When COVID-19 first arrived on the scene as a nuisance, and not a pandemic, the Churches responded by making slight alterations to the rite of receiving communion. Catholic and Protestant Churches instructed people to refrain from partaking of the cup, and the people exchanged the sign of peace without handshakes. Eastern Church leaders instructed people that it was not necessary to kiss the icons, the cup, or the priest’s hand, and the people took the antidoron (unconsecrated bread) themselves, while refraining from drinking the zapivka (post-communion wine) from a common cup.
As COVID-19 evolved from nuisance to perilous threat, the Churches have continued to respond by altering their liturgies. Catholics and Protestants limited the number of people who could attend services before some cancelled them altogether. The Orthodox adopted the skeleton crew approach until more recently, when many bishops directed parishes to suspend services indefinitely.
The Churches have attempted to maintain some semblance of normalcy in their liturgical rhythms. Catholic priests celebrate private Mass on behalf of their people. All of the Churches use technology so that the people can participate online. Several communities livestream their services while smaller groups gather for virtual Liturgy on Zoom.
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.
The creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) has inspired a number of hypotheses on who initiated the event. Past president Petro Poroshenko, Patriarch Filaret, and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew are usually identified as the architects of Ukrainian autocephaly. There is also a chorus of voices that attributes the creation of the OCU to the American government. Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, recently claimed that the OCU is an American creation, and that the USA desires to create a schism in global Orthodoxy. Lavrov made his claim immediately after Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev’s trip to the United States.
Hilarion was scheduled to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on October 22. Coincidentally, Metropolitan Epifaniy (Dumenko), the primate of the OCU, was set to meet Pompeo the next morning. Hilarion’s meeting with Pompeo was cancelled after the secretary assigned a deputy to represent him at the meeting (Hilarion declined). Pompeo’s meeting with Epifaniy took place as planned, and Pompeo expressed America’s support for the new church.
Is this enough evidence to verify that the US government created the OCU? If not, what do these meetings and statements mean, and what are their implications for American ambitions in Ukraine and Russia? Continue reading →
Orthodox theologian Carrie Frederick Frost has published a theological reflection titled Maternal Body: A Theology of Incarnation from the Christian East (Paulist Press, 2019), with a foreword by Catholic theologian Julie Hanlon Rubio. Frost’s book is a theological treatise on motherhood, from conception through breastfeeding and with a special emphasis on the maternal body. Drawing upon patristic, liturgical, and iconographic sources, Frost delivers a powerful and vivid contribution on the theology of maternity. In addition to her examination of select extant historical sources, Frost brings the evidence into dialogue with her own personal experience of motherhood.
Maternal Body contains five chapters of text covering conception, pregnancy, birthgiving, postpartum, and pregnancy. Frost concludes the book with an epilogue, and shares a selection of icons (printed in color) and notes to complement the text. This book is not an encyclopedic academic treatment of motherhood, and is therefore suitable for a general reading audience. The book’s preference for selectivity does not diminish Frost’s authority in analyzing the texts and presenting a theology of the maternal body. The author demonstrates her confident command of the topic throughout the book. Continue reading →