The First Ecumenical Council, Canon 13.previous | next
As concerns those who are making their exit, the old and canonical Law shall be kept even now, so that, if anyone is exciting, let him not be deprived of the final and most necessary equipment (or viaticum). If, however, after all hope has fled, and he has been given communion, he again comes to be looked upon as being among the living, let him stay with those who participate in prayer only. In general, moreover, as concerning anyone at all that is on the point of making his exit, if he asks to partake of the Eucharist, let the Bishop impart to him the oblation with a trial.
After these divine Fathers prescribed concerning penance, and in what way, and for how long a time Christ-deniers ought to be excluded from communion, now in the present Canon they are prescribing that all such persons as are in danger of dying are to be accorded the benefit of the old and canonical law (which appears to be c. VI of the Council held in Ancyra, this being an earlier one than the First Ecumenical). So that, in effect, whoever has been despaired of as being about to die, let him not be deprived of the last and final and most necessary equipment for that journey and departure, which equipment consists in partaking of the divine mysteries. If, however, the one who has been thought to be dying, and has already partaken of the mysteries of communion, again becomes alive and regains his health, let him stand only with the faithful, and let him pray with them, not, however, to partake of communion. But Balsamon says that such a person as this one of whom the Canon is speaking here, if he was occupying the place assigned to consistents (or “costanders”), he ought on this account to be ordered to stay in that place again; but if he was in the place assigned to audients (or “listeners”), again he ought to stay there. And, in general, everyone in danger ought to return to that canon after communion in which he had been before communion. And to lay down a catholic and common canon, let the Bishop, or even the spiritual father, with a trial, impart the divine Mysteries to any person that is in mortal danger and asks to partake of the Holy Eucharist.
 In other codices it is found written thus: “of the perfect last and most necessary,” etc.
 Dionysius of Alexandria also writes to Favius in his correspondence that “a faithful old man named Serapion, who was sacrificing to idols, and fell gravely ill and for three days was dumb, after recovering a little on the fourth day, called his nephew and told him to fetch a priest. The boy went to the presbyter. It was night-time. But the priest happened to be ill, so that he could not go. Since, however, I (sc. Dionysius) had given orders to the priests to allow persons at the point of death to commune, especially if they beggingly asked to do so, in order that they might die and depart the present life with a good hope, the priest gave the boy a portion of the all-holy bread and told him to wet it and pour it into the mouth of the old man; and after the boy did this the old man, having swallowed a little, immediately gave up his spirit” (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., Book VI, ch. 44). Elias, too, the Metropolitan of Crete, in writing to some monk by the name of Dionysius, says that if a person is still breathing a little, and is not entirely dead, though he is senseless, and can neither take nor eat anything, or in another way spits out that which is placed in his mouth; if, I say, the person is such a one, the priest ought with a prayer to seal his lips and his tongue with the contact and affusion of the Mysteries (p. 337 of the Juris Graecoromani).
 Though it is said that Dionysius of Alexandria (as found in a comment on the present Canon) in his letter on a Canon, in speaking of those who lapsed in the midst of the persecution and asked to participate in the mysteries of communion while dying, he says that if a priest absolves from their sins and they are permitted to partake of the divine mysteries, and are consigned to that life absolved and free, this is a veritable imitation of godlike philanthropy and benevolence in that by virtue of such pardon and communion they are led to believe that they are going to receive a mitigation and alleviation of their future punishment. If, on the other hand, such persons should live, says he, thereafter, they must be bound again (i.e., their absolution must be revoked), and they who had formerly been pardoned, and become partakers of divine grace, and had been sent off to the Lord absolved and free, must again be made liable for their sins, without having done anything wrong since they communed. This, I say, appears to me to be inconsistent, and most unreasonable. If, I say, sacred Dionysius does say these things, it would nevertheless appear that the opinion of this Ecumenical Council is preferable to the opinion of an individual Father. Wherefore wise Photius declared quite aptly that decisons of ecumenical and common councils ought to be respected by all men, while the private declarations of any one Father or decrees of a local synod or regional council (that have not been confirmed by an ecumenical council, that is to say) leave one respecting them characterizable as superstitious, and yet, on the other hand, if one fails to accept them, it is dangerous to ignore them. For let it be granted, in accordance with the opinion of sacred Dionysius, that such persons commune as a matter of necessity, they ought not to be rebound on account of the pardon they had previously received. But, first of all, that pardon and communion was not legal and canonical, but necessitous. Secondly, no one can persuade others not to be scandalized when they see persons that are unworthy and have produced no fruit of repentance being allowed to partake of the divine Mysteries. After taking these views into consideration, the Council decreed that such persons should return again to the prior forms of repentance. For, moreover, even divine Dionysius himself, as if presumably correcting himself, adds: “If, however, any one of such Christ-deniers appear after the recovery of his health to need further conversion and repentance, we advise him to humble and inflict severe hardships upon himself, either for his own interest or in order to prevent other men from blaming him and becoming scandalized at his conduct. Accordingly, if he be persuaded to do this, he will be benefited; but if he be not persuaded, this refusal to be persuaded will become an indictment to him entailing his excommunication from the Mysteries and the faithful a second time.” But perhaps this opinion is not that of Dionysius of Alexandria, but one of Dionysius of Corinth. I surmise this because this diction is like the diction used by this Dionysius in comments on Job.
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