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Question 295

A question regarding holy communion. With the way viruses get spread etc, it does concern me that one spoon is used for all.

 

Answer to Question 295

 

For centuries this was and is the accepted form for receiving Holy Communion in the Orthodox Church and the question of whether it was unhygienic never arose. It is only now in our age and specifically with the Aids virus that people have questioned if they could become contaminated with the virus. 

 

Theologically, the Orthodox Church cannot accept that the Sacrament would be a source of illness, since it teaches that it is a “medicine of immortality.” But also, not one single case of the transmission of any illness has been reported as coming from participation in the Sacrament. There is also scientific evidence that saliva inhibits the transmission of all kinds of microbes, including the AIDS virus. This scientific evidence is rather old and dated to 1988. Let’s just hope it is still valid. Nevertheless we should not fear to have Holy Communion. It is the very Body and Blood of our Lord which cannot be contaminated. It should also be reassuring that we priests are called to give communion to the terminally ill including those who suffer from AIDS, thus we are exposed to this virus on the frontline so to speak, yet no Orthodox Priest has caught AIDS or any other illness in this way.

 

Same member

It's a tricky subject indeed and not one where I want to insist that what I believe is true, is right. As you say scientifically its old research but from what I know saliva does transmit. We can't be totally free of bugs and germs I know this, but would it be acceptable to bring our own spoons? That way its only dipped once into the holy communion cup and would be clean. There are people I know who avoid communion cause of the fear of bugs etc. It's just my thoughts

 

Reply

Back in July we had a debate on this subject and someone asked why other Christian churches have moved on and now use a little plastic cup with the bread wafer enclosed and if this is something that could be introduced into the Greek Orthodox Church, as it seems more hygienic. Your question is similar asking if we can bring our own spoon or even have plastic spoons that can then be disposed of.  This is what I answered then which is still valid. 

 

Those other Christian Churches are protestant and most Protestants believe that the Eucharist, in other words, Holy Communion is just a mere symbol and not the actual presence of Jesus Christ. Protestants do not believe that the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, but are simply symbols and types which represent Christ’s body and blood. Of course our eyes see bread and wine and our tongue senses the taste of bread and wine, but things are not as they appear. From the moment the Holy Spirit descended and the Sacrament was perfected, we no longer have that which we see with our eyes or taste with our tongue. We have that which we believe, worship and adore. We have the very Body and Blood of our Christ who communicates to us life and incorruptibility.

 

 Orthodox Christians believe that Holy Communion is the actual Flesh and Blood of Jesus Christ (under the appearance of bread and wine) because this is what Christ has told us and because that is what all Christians believed up to the Renaissance era. Even the first Protestants believed this. It was only latter day Protestants, specifically the Ana-Baptist sect that denied the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharist. To believe it is merely symbolic is to embrace the gospel of the Ana-Baptists and not the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the whole of Orthodox Christianity including the first Protestants.

 

Christ commanded us to re-enact the Last Supper. He commanded that Christians “Do this in remembrance of me.” Protestants pass out shots of grape juice in plastic cups and chili crackers as if this fulfils the commandment of our Lord and Saviour. No Blessing? No proclamation of the sacred Words of Our Lord on Holy Thursday? No consecration of the Bread and Wine? Our Lord commands us in Luke 22:17-20 to re-enact the Last Supper as He prescribed. 

 

You mention plastic cups and yesterday some people mentioned plastic spoons, but what do we do with these plastic items when we have finished? Do we throw them in the bin as though they are nothing? If they came into contact with the Body and Blood of Christ, they still have traced of his Blood on them. Do we then show such disrespect to Christ’s Blood by throwing him into the rubbish bin? Whatever comes into contact with Christ’s Body and Blood automatically becomes a holy vessel and must be treated accordingly. Protestants can use plastic cups because for them the grape juice they give is only symbolic and nothing else.

 

Another member

In the Church of England church attached to my sons school they drink from a chalice and that is wiped and turned for every person not from a plastic cup. In the same sense could the spoon be wiped?

 

Reply

Theoretically it could be wiped, but it is not practical. The priest holds the chalice in one hand with the red cloth attached between his fingers and the chalice and the spoon in the other. He would need an extra pair of hands to wipe the spoon every time he gives someone Communion. It would not be possible to allow the person having communion to wipe the spoon because they might pull at the cloth too forcefully which might caused the priest to spill the chalice.

 

You might like to know that from the beginning the church administered the Holy Gifts separately: people would first receive the body of Christ in the palm of their hands and then they were given the Blood from the chalice. At times people abused this and would take the Body home with them to commune on another day or for some other reason. To put a stop to this abuse of the Holy Gifts the Church decided to add the Body into the chalice and administered both together with the use of a spoon.

 

There is another way of giving communion without the spoon coming into direct contact with the person’s mouth or lips which is practiced at the Orthodox Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex. The person leans his head back slightly and opens his mouth wide enough and the priest drops the Holy Communion onto the tongue of the recipient and then removes the spoon without it coming into contact with the persons mouth or lips. Only when the spoon is completely clear of the mouth does the person close his mouth. It is an excellent practice, but it would mean re-educating our people and for all the Churches to follow suit.