First the American archbishop said that we should use separate spoons. Then regional metropolitans, including ours, began to direct their parishes that no, we will NOT change any communion practices. When people praise these metropolitans, I think, “You’re praising people for making it impossible for people like me to take Communion for a year and a half; you’re praising people for possibly condemning thousands to contract COVID.”
Yet GOARCH has published articles (see below) explaining that sharing communion spoons is NOT the unchangeable from-the-beginning Tradition people think it is.
Meanwhile, I’m stuck knowing that established science is FACT–confirmed by experiment and reproduction of results, not subject to what you think about it–and how disease spreads. Social distancing–wearing masks, not kissing the icons, not wiping your mouth on the communion cloth, no coffee hour, sitting apart–seems all for naught if you stick a spoon in your mouth that somebody else just had in their mouth. That’s the way germs spread! In an article I link below, Fr. Alkiviadis C. Calivas writes,
Some who wish to retain the common spoon believe it is sufficient to teach the communicants to tilt their head back and open their mouth wide, so that the priest may drop or pour the sacred elements into the mouth of the recipient. The aim of this method is to avoid touching the communicant’s mouth and lips. However, this model is not fail-safe; it does not guarantee the desired outcome.
I’ve tried that, only to have the altar server tell me to close my mouth on the spoon. And my mouth is small, according to my dentist; my jaw has TMJ; I simply can’t open wide enough. The priest nearly always seems to dribble the wine all over my face, and now they say they don’t want us to wipe our faces on the cloth. If there is some “special” way to receive that avoids all this, I’ve never been taught how to do it. I greatly miss the communion cups I grew up with.
It feels like many in the church insist on sacrificing health for the sake of “tradition”–and will end up killing many of us, while this disease spreads without any sort of vaccine or reliable treatment expected for another year. Even for those who survive, yes that’s most people, but we don’t know yet what all the long-term repercussions will be. We’re already seeing the body adversely affected in other ways, in children, the young and healthy, middle-aged, and elderly.
I do know that many times I’ve come home with some kind of illness that somebody at church had. How do you KNOW it didn’t come from sharing a spoon with them? You’d have to do an actual experiment using the scientific method to prove this. Has anyone ever done this?
Before COVID, I shared the spoon because I could count on my vaccinations and strong constitution to keep me safe from dying from something spread at church; not this time. This puts us in the same camp as the Evangelicals who went to church during the shutdowns saying they’re “covered by the Blood”–and then they got sick with COVID and many died. We have many stories of churches around the world holding services or other meetings during COVID, only to have large numbers of the congregation get sick and even die from it. Obviously, God is not miraculously keeping these people safe after not following health guidelines.
During the Spanish Flu of 1918,
In the deeply pious Spanish city of Zamora, for example, the local bishop defied the health authorities by ordering a novena – evening prayers on nine consecutive days – in honour of Saint Rocco, the patron saint of plague and pestilence. This involved churchgoers lining up to kiss the saint’s relics, around the time that the outbreak peaked. Zamora went on to record the highest flu-related death rate of any city in Spain, and one of the highest in Europe. —The Guardian
This Thing isn’t over yet, and a second wave is expected.
Catholic churches have changed their practices to reflect the COVID risk. They’re the closest church to us in theology and practice, and even they are taking this seriously. The Protestant churches I was in as a young person, all had individual cups with grape juice in them. Only the Orthodox are forcing people to share a spoon to commune, with some people making it a litmus test of faith to browbeat those of us who don’t think this is safe. It’s not HOW the communion is given to us that is the absolute unchanging Tradition-That-Must-Never-Change: It is the elements of the communion, the bread and wine, that are important. Everything else is subject to change. Remember that when people started doing this, they didn’t know about germs.
From this article by Fr. Alkiviadis C. Calivas, I’m surprised to learn that the Orthodox church hasn’t even been doing this for 1000 years. The practice used to be more like the Catholics, with bread distributed into the hand and then the chalice offered by the deacon. In fact, using a common spoon was initially seen as an Innovation, which is frowned upon in Orthodoxy. He writes,
The method by which Communion is administered is purely functional. It serves a practical purpose. Thus, as warranted by needs and circumstances, a local Church in its collective wisdom and authority is free to adapt, modify, and manage the method by which Holy Communion is distributed. Whatever method a Church chooses, the single most important concern is that it does not violate any dogmas and that it is appropriate; that it upholds and maintains the dignity of the sacred act of communing.
We learn from St. Nikodemos that during plagues priests were known to use arbitrary methods to administer communion to the sick and dying. In a comment on canon 28 of the Penthekte Synod, he chides the clergy for using unsuitable methods to deliver Communion to the sick. He recommends a more appropriate method. He writes: “Hence, both priests and prelates must employ some shift in time of a plague to enable them to administer communion to the sick without violating this canon; not, however, by placing the holy Bread in currants, but in some sacred vessel, so that the dying and the sick may take it thence with tongs or the like. The vessel and the tongs are to be placed in vinegar, and the vinegar is to be poured into a funnel, or in any other manner that they can that is safer and canonical.”
St. Nikodemos’ brief note is significant in two ways. First, he insists the vessels used for Communion be sterilized with vinegar, a popular disinfectant from ancient times. This is an acknowledgment that the vessels or instruments used for communing could be contaminated by dangerous parasitic microbes. Second, he insists that the instrument be fitting for the purpose.
In the past forty years several worldwide deadly epidemics, AIDS, SARS, Ebola, and MERS provoked fear among the people. Presently, the world is experiencing another more frightening global threat: the pandemic coronavirus or COVID-19, a contagion with lethal force which has upended all social, economic, political, cultural, and religious norms. People are justly apprehensive and frightened. The disease has already infected millions of people and claimed the lives of thousands globally. As with the preceding epidemics, the highly contagious coronavirus has many people wondering and questioning the continued use of a common spoon for Communion.
The real fears, reservations, and apprehensions of the people should not be dismissed with an air of superiority or a call to greater faith, as if the act of communing is void of human considerations and the limitations of the created order. People want to feel safe, listened to, and protected by their Church. They do not want to be exposed to unnecessary risks, nor should they be.
Statements like, “the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, and the medicine of immortality,” or “the Eucharist is a divine remedy, a divine medicine,” may be true. But they are not sufficient to calm the fears and concerns of the faithful. People are not questioning the sacred character and identity of the Holy Gifts but the reliability of the instrument by which the Gifts are offered to them.
Orthodox sacramental theology, distinguishes between what is mystical and what is physical. The divine realities in each sacrament are distinct from the material elements by which they are mediated. We believe and confess that the eucharistic Gifts—the bread and wine—are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ through the prayer of the Church and the power and operation of the Holy Spirit. The change, however, is mystical and not physical. The bread and wine preserve their natural properties and qualities and are bound to the natural laws of their kind. The mode by which the transformation of the Gifts takes place remains a profound mystery. But we know by faith that the change occurs, so that Christ may become our food in order to impart his life to us (John 6:56).
The communion spoon is an imperfect material object. It does not share in the incorruptibility of the risen and deified Body of Christ which is really present to us through the eucharistic elements. On its own, the spoon is simply a spoon, a utensil. Its dignity is derived from its use as the instrument by which the Body and Blood of Christ is offered to his people. Long ago, it replaced an older venerable form of communing. The use of a spoon to commune the people was an innovation.
From my Twitter last night and today:
“ARGH–The Archbishop says to allow separate spoons, but our Metropolitan won’t let us do that. Even the Catholics aren’t doing this. >:( ”
“I guess I’m not taking the Eucharist until a vaccine comes out. I had held out hope that our Metropolitan would be sensible after the Archbishop directed the use of separate spoons.”
“And to be frank, I never did like the practice of sharing spoons. I have to avert my eyes to not get grossed out, have to block out from my mind where it’s been. I’ve always wished we’d do separate cups, like I grew up with.”
“I believe in science and the scientific method. I cannot believe that something is safe from contagion just because a religious leader tells me it is or that I have to have “faith.” We saw Evangelicals say they’re “covered by the blood” and then get COVID. Same thing.”
“The right keeps dismissing us as being “afraid” of COVID, of acting with “fear.” It’s not fear: It’s recognizing how disease spreads, and acting to prevent that. Sharing a spoon with a sick person makes you sick.”
“Fact: I have come home from church with an illness countless times.”
In listening to the Archbishop’s comments about this, I am very relieved to find out that my views on sharing a spoon–not just during COVID, but generally–are actually very common among, as he termed it, the “younger generations.”
People have been condemning the archbishop lately for everything he does. Whether right or wrong in other issues, I really don’t know (though I’ve heard some rumors). But his support of hygienic practices during COVID is Correct, and his marching with the BLM protestors is Correct. Supporting the closure of churches during COVID is also Correct, because churches are a prime spot for disease to spread during pandemics.
If you doubt this, just read the history of the Spanish Flu. People complained back then about churches being closed, same as now, and when they defied the orders, the Spanish Flu spread rapidly through the congregation and lots of people died. Science is not subject to your belief system; it is the way the world works. We’re not supposed to test God by handling snakes to “prove” that He won’t let us get bitten.
WTF is wrong with this country lately? Refusing to wear masks and even yelling at people who do? Being safe from disease didn’t use to be a partisan issue! Lately it seems like you have to check your brains at the door regarding illness if you’re a Republican–and also in some branches of Christianity.
BTW, yeah I know I haven’t posted here about the protests going on the past couple of weeks–but my Twitter is a completely different story. I’ve been following the BLM protests and posting about them on Twitter and on Facebook. If you want to keep up with my political retweets and rants, best to follow me on Twitter, where I’m much more active than I have been on my blog lately. There’s just too much going on all the time, and I don’t have the time to blog about everything. On Twitter, I can just share something or make a quick comment and get back to the multitude of tasks I have to do every day (like the housecleaning which I’m *supposed* to be doing right now). So follow me here.
Eastern Orthodox priests from Russia, Belarus, and Georgia also have argued that sacramental wine contains strong alcohol in which diseases perish.
But most medical experts reject that premise.
They note that the very strongest fortified wine contains no more than 20 percent alcohol — and that most wine contains around 12 percent alcohol.
The U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the ethyl alcohol found in hard liquor can destroy less aggressive viruses. But it says ethyl alcohol should be at a concentration of 60-80 percent in order to be potent against influenza.
The Federation of Hospital Doctor Unions in Greece — home to one of the oldest and most influential branches of Orthodox Christianity — has also weighed in on the spoon debate.
It warns that no exceptions should be made to state health warnings “for religious, sacramental, or metaphysical reasons.” —Source
Also see this letter from an OCA priest about the current situation.
Just today I saw these guidelines from the CDC which confirm this is a dangerous practice:
Who needs to quarantine?
People who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19—excluding people who have had COVID-19 within the past 3 months.
What counts as close contact?
- You were within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more
- You provided care at home to someone who is sick with COVID-19
- You had direct physical contact with the person (hugged or kissed them)
- You shared eating or drinking utensils
- They sneezed, coughed, or somehow got respiratory droplets on you
So basically, if you shared a spoon at church with someone diagnosed with COVID, you should now quarantine for 14 days! And if you get the rest of your household sick, you’re isolated from work etc. for even longer than that:
What if another household member gets sick with COVID-19? Do I need to restart my quarantine?
Yes. You will have to restart your quarantine from the last day you had close contact with anyone in your house who has COVID-19. Any time a new household member gets sick with COVID-19 and you had close contact, you will need to restart your quarantine.
I posted this on Twitter at the time, but apparently never here. An important update proved that sharing spoons and ignoring responsible hygienic practices is dangerous during pandemics. Before the vaccine came out, Serbian hierarchs and others went to the funeral of a fellow hierarch who died of COVID. Mourners partook in the Eucharist and did the usual funeral rites, without masks or social distancing. COVID then spread through them. These Serbian hierarchs refused to accept that anyone could catch disease and die from church practices. It is magical thinking to expect that you are supernaturally protected from disease by the Eucharist. Here is a BBC article describing the incident, and also with links to other articles. The Daily Beast also had an article on Greek Orthodox dropping like flies; if you doubt the DB’s veracity, you can check the links they give. Over and over again during the pandemic, we heard that people don’t get sick from the Eucharist. But here’s proof that they do! Will we still hear the same claim over and over again? Probably. Cognitive dissonance is strong.