Question: If someone has been baptized in a Christian church, such as Catholic, why can't they take Holy Communion in our Greek Orthodox church? I understand that they need to be Chrismated. What does that add to the individual that makes them now able to take Holy Communion? Is that the ruling for all denominations of the Orthodox church? If a non-Greek Orthodox comes for Holy Communion in a Greek Orthodox Church, is the priest required to refuse it to them?


Answer: Wow! Thank you for accepting my request for questions last month. This one is great! However, it will take some time to fully answer. If you have access to a computer and the Internet, I suggest you look at the article, “The Sacramental Life of the Orthodox Church,” by Fr. Alkiviadis Calivas, on the Archdiocese web site at the following address - www.goarch.org/en/ourfaith/articles/article7106.asp . In order to properly respond to this question, you need to understand how the Orthodox Church views the mysteries (e.g., sacraments) of the Christian faith. What follows is a very brief excerpt of this 22-page article...


           The life and character of an Orthodox Christian is in large measure shaped, nourished, and enriched by the liturgy or worship of the Church. In the liturgy, the Orthodox Christian is in constant touch with the fundamental truths of the faith. Worship becomes a theology of fervent prayer, a living sacrifice of praise of a biblical people, a vision of the spiritual world, a betrothal with the Holy Spirit, and foretaste of the things to come.


           God’s life is infused into the present age and mingled with it, without change or confusion, through the mysteries (e.g., sacraments). God touches, purifies, illumines, sanctifies and deifies human life in his uncreated divine energies through the mysteries. Thus, the mysteries become the various manifestations of our Lord’s saving power, and the means by which Christ is present and works in his Church. They introduce us continuously and in various ways to the transforming power of God, which communicates salvation, i.e., the cure of our fallen humanity and “the elimination of the germ of mortality.” In them we encounter Christ, in order to be Christ.


           The Orthodox Church uses the Greek word mysterion (e.g., “mystery”), instead of sacrament, to denote the divinely instituted rites which manifest and communicate sanctifying divine grace. The word mysterion essentially means anything hidden or incomprehensible. It has been applied by the Church to the essential beliefs and doctrines of the faith and appears several times in Holy Scripture; its chief meaning is linked to the hidden and secret will of God related to the salvation of the world, now manifest in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word (Logos).


           The Church, moved by the Holy Spirit, prescribes the manner of the administration of the holy mysteries. The mysteries are operative and effective when two basic conditions are observed. First, the ministers of the mysteries, the bishop and/or priest, must be canonically ordained and in canonical order with the Church. Second, they must be “ordained” to conduct the prescribed rites of the Church, not because they contain “magical” powers in themselves, but because the rites express the faith and the mind of the Church concerning these saving acts. These rites contain prayers, petitions, Scripture readings, hymns, gestures and liturgical actions. Rooted in the New Testament and shaped by the historical process in the crucible of the living and dynamic community of faith - the Church - the rites embody the vision of the new life, confirm the real presence of divine grace, and communicate salvation and sanctification to the believers prepared to receive these divine gifts.


           In principle the Orthodox Church does not see the same fullness in the ‘sacraments’ performed outside the Church. Yet, she does not consider these actions of other Christians as lacking totally in spiritual power and substance. Here, the Church applies the doctrine of economy and sees these acts in the light of the Lord’s words “no man who performs a miracle using my name can speak ill of me” (Mk. 9:38). The ‘sacraments’ of other Christians only have their wholeness to the measure that Christ and his teachings have been kept or distorted. The center of the operation of the Holy Spirit is the historical and visible One, Holy, Catholic (universal, whole, or complete) and Apostolic Church.

             The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America recognizes that someone who is baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity is Christian. That is why Holy Matrimony is permitted between an Orthodox Christian and a Non-orthodox Christian who is baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity. However, Holy Matrimony is the only “mystery” shared with non-orthodox Christians.


             Of the major mysteries/sacraments, two initiate us into full fellowship with the Church: Holy Baptism makes us Christian, and Holy Chrismation makes us Orthodox in a manner of speaking. Chrismation seals us with “the gift(s) of the Holy Spirit”, and is our personal Pentecost, giving us access to the power (from the Holy Spirit) to live an Orthodox Christian life in a sinful world.


             The mysteries/sacraments necessary for our ongoing life in the Church, and which require participation for all Orthodox Christians who wish to remain united in the fulness of the faith are Holy Confession - for the cleansing of the soul, Holy Unction - for healing, and Holy Communion - our intimate union with Christ Himself. Participation in the sacramental life of the Church is a privilege, and requires strict adherence to her teachings.


             Through political, theological and personal decisions throughout history, other Christian faith expressions have separated themselves from the fulness of the Orthodox Christian faith. We are not a denomination of Christianity in the strict sense of the word because we have not divided ourselves in practice, theology, or Holy Tradition from the Apostolic Christian Church. We ARE that Apostolic Christian Church! We have not added to its teachings, nor have we subtracted from its teachings.


             Having shared this information with you, let me now directly address your question. As was mentioned previously, we recognize the Christianity in someone who has been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity. But in order to participate fully in the life of the Orthodox Church, one must first of all agree to the teaching, practice, dogma, and Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church through appropriate catechism, and then enter the fulness of the faith sacramentally through the mystery of Holy Chrismation. Then and only then can we share the remaining mysteries together.


             The second part of your question is related. What about the other Orthodox jurisdictions (not “denominations”) that are not “Greek”? First of all, our umbrella jurisdiction so-to-say, is “Eastern Orthodox”, a geographical designation indicating the eastern part of the Roman Empire that remained united - Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Constantinople, later adding Moscow (Russia). Those that remain united in theology, doctrine, and practice, are united sacramentally. Those that choose to remove themselves from this unity of the faith for whatever reason ex-communicate themselves from this fellowship. That is why even “Orthodox” Christians may be excluded from receiving Holy Communion for an action they have committed until they are restored to the unity of the faith through the mystery of “reconciliation” - Holy Confession.


             Back to the question of other Orthodox jurisdictions, the highest authority for the Greek Orthodox Church in America is the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Those Orthodox jurisdictions that are in canonical unity with Constantinople are in canonical unity with All Saints Greek Orthodox parish in Weirton, WV, and vice versa. Thus, we can receive Holy Communion in their churches, and they in ours.


             This unity amongst the various Eastern Orthodox patriarchates and their eparchies (areas under their authority) changes from time to time the same way that we might fall out of favor with the Church through actions or attitudes that would be considered “unchristian” from time to time. So it may be that different segments of the Eastern Orthodox Church may be in communion with one another one day, and out of communion the next. This doesn’t happen frequently, but it is not unprecedented. For each, full canonical communion is restored through reconciliation as mentioned above.


             It is appropriate to say at this point that two brief pages of information cannot fully cover such an important subject, and may in fact create more questions than answers. That’s okay... I look forward to your questions and comments. Who knows - they may appear in my next column.