Holy Communion in the Τimes of Coronavirus



As fears grow across the globe about the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, people in Greece and abroad are wondering if gatherings in churches and other shrines should be restricted, or at least if some of the practices of the faithful should be limited.

Greece has already taken boldly restrictive measures to contain the virus’ spread by closing schools, theaters, cinemas, and sport centers in some of its regions.

However, no such measures have been announced for the country’s thousands of churches, places where many people gather closely together every week.

One of the perennial questions regarding public health at the time of any viral outbreak is particularly focused on the Orthodox Christian world, and more specifically on the Eucharist, or holy communion, since this is conducted using the same spoon for all congregants.

The Eucharist has been a key theme in the depictions of the Last Supper in Christian art for millennia, as seen in this Juan de Juanes painting from the sixteenth century.

Recently, Roman Catholic authorities in Jerusalem instructed their priests to give holy communion strictly by hand, instead of placing the hosts directly on worshippers’ tongues.

Should the Orthodox Christian communities around the world follow this paradigm, and stop giving worshippers holy communion using the same spoon?

This is the question Greek Reporter tried to ask the Archdiocese of Athens and all Greece; however, we had not received a reply as of press time today.

This issue has sharply divided the Greek Orthodox flock, with heated social media debates taking place for days.

Speaking with Greek public broadcaster ERT1 last week, Orthodox priest Stylianos Karpathiou said flatly that ”Jesus Christ does not carry microbes,” a statement which sparked a widespread conversation and dilemma.

Similar remarks have been made by other ecclesiastical figures throughout this past week.

Gabriel, who is the Bishop of Nea Ionia in Attica, Greece said on Friday that no one has to worry about the Holy Communion as it transmits God’s grace and not viruses.

Speaking with MEGA Channel television, the Bishop noted that those who believe in God have ”nothing to fear,” as the Holy Communion is nothing more or nothing less than ”the body and the blood of Jesus Christ.”

Some commentators on social media accused this approach of not only being irrational but also dangerous as well, since thousands of people, many of whom are elderly, partake of holy communion every Sunday, sharing the same spoon with others.

Ieronymos, the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, held a discussion on the matter with Greek Premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis several days ago. The prelate noted that the Church stands in solidarity with the Greek state and mentioned all the hygienic measures that each individual should be taking as a matter of course these days.

However, the Orthodox Church of Greece has not announced if it will take further steps to help reduce potential dangers regarding the spreading of the coronavirus.

Another country where there has been an extremely widespread outbreak of the Coronavirus and which has a large Christian population, South Korea, issued its own statement on the matter.

The Orthodox Church of Korea announced recently that these individuals who do not feel well are encouraged not to go to church.

”In every one of our churches, our priests will continue to pray the Divine Liturgy because the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is the most important prayer of our Orthodox Church,” the Orthodox Church of Korea noted.

”During the time of the Divine Liturgy let them pray at home. As is well known, the primary concern of the Church is people’s health and wellbeing. We entreat the Lord to protect you from all evil, to help overcome the virus problem in our country and around the world, and to bless us with a spiritually fruitful Great Lent,” the statement concluded.

Similar advice has been given to the Greek flock as well; however, the crucial question remains: what if an ill individual decides to go and attend the liturgy despite these common-sense warnings – the same of course applies to any mass gathering.

Of course, many of the faithful believe that they have nothing to fear, but what about the state? Does it have a moral obligation to issue its own warning, especially to those who belong to sensitive groups of the population? Can it, or should it, even ban certain people from attending divine liturgies or events that gather big crowds in general?

Would this even be constitutional in Greece, or would it be considered an attack on the church?

These are questions which need answers in a time when humanity is attempting to find the delicate balance between individual liberties and preventing the further spread of disease.

What is sure is the fact that, as the outbreak of the Covid19 coronavirus continues to evolve, these issues will most likely come under the spotlight in a much more intense manner as time goes on.