The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has issued numerous documents instructing its parish priests, as well as faithful, how to deal with the latest coronavirus epidemic which is spreading worldwide.
The move comes as churches throughout the nation– and world– are responding with various directives.
In South Korea, a staggering two-thirds of the more than 4,000 people who have tested positive for coronavirus are tied to the same Christian church.
In an Encyclical, Archbishop Elpidophoros of America said that “Science and our God-given reason demand that we employ every means available to protect ourselves and our families against the spread of [coronavirus] and any other disease. In a crisis such as this, we need to exercise vigilance as a community, lest our churches become points of transmission of the disease.”
“The Church has faced such challenges in the past – even devastating plagues. Today, we possess the advantage of scientific knowledge and the good common sense that can see us through this crisis,” Elpidophoros added. “We must take every precaution that the CDC and other governmental agencies recommend concerning the coronavirus, and we will be continuously evaluating the situation with the best interest of all our parishioners in mind.”
In directives sent to parishes by the Archdiocese, instructions were given for parishes to provide areas of the church entrance for faithful to disinfect their hands and signs asking sick parishioners to stay home.
Furthermore, clergy have been instructed to NOT offer their hands for kissing and icons should not be kissed, but shown respect by bowing.
Antidoron, or the brand that faithful usually receive from the hand of the priest at the end of services, will still be distributed. But faithful will take a piece on their own to prevent unnecessary human contact.
An issue on everyone’s mind– the sacrament of Holy Communion– the most sacred part of the Orthodox Church’s liturgical tradition, “will be distributed as per usual,” according to the guidelines.
The complete list of directives and guidelines from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese is here.
Addressing concerns about the potential for contracting infection or germs from the Holy Spoon, Rev. Fr. Stylianos Muksuris writes on the Orthodox Research Institute’s website:
“From a purely microbiological perspective, the sweet red wine used in Communion is typically high in alcoholic content. This means that the chances of bacteria or germs surviving in it are virtually minimal to non-existent. Although each of us communes the Body and Blood of Christ, the invisible microbes that may enter our mouths from the previous communicant are harmless. From a purely experiential perspective, every chalice on Sundays is consumed in its totality by the priest, after several mouths have communed from it. No priest, including the writer of this column, has ever become ill or incapacitated after consuming the Holy Gifts. And finally, from a purely spiritual perspective, the Holy Gifts are exactly that: they are sacred. … If we truly believe in God, we know quite well that God would never allow harm to come to us, most especially in the reception of Holy Communion.”
Various Roman Catholic Dioceses have temporarily discontinued communion.
The Catholic Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey issued liturgical guidelines instructing its 109 parishes to discontinue the option of drinking “the Precious Blood from the chalice,” effective immediately.
The Romanian Orthodox Church didn’t issue an all-out ban on communion, but suggested in a statement to its 16 million-strong faithful that “Believers who are afraid of virus transmission may temporarily refrain from kissing the holy icons in the churches. They can exceptionally ask the priest to use their own spoon for the Holy Communion,” says an announcement by the Church while adding that “these are exceptional measures taken only because of the threat of an epidemic.”
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