Eucharist, Confession, Fasting and Abstinence – balanced and integrated
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Visitors who are non-Catholic are sometimes offended that they are not allowed to receive Holy Communion in our parish. Our Church believes that receiving Communion is much broader than a “me-and-Jesus” relationship; it acknowledges faith in historic orthodox-catholic doctrines, obedience to a particular bishop, who is in union with the Church and Pope of Rome and a commitment to a particular Catholic worshipping community. There’s nothing exclusive about this; everyone is invited to make this commitment to the Catholic Church. But the Eucharist is the Church’s treasure, and it is reserved for those who have united themselves with the Church and made that commitment.


 We also handle the Eucharist with more gravity than many denominations do, further explaining why we guard it from common access. We believe it is truly the Body and Blood of Christ. We ourselves should not receive Communion unless we are making regular confession of our sins to God in the presence of a priest. According to the saintly Servant of God Metropolitan-Archbishop Andrew Sheptytsky (+1944): a minimum of Confession once a month if you are participating in any kind of church ministry, otherwise four times a year, once during each of the four penitential seasons. Also, it is presumed that you are receiving the Eucharist while you are at peace with other communicants. Finally, some of the more traditional Byzantines will fast from all food and drink — yes, even a morning cup of coffee — from midnight the night before receiving Holy Communion. For most others, the minimalist rule is the same as in the Catholic West - one hour.

 This leads to the general topic of fasting. When newcomers learn of the traditional Byzantine practice, their usual reaction is, “You must be kidding.” We in the East often use the word "fasting" to refer to what is covered in the West by both words: “fasting” and “abstinence”. There is a difference between the two. Abstinence refers to the practice of not eating certain types of food. Fasting refers to the amount of food we eat. As a general rule, when fasting, the main meal of the day should equal in quantity less than the two other meals through the day. Bishop Kallistos (Ware) has an excellent article entitled, "On the Nature of Fasting," and Fr. Sub-deacon Adam DeVille (Eparchy of Toronto) offers an excellent Catechesis of Fasting. The goal for Byzantines is to fast from meat, fish, dairy products, wine and olive oil nearly every Wednesday and Friday (as a way of preparing for the Eucharist on the following Sunday), and during four other periods during the year, the longest being the forty days’ Great Fast (Lent) before Pascha (Easter). Altogether this adds up to nearly half the year. Here, as elsewhere, great variation between persons is to be expected. With the counsel of their priest, people decide to what extent they can keep these fasts, both physically and spiritually — attempting too much rigor too soon breeds frustration and defeat. Nobody’s fast is anyone else’s business. As St. John Chrysostom says in his beloved Paschal sermon, everyone is welcomed to the feast whether they fasted or not: “You sober and you heedless, honor the day…Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast.” St. Paul says that at all times it is essential for us to bear in mind that “you are not under the law but under grace” (Romans 6:14), and that “the letter kills, but the spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). The rules of fasting, while they need to be taken seriously, are not to be interpreted with dour and pedantic legalism; “for the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17)." In cases of uncertainty each should seek the advice of his or her spiritual father or mother.

 The important point is that the fasting or abstinence from certain foods is not to be used either as an atonement for sin or as a punishment for sin. Fasting is exercise to stretch and strengthen us, medicine for our spirit’s health. In consultation with your priest as your spiritual doctor, you can arrive at a fasting schedule that will stretch, but not break you. Next year you may be ready for more. In fact, as time goes by, and as they experience the camaraderie of fasting together with a loving community, most people discover they start relishing the challenge. The lessons learned from fasting are then applied to the other aspects of one’s spiritual journey. Having stated the maximum requirements above, but please do read the articles by Bishop Kallistos and Sub-deacon Adam as well (links given above), we now need to say something about the minimum requirements that are in force in the St Josaphat (Parma, Ohio) eparchy/diocese of our Ukrainian Catholic Church: As each Christian is called to ongoing repentance and amendment of life, the ancient practice of fasting is to be maintained. All those from 14 to 59 years of age, inclusively, must abstain from meat on Holy Saturday and each and every Friday of Lent (the Great Fast), as well as Christmas Eve, December 24 and Theophany Eve, January 5. These faithful must also abstain from meat and all dairy food (including milk, eggs, cheese, etc.) on the first day of the Great Fast (the Monday which follows Cheesefare Sunday) and on Holy and Great Friday. Pregnant and nursing mothers, the ill and infirm, those who work at hard physical labor and the very poor are excused (from fasting). The eparch can dispense all the faithful of the eparchy as well as any individuals for a good reason from any of these fasting prescriptions. A pastor may also dispense individual parishioners for a good reason. He cannot, however, dispense the entire parish. Since 1994, in the St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy/Diocese, to which our parish belongs, the type of penance we choose to practice on any Friday is voluntarily. Since 1999, in the other three eparchies of our Ukrainian Catholic Church in the USA, it is prescribed that the penance on all Fridays of the church year must include fasting from meat products. In either case, everyone, especially those who are not obligated to fasting, is – of course – encouraged to maintain their duty to pray and to engage in spiritual and corporal works of mercy (i.e. almsgiving) during all four penitential seasons of the year.

Corporal Works of Mercy (in the Early Church, deacons modeled this for us)

  1. feeding the hungry,

  2. giving drink to the thirsty,

  3. clothing the naked,

  4. visiting the imprisoned,

  5. sheltering the homeless,

  6. visiting the sick and

  7. burying the dead.

Spiritual Works of Mercy (in the Early Church, priests modeled this for us)

  1. counseling the doubtful,

  2. instructing the ignorant,

  3. admonishing sinners,

  4. comforting the afflicted,

  5. forgiving offences,

  6. bearing wrongs patiently,

  7. praying for the living & the dead!