It has long been a tradition in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, for various reasons, that those intending to receive Holy Communion first go to Confession. This, in my opinion, has led to a distortion of both of these distinct grace-filled sacraments.
Holy Communion is participation in receiving the Precious Body and Blood of Christ in the Mystical Supper where, when Communion is being received by the communicant, the priest says, “The servant/handmaiden of God [baptismal name] receives the Most Holy and Precious Body and Blood of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and unto life everlasting.” Note the wording, “for the remission of sins.”
Confession is a sacrament “distinct from” Holy Communion. It is a sacramental act of forgiveness appropriate when a person is experiencing a troubled conscience and is repentant, oftentimes for a moral transgression. Confession is NOT a ticket to receive the Holy Mysteries but this is the impression created with the linking of these two sacraments.
My experience is that oftentimes individuals will deprive themselves of receiving Holy Communion because they have not gone to confession and really have nothing out of the ordinary to confess. Other times someone wants to receive Holy Communion and the confession they make falls more in line with Pastoral Counseling or Spiritual Direction than with confession. This then ends up being a distortion of the sacrament of Confession.
Pastoral Counseling is meeting with a priest or pastoral counselor to discuss a particular topic or a particular problem a person is trying to get clarity on.
Spiritual Direction is meeting with a priest or spiritual director to focus more on one’s interior life and prayer life and in discerning decisions and pathways one feels are in line with God’s will for them.
There are some obvious overlaps that happen with pastoral counseling, spiritual direction, and confession but as much as possible it can be helpful to understand the general nuances of each so one can have a clearer understanding of what they may be seeking or need along the Christian path. It is also important to recognize that just because one is ordained does not in and of itself qualify them for being a competent Pastoral Counselor or a Spiritual Director.
Everyone is an individual with individualized circumstances, individualized devotion to Our Lord and the Church, individual spiritual life practices and disciplines, etc. Please approach any of the priests at St. Innocent’s Parish to discuss your particular life setting so that you avail yourself of both of these sacraments in a manner that is most beneficial to your own spiritual growth and enlightenment.
In any event anyone desiring to receive Holy Communion should, at a minimum, prepare by examining their conscience for any significant moral transgressions, going to confession if needed, fasting from midnight on, and with prayers and any spiritual readings that are meaningful to them.
Read more reflections by Fr Jeremiah