The unexpected coronavirus pandemic which proved to be pestiferous and deadly found all humanity almost everywhere unprepared. It seems there is a general consensus that if certain developed countries had able leadership informed with prudence and insight that had acted early, in a timely manner, the number of deaths would have been less.
It was only natural that the unrelenting coronavirus found our Church unready. The closing of the churches was certainly necessary not because the directives and orders of the civil authorities on the Federal local levels had to be obeyed, but also out of love, philanthropy, and solidarity towards our fellow humans since the virus is so insidious and was and is spreading perfidiously.
The burning question is how ready are our parishes in the United States to operate with the reopening of the churches. I mean not only from a practical viewpoint, regarding the preventive measures and orders of social distancing, the small number of congregants, the need for them to wear masks and gloves and to use antiseptic sprays and liquids and the rest. I am also referring to the most basic and important issue of Holy Communion and the use of the common spoon which in Greek is called λαβίδα – pinchers – although pinchers are actually different things.
In many interviews with hierarchs and theologians I have posed and continue to pose the question of the way Holy Communion is administered. I draw your attention here and I emphasize that the issue is not about the Holy Communion itself, but the way it is administered with the common spoon. This question has been raised in many correspondences and telephone conversations that dozens of fellow Greek-Americans of all ages but especially of younger generations have been asking me about. They say that they do believe conscientiously and are partakers of the sacramental life, but they invoke psychological and physiological reasons for not wanting to partake of the common spoon.
I revisit the issue for the following very basic reason: In Germany, Austria, and some Provinces in Canada the authorities have prohibited the use of the common spoon for Holy Communion. This prohibition led Metropolitan Arsenios of Austria to apply the original Tradition and practice of the Church, which is in effect even today for the Liturgy of St. Iakovos, that is, receiving the Holy Gifts separately, as the Holy Body (Τίμιος Αρτος) and the Holy Blood (Οίνος), the way the priests and the bishops commune when they offer the other Liturgies as well, those of St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom.
Let me repeat one more time that the common spoon was introduced around the 9th century and was became established by the 11th century for the following two practical reasons and necessities: First, because by that time the infant baptism had been established and of course the infants weren’t able to take and eat by themselves from the Holy Bread and to drink from the Cup. Second, the faithful of advanced age had difficulties holding the Holy Gifts and eating and drinking them on their own. Thus the common spoon was introduced out of necessity, just as other practices in the life of the Church were created out of necessities and cultural, environmental, and pastoral conditions.
Let me also make it clear here that there isn’t any other theological, doctrinal, or ecclesiological issue connected with the introduction of the common spoon. On the contrary, there is the 101st canon of the Quinisext (Fifth-Sixth) or the Council in Trullo in 692 in Constantinople which prohibits the use of any receptacle for the communion of the Holy Gifts other than the hands.
After all, Christ’s exhortations: “take and eat” and “drink of it all of you” presupposes a specific movement, that is one extends his or her hands, he or she takes and eats. The same applies for the Holy Cup. Today the Holy Gifts are administered to the people.
We will stay with this for now, while for the exhortation “drink of it all of you” we will write a separate analysis because the word “all” includes an invitation of an interested universal inclusiveness.
The question that we will be called to answer here in the United States is what are we going to do in case the authorities in all or some states prohibit the use of the common spoon for the Holy Eucharist, as has happened in Germany and in Canada’s Provinces.
I have the sense that there are three four basic options, including the following: 1) To continue the practice with the common spoon but only the priests will receive communion and the Church will remain as a passive audience and spectator and not active partaker of the Holy Eucharist. Thus the Eucharist will be turned into a show with a religious flavor and not worship, and of course a serious ecclesiological problem will occur as to what the Church is and what the Church is not. Certainly the abstention especially of the younger generations will probably assume nightmarish dimensions, because they will not consider their participation in the Church a sine qua non since they won’t participate in the Eucharist, which is the Paschal Feast Supper of Christ, and they will be satisfied with Internet services or nothing at all.
2) To rediscover the original way of communing, separately from the Body and the Blood, but again the Chalice will continue to be common.
3) The adoption of one-use plastic spoons for each individual member of the congregation. At the end the spoons will be wiped and burned.
4) The introduction of the use of individual metallic spoons of similar shape and length with the golden spoon used today, one for each person who will commune. After their use it is to be wiped and placed in a special disinfection instrument as is the case in hospitals and dentists offices so they can be ready for the next Liturgy. I think this last option seems more practical and applicable.
Fortunately, His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros is today at the helm of our Church in America, a hierarch with open horizons, learned, and prudent, who apprehends the signs of our times and the new necessities.
Undoubtedly there will be some strong reactions from some sophomoric people about the Church and Worship, but the leadership of the Church should just ignore them and look to the future. After all, the flow of the Holy Spirit (η έκχυση του Αγίου Πνεύματος) is constant in the life of the Church, and Tradition is not something static and permanent but rather dynamic and developing. The life and the Tradition of Church didn’t stop in the 7th, 9th or 11th centuries. Of course this doesn’t apply only to the way the Holy Communion is administered, but to many other things.