A short note from the Weekly Bulletin of St. Andrew Orthodox Church
When we serve the Holy Eucharist, there are certain practices and that come from various traditions and certain customs that exist toward the end of assuring the sanctity of the Holy Gifts. Remembering that Orthodox theology recognizes that the Eucharist is the true Body and true Blood of Christ, the priest must take special care not to profane the gifts by spilling them.
For this reason, we see the people approach with their arms crossed -- a practice noted in the canons as early as 961 A.D. That way we do not accidentally bump the chalice or the spoon. If you wish to make the sign of the Cross, as some cultures do, it should be done before entering the line or after receiving and stepping completely out of the vicinity of the chalice. You may want to venerate the icon of Christ after taking Communion. For the same reason, neither the chalice, nor the priest’s hand, should be kissed while communion is being distributed. When approaching, the communion cloth should be held under the chin. If liquid drips from the spoon, the cloth will catch it. If you feel any on your lips, you may use the cloth to wipe it dry. We carefully guard the Body and the Blood of Christ. Approaching with care and using the communion cloth honors Christ’s sacrifice in its own personal and special way.
A few other notes, vested servers such as readers and subdeacons should receive the Eucharist first. After receiving, they will likely assist with the communion cloth or the chanting of the Communion Hymn. One who has just been baptized and chrismated earlier in the Divine Liturgy is also usually given a position of receiving the Holy Mysteries first. Those altar servers who are not tonsured will usually remove their vestments to receive communion.
As with most things Orthodox, customs and practices do vary from place to place. Slavic parishes are more likely to consistently approach with arms crossed, while it is less common in Greece and the Middle East. These are not matters of faith, but of practice and piety. However, all should approach with reverence and awe of the miraculous and healing Holy Gifts. If you do that, you will be fine!