St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada (Ecumenical Patriarchate)

Church When the Church is Closed

Fr. Bohdan Hladio

Every crisis presents us with an opportunity.  As believing Christians we know that we are called to gather together, especially on Sunday morning, to worship God and partake of the Holy Mysteries.  There have been times in the past when our spiritual forebears were not able to do this - because of the persecution of anti-Christian or Godless regimes, because of emigration to wilderness areas or non-Orthodox/non-Christian countries where churches didn’t exist, etc.  We can thank God that the experience of not being able to attend worship services is something new for most of us.  But we all know, and hopefully deeply feel, that this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.

In every crisis, whether personal, familial, social, or political, we ask God “what are you trying to teach me/us?”  And as we negotiate the uncharted (for us) waters of our current crisis, we ask specifically “how might I react and respond to this crisis in the most God-pleasing manner?”  With this question in mind, I’d like to offer three thoughts.

  1. Worship.  Many Orthodox parishes have for years live-streamed their services.  Many more are scrambling to put the technology in place to be able to do so.  In our own Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada this past Sunday efforts were made in each diocese to live-stream a Liturgy.  As I am not on Facebook (or any other social media platform) I was not able to observe the liturgies, but pious people who did watch these feeds and whose opinion I trust have informed me that the experience was less than spiritually edifying.  I am not referring to the fact that a living room does not have the ambiance of a Church, nor am I in principle against the broadcasting or viewing of Liturgical services (which is certainly better than watching netflix or anything else commercially available).  Nor am I referring to the technical glitches which apparently occurred, for, as anyone who deals with technology on a regular basis knows, these things happen.  The troubling matter is, as I was informed, that viewers were posting comments during the celebration of the Liturgy!  Rather than trying to put the Liturgy into their mind, they were putting their mind into the Liturgy - and for all the world to see!  Some comments, I am told, were positive, thanking the organizers for their work and care.  Such comments are wonderful, but would be better shared after the service was over.  Other comments, I am told, were quite different in character.  Suffice it to say that if we are watching a Liturgy - whether at home or in Church - only to comment, castigate, criticize or calumniate, we probably are not in a proper, God-pleasing state of mind.  And God forbid someone should “slip out for coffee” during the Cherubic Hymn!"

Point 1 - if you wish to watch a service on the internet, do it in a quiet place, don’t talk, don’t go out for coffee in the middle, sit and stand at the time you (or the congregation) normally would, and strive to let the words of the prayers, hymns, psalms and scripture readings enter into your heart and mind.

  1. Prayer.  Prayer is something only I can do.  No one else can “say my prayers."  And prayer is work, it takes discipline and dedication.  An order of prayer consisting of the 3rd and 6th hours (which are normally read before Liturgy) and the Typica (a service which replaces the Liturgy when it is not served) is attached to the end of this e-mail.  Whether one decides to watch  a service on the internet or not, it would be very beneficial for everyone - whether alone or as a family - and read these services together.  Those present can take turns reading the psalms or prayers.  It is an opportunity to gather as a church, with the church, in the home.  This is in addition to our normal rule of prayer (morning and evening, before meals, etc.).  And we can never forget the Jesus Prayer - “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on Me, the Sinner.”  This prayer can and should be with us always, especially when doing things like taking out the garbage, washing the dishes, or taking a walk that don’t require much in the way of mental attention.  Prayer is the communication we have with God in our heart, and the isolation offered by this crisis is a good opportunity to cultivate, or cultivate more deeply, a spirit of prayer.

Point 2 - The time we normally dedicate to travelling to Church, taking part in Liturgy, commuting, etc.,  can be used for personal or family prayer without taking any time out of our schedule.  If, during this crisis we learn to truly pray, it will have been a great blessing for us!

  1. Communal Outreach.  Social isolation is difficult for any normal person.  Isolation is especially difficult for those who have no family or friends close by.  Visit, if only by phone, parishioners or friends who might be lonely.   Help and support - either in person or by offering goods or donations - agencies  that feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, etc. Is anyone out of work in our parish? Do they need some financial or material support?  If you know of anyone in need of help, and can’t help them yourself, let the priest or someone else in the parish know.  If people cannot enter our churches due to the quarantine (and we should be asking ourselves why God has permitted this state of affairs) we must go out - as much as possible - to show our presence in the world.  Likewise we cannot forget about our parish church - if the church depends upon donations to stay afloat and we stop donating during this crisis the doors will be just as locked after the crisis as they are right now.

Point 3 - Social isolation can be even more devastating than economic collapse.  Many, many people are going to suffer from both.  Let us do what we can to mitigate, even if only in a small way, both the negative economic impact of this crisis on our community and parish Church as well as the negative psychological and social impact of isolation upon our family members, parishioners, friends, and neighbours.

When the crisis is over will I be able to look back and honestly say that I responded to this challenge in a God-pleasing manner?  Let us hope so!

 

Sermon on the Third Sunday after Pentecost:

The Opening of Churches, Communion, and the Coronavirus

Much concern has been expressed of late about the way Holy Communion is distributed in the Orthodox Church.  Over the past three months the question “Is it possible to become infected by receiving Holy Communion?” has been a very popular topic of discussion on various Orthodox web-sites and blogs. 

As Christians, we believe that Christ is both God and man – a unity of material and divine realities.  As traditional, historical, Orthodox Christians, we believe that Holy Communion is Jesus’ own Body and Blood - also a divine/material reality.  So can Holy Communion cause sickness or death?  

Would you be scandalized if I told you that St. Paul says it can?  He writes this in the 11th Chapter of the 1st epistle to the Corinthians:

“On the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.  when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.” 

We confess the same thing in our main pre-communion prayer: “May the communion of Your Holy Mysteries, O Lord, be neither to my judgement nor condemnation, but unto the healing of soul and body.” 

Leaving aside the question of whether one can become physically infected with bacteria or viruses through the communion cup (as mentioned, there has been a lot written about this from various perspectives over the past three months), before the coronavirus pandemic how many of us – bishops, priests, laity – ever bothered to consider “If I receive Holy Communion unworthily, will this make me sick, or could I die?”  In other words, do I regard the spiritual dimension of Holy Communion as seriously as I regard its physical dimension?

Several weeks ago, when parishes were beginning to reopen here in Ontario, a priest from another parish related to me a question which had been posed by one of his parish council members: “What are the legal consequences of opening our Church for services?” While this question is eminently reasonable, as Christians we might also pose a different one: “What are the spiritual consequences of NOT opening our Churches for services?”

Today we heard Jesus say in the Gospel “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.”  This reminds us that it’s important to look at things in the right way, to have a correct perspective, to see things as they truly are.

This difficult time we are experiencing gives us a good opportunity to seriously and objectively consider: How important is my faith to me?  How important is the Church? How does absence from services or the Mysteries hinder my ability to fulfill my calling as a Christian? Is “seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” something that I ever think about, or just some words the priest reads once a year in Church?

We shouldn’t need the coronavirus to teach us how precious life is.  We live in a dangerous world, dangerous both physically and spiritually. We need to take the spiritual as well as the physical dangers seriously.  We seek God’s protection from physical and spiritual danger in prayer, worship, and participation in the holy mysteries - as much as this is possible during this unique and unusual time. 

With or without the coronavirus we are going to die.  This is why “the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” needs to be our first priority.  We absolutely must be reasonable, and exercise prudence in regards to the threat of the coronavirus to us and our loved ones (and not only in Church, but everywhere.  An infection is an infection, whether it results from participation in a Church service, eating at a restaurant, shopping, visiting a provincial park, etc.).  Life is a gift to be cherished.  But we must not let fear of physical sickness or death paralyze us, or drive us away from the “one thing needful,” from that which leads us to the Kingdom of God: Prayer, Worship, and participation in the Holy Mysteries.

Fr. Bohdan Hladio

28 June 2020

 

Community or “Comspoonity”?

One of the greatest impacts of the current pandemic is the effect it has had on interpersonal relations.  The inability to embrace or hold a friend’s hand, the need for “social  distancing,” and the knowledge that anyone we meet is potentially the carrier of a deadly disease all contribute to a feeling of suspicion and standoffishness, while masks interfere with clear communication and human connection. 

The Orthodox Church has faced a slew of challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, not least in regard to the mode of distribution of Holy Communion.  In conversation with priests of various churches I’ve learned of alternate methods being used, including “disinfecting” spoons between communicants, intincting the Holy Body with the Blood, the use of tongs, disposable spoons, even toothpicks to transfer the Eucharist from the chalice to the mouth of the communicant.  In Canada the most common alternate method seems to be the use of multiple metal communion spoons, one per communicant.  The response to this change on the part of a small but vocal element within the Orthodox community has been heated, with accusations of “heresy” or “blasphemy” being levelled against bishops and priests promulgating or following this practice.

The “single holy spoon” faction claims that the use of multiple spoons is an explicit denial that the Eucharist is Jesus’ Body and Blood.  Their argument generally goes like this:  You can’t get sick from Holy Communion because the Eucharist is Jesus’ own Body and Blood, so if you think the Eucharist can be a bearer of infection you don’t believe that Holy Communion really is Jesus’ Body and Blood, which is a denial of Orthodox eucharistic theology.  Since Protestants believe that the communion bread and wine (or grape juice) only “symbolize” Christ’s body and blood, the use of multiple communion spoons is an overt acceptance of a Protestant eucharistic theology, and consequently a denial of Orthodoxy and the propagation of heresy.  The sub-text often includes accusations of “ecumenism” as a motivating factor.

A related argument is that the use of multiple spoons puts one on a “slippery slope,” i.e., the use of multiple spoons gives the impression that infection can be transmitted by Holy Communion, or that the Eucharist is not truly Jesus’ Body and Blood, and that stepping onto this “slope” invariably ends in the acceptance of the “heresy” elucidated in the previous paragraph.

As the psychological dictum states, the response a person makes to a stimulus tells you more about the person than it does about the stimulus.  Reflecting upon the words of theologians, clergy, and laity from both sides of this issue, I was struck by several thoughts.

First and foremost, Orthodox Christians believe that the bread and wine offered at the Liturgy become Jesus’ Body and Blood, and so, in some sense, that we “eat God.”  “This bread and wine is flesh and blood?  It’s God’s flesh and blood?  And you eat it? Really?” The claim we make about the Eucharist is so outlandish from a worldly perspective that I cannot understand how anyone who truly believes it could be swayed in any way, shape, or form from believing otherwise.  Which led to another thought.

I have often gotten the feeling that the anti-multiple spoon faction “doth protest too much,” and wondered if one of the reasons their reaction has been so heated and vitriolic might not be because those who are arguing for one common spoon are not trying to convince others of the sanctity of Holy Communion, but rather are trying to convince themselves.  After all, it isn’t the spoon that makes holy communion Holy.

What is Holy Communion for?

As the word suggests, Holy Communion is both a means toward and a sign of unity.  Communion begets community.  It seems obvious that where “communion” is begetting strife, conflict, and rancorous division something is very, very wrong.

Much has been written over the past six months about the introduction and genesis of the use of the communion spoon in the Orthodox Church.[1]  It’s  pretty clear that faithful Christians haven’t been “traditionally receiving Holy Communion from a common spoon for two thousand years” (as one woman told me), but that the only truly traditional and “canonical” way of receiving Holy Communion in the Orthodox Church is the way the clergy do to this day: in two species, receiving the Holy Body in the hand, then drinking from the chalice. 

The introduction of a spoon to distribute the Eucharist was an innovation, and if we think about this innovation, it does raise questions.  But rather than questioning the use of multiple spoons, a more salient query might be “doesn’t the use of a spoon for the communion of the faithful draw a harmful distinction between the ordained and unordained people of God, i.e., doesn’t it foster ‘clericalism’ in the Church?”  It seems obvious that the use of even one spoon puts us on a “slippery slope,” if we choose to see things this way.

Our teaching is not that we are united by the use of “one holy spoon,” but rather, as we pray in the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, by partaking in “the one bread and cup in the communion of the Holy Spirit” (prayer after the epiclesis). 

Inconsistencies can be observed among those who favour of the use of one common spoon in regard to “fear of infection”  as well as custom.  In the first case, priests and bishops have for years instructed communicants to lean their head back and open their mouth wide “so the host can be dropped into the mouth of the communicant without the lips touching the spoon.”  Is this not a tacit admission that infection can be transmitted through the spoon?  Secondly, multiple spoons have been used for many years, especially in large parishes and at large celebrations with many communicants, when Communion is distributed from multiple chalices.  If there is such great concern for the nonexistent “letter of the law” regarding the use of one and only one spoon, why is there apparently no concern regarding St. Basil’s clear reference to “one cup?” (as a fellow priest asked: “If we had a separate chalice and spoon for every communicant, would this be OK?”).

The obsession with “one holy spoon” has given rise to the phenomenon of “spoon chasing,” i.e., faithful who attend services at a particular parish not because of its jurisdictional affiliation, holy bishop, or dedicated priest; not because of its exemplary Christian educational programs or charitable work in the community; not because their ancestors, parents, and God-parents have been dedicated members of the parish from time immemorial, but because of – a spoon!   What does this say about community?  What is communion without community?  How much am I invested in “my” community?  Is my parish, God forbid, simply there to fulfill my personal “spiritual” needs, as I define them, when and how I want them fulfilled?  If so, it seems to me that this, not the use of multiple spoons, is clear proof of a “Protestant phronema” (mentality).

Christianity is an incarnational faith.  We incarnate the body of Christ when we gather together in worship.  What does it say about my dedication to my local community or Church when I feel it is perfectly acceptable to neglect, attack, or absent myself from “my” community or diocese because of a utensil?  And what happens when the practice returns to normal at “my” parish?

I have never heard an Orthodox bishop or priest insinuate that the Eucharist is not truly Jesus’ Body and Blood.  If the practice of using multiple spoons is truly “heretical” (and anyone who uses this “buzz word” should use it correctly[2]) someone needs to do something - and quickly!  I have no doubt that faithful Christians will have no problem responding obediently when and if the Church – not John or Mary, but the Church – decides that the use of multiple spoons is problematic. In the meantime, it seems to me that the appropriateness of using multiple spoons to distribute Holy Communion is, at most, an open question.

“Germophobia” is a cultural reality in our world.  Many faithful Christians have for years expressed reticence towards the use of a common communion spoon, and many refuse to commune because of this.  Whether we like it or not, this is a reality.   I personally am absolutely convinced and have complete faith that the Holy Eucharist is truly Jesus’ Body and Blood, and that Jesus’ Body and Blood cannot make me sick.  I, like many priests, have communed people with infectious diseases and consumed the remnants afterwards with no ill effects.  But “that pestilent fellow Paul” does teach us that “the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples” (Letter 16 of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis - highly recommended reading), that we “who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not please ourselves.  Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, leading to edification (Romans 15:1-2).

There seem to be three reasons associated with modifying the method of distribution of Holy Communion: because the current method might endanger the health of the communicants; because it is mandated by civil authorities who do not hold our faith; and because if we do not do so the parish, priest, or diocese can incur heavy fines or other penalties.  Leaving aside our faith that the Lord’s Body and Blood cannot harm us, here in Ontario we are still left with the second two reasons.  As a friend of mine, a Coptic Orthodox priest, has observed, “we have three choices: compromise, i.e., change the method of distribution in a way which will neither violate health guidelines, nor repudiate our faith, nor deny the sanctity of the sacrament; martyrdom, i.e., continue the normal practice, pay the fines, and accept any other penalties incurred for doing so; or excommunication, i.e., deny communion to the faithful.” 

I’m sure we all agree that we wish as many of the faithful to receive Holy Communion as often as possible.  I’m also sure we agree that if there is no compelling reason to change the common (not “canonical,” not “traditional,” just common) practice of distributing communion with a single spoon we shouldn’t.  If, however, it is necessary to change our communion practice, it seems to me that the most reasonable approach would be to use multiple, blessed communion spoons. 

Communion shouldn’t cause consternation.  This pandemic has given all of us the opportunity to “show what we are made of,” and like it or not we’re all in this together.  Those who have lost their jobs and businesses as well as individuals experiencing mental health challenges due to the pandemic would probably appreciate it if we as Christians spent more time attending to their needs and less time worrying about how to get the Eucharist from the chalice into the mouth. But that’s a topic for another day. 

For now, it seems clear that the pandemic has given us enough challenges in regard to maintaining healthy, supportive relationships with each other as human beings and as Christians.  Let us not contribute to the weakening, but rather to the strengthening of our communal ties.  When we are tempted to become upset, or judgmental, or angry, we would all be well served, as my daughter might say, to “take a chill pill” and hearken to these wise words:

“In these uncertain times, no matter what happens. . . we should in no way exalt ourselves and make judgements about the various precautions that our bishops have directed for us.  We should have compassion for those who are over us in the Lord and  we should have gratitude that we are not the ones who have to make these difficult decisions for the welfare of the Church.  There is so much that we do not know about the pandemic and it is so easy to judge when we are ignorant of all the facts.  For this reason we should have faith in the providence and goodness of God.  This present time is the opportunity to transcend the difficulties and bear witness to the triumph and beauty of God’s holiness.”  (The Talanton, August 2020, St. Gregory Palamas Monastery, Perrysville, OH)

Amen!

Fr. Bohdan Hladio

30 October 2020

[1] See for example, “A Note on the Common Communion Spoon,” https://orthodoxtimes.com/a-note-on-the-common-communion-spoon/; and “From One Spoon to Many,” https://publicorthodoxy.org/2020/08/04/from-one-spoon-to-many/.

[2] See, for example, “On Ecumenoclasm: Who is a Heretic? https://publicorthodoxy.org/2016/07/13/on-ecumenoclasm-who-is-a-heretic/; and “Some of my Best Friends are Heretics: What do Orthodox Really Believe? https://publicorthodoxy.org/2020/08/10/some-of-my-best-friends-are-heretics/.

 

 

Community or “Comspoonity”?

One of the greatest impacts of the current pandemic is the effect it has had on interpersonal relations.  The inability to embrace or hold a friend’s hand, the need for “social  distancing,” and the knowledge that anyone we meet is potentially the carrier of a deadly disease all contribute to a feeling of suspicion and standoffishness, while masks interfere with clear communication and human connection. 

The Orthodox Church has faced a slew of challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, not least in regard to the mode of distribution of Holy Communion.  In conversation with priests of various churches I’ve learned of alternate methods being used, including “disinfecting” spoons between communicants, intincting the Holy Body with the Blood, the use of tongs, disposable spoons, even toothpicks to transfer the Eucharist from the chalice to the mouth of the communicant.  In Canada the most common alternate method seems to be the use of multiple metal communion spoons, one per communicant.  The response to this change on the part of a small but vocal element within the Orthodox community has been heated, with accusations of “heresy” or “blasphemy” being levelled against bishops and priests promulgating or following this practice.

The “single holy spoon” faction claims that the use of multiple spoons is an explicit denial that the Eucharist is Jesus’ Body and Blood.  Their argument generally goes like this:  You can’t get sick from Holy Communion because the Eucharist is Jesus’ own Body and Blood, so if you think the Eucharist can be a bearer of infection you don’t believe that Holy Communion really is Jesus’ Body and Blood, which is a denial of Orthodox eucharistic theology.  Since Protestants believe that the communion bread and wine (or grape juice) only “symbolize” Christ’s body and blood, the use of multiple communion spoons is an overt acceptance of a Protestant eucharistic theology, and consequently a denial of Orthodoxy and the propagation of heresy.  The sub-text often includes accusations of “ecumenism” as a motivating factor.

A related argument is that the use of multiple spoons puts one on a “slippery slope,” i.e., the use of multiple spoons gives the impression that infection can be transmitted by Holy Communion, or that the Eucharist is not truly Jesus’ Body and Blood, and that stepping onto this “slope” invariably ends in the acceptance of the “heresy” elucidated in the previous paragraph.

As the psychological dictum states, the response a person makes to a stimulus tells you more about the person than it does about the stimulus.  Reflecting upon the words of theologians, clergy, and laity from both sides of this issue, I was struck by several thoughts.

First and foremost, Orthodox Christians believe that the bread and wine offered at the Liturgy become Jesus’ Body and Blood, and so, in some sense, that we “eat God.”  “This bread and wine is flesh and blood?  It’s God’s flesh and blood?  And you eat it? Really?” The claim we make about the Eucharist is so outlandish from a worldly perspective that I cannot understand how anyone who truly believes it could be swayed in any way, shape, or form from believing otherwise.  Which led to another thought.

I have often gotten the feeling that the anti-multiple spoon faction “doth protest too much,” and wondered if one of the reasons their reaction has been so heated and vitriolic might not be because those who are arguing for one common spoon are not trying to convince others of the sanctity of Holy Communion, but rather are trying to convince themselves.  After all, it isn’t the spoon that makes holy communion Holy.

What is Holy Communion for?

As the word suggests, Holy Communion is both a means toward and a sign of unity.  Communion begets community.  It seems obvious that where “communion” is begetting strife, conflict, and rancorous division something is very, very wrong.

Much has been written over the past six months about the introduction and genesis of the use of the communion spoon in the Orthodox Church.[1]  It’s  pretty clear that faithful Christians haven’t been “traditionally receiving Holy Communion from a common spoon for two thousand years” (as one woman told me), but that the only truly traditional and “canonical” way of receiving Holy Communion in the Orthodox Church is the way the clergy do to this day: in two species, receiving the Holy Body in the hand, then drinking from the chalice. 

The introduction of a spoon to distribute the Eucharist was an innovation, and if we think about this innovation, it does raise questions.  But rather than questioning the use of multiple spoons, a more salient query might be “doesn’t the use of a spoon for the communion of the faithful draw a harmful distinction between the ordained and unordained people of God, i.e., doesn’t it foster ‘clericalism’ in the Church?”  It seems obvious that the use of even one spoon puts us on a “slippery slope,” if we choose to see things this way.

Our teaching is not that we are united by the use of “one holy spoon,” but rather, as we pray in the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, by partaking in “the one bread and cup in the communion of the Holy Spirit” (prayer after the epiclesis). 

Inconsistencies can be observed among those who favour of the use of one common spoon in regard to “fear of infection”  as well as custom.  In the first case, priests and bishops have for years instructed communicants to lean their head back and open their mouth wide “so the host can be dropped into the mouth of the communicant without the lips touching the spoon.”  Is this not a tacit admission that infection can be transmitted through the spoon?  Secondly, multiple spoons have been used for many years, especially in large parishes and at large celebrations with many communicants, when Communion is distributed from multiple chalices.  If there is such great concern for the nonexistent “letter of the law” regarding the use of one and only one spoon, why is there apparently no concern regarding St. Basil’s clear reference to “one cup?” (as a fellow priest asked: “If we had a separate chalice and spoon for every communicant, would this be OK?”).

The obsession with “one holy spoon” has given rise to the phenomenon of “spoon chasing,” i.e., faithful who attend services at a particular parish not because of its jurisdictional affiliation, holy bishop, or dedicated priest; not because of its exemplary Christian educational programs or charitable work in the community; not because their ancestors, parents, and God-parents have been dedicated members of the parish from time immemorial, but because of – a spoon!   What does this say about community?  What is communion without community?  How much am I invested in “my” community?  Is my parish, God forbid, simply there to fulfill my personal “spiritual” needs, as I define them, when and how I want them fulfilled?  If so, it seems to me that this, not the use of multiple spoons, is clear proof of a “Protestant phronema” (mentality).

Christianity is an incarnational faith.  We incarnate the body of Christ when we gather together in worship.  What does it say about my dedication to my local community or Church when I feel it is perfectly acceptable to neglect, attack, or absent myself from “my” community or diocese because of a utensil?  And what happens when the practice returns to normal at “my” parish?

I have never heard an Orthodox bishop or priest insinuate that the Eucharist is not truly Jesus’ Body and Blood.  If the practice of using multiple spoons is truly “heretical” (and anyone who uses this “buzz word” should use it correctly[2]) someone needs to do something - and quickly!  I have no doubt that faithful Christians will have no problem responding obediently when and if the Church – not John or Mary, but the Church – decides that the use of multiple spoons is problematic. In the meantime, it seems to me that the appropriateness of using multiple spoons to distribute Holy Communion is, at most, an open question.

“Germophobia” is a cultural reality in our world.  Many faithful Christians have for years expressed reticence towards the use of a common communion spoon, and many refuse to commune because of this.  Whether we like it or not, this is a reality.   I personally am absolutely convinced and have complete faith that the Holy Eucharist is truly Jesus’ Body and Blood, and that Jesus’ Body and Blood cannot make me sick.  I, like many priests, have communed people with infectious diseases and consumed the remnants afterwards with no ill effects.  But “that pestilent fellow Paul” does teach us that “the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples” (Letter 16 of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis - highly recommended reading), that we “who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not please ourselves.  Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, leading to edification (Romans 15:1-2).

There seem to be three reasons associated with modifying the method of distribution of Holy Communion: because the current method might endanger the health of the communicants; because it is mandated by civil authorities who do not hold our faith; and because if we do not do so the parish, priest, or diocese can incur heavy fines or other penalties.  Leaving aside our faith that the Lord’s Body and Blood cannot harm us, here in Ontario we are still left with the second two reasons.  As a friend of mine, a Coptic Orthodox priest, has observed, “we have three choices: compromise, i.e., change the method of distribution in a way which will neither violate health guidelines, nor repudiate our faith, nor deny the sanctity of the sacrament; martyrdom, i.e., continue the normal practice, pay the fines, and accept any other penalties incurred for doing so; or excommunication, i.e., deny communion to the faithful.” 

I’m sure we all agree that we wish as many of the faithful to receive Holy Communion as often as possible.  I’m also sure we agree that if there is no compelling reason to change the common (not “canonical,” not “traditional,” just common) practice of distributing communion with a single spoon we shouldn’t.  If, however, it is necessary to change our communion practice, it seems to me that the most reasonable approach would be to use multiple, blessed communion spoons. 

Communion shouldn’t cause consternation.  This pandemic has given all of us the opportunity to “show what we are made of,” and like it or not we’re all in this together.  Those who have lost their jobs and businesses as well as individuals experiencing mental health challenges due to the pandemic would probably appreciate it if we as Christians spent more time attending to their needs and less time worrying about how to get the Eucharist from the chalice into the mouth. But that’s a topic for another day. 

For now, it seems clear that the pandemic has given us enough challenges in regard to maintaining healthy, supportive relationships with each other as human beings and as Christians.  Let us not contribute to the weakening, but rather to the strengthening of our communal ties.  When we are tempted to become upset, or judgmental, or angry, we would all be well served, as my daughter might say, to “take a chill pill” and hearken to these wise words:

“In these uncertain times, no matter what happens. . . we should in no way exalt ourselves and make judgements about the various precautions that our bishops have directed for us.  We should have compassion for those who are over us in the Lord and  we should have gratitude that we are not the ones who have to make these difficult decisions for the welfare of the Church.  There is so much that we do not know about the pandemic and it is so easy to judge when we are ignorant of all the facts.  For this reason we should have faith in the providence and goodness of God.  This present time is the opportunity to transcend the difficulties and bear witness to the triumph and beauty of God’s holiness.”  (The Talanton, August 2020, St. Gregory Palamas Monastery, Perrysville, OH)

Amen!

Fr. Bohdan Hladio

30 October 2020

[1] See for example, “A Note on the Common Communion Spoon,” https://orthodoxtimes.com/a-note-on-the-common-communion-spoon/; and “From One Spoon to Many,” https://publicorthodoxy.org/2020/08/04/from-one-spoon-to-many/.

[2] See, for example, “On Ecumenoclasm: Who is a Heretic? https://publicorthodoxy.org/2016/07/13/on-ecumenoclasm-who-is-a-heretic/; and “Some of my Best Friends are Heretics: What do Orthodox Really Believe? https://publicorthodoxy.org/2020/08/10/some-of-my-best-friends-are-heretics/.

 

 

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