In a moment of unprecedented closings and cancellations, how should the Orthodox Church and her members faithfully navigate the risks and complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic? For many Orthodox jurisdictions and individuals, the pandemic is an opportunity to show a panicked world the extraordinary steadiness of the Orthodox faith and of those who uphold it. One of the ways of doing this is by continuing to hold services as we always do, kissing icons and receiving the Eucharist with a common spoon as we always do. The recent directive of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese asking parishioners to venerate icons by bowing before them without touching one’s mouth to them (much as we temporarily refrain from kissing those in the flesh whom we love not only if they’re ill but if we are, or have reason to be concerned we could be) has been received by many Orthodox Christians both within the GOA and outside it as an egregious accommodation to the spirit of fear abroad in the world. In the blogosphere and elsewhere there is indeed much talk of how we are people of faith and not of fear.(more…)
In this brief editorial, I try to explain what underpins the widely spread belief that the coronavirus cannot be transmitted through the communion of the holy Gifts.
This belief is based on the assumption that the Body and Blood of Christ constitute an absolute good, while the virus is an evil infection. Good, therefore, cannot transmit evil.
However, the virus is an infection only for us, and even not for all of us, because most people will get over it without even noticing it. Per se, this virus, as any micro- or macro-organism, is a part of God’s creation. As a physical reality and a part of nature, the virus is ontologically “good”, like any creature (see Gen 1:21). We consider floods, volcanoes, typhoons to be evil, but they are natural processes, and as such are not ontologically evil. The snakes and spiders that bite us are also deadly to us, but by their nature they are good.(more…)
The Orthodox Church and scientific knowledge typically parallel each other. In the event that a reconciliation appears unreachable between the Church and science, it signals that it is time to reconsider past traditions in light of current scientific evidence. Science cannot in any way dictate Orthodox theology, but rather provides a contribution to the theological aspects of the Church and to society in general.
The Coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic has revealed a multitude of vulnerabilities at many levels of society. For example, despite thousands of scientific reports published since the first appearance of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus in 2003, many individuals and communities were still taken by surprise by the “sudden” emergence of the current pandemic. Since we will have other epidemic outbreaks in the future, unfortunately, it is important to consider the scientific evidence.(more…)
The recent reappearance of the ancient terror of a pandemic has prompted fertile conversation among theologians and literary people across the world. Various opinions have been articulated, such as that disease can be transmitted through the current way of distributing holy communion, or that the Eucharistic Gifts themselves can be bearers and transmitters of pathogenic germs. It is said that since the bread and the wine do not alter their essence and essential properties, it follows that they are subject to decay and can also spread toxic viruses. This idea has supposedly found Christological grounds as well in that the human body of Christ is a carrier of germs which can be harmful to us, though not to Him; after all, germs themselves are not bad, since there is nothing bad in creation.
Within this framework, the following evidence drawn from the writings of the Fathers might be relevant and useful.
Undoubtedly, there is nothing bad in creation. No form of life, nor even natural destruction can be considered as bad, because evil is only that which alienates us from God. However, one should also consider the products of personal sin, such as, for example, a dangerous laboratory hybrid, as well as the effects of the ancestral Fall, namely decay and death, to which the human being has been submitted. Now, God's incarnation manifests something entirely new in the world.(more…)
Much has been written and posted on line lately about Holy Communion and how it is to be distributed/received vis-à-vis the COVID-19 crisis. In light of this, it is interesting that little attention has been paid to the relationship between faith and reason. The overriding reason for this omission is related to an understanding of the Eucharist and how it is distributed. As the body and blood of Christ, the Eucharist has repeatedly been held up as being immune from transmitting contagion. As a result, any discussion about whether the Eucharist and its distribution is susceptible to receiving and transmitting contagion is perceived as suspicious, heretical, and therefore a rebellion against the very core of Orthodox faith and life. Must the use of reason be discarded when it comes to matters of faith? Based on our history, it is clear that deeply embedded in the tradition of the Orthodox Church there is the emphasis on the necessary co-existence and interdependence of faith and reason. Together they provide the basis for a living piety expressed in true worship. The following is an attempt to show the interrelationship of faith and reason and how their separation moves Christianity towards myth and superstition.
“Faith is what gives fullness to our reasoning,” says St. Gregory of Nazianzus (Or. 29). However, for faith to fulfill our reasoning it must be living. It must be continuously put to the test by reason just as reason must recognize its own limitations when brought before the transcendent. Faith and reason maintain a necessary synergy that allows for the articulation of the encounter with the living God.(more…)
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Orthodox Church has found itself in an existential crisis. The situation has challenged our traditions and even the way that we receive Holy Communion. One of the points of disagreement that has arisen concerns the manner in which Holy Communion is distributed to the faithful from the common cup by means of a common spoon.
The experience of the church tells us that Holy Communion by the common spoon never became a vector to transmit disease. Many priests have consumed a Consecrated Lamb that had molded due to natural conditions. In addition, every priest, after distributing communion with the spoon to the people, has consumed the remaining Gifts with that same spoon at the conclusion of the Liturgy; yet priests who have served in hospitals specialized in infectious diseases can tell you that no one ever got sick- from tuberculosis, AIDS, herpes, influenza, and even Ebola (as we hear from our brothers who serve in Africa).
Nevertheless, many of the faithful have always been fearful or disgusted by the common spoon. We can spend countless hours explaining sociologically the reasons behind it, but that is not our purpose today. We just need to accept this reality. So, the question is how do we continue to minister to people who struggle with this fear? Do we throw them out of the Church, admonishing them for their lack of faith? Or, do we follow the path of the Lord and embrace them? Are we not called to follow the example of the Good Shepherd, who leaves his flock of ninety-nine sheep in order to find the one which is lost and who tells us “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13) and that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27)”?(more…)
In recent weeks, Church authorities have been looking for historical precedent to find ways of continuing ministry to the faithful and maintaining worship in churches during a time of global pandemic---because, as others have pointed out, closing houses of worship and ceasing to serve the Liturgy is not an option for the Church, even if certain saints were able to attain holiness without a regular sacramental life or participation in communal worship.
Despite everyone’s desire to return to normalcy, this is currently impossible in most regions. For example, in Germany, the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Augustinos has informed the faithful that, despite the reopening of churches for worship, government regulations make it impossible to give the faithful Communion from a common spoon. In neighboring Austria, the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Arsenios has found a solution to this problem by removing the spoon from the equation and communing the faithful in the hand, guided by historical precedent and “the liturgical and canonical tradition of the first millennium and the time-honored and proven Communion practice of the Divine Liturgy of St. James the Brother of the Lord.”
Finding a solution to provide the Eucharist for the faithful is commendable; however, one might ask if such a justification is necessary, since it manipulates liturgical history to fit today’s difficult circumstances. In order to better understand why, I will provide a summary of what is known about the history of the Divine Liturgy of St. James and the use of Communion spoons.(more…)
The global COVID-19 crisis has ignited a number of difficult discussions among Christians. The method used to distribute Holy Communion is fiercely debated. In the Churches that remain open, many Protestants and Catholics are withholding the cup, so faithful are receiving in one kind only, the body of Christ. In Orthodox communities, clergy and laity are discussing the possibility of trying new methods for distributing Holy Communion that prevents the spread of disease through a common spoon. This issue has generated emotional statements claiming that it is impossible for the Eucharist to make anyone sick because of the true presence of the Incarnate Christ. Most Orthodox synods have issued guidelines on how to maximize prevention of infection in church, and the Churches are in agreement on communion: it is impossible for the body and blood of Christ to make anyone sick. The corollary to this defense of the faith is that no changes to the method of distributing communion are permitted, with two exceptions. The Romanian Church permits faithful to bring their own spoons from home, and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine allows clergy to administer communion to laity via intinction, hand-to-hand.
In the remainder of this essay, I will test both assertions by pointing to a selection of historical antecedents. My investigation will demonstrate that the Church has used numerous methods for distributing Holy Communion, and that her steadfast belief in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharistic elements does not come with the promise of guaranteed protection from illness.(more…)