The last ROCOR Church we attended for Liturgy, besides going to Vespers at Holy Cross Monastery in Wayne, WV, was the Old Believer’s Church of the Nativity in George’s home town of Erie a year and a half ago. To receive communion at the Church of the Nativity, an Orthodox person of another Church must spend a good amount of hours the Saturday prior, as the parishoners do, having a weekly confession and staying for the 2+ hour all-night vigil. To receive communion at St. Nicholas in McKinney, if one is OCA as we are, you have to be in good standing with your own priest and have his blessing, as well as contact Fr. Seraphim. We were going to partake yesterday, but there were a few subtle things that happened that prevented us, nothing worth mentioning really. Fr. Seraphim said at the end of the service that he communes people in this manner whether they prepare in the similar way to his own ROCOR parish does (similar to the Old Believers), as well as if they are from a more or less strict Priest.
Today I am reflecting on the benefits of this more rigorous standard. I remember our first Saturday night Vespers at St. Seraphim Cathedral in Dallas with Archbishop Dmitri attending. George and I were originally going to have a date night, but Mean Girls didn’t seem the thing to see once we learned about Orthodox Saturday night services. Still, I felt a pang giving it up. Standing for Vespers, I don’t think we stayed for Compline, was work. Sitting at a movie and eating popcorn wouldn’t have been.
Since then we have become a lot more regular at attending our hour long Great Vespers Saturday night service. Lately though I’ve thought what a momentum breaker watching a movie or less recently, Saturday Night Live, is between Vespers and Liturgy the next morning. At the Monastery of the Transfiguration a few years ago, I attended my first All-Night, 2.5-hour Vigil service, which I think combines Vespers, Compline, and the Midnight service. It was long, but there was really nothing else to do, much less, better to do. I’m starting to feel that way now about Saturday nights at home as well.
And what about weekly confession? I think that might help too. I found the following in Fr. Seraphim’s compilation of writings about confession:
The relationship between Confession and Communion
In the various topics of confession, there have been some questions that, I think, exhibit a (common) misunderstanding of the relationship between mysteries of Holy Confession and Holy Communion. There often seems to be a predominant idea that the link between these two is somehow a legal concrete thing – that there must be a 1:1 correspondence or some specific ratio and that any deviation from that ratio constitutes an abrogation of tradition or requires some kind of formal “dispensation”. But this is not the relationship that really exists. While it is true that there is often a functional relationship that appears as though a formal ration exists, this is actually a coincidental observation. These two mysteries, actually form part of a larger whole of the spiritual life and both form a closely connected but not dependant link in producing a spiritual life. There are of course other components such as fasting, prayer, self denial, obedience, righteous deeds, etc. to living a spiritual life which are also a part of this picture, but in this case I wish to confine myself only to the issue at hand – confession and communion.
These two mysteries are not part of the same process, but rather are themselves parallel and often intertwined (interdependent is a good “social worker” word) processes. Holy Communion is not dependent on Holy Confession, nor is Holy Confession dependent upon Holy Communion. Each is independent but at the same time they work together toward the same goal. Just as a physician might see you and diagnose an illness and then prescribe therapy that includes many components, (for example medication, diet, physical therapy & counseling) which all are targeted toward the goal of recovery so also the spiritual condition might be diagnosed in confession, and various spiritual remedies prescribed by the confessor. And one of those spiritual remedies may be to refrain from receiving Holy Communion for a time (just as a physician might temporarily restrict your diet for a particular purpose) or perhaps the remedy prescribed might be to receive Holy Communion (like taking medication – or to stay with the diet analogy, to eat the proper nutritional foods). The frequency that one goes to the Dr is determined by the severity and course of the illness and the various restrictions on the diet are governed again by the patients condition and improvement. So also the “ratio” of confession to communion is determined by the spiritual physician (your confessor) and corresponds to the severity of your spiritual condition, your relative spiritual health, your particular spiritual needs, etc. There are times when you cannot receive Holy Communion (such as a period of epitimia – penance – following a divorce for example) but when you should receive the mystery of Holy Confession regularly. OTOH, there may be times when the priest may permit one to receive Holy Communion weekly but only require confession on a biweekly basis. And just because you develop a particular rhythm at one time doesn’t mean that it is constant – just as your frequency of seeking medical help is not constant.
Holy Confession in and of itself is not a prerequisite to Holy Communion. To take this position is to subordinate the one mystery to the other and so lessen its importance. Rather both mysteries are necessary and often they are combined for the health of the soul. The “prerequisite” for Holy Communion is not a completely pure soul, but rather one that is “healthy” and prepared. And most frequently the way to guarantee that state is through receiving the mystery of Holy Confession.
Now on a practical note, there is the question of how to “stay” sinless from confession on Saturday evening until communion on Sunday morning. If you structure your Saturday evening such that all overt sources of temptation are removed (TV, movies, games, parties, etc.) and are replaced with spiritually beneficial activities (participation in vigil; the service of preparation, including canons and akathists; spiritual reading; prayer; psalmody; spiritual conversation; etc.) then you will have gone a long ways toward avoiding sin. This is all very simple to do – except for the fact that one must deny oneself to accomplish all this. In the “wisdom” of the world, Saturday night is a night of parties and entertainment and leisure and mindless activity. It is hard to rule out all these things and concentrate only on the fact that you will be receiving in yourself He Who is an all consuming purifying fire, He Who is the Creator of All, He Who is Uncontainable; you are about to encounter God face to face. Read carefully the prayers and hymns that are appointed to be said in preparation and choose those images (they are many) which create in your soul the most beneficial effects. Use those images (verbal icons) as a framework to which you conform your mind and thoughts. If this is your Saturday night activity, then you will be able to keep yourself far from sin.
From a Post to an Orthodox mailing list, dated Fri, 8 Nov 1996 by Priest David Moser
St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church, 872 N 29th St, Boise ID
The prescription above may seem sort of extreme, but to me the parishoners in both of these ROCOR parishes seemed to have a child-like, secure faith in which they are not so much on their own recognizance.