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May 30, 2020

Communion ritual unchanged in Orthodox Church despite virus

World

May 30, 2020

ATHENS, Greece: One by one, the children and adults line up for the centuries-old ritual of Holy Communion, trying to keep a proper social distance.

The priest dips a spoon into the chalice of bread and wine, which the faithful believe is the body and blood of Christ, and puts it into the mouth of the first person in line, foreign media reported.

Then, with a move that would alarm an epidemiologist, he dips the spoon back into the chalice and then into the next person’s mouth.Again and again, through the entire congregation.Contrary to what science says, the Greek Orthodox Church insists it is impossible for any disease — including the coronavirus — to be transmitted through Holy Communion.

“In the holy chalice, it isn’t bread and wine. It is the body and blood of Christ,” said the Rev. Georgios Milkas, a theologian in the northern city of Thessaloniki. “And there is not a shred of suspicion of transmitting this virus, this disease, as in the holy chalice there is the Son and the Word of God.”

This is proven, he said, through “the experience of centuries.”Scientists warn that shared utensils can spread the coronavirus, and they also point to outbreaks linked to religious services around the world.

A communal spoon presents “fairly significant dangers,” said Dr. Nathalie MacDermott, an academic clinical lecturer for Britain’s National Institute for Health Research at King’s College London.

“The danger of transmitting any kind of respiratory viral pathogen or even bacterial infections is quite high with the sharing of utensils,” she said. “And for it to be passed among what is probably a relatively large group of people means that all it would take is one person to have coronavirus at the back of their throat, which potentially is in their saliva as well.”

The Holy Synod, the church’s governing body, says any suggestion that illness or disease could be transmitted by Holy Communion is blasphemy, a stance echoed by the Church of Cyprus.

“Regarding the issue that is unjustifiably raised from time to time about the supposed dangers, which in these blasphemous views are said to lurk in the life-giving Mystery of Holy Communion, the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece expresses its bitterness, deep sorrow and diametrical opposition,” it said in a May 13 circular on social distancing measures in churches.

The Synod “underlines one more time to all those who, either due to ignorance or conscious faithlessness, brutally insult all that is holy and sacred, the dogmas and the sacred rules of our faith, that Holy Communion is ‘the medicine of immortality, antidote to not dying, but to living according to the teachings of Jesus Christ forever.’”