Considering Open Communion

Many of the more liberal Protestants churches these days practice an “open communion”, in which they welcome anyone professing to be Christian to share Eucharist with them. Apparently the ECUSA doesn’t even require Baptism for participation in Eucharist. I don’t know what the common practice is at other Evangelical churches, Baptist or the conservative reformed churches might be … but my particular church (Eastern Orthodox) does not practice this. To share Eucharist in the Orthodox church one must be a member in good standing, have confessed recently, and fasted from food and water (on Sunday) since midnight.  In the Didache, Chapter 14 we find (wiki on the Didache is here): 

And coming together on the Lord’s day of the Lord, break bread and give thanks, confessing beforehand your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure. And everyone having a quarrel with his fellow member, do not let [them] gather with you until they have reconciled so that your sacrifice may not be defiled. For this is what was said by the Lord: “In every place and time, offer me a pure sacrifice because I am a great king,” says the Lord, “and my name [is] great among the nations.”

It seems to me this teaching is both based in Scripture and applicable to the notion of open communion. There are in fact non-trivial doctrinal differences between our churches. That we might approach these irenically does not belie the underlying seriousness and importance in working to resolve these differences. However, the word “quarrel” is important. We do not gather together and share communion until we are reconciled so that our sacrifice might not be defiled, not the least of which by our quarrel.  So I’m curious, if your Church practices open communion … why? By what reasoning do you justify that practice? What tradition? 

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  1. Boonton says:

    I understand Roman Catholics take more or less the same stance both limiting communion to Catholics and prohibiting Catholics from taking communion at other churches. Do you know, though, if Roman Catholics and Orthodox can take communion at each other’s churches? A woman told me Greek Orthodox can (is ‘Greek’ different from ‘Russian’ here or is the key word Orthodox?)

  2. Mark says:

    My understanding of the current situation is that the Roman Church has declared that the Orthodox, like them, affirm “real presence” and as such are welcome at their Eucharist. They however are not welcome at ours currently and we are not permitted by our church to take communion there. Nominally I think our difference still lies in the procession phrase in the Creed (their Creed states the Holy Spirit processes from the Father and the Son. The “and the Son” is the “filioque” (Latin for “and the Son”) and was added on Papal authority in the West in late antiquity (7th or 8th century?). The East claimed the Pope had no such authority. 20th Century Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky writes that this change has profound consequences to Western theology which he speaks against. On the other hand, Maximus the Confessor one of the “big” or important 8th century theologians thought it was less important.

    Greek vs Russian vs Serbian vs Bulgarian vs Syrian vs American and so on Orthodox churches. These churces are “autocephalos” (self headed) and have their own leading bishop (a Patriarch or Metropolitan depending on the size). Orthodox churches are share communion but are administratively separate. I can take communion in a Russian or Greek church.

  3. Boonton says:

    So let me see if I can follow this. The Roman argument is that the Holy Spirit comes from the Father and Son (Father and Son being like one unit here… husband and wife). The Orthodox argument is that the Holy Spirit comes from the Father only?

  4. Mark says:

    Before I forget to respond to this … in the 7th or 8th century (that’s my likely inaccurate recollection?) the Western/Roman church to counter a Spanish heresy added “proceeds from Father and Son” to the Creed. The East sees that variant of the procession of the Spirit as breaking the symmetry between the three (properties of God should be unique to one aspect of the Trinity or shared by all … that is not shared by two and not by the other.). These links may be helpful (wiki, a Catholic and an Orthodox view).

    The East and West had a different approach to God and Trinity. Roughly speaking the West started with God being one and the difficulty was in figuring out how the Trinity separated into Three. The East began with Three and the difficulty was in figuring out what “being one” meant (one-substance).

  5. Boonton says:

    OK, what exactly does ‘proceeds’ mean here then? That the Father and Son cause the Spirit to exist but not vice versa? That the Father & Son were there before the Spirit? Sounds like its important but very subtle… terms of communion, though, it seems both Catholic and Orthodox agree that its the real body of Christ so I’m not sure why disagreements over the spirit’s nature should spoil the thing for all.

  6. Mark says:

    OK that question digs into a lot of things.

    1. What does proceeds mean. The Father “generates” the Son and the Spirit proceeds from the Father … well, as for that part of it and what that might mean, I’m going to unpack that a lot more this weekend and hopefully in up and coming posts. Right now the late vocations class has changed session. The current session is “church history and patristics”. Our first class covered the Apostolic Fathers and their writing and the church of the first two centuries or so. For the next class, instead of everyone reading (skimming really) everything and getting a birds eye view before class … we’ve split the reading up. My reading for the class (for which I am to report) is interesting. Just before the 2nd Ecumenical council which met in Constantinople and for which the majority view going in was in favor of an Arian view of Christ (Christ was created). St. Gregory of Nazainzus (also called St. Gregory the Theologian in the East) arrived and in the month or so before the council convened gave a series of 5 homilies on the Trinity. This was in a time when celebrated speakers and theologians like Gregory would have their homilies published and discussed. The upshot of these five lectures was quite significant. His rhetoric convinced the majority to support the Nicaean creedal statement. These lectures became the standard text for the secular teaching of rhetoric for the following 8 centuries in the Eastern Roman Empire. And subsequently Gregory was promoted to Bishop of Constantinople (a role for which he was very much unsuited). Anyhow, your question should be addressed in the five theological orations.

    As I (thought) I noted, St. Maximus the Confessor (a very very important Eastern theologian and patristic writer) wrote that this matter shouldn’t be a stumbling block having studied it at some length. Vladimir Lossky a 20th century ex-pat Russian who worked in Paris thought that not the case. That the view of the Spirit as proceeding from both leads to fundamental theological mistakes. However, for the 11th century church at the time of the division the problem was as much with the substance of the filioque as with the problem of how it was put over. The Western Roman bishop (=Pope) unilaterally decided to change the creed. The East (and the church to that point) insisted he had no such authority. Bishops in the East are equals … even if some are administratively placed above others. In council and in their role in the Church bishops are all equals (in the East). The East would have insisted that creedal changes and alterations are a matter for an Ecumenical council … not for an individual bishop. The Eastern church would also not that since that time … the Roman Bishop has made guilty of quite a bit of authoritative overreach. That is the core of the quarrel as I see it between East and West … and as you note the matter isn’t about real presence. Actually as well, the Western church has offered that they see no objection to Eastern Orthodox from joining in their Eucharist. The East has not as far as I know either reciprocated nor permitted their members to take the West up on their offer (what penance one might do for that … would be up to one’s individual confessor … so in some places it might be allowed but not officially at this time).