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Orthodox Churches in Europe reject Covid safety measures

12 June 2020


A woman receives communion during an Orthodox liturgy at the Kazan Cathedral, St Petersburg, Russia, last Friday

A woman receives communion during an Orthodox liturgy at the Kazan Cathedral, St Petersburg, Russia, last Friday

ORTHODOX Churches in Europe celebrated the Eastern Pentecost on Sunday, amid disputes about the safe receiving of communion. A common approach had been sought by the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I.

In Russia, where public services resumed last Saturday (News, 22 May), masked congregations were allowed to receive communion with the traditional Orthodox silver spoon, although priests were instructed to disinfect the spoon with alcohol between recipients.

But the use of disinfectant or disposable spoons was rejected by other Churches, including those of Greece and Cyprus, where Archbishop Chrysostomos II insisted that he would not “discuss or negotiate any change” in the traditional distribution of communion.

In a mid-May letter to Orthodox leaders, Patriarch Bartholomew said that he hoped to ensure “uniformity as far as possible” on the administration of communion after receiving “questions and concerns” from Orthodox communities in response to government Covid-19 regulations.

“We have obeyed the health and political authorities so long as the essence and centrality of our faith are not touched,” Patriarch Bartholomew, who is recognised as honorary Primate among 14 of the main Orthodox Churches, said. “We will not obey the magistrates and authorities of this world if the key mystery of the divine eucharist is questioned.”

A senior Russian Orthodox priest, Nikolai Balashov, told the agency RIA Novosti that his Church would not respond to Bartholomew’s letter, after cutting ties with his Ecumenical Patriarchate in 2019 over its recognition of a new Church in Ukraine (News, 8 February 2019, 21 September 2018).

Patriarch Daniel Ciobotea, of the Romanian Orthodox Church, however, also defended the traditional practice, and said that he had now withdrawn permission for parishioners who were “weak in faith” to bring communion spoons from home, after complaints that this could set a liturgical precedent.

“To overcome polarisation and polemics which weaken Orthodox unity, hasty judgements must be avoided,” Patriarch Ciobotea said in a message at the weekend. “The holy eucharist is not, and never can be, a source of sickness and death — only a source of new life in Christ, forgiveness of sins, and healing for soul and body.”

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