New York.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Archbishop Elpidophoros of America directed the parish priests of the Direct Archdiocesan District (New York, Connecticut and Washington, D.C.), as a temporary measure only, to offer the Holy Communion by using multiple metal spoons that will be single use during the distribution. In a memo dated May 18 and marked for priests only, that “should not under any circumstance be posted, shared or copied to email or social media”, directives are given to the priest belonging to the Metropolis of the Archbishop regarding church services.
This is the only Metropolis of the Archdiocese of America offering multiple spoons as for the Holy Communion. The other Metropolitans chose either not to mention anything, or in the case of the Metropolitan of Atlanta to write that it will be offered the regular way.
On Thursday, May 21st, the Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo allowed church services in the presence of ten people.
Dr. George Pavlakis, head of the Human Retrovirus Section of the Vaccine Branch at the National Institute of Health in Washington, DC, applauded the decision by his Eminence.
“As a scientist I am happy for the decision of the Archbishop of America to develop a responsible protocol for the protection of the people that participate in church services and want communion. The instructions of the Archdiocese for church going and for individual communion service, if applied faithfully, help in the protection of the public and they are also in agreement with the orders of the state authorities.”
A LONG PATH TO NORMALITY
Having shut their doors for over two months, limiting services to 3-5 people even during the Holy Week, Greek Orthodox Churches across America are getting ready to start a careful path to return to normal conditions. The path is difficult because the eight metropolises of our Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America cover fifty states with different conditions, laws and regulations. And in spite of the announcement by President Trump on Friday that church services are considered “essential” and they are allowed, it’s the Governors of each state that have the authority to regulate.
All Orthodox Churches across America, under the direction of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the USA (Presided by Archbishop Elpidophoros) had formed a very useful “COVID-19 Parish Reopening Toolkit” that is used by all parishes.
All Metropolises, in spite of the different state policies, move ahead with the reopening with very careful steps. Some priests improvise in order to allow as many as possible to attend the services. At the Church of Archangel Michael they will utilize the huge parking space for allowing people listen to the liturgy from their cars. This drive-in liturgy was welcomed by many parishioner in Port Washington, New York.
At the Metropolis of Atlanta that covers states with the most lax policies, Metropolitan Alexios issued a very extensive directive about the re-opening and the safety measures in the churches. In Atlanta – as in every other Metropolis – wearing a mask is absolutely necessary.
“Wearing Masks – Although local laws may not require masks to be worn, everyone attending services must wear a mask from age 2 and above. If a parishioner refuses to wear a mask, is uncomfortable wearing one or experiences difficulty breathing while wearing one during the service, this may be an indication that they are part of the vulnerable population and should remain home, and the clergy will make the appropriate pastoral accommodations for them to receive the sacraments if they so choose”, says Metropolitan Alexios.
In Boston, where the Governor of Massachusetts allowed church services provided they will be attended with 40% capacity, Metropolitan Methodios advised the parish priests not to rush to re-open, unless they are absolutely ready.
‘If a parish, after careful and deliberate preparation, considers that they are able to meet all of the State and Local guidelines, they may begin to open their doors as early as this coming Sunday, May 24. The majority of our parishes, however, may well need more time to prepare, and may choose Sunday, May 31, or even June 7, the Feast of Pentecost, as the date for their reopening. Parishes should not resume public worship before they are ready, and the decision to delay the reopening may very well be the best decision for a particular community. No matter what the start date, no parish should open its doors for public worship unless they can do it safely, and in compliance with the guidelines.”
In New Jersey Metropolitan Evangelos presented in an extensive directive a three phase reopening process.
PHASE I: The Liturgy will be celebrated with 10% less capacity than allowed by the local and state authorities.*In the event there is a conflict between the State, County, or Local Authorities as to operating Capacity of a parish, the more restrictive requirement must be used in calculating participation.
PHASE II: The Liturgy will be celebrated according to the capacity imitations issued by the local and state authorities.*In the event there is a conflict between the State, County, or Local Authorities as to operating Capacity of a parish, the more restrictive requirement must be used in calculating participation.
Once all local and state capacity limitations are lifted, the Liturgy will once again be celebrated at full capacity, open to ALL Parishioners.
Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco wrote in his latest pastoral letter that “We rejoice that a glimmer of hope is beginning to appear, so it is incumbent on us to prepare for a transition back to parish life. As municipalities are beginning to lift restrictions, our parishes will soon be able to worship together once more. Depending on state regulations, attendance at the Divine Liturgy will be restricted. Some localities, unfortunately, will continue to prohibit gatherings of more than a handful for church services due to ongoing health concerns, so those parishes must continue worshipping from afar. My prayer is that as soon as a parish is able to resume services, it will have been thoroughly prepared, with a plan ready in place, and thus will be able to quickly and effectively return to worship, in compliance with local guidelines.”
In his long list of directions, Metropolitan Gerasimos responds to the question of many priests and parish council members on “How Should I Prepare?”
“ Be patient! We want you to return, but we want it to be accomplished in a safe and organized manner.
Those who have pre-existing health conditions and those who are over 65 are requested not to attend services.
If you are exhibiting any signs of illness, even symptoms not related to COVID-19, we ask that, for your own safety and those around you, please do not attend services.
If you do not have a mask, please obtain one. This will be necessary for you to wear when inside the church. If you arrive without one, the parish will provide one.
Please bring hand sanitizer with you. There will also be hand sanitizer available in the Narthex to use upon your arrival to church.”
Metropolitan Nathaniel of Chicago issued a comprehensive set of directives entitled “Reuniting Our People With Their Parish Homes”.
“The Metropolis of Chicago has been working diligently on a comprehensive set of directives and measures to help bring greater equilibrium to the care shown to body and soul. These guidelines are informed by modern science; however, they are also imbued with Orthodox theology—the queen of sciences. The directives found in, Reuniting Our People With Their Parish Homes, are meant to help our communities provide conditions for individual safety while remaining true to their Christian beliefs and identity. Though external rubrics may shift slightly during these times, our experience of God’s love remains the same.
The directives introduce overarching conditions that must be met across the entire six-state Metropolis; however, they also allow for variation based on the local parish reality, which is largely shaped by municipal, state, and federal laws and orders. Therefore, parishes in states with less stringent orders will include higher numbers of faithful in divine services than those parishes who must abide by more stringent governmental requirements. The Metropolis will work with the parishes and the clergy to identify means to offset such disparities across state lines.”
In the parishes of the Direct Archdiocesan District, the directives regarding the preparation of the Churches are the following:
• Each parish must place markings on seats and on the ground to ensure social distancing and establish a clear flow of traffic.
• Each parish must record the names and phone numbers of each attendee at every service in the event that an infection requires notice.
• In terms of preventing the spread of this virus, alert all parishioners to follow CDC directives, which currently include: wash hands thoroughly and frequently, cover coughs and sneezes, avoid sharing personal items, wear a mask, and maintain a social distance of six feet.
• Churches must have hand sanitizer readily available at entrances, outside elevators, and other points of ingress They should be sure that restrooms are properly stocked with soap, and sanitized frequently, recorded with an accompanying log sheet.
• Doors should be propped open so that door knobs or handles do not need to be used.
• Churches must be cleaned routinely between each use in accordance with CDC guidelines. Determine all areas that require cleaning and disinfecting in the Church, event areas, restrooms, hallways, offices, etc.; develop a checklist for site-specific protocols and procedures, particularly frequently touched surfaces and areas requiring more hygienic attention such as counters, door knobs, banisters, electrical switches, etc.
• Signs should be posted on the front door of the church explaining the directives and stating the risk of those entering by age and preconditions.
• Faithful must continue to honor the icons and other sacred objects by a reverent bow and making the sign of the Cross instead of kissing.
• No service books should be distributed or left out for common use.
ELPIDOPHOROS ON HOLY COMMUNION
The memo to the priests of the Direct Archdiocesan District says the following (among other things) about the Holy Communion offering:
• As a temporary measure only, Holy Communion will be offered via the following procedures designed to protect our clergy and our faithful:
. The parish shall use multiple metal spoons that will be single use during the distribution of Holy Communion.
. The parishioner will approach the chalice and be urged to tilt their head back and open their mouth wide so that the communion may be dropped into their mouth.
. The Priest will use a new spoon to offer communion and then place the spoon in a separate receptacle before the next parishioner.
. In lieu of a Communion Cloth, the parish will have disposable napkins available to the faithful, and upon approaching the chalice, the parishioner would take a napkin, hold it under their own chin, wipe or dab their mouth, and then dispose of the napkin in a container on the sol ea, the contents of which will be burned the same day.
. Following each appointment, the spoons will be submerged in boiling water to cleanse them.
ALEXIOS – COMMUNION
In his directives, Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta says the following about the Holy Communion offering:
• Holy Communion – The church is permitted to remain open for a brief time period following the Divine Liturgy to commune the faithful who are not able to be present in the church proper i.e. in designated overflow space (church hall, parked cars, etc.).
• Holy Communion will continue to be distributed in the traditional manner.
• Communion Cloths – The red communion cloths (μάκτρα) will be held underneath the person’s chin but not touch the chin by the assigned adult helpers. The communicant may not touch it and absolutely no wiping of mouths.