I’m interrupting the series on the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil to deal with this subject which, not surprisingly, many people are concerned about. So we will now talk about How to Pray if you’re stuck a home or if your parish church is closed, Holy Communion, Icons, Hugging and Kissing.
What follows will not include medical advice. Well, just a little – but only for “religious” reasons. I’ll have to include some of my personal experiences and opinions, since the Fathers and the early Tradition of the Church haven’t much to say about some of these matters.
Subject 1: What to do if your Parish Church closes, or if you’re stuck at Home
This will include many of us. My Antiochian Metropolitan Joseph just directed that no more than ten people should be at worship at the same time, and that weekday services be cancelled. * I had already decided that I, being 81 years old, should stay away. I assume other Hierarchs are doing something similar.
- After less than a week I’m already finding this very difficult, since for over sixty years the Church, her daily round of services and saints and her people, have been the focus of my life. But Metropolitan Joseph is doing the right thing. I’m working my way through it.
First, pray, brothers and sisters! Pray! Pray especially for health care workers and others in similar professions. Pray for those who are ill. Pray for each other. Pray for the world.
Regularly say this Prayer in Time of Trouble from the Ancient Faith Prayer Book:
O, Lord of hosts, be with us. For in times of distress we have no other hope but You. O Lord of hosts, have mercy on us.
This is Byzantine music. Maybe some of you can even sing along.
Don’t ignore Lent. Keep up the Fast the best you can. But especially if you’re housebound, give yourself some treats – you need them this year.
During Holy Week, I’ll repeat last year’s twice-daily series of commentaries on the services and guide you through the events of this blessed Week.
And if when Pascha comes we’re still in the midst of this (and it looks like we will be), keep the Feast. Eat as well as you can. Sing the Paschal Troparion a lot: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life”. Search online, and you can find many lovely versions of this, and I’ll post some here too.
Do what the CDC or your local government directs. If they tell you to stay at home or limit your activities, please do so. I’m sorry, but this applies also to church, even if it’s open. The latest research says Coronavirus spreads easily through the air and also on what we touch. Despite some of the behavior we see on television, keep your distance; even elbow bumps are too close. Symptoms of the virus often do not appear for a week or two (if at all), and people (including you) are contagious during this time. We are told that our hospitals are not prepared for what is probably coming. Why am I giving you medical advice? But this is spiritual advice: Even if you don’t care about yourself, “love your neighbor”. That is the command of the Lord.
If you can’t get to church on Sunday:
1 As usual, devote an hour or so on Sunday mornings to prayer.
2 Some churches provide the Divine Liturgy on-line. If yours does not, you can find find many live stream Liturgies and other services.(This is a time when your Priest won’t mind if you “shop around”, so take advantage of it!)
Immediately after I first published this, I discovered (in a Blogpost right next to this one!) that Ancient Faith Radio will now broadcast Lenten and Holy Week services live on radio. To find them, go to: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/behind-the-scenes/2020/03/20/lenten-services-now-streaming-live-on-ancient-faith-radio/
I know of the following sources but can’t guarantee them, since up till now I have always been in church on Sundays:
From the Greek Archdiocese at: https://www.goarch.org/live-broadcasts
From Holy Cross Monastery, Wayne, WV:
All services from Holy Transfiguration (Women’s) Monastery in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania (a lovely place): http://www.orthodoxmonasteryellwoodcity.org/chapel
From Holy Cross Church, Linthicum, MD:
My Antiochian Archdiocese provides a print-out of the full Saturday Vespers and Sunday morning Orthros and Liturgy (yes, I know the translations leave something to be desired) at: https://www.antiochian.org/liturgicday
Or just try searching for “Eastern Orthodox Liturgy live” either on Google or on YouTube Even a previously recorded Liturgy is ok. However, take care not to spend all Sunday morning just searching!
You can find Orthodox Music and Teaching 24 hours a day at: http:/www.ancientfaith.com This is a wonderful site!
3 If you’d rather “do it yourself”, weekends and weekdays, here are some resources:
My favoite prayer book for many reasons (I use it daily) is the Ancient Faith Prayer Book.
To the right you can see how beautifully it’s laid out. Besides having good modern translations, it’s a joy to read.
It’s available from the Ancient Faith Bookstore, or Amazon (as what isn’t? even purported relics!)
There are many other fine little prayer books available. For example, the little Antiochian “Pocket Prayer Book”. Again, see Amazon.
You can find the Orthodox calendar of daily Orthodox Scripture readings on most parish calendars.
However if you want to read the Bible the easy way (as I do), you’ll find the readings from the daily Orthodox lectionary laid out before you at:
https://www.goarch.org/chapel/ (They’ll even e-mail them to you, if you wish!) Here you’ll also find the stories of the saints of the day, and also Prayers for the various times of day. (Go to the three bars on the far upper right, then scroll down a ways.) I use this site regularly.
Another online source for printed daily Scripture readings: https://www.antiochian.org/liturgicday
Biographies (often very detailed) of the Saints of each Day: http://oca.org/saints/lives
On your smartphone, for daily Scripture readings and many prayers, download :”Daily Readings” or “Daily Readings Lite” app from the Greek Archdiocese. There are several apps with similar names, so be careful to go to the Orthodox one. It’s a blue square with a gold Greek Cross in the middle.
4 If you now have children at home God bless you!, and try these:
- Let Us Attend: Lessons on the Sunday Gospel for children of all ages
- Be the Bee: videos for children about all aspects of life in the Church
5 Here is a good Akathist for the times. http://akathistcollections.blogspot.com/2011/11/akathist-to-all-merciful-lord-physician.html
6 And of course, keep up with Ancient Faith Blogs! not neglecting this one.
If all that doesn’t keep you busy till the Coronavirus has left us, I don’t know what will…
Subject 2: Can disease be transmitted through Holy Communion?
This is for those who are still able to attend Church.
This is a difficult issue, at least for me, and I’ll include some personal opinion.
Many (all?) Hierarchs of the Orthodox Church have recently issued statements like this: “The teaching of the Orthodox Church is that disease cannot be passed on by Holy Communion.” So far as I know, all have insisted that the current practice of the people receiving from the Spoon must be continued.
Is this the “Official Teaching” of the Church?
Please correct me and forgive me if I’m wrong, but I can’t discover where or when this became an Article of Faith. The ancient Fathers didn’t deal with it, only because the practice of using a spoon for Holy Communion never became the norm till about the Ninth Century. Before that Orthodox laypeople received the Holy Bread and Wine separately, as Priests and Bishops still do. I read that the Spoon then came into use to protect the Holy Eucharist, since people were dropping crumbs of the Holy Bread on the floor. (Probably you’ve noticed how careless some people are with the Antidoron.) Some say it was also a means of “hurrying” Communions along – though I wonder, because at that time not many received regularly.
In addition, the question of transmitting disease by the Spoon never arose till the late 19th Century, simply because before that no one knew about germs and viruses. So the question, whatever the answer, is a modern one.
So how did this become “the Teaching of the Orthodox Church” which must be received “by faith”? I do not know. (Please comment below if you do.)
Speaking only for myself, I wish that during the present situation, our Hierarchs would at least consider returning to some form of the Traditional ancient practice of receiving the Holy Eucharist, to put peoples’ minds at rest. Including mine, since as an old person with an underlying medical condition, I am very much at risk. Does that betray a lack of faith on my part? I hope not. Will it get me sent back to the Episcopal Church? I hope not!
My personal experience
I received the Holy Eucharist from the chalice (after the people did) for over fifty years, first Episcopalian and then Orthodox, Sundays and many weekdays. If disease was passed on through Holy Communion, I’d think I would have been sick far more than other people. I was not.
Although, seemingly inconsistently, during all that time if I was ill I took care not to receive from the chalice before members of the congregation did, out of consideration for their fears and my own fear of passing it on to them. Father David, my successor at Saint Nicholas, has done the same.
This story is second hand: I personally know a Priest who “reserved” the Holy Bread for future use, and somehow it went moldy. Believing that one cannot get ill by receiving the Holy Gifts, he ate it and immediately had to be taken to the emergency room. I’ve been told, without explanation, that this was “a different situation”.
Reasons to believe that Holy Communion cannot transmit disease
Because our Hierarchs say so, and they are good, holy, faithful men.
Because before we receive the Eucharist, the Priest prays “Therefore, O Master, we pray You, distribute these gifts here spread forth to all of us for good according to the individual need of each….heal the sick, You who are the Physician of our souls and bodies.”
Because we have faith that Christ miraculously protects us from disease each time we receive Holy Communion.
I’ve read that the sweet wine usually used for the Eucharist hinders germs and viruses. Has anyone done a study of this? (If you know, please comment below.)
Father John Breck, whom I greatly trust, was quoted in a 2009 OCA article on-line: “To declare that disease cannot be transmitted via Holy Communion is an article of faith; it cannot be proved to the satisfaction of everyone (it would in fact amount to proving a negative.)”
Some reasons to worry about receiving Holy Communion (especially by Spoon) during times of disease, like the present one.
Now let’s emphasize the last part of what Father John Breck said above: “To declare that disease cannot be transmitted via Holy Communion is an article of faith; it cannot be proved to the satisfaction of everyone (it would in fact amount to proving a negative.)”
Because of our Orthodox understanding of the Holy Eucharist. (Again, please correct me if I’m wrong.) I think we believe that in the consecration of the Holy Gifts, the change is “spiritual” (is that the right word?) but not material. The bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ without ceasing to be bread and wine. This is obvious because they still taste, feel and look like bread and wine, which have no power in and of themselves to hinder the passing on of disease. So to ask God each time to miraculously remove their natural properties – I worry: is this trying to to test God? But “You shall not put the Lord Your God to the test.” Deuteronomy 6:16, Luke 4:12, quoted by our Lord in response to Satan. Is this just my science background kicking in?
No one, so far as I know, has done a study of Orthodox people who received by the Spoon versus other Christians who did not. Even then I think we wouldn’t know, because so many other factors would enter in.
So … if you choose to receive the Holy Eucharist at the present time “in faith”, God bless you. But take care not to be an offense to your “weaker brother”.
And if you choose not to receive the Eucharist now, God bless you. If you wish, go up and ask the Priest for a blessing. This does not make you a heretic, and don’t let anybody tell you it does – for there has never been a council of the Church to rule on it. If we make a rational and conscientious decision not to receive Holy Communion, God does not cut us off from His grace and love. He is not like that.
Subject 3: What about kissing icons?
I just read a directive from one Bishop, who shall remain nameless, saying his people should continue kissing Icons, because surely God will not allow Holy Icons to convey disease. Where is that found in the Church’s teaching? Many other Bishops are presently asking people not to kiss the Icons but rather to let a deep bow and the sign of the Cross suffice for now. Many Hierarchs are asking clergy to carefully sanitize the Icons. Good. But that works only till the first person kisses them, and then…
Subject 4: Hugging and Kissing each other
Oh, I hate to say this, because we Orthodox love the “personal touch” so much. I’ve never been hugged and kissed (Orthodox style) and been loved so much by so many people, as since I became Orthodox. But, dear ones, till this crisis is over, don’t do it. Even an “elbow bump” is too close. Give people an “air hug” or an “air kiss”. And hey! I have an idea. Why not tell them you care about them? And give a text or an email or best of all a phone call to people, especially those who live alone and are probably feeling cut off. Keep in touch. We need each other, especially at a time like this.
So there we are, brothers and sisters, and here we are. What can we do? Please, please take care of yourself, keep a safe distance from others, wash your hands and use sanitizer a lot (if you can find it), and as I said, pray, pray, pray.
Trust in God, and in time He and His blessed Mother and His Saints will get us through this mess.
with love in Christ, Father Bill
Next Week: back to The Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil. Maybe.