Why does the Orthodox Church quarrel over a spoon?

Why does the Orthodox Church quarrel over a spoon?

In the Orthodox Church, the holy communion is usually given to faithful using the same spoon for everyone. In the light of coronavirus measures, this tradition has been subject of discussion – and was even changed by the Catholic Church. In Greece, however, an intense discussion between government representatives and the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church is going on, for the Holy Synod is refusing to change its tradition.

Missed traditions
The Greek typically like their traditions very much. However, due to coronavirus, Greek faithful have had to miss many traditions. They could not hold a procession on Good Friday, there were no fireworks at midnight, and they could not go to church on Easter Sunday.[1] The church service could not even be followed at home, because the Resurrection Mass was postponed altogether.[2] It was finally celebrated on May 26, albeit in a slightly different form because of the coronavirus measures.[3]

Contradicting voices
The coronavirus measures were imposed by the Greek government in March. At first, the archbishop of Greece called for every faithful to make their home a small church, considering they could not meet in their usual churches anymore.[4] However, not all religious leaders did respond as well to the rules of the government as the archbishop. For example, the bishop of Corfu called his faithful to still come to church, although a curfew was in place and one needed permission to go out for exercise or grocery shopping.[5] In addition, after one month of lockdown and with Easter celebrations in sight, the archbishop turned to the Prime Minister, asking him to allow churches to reopen within the lines of the safety measures.[6]

More friction between the Orthodox Church and government
The most important sacrament within Christianity – especially for the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church – is the Eucharist. In the Orthodox Church, the same spoon is used to distribute the holy communion of bread and wine to all faithful. Because a shared spoon is a risk for spreading coronavirus, the Catholic Church has changed the way the Eucharist is given. Faithful now get the hosti (the bread they believe is Christ’s body) in their hands, instead of receiving it directly into their mouth.[7] However, the Greek Orthodox Church is not willing to change the tradition at all. This has led to friction between the Greek minister of education and religious affairs, Niki Kerameus, and the Orthodox Church, with a bishop threatening to excommunicate her, because she stated that the traditional way the Eucharist is distributed is a danger during the coronavirus pandemic.[8]

In May, Bishop Amvrosios wanted to excommunicate three government representatives in Greece: the aforementioned minister of education and religious affairs, the head of the civil protection, and the Prime Minister. All three stated that coronavirus can be spread by the traditional way still used by the Orthodox Church during the Holy Communion. The Holy Synod (the ruling body of the Greek Orthodox Church) said that only they, and not just any bishop, can excommunicate someone, so the excommunication did not really take place.[9] However, the Holy Synod did place a statement saying that the Holy Communion cannot transfer coronavirus to others, for it is the body and blood of Christ, and so it is holy and it is a “manifestation of love”. Stating otherwise is considered blasphemy.[10] [11] [12]

Astrid Hamberg

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[1] Greek Holy Week in Coronavirus Times: Seven Traditions We Will Miss this Year
[2] Greece to Celebrate Easter Divine Liturgy at Midnight May 26
[3] Greece to Finally Celebrate Pascha on Tuesday
[4] Archbishop Ieronymos on Coronavirus: ”Let’s Make Every Home a Small Church”
[5] Bishop of Corfu Calls on People to Thwart Rules, Receive Communion in Churches
[6] Archbishop asks Greek PM to allow churches to open, Apostolos Lakasas | Kathimerini
[7] Catholic Church Changes Holy Communion Procedure
[8] Bishop threatens minster with excommunication | News
[9] Bishop Amvrosios excommunicates PM Mitsotakis, Religion Minister
[10] No coronavirus risk from holy communion, says Holy Synod | Kathimerini
[11] Despite COVID-19 Fears, Holy Communion Ritual in Greek Orthodox Church Goes On
[12] Holy Synod defends Holy Communion, decries yoga | News