In the midst of an unprecedented crisis, it is often hard or even impossible to think about what comes next, after the crisis ends. What will our life after lockdown look like? What will happen to our personal dynamics after social distancing? And what about our spiritual life after not going to Church for what feels like an eternity? All these questions, and many more, are legitimate. Every crisis gives rise to a judgment. In a way, that is the role that crises play in history, sorting out the chaff from the wheat as we start to make sense of a tragedy and discern the opportunity to live up to the radicality of the Gospel.
Within the Orthodox Church, we have seen a wide range of answers and solutions, but also an increasing polarization of the members of Christ’s body, with virulent arguments raging about questions that touch the essence of our faith, particularly whether, since the Eucharist is the real Body and Blood of Christ, we can get sick by receiving Holy Communion. But I am afraid that by engaging in these debates, we are missing what is really at stake here. We find ourselves paralyzed by these arguments at a time when we need to rediscover the virtue of being and becoming more apostolic. In other words, we are at risk of trying to save the Church and Christianity rather than seeking our salvation in them. In this sense, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew had one of the best insights into the challenges we face in a recent message when he said: “However, that which is at stake is not our faith—it is the faithful. It is not Christ—it is our Christians. It is not the divine-man—but human beings.” In this time of crisis, we need to be less argumentative and defensive and more apostolic: our true priority is our neighbor.
We wish to hear your views on the current situation,
since your theology plays a great role in the present circumstances.
Metropolitan John: My theology, unfortunately, cannot be applied. In
Greece they have already closed the churches, and the Divine Liturgy is not
being served. Is it served in Serbia?
Taking into consideration the decision of the government
that the number of people in one place be limited, as well as the issue of
getting around and social distancing, the Patriarch Irinej’s newest decision is
that services be held in churches but without more than five people.
John: That’s acceptable.
In America it was decided that the priest, chanter and
altar server be present, in order for the Liturgy to be served, so that they
might have the holy mysteries in order to commune the people. What do you think
Metropolitan John: For me, the Church without the holy Eucharist is no longer the Church. On the other hand, the danger of transmitting this virus to others imposes on us the need of doing whatever is necessary, even if that means closing the Church. The Greek government has taken drastic measures due to the very serious matter at play.
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.
When Archbishop Elpidophoros submitted an encyclical
regarding COVID-19 to his faithful on behalf of the Holy Synod of the Greek
Orthodox Archdiocese of America, what I found more scandalous and tragic than
the pandemic itself was the judgmental and self-righteous voice from so many
“faithful” (both clergy/hierarchs and laity) who spoke against those who were
afraid to approach the chalice because of fear of catching a disease or
Among the most troubling comments I’ve seen are: “If you believe that you will get sick by partaking of Holy Communion, you are in sin and should not approach.” And another: “How can you believe that the Body and Blood of Christ can make you sick?”
Are these really the kinds of comments that lead us to God? Is the pandemic some sort of spiritual contest where we need are going to prove to the social-media world just how much more faith we have than others?