AN ORTHODOX PRESENCE
Thoughts on the use Common Communion Spoon
This case of the covid-19 has stirred stagnant waters in many ways. It revealed all our fears. It pulled out the "fallen man", been kept at the bottom of our "spotless" image.
From the very beginning, when the covid-19 was still China's problem, the "vivid" orthodox Christians who keep themselves in a state of wakefulness, realized that the practice of the common communion spoons used for the reception of Holy Communion, would be questioned (let's avoid the concept of being targeted).
And those fears came true really quick.
Some theologians, laymen and clergy, proved extremely willing to provide a solution to an impending "problem". In particular, by publishing articles in the press, they proposed alternative Orthodox methods of "safe" Holy Communion practice.
Without delay, a few orthodox hierarchs implemented for their metropolises the practice of multiple spoons and washed clothes for the purpose of wiping the mouth.
All this practice has been theologically supported by the historical reality of the first eleven centuries where the clergy and the layman received the Holy Gifts separately, as only the clergy does today. When the layman approached, they extended their hands, right over left with their palms open, where the priest placed a portion of the holy Bread. After consuming the Bread, the communicants were offered the Cup by the deacon.
In other words, during the first eleven centuries, the communicants were sharing a common Cup.
In our rush to reconsider the way in which the Body and Blood of Christ would be received, we have missed the fact that the essential practice of the ''common Cup'' existed in the first eleven centuries.
(An extensive reference to the fundamental significance of the Common Cup speaking of Orthodoxes, is not our goal here. After all, anyone unfamiliar with this theology, either experientially or theologically, has a lack of catechism, which cannot be covered extensively in this section).
That is to say, the essential argument of the "reformers" is artificially focused on the practice of the common spoons (as a non-ancient practice) and leaves out of the discussion the ancient practice of the common Cup.
We must understand that the common spoons are not the ''problem'', because even if we solve this issue, another one still remains. The ''problem'' of the common Cup, which, as a practice, has a tradition of two thousand years. And if the "common" part of the practice is the issue, then why so much arguing on the spoon?
So, since the "problem" remains with the use of the "common Cup", instead of focusing on different spoons, it would be more normal and practical to offer the Body of Christ, sliced and placed on a disc where each Christian would get a portion. We could also put the Blood of Christ, in small separate glasses which every communicant would serve himself. Of course, there is also the proposal ''of Body parts dipped in Blood'' and taken by the communicants.
But all this would automatically undermine the theology of the participation in something which is ''common''.
Of course, you would argue on this, by telling that what is "common" in this case, would be the bread that was sliced and the bottle of wine that was shared.
We can accept all this as well, although all that is at the heart of our faith must be accepted by the body of the Church. From a synod and not from individuals.
Let's look at another aspect of this issue, which Christians didn't give any thought at all.
We all agree on the historicity of the data cited for tradition until the 11th century. We could also agree with the fact that the change of this tradition has been characterized as "modernity" as some claim.
But we cannot help but acknowledge that another tradition has been established for almost a millennium. Maybe not so theologically crucial (dogmatic), but certainly not problematic, since for a thousand years it did not cause a problem.
In addition, this "new" tradition has highlighted a daily tangible miracle, of paramount importance for the "weak in faith" which is a significant cause of concern. For two thousand years,, the Orthodox Church has argued (not naively), that participation in the Common Cup (through the common spoon) does not transmit diseases. Thus, it highlights a recurring tangible miraculous event.
An unquestionable miracle, with very strong scientific arguments (theory, observation, experiment), since a thousand years of using a common spoon and another thousand years of common Cup, they did not eradicate the priests from the face of the earth, nor did they reduce their life expectancy.
Although the priests belong (according to health scientists), to the most unhealthy "profession" in the world, since they are consuming (many on a daily basis) all the rest of the "Bread and Wine", using the same spoon and the same cup shared with millions others seriously ill in parishes and hospitals (often Infectious Diseases Hospitals), do not get themselves sick.
And while one can question the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the real Body and Blood of Christ, which is the essential, insurmountable and supernatural miracle, it is impossible to question something completely inferior and extremely insignificant, that of non-transmission of diseases through of this obvious "sick" practice of the common spoon and the common Cup.
Paradoxically, the ''weak in faith'' for two thousand years, can be led from the humble and the insignificant things, to the essentials of our faith.
Now we are facing a new practice, which practically questions God's glory revelation, during a thousand years and actually conceals and deprives future generations of a tangible miracle.
After all the above and since there is no room for doubt, some will add to the concern, the argument of "pastoral" management as another issue.
The main argument here is "how does the church stand pastorally towards those who don't believe, or have a weak faith?" The position of those who are in favor of changing the practice of Holy Communion is that we must not place people in front of dilemmas that they are not ready to face.
However, it is a bit difficult to agree with this kind of "pastoral" management, as it is not clear how a "weak in faith" can be helped, by the practical acceptance by the Church of the possibility, his fear to have a base. How can be helped by the acceptance of possibility of being infected by using a common spoon full with the Body and Blood of his God;
The faithful and in fact the "weak in faith", in addition to high theological positions (which can become food for emotion and fantasies), also need tangible "evidence" to strengthen their faith.
Evidence that satisfies even his logic and his senses. That's because he's human. Because if we modern Christians make a mistake, most probably will be that we have eradicated from our lives, logic and experience, and often replacing them with sentimentality and fantasy.
An interesting food for thought is the following fact.
Professor Christos Giannaras several years ago, in the TV show "Archontariki", hosted by the current metropolitan Ignatios (Dimitriados), asked the following at the end of the show:
"What I fear so much, now that my hair has turned white, what I fear most in the life of the Church as we say, is the confusion between the psychological and the real. To what extent, when I have a euphoria of emotions, when I have a psychological well-being, to what extent do they represent reality? And to illustrate it! It's painful, but there are people who have lived a whole life in this psychological and religious euphoria, and once the threat of death appears, then everything falls apart! Which shows that what I have built so far has not been a relationship, it was not the certainty that they are waiting for me, that a love that embraces me beyond the grave awaits me, but it was an individual-centered psychological sufficiency. How do you see this as a problem? ''
Metropolitan Ignatios agreed with professors ascertainment which (maybe) describes the situation of the Church today and explains our fear.
The way I participate in Holy Communion is the way I relate with God and people. The ease of changing the way of relating, highlights the truth of professor Giannara's ascertainment.
However, the fear in the Common Cup did not come "out of the blue". Those of us who participate in the Divine Liturgies have noticed and it caused pain. It begins many years ago, at the same time as our "civilization", the rationalization of everything and finally the ideologicalization of our faith.
You see mothers trampling old people, in order for their children to get there first and maintain their position upfront for the Common Cup, before this Cup has been "infected" by an elder or by a patient. And all the other Christians urge and open a corridor to any parent with a child waiting in line, even if he does not want to overtake, even if he trusts his relationship with the Common Cup, his relationship with God. Many believe that it is a pity for a child to follow an elderly person. "Who knows what diseases he carries!"
With sorrow we often see priests (mostly abroad) offering the Holy Gifts to communicants, by emptying the spoon with a decisive movement in the open mouth without touching it.
Alas, we have changed the life-giving relationship with God and brothers. Into a relationship of disgust and death.
Of course, our fear and skepticism are not so easily cured. This difficulty, however, is not a reason to degrade the Truth in order to make it digestible. If, due to our "weakness", the participation in the Common Cup is not based on absolute trust in the relationship, it can be based on simple pedagogical practice (as a tradition), which is obviously deficient theologically, but not ''a priori'' rejectable, since this pedagogy can lead to a "good relationship".
That is to say, the approach based on trust in the relationship is certainly the theological crown, but the approach based on tradition is not insignificant, and could be the beginning of a dynamic course, which will gradually lead to the relationship. We all start this way and usually stay in this state for many many years.
Many people say that ''the spoon is just a spoon''. So they will easily boil it for "disinfection", or they will burn it.
The above could be explained below :
If ''the spoon is just a spoon'', then "Peter's shadow is just a shadow" (Acts 5: 15-16), "Christ's clothes is just a cloth" (Luke). η΄41-56), ''the handkerchiefs of the Apostle Paul, are just handkerchiefs'' (Acts 19: 11-12), ''the relics of the saints, they are just bones'', ''the Cross and the icons in our church, they are just wood and paints'', ''holy water is just water '', ''Baptism is just water bath'', ''Chrismation and Unction, they are just oils''. After all, this ''Body and Blood'' of Christ is just ''wine and bread".
Removing the miracle from the Christian's life, what is left!
A life full of death.
Thus, ignoring the two-thousand-year experience and tradition of our Church, which considers that even this inanimate nature can be a source of sanctification and glory of God, we end up with a Divine Grace, which is pure fantasy and sentimentality. We end up living a morbid imaginary life that develops in an environment of rituals and symbolism, that keeps the fear of death intact, that keeps the fallen man intact and incurable in a deadly state.
To conclude, it should be emphasized that any practice of receiving Holy Communion does not affect at least the one who proceeded with the belief in the relationship (trust), but it may affect the one who is still in the stage of beliefs and ideas. Negative, or positive? This is the question. Most likely negative for developing a relationship. Because if the "mother" poses a dilemma of "breastfeeding security", the "child" will be shaken in his relationship.
Yes, indeed, any practice of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ may not violate, contradict, or jeopardize any dogmatic teaching. But certainly not all practices can be characterized as positive. It seems that the Church, in order to preserve its unity, will eventually accept the ''de facto'' new practice.
But this is far from being a spiritual progress. It is a setback and we must rather feel sorrow and pain.
After a millennium, people will say, "A thousand years ago, Christians shared a Common Cup and a Common Spoon, without fear and without getting sick."
They will then find all this unbelievable. How many would crave to experience this transcendence.
Thank God, we maybe were the last to claim to be among those who lived this experience!
Read the text in Greek here
Some of the posts that triggered the above thoughts: