Orthodox Catholics differ in a few ways: they have the Eucharist placed in their mouths instead of taking it by hand - Roman Catholics can do either at their preference - and Greek Orthodox Catholics are served leavened bread. However, the most distinct feature about Greek Orthodox First Communion is that it can be received any time after baptism, not at the stringently-held threshold of ages 7-8 in the Roman Catholic Church.

Preparation Before First Communion

Before a Greek Orthodox child can fulfill the sacrament of Eucharist, he or she must undergo some preparation. At its simplest, this consists solely of being baptized and confirmed -- the holy sacraments symbolically relational of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. If the parents decide that their child will receive communion at an age closer to that of their peers (7-8, as the child is thought of to be at the age of reason), education can comprise of attending catechism school. Here, church leaders will teach children about the Catholic faith at a more in-depth level than Mass, and how to apply the Church's teachings to everyday life. For example, parables such as the story about the prodigal son help children understand the concepts of unconditional love, atonement and forgiveness.

The Sacrament of Eucharist

When Greek Orthodox Catholics have met the basic requirements of baptism and confirmation, and the optional additional Catechism school education, they are ready to receive their first communion. Wearing white if female or a black suit if male, they approach the priest at the altar, tilt their heads back and open their mouths to receive (leavened) bread and wine that represents the body and blood of Christ. First Communion usually takes place during a regularly-scheduled liturgy as opposed to a holiday or feast day. Because Eucharist is one of the holiest sacraments due to the consummation of Christ's body and blood, and because Pentecost signals the end of one of the most noted Catholic holidays, (Easter, when Jesus died, was buried and resurrected), First Communion is scheduled close to that date. After children receive communion for the first time, they are encouraged to do so every week but only after they've confessed their sins. This is so that they may receive Christ with pure minds and hearts.

Types of Liturgies Used for First Communion

There are three different types of liturgies that are performed for first time communion receivers: the liturgy of St. James, performed only on his feast day on October 23rd; the liturgy of St. Basil the Great, which is performed ten times- once during the feast of St. Basil and again if it occurs on a Sunday or Monday, and Holy Thursday and Saturday, five times during Lenten Sundays and on the eve of Christmas and Theophany (when Jesus was baptized); and the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which is performed all other times of the year. The last liturgy can be thought of as a sort of "default" liturgy, one which is performed on a regular Sunday and when no other liturgies celebrating the greatest of saints are occurring.

Conflicts with Other Religions

Orthodox Catholics believe that only Orthodox Catholics may receive communion in their church because, as discussed before, Eucharist is one of the holiest of the sacred sacraments. Greek Orthodox Catholics believe that partaking in the Eucharist is one of the greatest ways of affirming their faith, one which they believe to the only and true interpretation of God's message. Further, Greek Orthodox Catholics believe that if a non-member takes communion, they are consuming the body and blood of Christ without either believing they are, or having undergone baptism and confirmation. They also believe that taking communion at another church, such as Anglican or Lutheran, nullifies their Orthodoxy; and if an Orthodox Catholic has taken communion at another church and should happen to die, they are considered having died a heretic. Finally, Greek Orthodox Catholics must fast during the day before they receive their first communion whereas Catholics of other denominations need only fast an hour before taking communion.

About the Author

Based primarily in Toronto, Christina Strynatka has been writing culture-related articles since 2003 with her work appearing in "Excalibur," "BallnRoll"and "Addicted Magazine." She holds a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Cognitive Science from York University.

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