New York.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Many Greek media around the world reported the exclusive story of the “Greek News” on the decision by Archbishop Elpidophoros of America to instruct the priests of the Direct Archdiocesan District (his own Metropolis) to offer Holy Communion using separate spoons for each person – as a temporary measure.
Not all the priests of the Direct Archdiocesan District followed the order and it’s not clear – even from the Archbishop’s own words – if the use of separate spoons is mandatory. But, what it’s clear is that a debate has started on the issue.
Addressing the question of Holy Communion, in a Town Hall meeting with more than 175 the members of the National Sisterhood of Presvyteres (the wives of clergy), Archbishop Elpidophoros remarked:
“It is not the way we receive, it is the Communion itself that saves us and gives us eternal life.”
After discussing the historical point of view, Archbishop Elpidophoros implored the Presvyteres to approach this issue with love and understanding for each member of the Church:
“We have to do everything possible to keep everybody in communion. If there are faithful among us who do not feel comfortable with the one Common Spoon, perhaps we can offer an alternative; not something that is imposed, or forced, but an option.”
On Friday, in a statement to the Associated Press (that run a story “Communion unchanged in Greek Orthodox Church despite virus”, Archbishop Elpidophoros said:
“The issue of a single Communion spoon poses a very simple question: What is more important, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, or the method by which we receive them? The answer is just as simple; it’s not the method; it’s the Divine Communion itself.”
Elpidophoros told the Associated Press that said some have felt uncomfortable sharing a spoon during the pandemic.
“Why should these people, whose anxiety is real, be deprived of Communion?” he said. “That is precisely why I decided, after much consultation, that parishes may offer Holy Communion for every parishioner using multiple spoons that are not shared.”
It is not known if an effort was made to have a unified decision by the Holy Eparchial Synod of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. As it was reported in Pittsburgh Gazette, “in Greek Orthodox churches in the Metropolis of Pittsburgh, worshipers will be asked to receive the sacrament by tilting their head back so the server can pour the sacrament into the mouth without the spoon touching the mouth, a common practice in parts of the Orthodox world.”
Fr. Evagoras Constantinides, spokesman of the Archdiocese twitted on Tuesday, after the story of the “Greek News” that “today, the very thought of replacing the common spoon has caused great anxiety in some circles.”.
Fr. Evagoras cited quotes from an extensive article by Rev Dr Alkiviadis Calivas, Professor Emeritus of Liturgics at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.
“The communion spoon is an imperfect material object. It does not share in the incorruptibility of the risen and deified Body of Christ which is really present to us through the eucharistic elements. On its own, the spoon is simply a spoon, a utensil. Its dignity is derived from its use as the instrument by which the Body and Blood of Christ is offered to his people. Long ago, it replaced an older venerable form of communing. The use of a spoon to commune the people was an innovation.
Today, the very thought of replacing the common spoon has caused great anxiety in some circles. There are those among the clergy and the laity who see the replacement of the common spoon or any other kind of departure from the current practice as a repudiation of the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Of course, this is not true.
In response to the present deadly pandemic, three local Churches have already instituted changes in the manner by which Holy Communion is distributed. Circumstances require that every local Church study the issue carefully taking into consideration the cultural and hygienic sensibilities of the people and the sanitary measures and protocols of their respective countries.”
Fr. Kalyvas says, the use of the communion spoon was not enacted by a synod, ecumenical or local and its use came about gradually.
“Initially, the spoon may have been used to commune the sick and the dying. At first, as one would expect, its use in the Liturgy met with some resistance, as any significant liturgical innovation would. Replacing the centuries old manner of receiving the consecrated Gifts separately, based on the biblical model, was not easy. However, new pastoral needs made the use of the spoon inevitable. In the final analysis, the spoon was accepted, even reluctantly, because it did not violate, contradict, or compromise any doctrinal teachings.
The method by which Communion is administered is purely functional. It serves a practical purpose. Thus, as warranted by needs and circumstances, a local Church in its collective wisdom and authority is free to adapt, modify, and manage the method by which Holy Communion is distributed. Whatever method a Church chooses, the single most important concern is that it does not violate any dogmas and that it is appropriate; that it upholds and maintains the dignity of the sacred act of communing.”
The decision by the Archbishop was received with mixed feelings by the faithful. We post some of the comments to the “Greek News” exclusive story:
Eugenia West: “One spoon. Tip .the head back and the priest can drop the communion into the mouth no touching. But if you are a true believer in the Eucharist you should not have any fear.”
Thomas Stamatiou: “People forget that the woman with an issue of blood touched only Christ’s clothes and was healed, not even his own Body. Now they’re worried about the cloth and spoon! the HOLY SPOON represents the hand of the Seraphim from the Angelic order, which held a burning coal and touched the Prophet Isaiah’s mouth and said: This has touched my lips, and will take away thine iniquities, and will purge thy sins.”
Zoe Karousos: “I don’t understand: since we believe that the wine and bread is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, why is there fear if we use the same spoon? The spoons carries no decease, it is dipped each time and cleansed with our Lord’s blood.”
Katherine Herron: “We will be changing churches and jurisdictions now that the Archbishop has displayed his belief that boiling water is stronger than Christ. For a man whose name is supposed to bring hope, he sure has led us to a path of doom and gloom and strayed from Orthodoxy (salvation).”
Cynthia Stanton: “Thank you for this directive. The idea of using metal spoons is great. We are all anxious to return to our churches and receive Holy Communion.”
Stelios Tatsis from Flushing, in a letter to the editor of Greek News he calls the Archbishop «Ελπιδοκτόνο» (Translated “Killer of Hope” instead of “Bearer of Hope” as his name is translated) and calls on the priests that if they obey, “it will be a shame, infidelity and betrayal of Christ”
Emmanuel Velivasakis, an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, said that “on one hand we are lucky to have a progressive Archbishop who understands the fears and doubts of his flock. On the other hand, we have some Metropolitans holding back; they seem to care less about the tragic result of their attitude and instructions! I saw the instructions given to the faithful by a community here in Florida, and you should probably wear armor to enter the Church, submit a residence certificate, and wear double armor to socialize with the same spoon for everyone! But at least they are wise to urge vulnerable persons not to come in for fear of infection! Things are sad and I’m afraid we will have bad results!”