To Speak of Thy Mystery: Communing Amid COVID-19

The past couple months have seen a frenzy of articles in Orthodox circles online that all seem to be asking this one question: Can you get a virus by receiving the Eucharist?

I am not going to link to them here (if only because it is now hard to keep track of them all), and I certainly don’t mean to add to the cacophony, a cacophony that is demonstrably both confusing and scandalizing many of the faithful and the clergy.

This scandal increased when a handful of bishops began to alter how communion was distributed, with a whole series of accusations being leveled at them from being ruled by fear to lack of faith to outright heresy. People were understandably upset, but I think it is important to note that nearly every Orthodox synod and primate who have ruled on the matter have said that there ought to be no change. And many included a theological rationale that said that the Eucharist is not a vector for disease.

That said, there is some theological commentary happening here that I believe is concerning — not because I believe the Church’s teaching can be altered, but because of the damage that bad theology can do to people who are trying to be faithful. That is, those who try to revise Church teaching will not be successful in changing it, but they may well be successful in distorting the faith of some of the faithful or in driving some away. And some are having their faith distorted or damaged by people who are reacting to the revisionists. So there is a pastoral issue here.

What exactly is the Eucharist, anyway?

So the question, for most people asking it, is still this one: Can you get infected by a virus from communion?

Into the heightened anxiety of our moment in history caused by the viral pandemic come many writers, all giving various answers to the question and then supporting them with their theology of the Eucharist.

Some say yes, some say no. Some say it depends. Some say you can’t get a disease from the Eucharist itself, but you can from the spoon or from the chalice or from the priest breathing on you or from touching an icon or from a doorknob. Some say that the spiritual reality of the Eucharist cannot harm you, but hey, it’s still bread, so we should expect bread to be like bread.

I have seen everything from claims that the act of coming to church affords you protection from all disease — sometimes with the caveat that it happens if you have enough faith — to the claim that, as far as physical disease is concerned, there is zero difference between receiving communion from the common spoon and sharing a peanut butter sandwich with a contagious COVID-19 patient. And there are many gradations of arguments in between.

I have seen arguments that are basically Calvinist Eucharistic theology (spiritual presence according to your faith, but it’s still basically bread and wine), as well as arguments that are some form of Lutheranism (the Body and Blood of Christ are truly and locally present, but so are bread and wine; some refer to this as consubstantiation). I have even seen the argument for impanation (the Son of God is now incarnate as bread).

What most of these articles have in common is that, in order to answer whether you can get a virus from the Eucharist, they are addressing this question: How does the Eucharist work? This question has been, until now, mostly associated with Roman Catholic and Protestant Eucharistic theology.

De-Objectifying the Mystery

Now, it is not as though that is not an important question in its own way, but we should take note that, in looking at both the Bible and the Fathers, not to mention the text of the Divine Liturgy itself, that is not really the question being asked. Rather, the question there is: What does the Eucharist do?

The Eucharist is received in the midst of the Divine Liturgy, the service of sacrificial offering of the Orthodox Church. This is the “remembrance” Jesus spoke of, the way in which He told His disciples that they would worship Him:

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus 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. (I Corinthians 11:23-26)

Like the Passover of the Exodus in the Old Covenant, the instruction and initial enactment of this worship was given by God before the event to which it connected the people of God, thus showing that it is a ritual participation in a reality not bound by time. When we perform this “remembrance” of Christ, it is not to recall something in the past but rather it is “making remembrance” in the sense of a sacrificial offering to God. That “Do this in remembrance of Me” is better translated “Do this as My remembrance,” i.e., as the way we are supposed to worship Christ. That is how the term is understood in many places in the Scripture.

One of the problems with the articles I’ve seen trying to define how the Eucharist works — that is, what exactly it is and how it gets to be that way — is that the Mystery is thus objectified. And it therefore makes sense that in a number of these objectifications a lot of energy is put on trying to get the Eucharist to people in a context exactly outside the Divine Liturgy.

This is not to say that there are no acceptable circumstances for communing outside being present at the service itself. Rather, what is notable is how much of an emphasis is laid on what should be extraordinary. When you objectify the Eucharist, this is rather easier. (And, as an aside, I would say that this seems to me the origin of some of the Eucharistic piety of the Roman Catholic Church, such as perpetual adoration chapels in which the faithful adore the Eucharist outside the mass and do not commune of it.)

What happens in the Divine Liturgy?

So given the proper context of the Eucharist — the sacrificial offering of the Divine Liturgy — what can we say about this problem of disease and the Eucharist, especially in this time when for many people attending the liturgy is so difficult because of social distancing restrictions?

To answer that question, we have to ask this one: What is happening at the liturgy?

Leitourgia is “public service” (not “the work of the people”) done by God for the benefit of His people. (“It is time for the Lord to act,” the deacon says to the priest at the beginning of the Liturgy.) The Divine Liturgy is a shared meal, given by God, that binds us to God and to each other. And it also makes us like the God we worship.

This mechanism worked exactly the same way in pagan worship, which is why idolatry is warned against so often in the Scriptures, in both the Old and New Testaments. Sacrifice brings the presence of the deity into the midst of the worshiping people. So the Divine Liturgy brings God into our presence, not because we have trapped Him via an idol (as in paganism), but rather because He gave this worship and Himself draws near. It is in this sense that we are therefore able to say “Christ is in our midst!” (a greeting shared by concelebrating clergy and in some parishes between the laity).

At the Divine Liturgy, God comes into the midst of His people. It is not the only way or time that He is present to us and for us, but it is certainly the central moment. What happens is that, in a way local to us and that moment, the Day of the Lord has come to us. The presence of God on earth means vengeance for the unrepentant and vindication for the fallen.

Yes, you can get sick from the Eucharist

Communing the Body and Blood of Christ brings Christ directly into you. For you at that moment, the Day of the Lord has come. And you might experience healing and transformation and deification, or you might experience wrath and destruction. St. Paul explicitly says that, yes, you can get sick and even die from the Eucharist:

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. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. (I Corinthians 11:27-32)

Note that the Lord connects communion with judgment. The judgment/justice of God is His presence making things right. That is why it is painful to the wicked but lifts up the oppressed.

No one is ever “worthy” to commune. But we can commune unworthily (“in an unworthy manner“). How do you commune unworthily? You do it by communing unrepentantly. In the case of the Corinthians, that lack of repentance was expressed as irreverence, “not discerning the Lord’s body.”

St. Paul says that some are sick and some are dead as a result of that irreverence. Now, we might imagine that this means that God supernaturally zapped these people with inexplicable sickness or death, but I would be willing to bet that the illnesses and deaths that people saw might well in our time be looked at as perfectly explicable. In other words, they might be getting hit by a virus or some other “ordinary” ailment.

So can you get a virus by communing? If you commune unrepentantly, yes, a virus might well be the way that God brings justice to you. If He is merciful and His patience with you continues, it will be to give you the opportunity to repent. If His patience has run out, it will be to cut off your wickedness so that you cannot do yourself and others any more harm.

An Un-Secular Theology

One of the assumptions upon which rests a lot of the commentary on communion and the novel coronavirus is this: Spiritually speaking, disease doesn’t mean anything.

In other words, diseases are basically accidents of material forces. With this assumption, distorted Eucharistic theology is almost inevitable, in one way or another saying that the immaterial aspect of the Eucharist does not actually change its material aspect.

The assumption here is materialism, that the world is basically a kind of neutral secular space that behaves according to material laws. And sometimes, we Christians expect God to jump in and intervene. This assumption, by the way, is why debates between many Christians and atheists are largely about whether God exists and whether He does miracles. The Christian believes in miracles, but the atheist wants to know why God won’t jump in and do miracles in other places.

This assumption manifests itself in this discussion when people ask things like what happens to viruses on the tip of a communion spoon. One might also ask what happens to the viruses inside your body when you get anointed with holy unction. Both those who say that God jumps in and does something to the virus in the chalice and those who say that He doesn’t do that are assuming a materialist world. The only question is whether this is one of those special, bracketed cases that Christians can believe in.

But Orthodox Christianity teaches that the divine energies of God are everywhere, permeating everything. God is not a miracle-worker Who bends the rules in special bracketed cases. Rather, everything is in His hands constantly, and He is always weaving things together for our salvation.

It’s also clear that materialism is not assumed in the Scriptures or Fathers. We have only to mention the many cases in which people touched the body of Jesus or even only indirectly (e.g., the hem of His garment) and were physically healed. In none of these healings did Jesus say, “You receive my spiritual presence but not my local, physical one.” If we believe that the Eucharist is truly Christ’s Body and Blood, then any theology which suggests that its material aspect is not affected by its immaterial one is not Orthodox. It seems to me to be Nestorian or gnostic (take your pick).

On the contrary, it is precisely because the immateriality of the Eucharist affects its materiality that both healing and sickness can come. Christ is truly present in us when we commune. It is just like when people touched Him in the Gospels.

Therefore, every calamity that comes, whether to a society or to an individual person, is understood as being not only within the permissive providence of God but actually given by Him for our repentance. My confessor once said this to me: “Everything in your life right now, everything — is God’s answer to your prayers for salvation.” So if I contract the virus, it is so that I can make use of that opportunity to repent.

Wait, does that mean that everyone who gets sick is being punished by God? No, it does not mean that. God’s justice doesn’t work like that. Rather, physical ailments are given for our repentance. There were many saints who, even while healing others, suffered physical ailments throughout their lives and even died from them. But they were given by God for their perfection. And of course many martyrs who were superb in their faithfulness were not spared by God from martyrdom. Suffering is not incidental to human life. It is rather the means of our repentance, the means of our salvation.

Spoons, Social Distancing and Hand Sanitizer

So what about all these measures that have been so controversial, such as the use of multiple spoons (sometimes sanitized with ethanol), limiting attendance at church, telling people not to kiss icons or the priest’s hand, or hand sanitizer stations everywhere?

I believe that there is room for honest disagreement about these things and that, in most cases, they do not represent a failure of faith. There are religions out there that would say that even vitamins are a sign of lack of faith, but Orthodox Christianity is not one of them. Safeguarding your physical health through material means does not mean that you do not have faith. After all, if taken to its logical extreme, we also should not eat or exercise, etc., just trusting that God will provide all our needs without our having to do anything at all.

There is no contradiction between believing that the Eucharist is truly Christ’s Body and Blood, that it is life-giving and the medicine of immortality, and also taking steps to improve and guard your physical health in this life.

As a friend of mine in the priesthood recently said to me, “It was never about the spoon.” The spoon that we Orthodox have now been using for around a millennium was devised not for fear of viruses, because of course viruses were not understood to exist when it was adopted. Rather, the spoon was adopted for the sake of reverence — making sure people didn’t drop the Body and Blood on the floor or take it home for sorcerous purposes.

But it’s not like the shared sacrificial meal is truly “sanitary,” however we distribute it to people. (It’s therefore no wonder that some governments in Europe have banned communion entirely.) And it’s also not like Jesus Christ didn’t know about viruses when He said “Do this as My remembrance” or like the Holy Spirit forgot to mention it to the Apostles and Fathers who followed and obeyed that command.

No, really, it’s not about the spoon.

So if it’s not about the spoon, what exactly is the problem? The problem is the bad theology being used to push for liturgical change. I don’t think lasting liturgical change is likely, but I do think that people might be damaged by bad theology, especially in revising our teaching on the Eucharist.

But there is also some bad theology being pushed by some who react against the revisionists. As I mentioned above, some say that there is basically a wall of protection around those who are in church services. But we have received no such promise from the Lord, that you cannot get a virus from other people in church or that (prosperity gospel alert!) that you can only get sick if you don’t have enough faith. And, worst of all, I am aware of people being urged to disobey their bishops over these things.

I personally am against using multiple spoons, especially where a rationale is given that essentially accepts a materialist understanding of disease and the Eucharist. I am not, however, going to stand in judgment of clergy who are implementing multiple spoons, etc., especially not those who are obeying their bishops, who will themselves give an answer to God for how they ruled the Church.

How I think we need to change our conversation is summarized here: “For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8).

All comes to us from God and is for our salvation. That does not mean that we, whether passively or cavalierly, should do nothing to help tend to our and others’ physical health, saying that God will simply decide whether we live or die and we should not do anything differently in the midst of pandemic.

God has given us doctors and farmers and pharmacists and our own reason to help us do this good work for others and for ourselves. And I do believe that there is a range of acceptable opinion based on our best guesses as to what will work in this regard.

If you look at an icon of St. Panteleimon or other unmercenary healing saints, you often see them holding a medicine box. So like the unmercenary healers of our Orthodox tradition, we both pray and also administer medicine to the sick, seeing all as from the Lord, even sickness itself. Prayer is from the Lord, medicine is from the Lord, and sickness is from the Lord.

God did not create our world for suffering, and He did not bring suffering into the world. But He entered into our suffering so that it might become salvific for us. The dark powers were not expecting Him to do that. Suffering is now the means of repentance, the means of the passage through resurrection into life eternal.

We don’t need to rewrite tradition or foment rebellion in order to live the gospel during a viral pandemic. We just need to dive more deeply into the Scriptures and into what our worship actually says about itself and what it does.

21 comments:

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful article, Father.

    We also have to consider similar problematics arising from the other “direction” (so to speak) of the situation. The question isn’t only what the Eucharist is (or isn’t or does etc), it’s also what a virus is. It would seem that God created viruses and bacteria, along with a host of other things that can harm human beings from wolves to parasites to rock-slides. Very often our vision of creation and our theology fail to take any of this into account–we are saturated instead with an idyllic view of nature and creation that seems not to be *quite* the image the creator had in mind (given what is around us).

    Why are their viruses in the first place? You touch on this here insofar as viruses are *at least* in part something that can lead us to repentance and humility. But do they also have a telos unto themselves in the eyes of the creator?

    I haven’t the foggiest notion, by the way, but I do wonder.

  2. Father bless,
    Thank you for the great article and a sane approach to this issue. I had one question though pertaining to the judgement in the communion. How does this mesh with what is found in the liturgy (both in the OCA and the Serbian Orthodox church I attend) which reads: May the communion of Thy Holy Mysteries be neither to my judgment, nor to my condemnation, O Lord, but to the healing of soul and body?
    I always look forward to your articles and responses.

  3. The body and blood of Christ are either immaculate, or not, and Christ is literally present, or not. Are heavenly things to be sought above earthly things? Until this, the faithful have believed they are.

    The question is, why now, with this specific novel coronavirus ? And will this be our response with every single novel coronavirus or influenza virus from now on? If so, what are the criteria? If not, why not?

    Lord have mercy on our lack of faith and trust.

  4. Hi Fr Andrew,
    Many thanks for the article very true in all aspects. I will add my humble thoughts and forgive me for my english mistakes not my native mother language. I will make it as points. 1) why orthodox faithful fear of death or catching a virus? To be honest that will bring me closer to the master as long I have christ in me and ask the lord to have mercy on me a sinner. 2) Even if spoon or chalice or cloth is infected, the body and blood of the lord will cure the faithful as long you have true faith and examined yourself before approaching the chalice. 3)Having one spoon to me suppose to unit us all the faithful as one body and share our burden in accepting in faith and obedience whatever other person touching the spoon has. What’s the point saying we all members of the same body but we pick different spoon and I like to have it cleaned. 4) if touching relics of holly saints can bring dead people back to life imagine taking the body and blood can do for sure! God blesses us and open our eyes and heart to strengthen. Amen

  5. Father, thank you for your thoughts. I’m wondering about the concept of obedience to a bishop. Are priests supposed to blindly obey their bishop, even if the bishop tells them to do something blasphemous or heretical? Who’s sin is it, if the priest blindly obeys while doing something heretical or blasphemous? The bishop or the priest’s or both? I’ve heard various answers on this and I’d be curious to see how you understand the issue.

  6. Thank You Father for yet another great article. Please forgive me, however; as a former Roman Catholic and now a OCA member I have heard the same misconception about the Adoration of the Blessed Scarment. In this article you stated

    “I would say that this seems to me the origin of some of the Eucharistic piety of the Roman Catholic Church, such as perpetual adoration chapels in which the faithful adore the Eucharist outside the mass and do not commune of it”

    The Host that is consecrated is held in the Tabernacle, until it is used for Adoration. Afterwards it is placed back, then used as a “supply” host for communion of the faithful both at Mass or who is sick or unable to attend Mass for any length of time. It is a splendid opportunity for the faithful to literally sit in the true presence of Christ himself; exposed to us, like he was exposed to our sins on the cross. Perpetual Adoration allows the faithful to literally present themselves and their sins to the awesome mystery of his presence in the species of a bread which has become his Body. As a former Master of Ceremonies in the Latin Rite, I can assure you that all Consecrated elements are consumed by the faithful in a reasonable amount of time.

    1. Right, I understand that. I know that the hosts put in the monstrance are eventually consumed. But perpetual adoration chapels are not used for communing but for adoration. In other words, the Eucharist is removed from the mass and used for something else other than communion, even if it will eventually be returned back for that purpose.

      1. I really appreciated this article except for the aside about the origin of Eucharistic piety in the Catholic Church. Forgive me, as a Catholic interested in the Orthodox Church, I did not know that Eastern Orthodox do not adore Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist as Catholics do. The practice can be dated back to the ancient Church and has continued to this day.
        Indeed, the Bread of Presence or Bread of the Face of God (Showbread) in the Jewish Temple prefigured the practice of Eucharistic adoration. This bread was kept on a golden table outside the Holy of Holies. It was displayed to the people for a whole week before it was consumed by the priests. Regarding the men who came up to Jerusalem for the three feasts each year as required by the Jewish law, both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud record:
        “They (the priests) used to lift it (the golden table) up and exhibit the Bread of the Presence on it to those who came up for the festivals, saying to them “Behold, God’s love for you!” (Babylonian Talmud, Menahoth 29A)
        A few excerpts from “The History of Eucharistic Adoration” by John A. Hardon, S.J.:
        “…the early hermits reserved the Eucharist in their cells. From at least the middle of the third century, it was very general for the solitaries in the East, especially in Palestine and Egypt, to preserve the consecrated elements in the caves or hermitages where they lived. The immediate purpose of this reservation was to enable the hermits to give themselves Holy Communion. But these hermits were too conscious of what the Real Presence was not to treat it with great reverence and not to think of it as serving a sacred purpose by just being nearby.
        . . .
        “It is interesting to note that one of the first unmistakable references to reserving the Blessed Sacrament is found in a life of St. Basil (who died in 379). Basil is said to have divided the Eucharistic Bread into three parts when he celebrated Mass in the monastery. One part he consumed, the second part he gave to the monks, and the third he placed in a golden dove suspended over the altar.
        . . .
        “Some writers trace the first beginnings of perpetual adoration to the late fourth century, when converts to the faith in some dioceses were to adore the Blessed Sacrament exposed for eight days after their baptism. It is certain, however, that even before the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi in 1264 not only religious in convents and monasteries but the laity practiced Eucharistic adoration.
        . . .
        “After his victory over the Albigenses, King Louis VII of France asked the Bishop of Avignon to have the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the Chapel of the Holy Cross (September 14, 1226). The throng of adorers was so great that the bishop decided to have the adoration continue day and night. This was later ratified by the Holy See and continued uninterrupted until 1792 during the French Revolution. It was resumed in 1829.”
        Catholics adore the reserved Eucharist because we believe the Sacrament holds the Mystery of God’s Presence, redemptive Sacrifice, and Communion, and because it is the ancient and continual practice of the Church.
        Thank you, Father, for your excellent blog. God bless you in your ministry!

  7. Thank you, Fr. Andrew. I am glad for your interaction with 1Cor 11 – a rare occurrence in this whole discussion & debate. Respectfully, I hope you may appreciate one suggestion regarding the sin for which some of the Corinthians were disciplined. It seems, in that context the sin was not that of irreverence, but rather, it was their lack of love (as is also indicated elsewhere in the letter), manifested specifically by their divisions/factions. Their divisions are clearly identified in the introduction of the pericope in vs 18. This sin was especially egregious since it missed the very point of the New Covenant sacrificial meal inaugurated by our Lord. The promise of the New Covenant was epitomized by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit – the internal law of God in the hearts of his people (Jer. 31:33). This internal law was intended to manifest itself in love, unity and the bond of peace in Christ. Therefore, because of their divisions, instead of participating in the blessings of the New Covenant in Christ, they were eating and drinking judgment via the Lord’s discipline. Their sin was against Christ and all those in Christ – his body, the church. That is why, in the chiastic center of his corrective on the significance of their actions (26-32), St. Paul purposely singles out “not discerning the body” (not pairing it with “blood”). This also coincides with his previous reference to the Lord’s Supper in 1Cor 10, where he explained, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread”.

    1. There are numerous sins for which St. Paul castigates the Corinthians, but the whole of 1 Cor. 11 is about how to conduct oneself at worship. It is true that the Corinthians had a lack of love, which is part of their irreverence (v. 21-22). Several things are listed in the chapter as what’s wrong with the way they come together as the church — immodesty, sexual immorality, drunkenness, impatience, etc. All of this is his correction for former pagans who were used to doing all these things in the idolatrous sacrificial system which was Corinth’s worship especially of Demeter. (Indeed, much of the whole epistle is about dealing with people who can’t shake their idolatrous habits.)

      I very much recommend listening to Fr. Stephen De Young’s verse-by-verse explication of 1 Corinthians on AFR. Here are the episodes for chapter 11:

      https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/wholecounsel/1_corinthians_chapter_11
      https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/wholecounsel/1_corinthians_chapter_11_conclusion

  8. We take out poisonous spiders, other insects and debris from a cup and a spoon to keep them from ingestion. Why don’t we rely on the Body and Blood to neutralize them? Right! It is not magic! We also wash the utensils used for Eucharist. In case of the virus, the difference is the invisibility to the human eye. Should we refuse to clean the spoon after each partaker or use individual clean spoons if we don’t see potentially harmful stuff with our eyes?

    If we claim a piece of protein, acid (RNA, DNA) or arsenic salt to be a tool of the evil one, then we will have to agree that the devil can kill us by creating substances that can harm us. In this case we arrive to a dead end and our Orthodoxy is void.

    If we think that a virus has an intent to infect and kill us, we fall into Aristotelian natural philosophy ascribing volition to inanimate objects, e.g. proteins, acids, metals and salts…

  9. Very great article. MUCH needed during these crazy times.

    There was one part that rather confused me or, to be more specific, shocked me.

    You mentioned that you would not judge priests who administered using multiple spoons if they were doing so at the orders of their bishop. If one assumes that using multiple spoons is an implied theological statement that the Eucharist is either corruptible or it does not remove death and disease to all it touches, then using multiple spoons would be against the dogma of the Church concerning what the Eucharist does. It becomes an implied “approved” theological deviation where we are catering to erroneous belief about the Eucharist. If this is correct, then it would be placing that participant in a position of taking communion unworthily since they are receiving it while inadvertently confessing a gnostic view of the Eucharist. Does this make sense?

    Perhaps I misunderstood you, Fr.Damick, but for the sake of argument let’s say my assessment and concern above is accurate and thus we should absolutely not use multiple spoons. Shouldn’t you disobey your bishop if he orders you to do something which is against the dogma’s of the Church? Shouldn’t you obey God rather than man? Do we simply blindly follow Bishop orders REGARDLESS of what those orders are (afterall, the great historical heresies came from Bishops)? For I can think of no other time to disobey Bishops then when they ask you to do things that would be an egregious theological error.

    I constantly hear throughout society how various people are immune to doing morally suspicious and even evil actions because they were “following orders”. The greatest evils in human history happened because people were just “following orders”.

    I know the point of your article was not to dive so much into the nature of authority and Bishops, but I don’t see how that doesn’t play a central role in this discussion since it involves what the priests ultimately end up doing in the parishes.

    Thanks for your time.

    1. Why is it that so many put the word blindly in front of words like obey and follow orders these days? Is it possible that obedience might be something other than blind?

      If there were a dogmatic, conciliar decision of the Church that mandated a single spoon for distributing communion, then certainly it would be heretical to do anything but that (including, I would imagine, in cases where there were multiple chalices being used). There is not such a dogmatic decision, however. So this is a question of inference and liturgical application. Judging whether using multiple spoons is inherently evil is not the purpose of my article, however. And such a determination really ought to come from the successors to the apostles, who have been given the authority to make rulings on these matters. (As I like to say sometimes, many Orthodox love the idea of having apostolic successors until those men make decisions they don’t like.)

      To answer your question, though, of course no one is obligated to obey a bishop who tells him to sin or to teach heresy. I said that elsewhere in the comments already.

      1. Fr. Damick,

        Thanks for taking the time to respond. I apologize for not having read the previous comments where you addressed the notion of obedience.

        Concerning saying “blindly” in front of obey: In your article you said you wouldn’t judge clergy for using multiple spoons, “especially those obeying their bishops”. The context of this whole discussion is about the nature of what the Eucharist can DO and thus issues of dogma and heresy are certainly at the forefront. So, for where I am standing, offering multiple spoons has a serious theological implications. It is indicating either the Eucharist is corruptible OR it is incapable of making the spoon free of death and disease. Granted, I could be wrong about this implications and the idea of multiple spoons is not an theological deviation to accommodate people’s fears. But, if it is, then wouldn’t you think it IS heretical or blasphemous to established dogma of the Church to use multiple spoons? If this is the case, then refraining to not judge clergy for using multiple spoons BECAUSE of their obedience to bishops, sounds a lot like you are basing the rationality for doing something potentially heretical as morally excusable due to obedience to higher authority ALONE. If the bedrock of the argument is purely “out of obedience”, then inserting the word “blindly” does not seem strange nor sounds entirely unwarranted.

        Does this make sense?

        1. Yes, that makes sense, but I know almost no parish priest who simply obeys his bishop blindly, especially on things like this. I mean, who doesn’t have an opinion about this right now? Some might well be obeying even against their own preferences or their own inclination. The problem is that it is not a super-clear question as to whether multiple spoons can only mean heresy, because we don’t have an actual ruling from the Church addressing that specific question.

          Whatever the case, though, I’m not going to judge another man’s servant.

  10. If all suffering is allowed by God for our salvation, how do you explain it when infants suffer and die? Let’s say the parents are not in the picture, so this isn’t a case where the infant’s suffering and death might be beneficial to the parents’ repentance.

    1. It can only be “explained” from God’s vantage point, which I don’t have.

      It is certainly known, however, that the suffering of the righteous and innocent perfects them. Being perfected is not only about dealing with sins.

  11. I think you hit upon the essential point when you mentioned our lack of promise from the Lord to this effect. Faith is that which is directed towards God’s promises. People should cease going around and shouting about a quality in the Eucharist for which they have no word from the Lord. Christ has promised that He will meet us in a specific way through the gift of the Eucharist, and we receive the Eucharist with the understanding that He has met us in accordance with that divine word. If God has not promised that a person will *never* get sick by the act of communing as an instrument (and, as you pointed out, the New Testament’s closest thing to an explicit comment is its description of people getting sick from Communion), then people should not boast about their great faith in a promise which was never made. Doing so has the potential to do real damage to those of weaker faith, especially if the non-promise is visibly demonstrated to be unreliable. I have seen some truly disturbing things stated to parents of children with serious celiac disease.
    It seems to me that those associated with “traditional Orthodoxy” on social media (and for the record, my theology is so conservative that I’m a young-earth creationist, so I’m no apologist for theological liberalism) has become more and more sectarian over the past few years, and it may well come to an actual schism through the activity of a certain priest well-known in that circle for his opinion on baptism.

  12. Father Stephen I just found your article. I appreciate your rational approach. As to all the objections with a little bit of distance the heat seems to have disapated some.
    I think that most of the heat came not from the decisions themselves but from the perception that the descions were being made out of fear and an unholy submission to hostile government.
    I personally think the restrictions are overreach because I do not trust much of the do-called “science”.
    Nevertheless, I obey because I love and trust my bishop AND I look at it as a penance.
    My experience with penance is that when I enter into in thanksgiving, grace abounds.

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