We promised someone whose email we received some time ago to discuss it on the blog, with our correspondent’s permission of course. It strikes us that the topic raised in his email forms a natural sequel to our previous two posts concerning Jennifer Wilders. Our correspondent has no connection to Jennifer Wilders but the issues he raises are so related to the topics that Jennifer is raising—of the sort that Jennifer will encounter in her own country if she becomes Orthodox—that we have made our correspondent Jonah Wilders, Jennifer’s brother. He isn’t. Jennifer and Jonah have never heard of each other. They live in different countries. Again, we will present the email in the first post and then discuss it in the second post.
Subject: non-closed communion
Dear Orthodox Monk,
In my country Orthodox parishes are often quite small. The church I regularly attend averages about 30 people every Sunday. The general level of piety varies quite a bit. Some people attend church regularly, keep a prayer rule, attend confession, keep the fasts and gives alms when they can; some don’t.
Confession is not required before communion. Many married couples are in ‘mixed’ marriages where one partner may be Orthodox and the other heterodox. Children in these marriages may not necessarily be brought up Orthodox. Hence a significant proportion of our congregation may from time to time be heterodox. There is quite a bit of support for the ecumenical movement. I mention all this to put what follows in context.
It seems likely that at some point in the future closed communion will be relaxed, if this has not happened already. By this I mean that ‘special cases’ could be made, not that anyone would be free to take communion regardless of faith. Now there might be pastoral reasons why this would occur (via economy). I have only been Orthodox for two years or so (I’m no expert) but my understanding is that the Orthodox Church requires all communicants to be members of the Orthodox church (why convert otherwise?). If heterodox are admitted to communion is this something we should just accept as being in line with God’s will as revealed to the bishop and priest? Or should this matter be taken up with the priest and bishop and synod if necessary? Or would it be better to leave things alone and find another parish which does not have this ‘custom’? Is it spiritually damaging to partake of communion when we suspect that there may be heterodox partaking of it although we lack certainty?
In summary, then, my questions/concerns are:
1a. If we think communion is being given to heterodox in our parish, is this permissible by economy and if so do we have a duty to understand what this economy comprises?
1b. If communion for heterodox cannot be given ‘by economy’ should we raise this with the parish council, priest, bishop in that order?
1c. Is this really none of our business as parishioners and if we are properly prepared, through confession prayer and fasting, should we receive the Eucharist with joy and thanks and not concern ourselves with anything else?
2. If we have received communion at the same time as heterodox does this invalidate the sacrament and/or require us to undertake some form of penance even though we did so unknowingly?
I sincerely hope that my questions are, and continue to remain, hypothetical. I apologize in advance if it appears that I am judging others or jumping to conclusions. It's not a ‘them’ and ‘us’ situation. Though myself unworthy I am never the less concerned for the spiritual welfare of all in our parish, Orthodox and heterodox.
Subject: Re: non-closed communion
To: Orthodox Monk
Dear Orthodox Monk,
Pretty quiet on your blog...
I can't find any evidence of inter-communion in my parish so I've stopped worrying about it. Of more concern is legislation to be introduced about same-sex marriage which will have an impact on education and further undermine family values. Trying to raise this in the parish has only been divisive with some concerned that we’re being ‘obsessive’. So not much I can do about this (Orthodox count for very few votes in relation to the population of my country) except pray that God will have mercy on us.