Guidelines for the Reception of Holy Communion
Holy Communion is for active members of the canonical Orthodox Church who are members in good standing with their local parish Church and have prepared themselves properly for its reception. We must exert some spiritual effort and labor in order to prepare properly. As our Lord said: "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you" (John 6.27). And as Scripture elsewhere says: "Imitate me, even as I imitate Christ...Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself" (1 Cor. 11.1,28), for it is truly said that "whoever, therefore, eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord...That is why many of you are weak and ill and some have died" (1 Cor. 11.27,30).
Orthodox Christians should be prepared for Communion by being in Church prior to the reading of the Gospel and listening to the Gospel and the homily (i.e. the sermon), being at peace with others (Matthew 5.23-24), doing the work of God throughout the week by being kind and helpful to people, praying regularly, coming to Liturgy regularly on Sundays, and for those in good health, and on an ordinary Sunday fasting from the middle of the night (about midnight) prior to Liturgy.
According to Orthodox Canon Law, one must also come to confession and confess their sins verbally prior to taking communion in the following cases: 1. Have not taken Communion or been to Church in over three weeks in a row without a cause (illness, childbirth, great distance, extreme weather conditions, etc.), thereby temporarily separated themselves with need of the mystery of reconciliation (i.e. penance or confession). 2. If you have committed a mortal sin, that is, a grievous sin which cuts one off from the community of faith, and thus are in need of reconciliation to the Church. 3. If you have not been to confession in a while, or if anything is weighing upon your soul. One should not take Communion if he or she is under a penance or censure from any priest or bishop. Nor should anyone partake who without an unforeseen, irregular, and legitimate delay (such as an accident) has failed to arrive in time for the Gospel reading which is the reception of Christ in Word so that we might receive him properly in Sacrament.
Why does one need to be Orthodox in order to take Communion? For the same reason why one has to be married to partake of "communion" with one's spouse. Communion literally means "union with," and in the case of Holy Communion, it refers to union with God in the Mystery of Faith. In Baptism and Chrismation, we are joined to the Bride of Christ (Rev. 21.9-10, Eph. 5.22-33). It is only after we are joined to His Bride that we can partake of the Communion between the Lord and His Bride, whereby the two become "one flesh" as it says in Holy Scripture. Why is belief important? Why do we say the creed before partaking of Holy Communion? The answer lay in another question: How can you be joined to something you don't believe in? Marital communion (intercourse) involves "believing in," trusting one's spouse and loving that spouse, communicating with them and allowing them to communicate with you. You cannot have marital relations without knowing certain basic things about your spouse (for example, their name, their gender, some basic expectations that they have of you, etc.), and you certainly cannot love them or respect them without knowing and acknowledging certain basic things about them (such as acknowledging that they exist, acknowledging that they have a certain dignity that needs respected as the "other" in the relationship, etc.). But more than this, it is seeing them as person, and receiving them as person. Without love, faith and repect for the other, marital communion is not possible. If communion ceases to be personal, it becomes sinful. If this is true about martial communion, which we are told in Scripture is the icon of Christ's marriage to His Church, how much moreso is this true of the actual Great Mystery of the Communion of Christ with His Church. Above all then in the Holy Eucharist, without love, faith, and respect for the Other, spiritual communion with the Lamb of God is not possible, and that "act" of partaking would not result in communion, but rather in a misuse of the thing that actually distances one, rather than bringing one closer to the "other."
To make things clear and succinct, please see the following enumerated guidelines:
Guidelines for Holy Communion
In order to partake of Communion on a Sunday, those who have reached the age of reason (older youth and adults) must meet the following criteria based on Canon Law and in accord with ancient Apostolic doctrine:
1. You must be a Baptized, Chrismated (i.e. have received the Orthodox Sacrament of Chrismation--the seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit, which is a necessary prerequisite to the Sacrament of the Communion of the Holy Spirit, i.e. Holy Communion), and received Communing Orthodox Christian in good standing, adhering to the Orthodox Christian Faith, and not be in a state of mortal sin.
2. You must live the life in Christ, praying regularly, following the commandments of God (and repent when you have failed) by doing good to others, regular self-examination of your own thoughts words and deeds as to whether they are just in your interactions and judgment of others, and repenting daily of “ordinary” sins through prayer and reparation, with greater sins being cleansed through penance and confession.
3. While everyone should be in Church from “Blessed is the Kingdom,” by canon law you must be in Church to hear the readings--the epistle and Gospel--as they and the prayers that follow are the preparation for Communion that are built into the Liturgy. How can we commune if we have not fulfilled the basic requisite preparations? *One, however, who depends on another to bring them where the latter is late, (and you are not responsible for making them late) but has otherwise prepared properly, or one who comes from work or the hospital and is late for such a reason, may still partake.
4. Going to Church on Sundays is both a duty and a privilege. We are to honor the Lord’s Day (Sunday) by coming to Liturgy, which is God’s gift to let us participate in the Resurrection here and now. If you fail to come to Church for more than three weeks without an excusable cause*, you must take confession prior to taking communion, also a matter of canon law. *Excusable causes include the inability to make it to Church for reasons of truly ill health, hospitalization, giving birth, inability to make it to church for just reasons, such as having no transportation (such as happens with youth or others who depend on others to bring them), extreme distance, and work demands imposed by a boss or workplace on Sundays.
5. Fasting from the midnight hour of the night before until Communion. This includes increased prayer and self-reflection, abstaining from food and drink (for those in normal health, abstaining from all food and drink, and for others with greater health concerns, a mitigated fast with limited fasting foods per canons of Sts Timothy and Theophilos), and for married couples abstaining from carnal relations during this time period of preparation (i.e. during the night and morning when you are fasting, per canons of Sts. Dionysios and Timothy). The goal is that, for those in normal health, the Lord’s Body and Blood is the first thing eaten/drank/indulged in, in the day.
6. One must regularly partake of the sacrament of Confession during or around the 4 periods of penitence, but not less than once a year during Great Lent/Holy Week. In addition to this, one in a state of mortal sin or other compound sin must do any penances involved and approach for confession, and one should avail themselves of this sacrament more often as beneficial to the soul.
7. As Holy Communion is the fullness of the Cup of the Faith, a Communicant of the Orthodox Church must only partake of Communion in the Orthodox Church. Likewise, by Orthodox canon law, if one who has not yet been received into the Orthodox Church receives Communion out of ignorance that they are to have been received properly, they have, by partaking, become an Orthodox Christian yet in a defective manner, and by Canon Law, they are to thereafter receive proper instruction on the Faith followed by the Sacraments of initiation including Chrismation and profess the Orthodox Faith that they have embraced in order to properly complete what is otherwise a defective reception into the Church.
The Icon above is from CTS Orthodox Church in Harrisburg, PA