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.
As everyone ponders their particular and usual roles, during the pandemic, ministers of Church rites strive to creatively answer their specific charge to assemble the faithful and execute time-worn rituals, so that communion, as we understand it, remains uninterrupted. In light of this new normal, however short-lived, perhaps now is the time to reflect on the fact that the rhythm of celebrations has long ceased to nurture society’s Nones. Rarely do we ask how we are to feed them as they move away from the liturgical life; rather, we sense a kind of fear that if the rhythm stopped, communion would cease altogether. But is communion limited to the Eucharist? And is not the purpose of the Eucharist itself to reveal the very essence and goal of all of life as communion?
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.