Why Are Non-Orthodox Not Allowed to Participate in Orthodox Communion?

Orthodox Christianity 101
By Orthodoxy Christianity 101
March 25, 2024

Religious practices, across different faiths and denominations, often seem opaque or inexplicable to outsiders. One such practice that frequently garners curiosity — and sometimes criticism — is the restriction of Communion in the Orthodox Church to its own baptized and chrismated members. Why are non-Orthodox believers not allowed to partake in this sacred sacrament?

To fully understand this complex issue, we must delve into the Orthodox understanding of Communion, Church unity, and the theological principles that guide these practices. This article aims to clarify the rationale behind these age-old traditions, looking beyond surface explanations.

The Theological Importance of Communion

In the Orthodox tradition, Communion (also known as the Eucharist) is far more than a symbolic act. It is believed to be the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ, transformed from bread and wine during the Divine Liturgy. Therefore, Communion is considered an intimate union with God, impacting both the individual soul and the collective community. This profundity underscores why the Church treats it with such reverence and caution.

Communion as a Manifestation of Unity

One fundamental reason for restricting Communion is the Orthodox understanding of ecclesiastical unity. In Orthodoxy, the act of partaking in the Eucharist is not only a personal experience but also a statement of unity in beliefs, practices, and governance. When you receive Communion in an Orthodox Church, you are effectively saying, “I am in complete accord with this Church and its teachings.”

Apostolic Succession and Sacred Tradition

The Orthodox Church believes in Apostolic Succession — the unbroken line of bishops tracing back to the Apostles. This lineage is not merely historical but also spiritual and theological. The sacraments, including Communion, are considered valid only within this framework of Apostolic Succession. Allowing individuals outside this lineage to partake in Communion would contravene these deeply held convictions.

Canon Law and Ecclesiastical Discipline

Orthodox Canon Law explicitly states who can and cannot receive Communion. These laws are not arbitrary regulations but are grounded in the aforementioned theological principles. While these canons are ancient, they continue to be upheld today as part of the living tradition of the Church.

What About Inter-Christian Relations?

The question of closed Communion often arises in the context of ecumenism or inter-Christian dialogue. While the Orthodox Church engages in dialogue with other Christian denominations, the prohibition on intercommunion remains a stumbling block to full unity. However, it’s crucial to understand that this restriction is not meant as an act of exclusivity or elitism but as a safeguard for the integrity of the sacraments and the unity of the Church.

Modern Considerations

In today’s increasingly pluralistic society, the Orthodox Church’s stance on closed Communion sometimes faces scrutiny. Critics argue that it creates barriers rather than fostering inclusivity. However, the Church maintains that the sanctity and integrity of the sacraments must be upheld, even in the face of modern societal shifts.


The prohibition against non-Orthodox believers receiving Communion in the Orthodox Church is deeply rooted in theological and ecclesiastical principles. While it may seem exclusionary to outsiders, it is important to view this practice in the broader context of Orthodox theology and tradition. Like any religious practice, it cannot be fully understood without considering its complex history and the nuances of its spiritual significance.

By comprehending the rich tapestry of factors that contribute to this tradition, one can better appreciate why the Orthodox Church holds steadfastly to this practice, even in a world that increasingly values universal inclusivity.

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