Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States
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Why is it that the Church (the clergy of the church) advocates that people must go to confession before partaking of the Eucharist? In fact, for a church that prides itself on keeping ‘Tradition’, the idea of only being worthy of communion after confession is a western theology. Increasingly seen in the Protestant reformation within Puritan thought, clergy would often deem who was and wasn’t worthy to partake of the Holy Mysteries.

The Eucharist is not merely a sacrament—it is The Sacrament, the covenant Christ fulfilled with us. It is the center of our lives. By restricting the greatest covenant—the full unity between man and God, we lose the true meaning of the Eucharist and reduce it to a simple tick box of our week. The Eucharist heals us and no one is deemed worthy of it, but we are made worthy by Him. That’s why St. Paul writes,  ‘He who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks in an unworthy manner…’ (1 Corinthians 11:29), not ‘he who eats and drinks who is unworthy’ but in an unworthy manner—to not understand the salvation and the redemption that the Lord has granted humanity.

In fact, within the early church, the one who did not receive communion for a few weeks had in fact anathemized themselves, as they have excluded themselves from the body of God (Fr. Schemman - Great Lent). I am not saying all this to be picky. I am saying this because people (the laity) are not given a correct understanding of the Eucharist and either see it as something only for those who are great and worthy, which is completely contradictory to Jesus Christ; or it becomes something very insignificant that they believe is fine as long as they had a quick confession with Abouna. We are losing the authentic beauty of what the Eucharist is, and its lost when Abounas, week in and week out, are telling they are congregation that the only criteria is Confession. In fact, Romans 5:8 explicitly highlights God came for the sinners. To make us realize this, not only with our mind but also with our entire being, to lead us into that repentance which alone opens to us the doors of the Kingdom, is the real meaning and content of our preparation for Holy Communion (Fr. Alexander Schmemann - Great Lent, p. 122).

"We must not avoid communion because we deem ourselves to be sinful. We must approach it more often for the healing of the soul and the purification of the spirit, but with such humility and faith that considering ourselves unworthy…., we would desire even more the medicine for our wounds. Otherwise it is impossible to receive communion once a year, as certain people do…, considering the sanctification of heavenly Mysteries as available only to saints. It is better to think that by giving us grace, the sacrament makes us pure and holy. Such people manifest more pride than humility…, for when they receive, they think themselves as worthy. It is much better if, in humility of heart, knowing that we are never worthy of the Holy Mysteries, we would receive them every Sunday for the healing of our diseases, rather than, blinded by pride think that after one year we become worthy of receiving them…"  (St. John Cassian).

The Coptic Orthodox Church does not embrace the flawed ideology of worthiness in order to partake of the Holy Eucharist. Partaking of the Holy Eucharist must be in a worthily manner. No one is worthy. This is what the Church teaches and is supported by the Holy Scripture and the Holy Tradition. Confession is a Holy Mystery whereby a struggling penitent admits and repents of his/her sins and asks for absolution. Thus, a life of repentance is a life of Christianity.

Why do you suppose the Lord washed the feet of the disciples before giving them Communion? He said to Peter: If I do not wash you (forgive your sins through repentance and confession), you have no part [of communion] with Me" (John 13:8). When Peter insisted to be washed wholly, the Lord told him, He who is bathed (i.e., baptized "needs only to wash his feet [repentance and confession], but is completely clean (John 13:10).

St. Paul spoke about the importance of taking Communion worthily. He then answered how to be worthy, saying, But let a man examine himself (repentance and confession), and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). St. Paul also added, For if we would judge ourselves (in confession), we would not be judged (1 Corinthians 11:31). St. Paul instructs the believers to examine themselves. "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?unless indeed you are disqualified" (2 Corinthians 13:5). What then can this examination be? A student cannot examine him/herself, nor is the examination of a peer sufficient, unless an instructor or a teacher validates the results of the examination. Thus, the Mystery of Confession is the revelation of one's examination and absolution from the priest is the validation.

The priesthood is the Holy Mystery, whereby Jesus Christ authorizes the ordained priest, Himself, during his ordination, has permission to administer all of the Holy Mysteries, including the Holy Eucharist. When the Lord was alone with His blessed disciples, He ordained them and gave them this decree to perform absolutions. "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19).

When the Lord Jesus Christ was alone with His disciples, they had many intimate conversations about many spiritual matters. Again, He stated to them their duties as ordained priests to enforce the Holy Mystery of Confession and to have the authority to absolve the penitent.  Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 18:18).

After Christ's holy resurrection, again He confirmed the call of the priesthood to His disciples. "So Jesus said to them again, 'Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.' And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained' (John 20:21-23).

If we join the verses below with the ones aforementioned, we can recognize that the "elders" are the priests, sickness is sin, confession is to the priest, and the prayer with oil is the Holy Mystery of the Unction of the Sick. By matching St. James' instructions to the Lord's command previously mentioned, we reach the conclusion that Confession and absolution are through the priest, who according to Christ has this power and authority from the Holy Spirit. "Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:13:16).
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