Daily Meditations


But why then, one may ask, is Communion still distributed during fasting days at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts? Does it not contradict the principle enunciated above [see April 15, Part I]?

To answer this question, we must now consider the second aspect of the Orthodox understanding of Communion, its meaning as the source and the sustaining power of our spiritual effort. If, as we have just seen, Holy Communion is the fulfillment of all our efforts, the goal toward which we strive, the ultimate joy of our Christian life, it is also and of necessity the source and beginning of our spiritual effort itself, the divine gift which makes it possible for us to know, to desire, and to strive for a “more perfect communion in the day without evening” of God’s Kingdom.

For the Kingdom, although it has come, although it comes in the Church, is yet to be fulfilled and consummated at the end of time when God will fill all things with Himself. We know it, and we partake of it in anticipation; we partake now of the Kingdom which is still to come. We foresee and foretaste its glory and blessedness but we are still on earth, and our entire earthly existence is thus a long and often painful journey toward the ultimate Lord’s Day.

On this journey we need help and support, strength and comfort, for the “Prince of this world” has not yet surrendered; on the contrary, knowing his defeat by Christ, he stages a last and violent battle against God to tear away from Him as many as possible. So difficult is this fight, so powerful the “gates of Hades,” that Christ Himself tells us about the “narrow way” and the few that are capable of following it. And in this fight, our main help is precisely the Body and Blood of Christ, that “essential food” which keeps us spiritually alive and, in spite of all temptations and dangers, makes us Christ’s followers. Thus, having partaken of Holy Communion, we pray:

. . . let these gifts be for me the healing of soul and body, the repelling of every adversary, the illumining of the eyes of my heart, the peace of my spiritual powers, a faith unashamed, a love unfeigned, the fulfilling of wisdom, the observing of Thy commandments, the receiving of Thy divine grace, and the attaining of Thy Kingdom . . . . . . .consume me not, O my Creator, but instead enter into my members, my veins, my heart. . . may every evil thing, every carnal passion flee from me as from a fire as I become Thy tabernacle through communion. . . .

And if Lent and fasting mean the intensification of that fight, it is because—according to the Gospel—we then are face to face with evil and all its power. It is then, therefore, that we especially need the help and the power of that Divine Fire; hence, the special Lenten Communion with the Presanctified Gifts, i.e., the Gifts consecrated at the Eucharist on the preceding Sunday and kept on the altar for distribution on Wednesday and Friday evenings.

There is no celebration of the Eucharist on fasting days because the celebration is one continuous movement of joy; but there is the continuous presence of the fruits of the Eucharist in the Church. Just as the “visible” Christ has ascended into heaven yet is invisibly present in the world, just as the Pascha is celebrated once a year yet its rays illumine the whole life of the Church, just as the Kingdom of God is yet to come but is already in the midst of us, so too with the Eucharist.

As the sacrament and the celebration of the Kingdom, as the feast of the Church, it is incompatible with fast and is not celebrated during Lent; as the grace and the power of the Kingdom which are at work in the world, as our supplier of the “essential food” and the weapon of our spiritual fight, it is at the very center of the fast, it is indeed the heavenly manna that keeps us alive in our journey through the desert of Lent.

~Adapted from Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent