Paxtonvic’s Blog

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An Orthodox view of receiving communion and hygiene

Interested to find a view on the Orthodox Church’s way of the giving of the elements in Holy Communion  and their view on hygiene.

I came across one article reminding me that they receive the elements on a spoon from babyhood onwards ( passed along from person to person)  and this author believes that as the elements are holy, God would not allow them to transmit a virus:

A concern often expressed by certain Orthodox Christians who attend the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and who receive the precious Body and Blood of our Lord, is having to share the same Communion spoon with others. Indeed, as concelebrating clergy commune from the same chalice, so too do the lay people commune from the same spoon. A fear often verbalized is contracting infection or germs or some other disease by coming into contact with another person’s saliva or lipstick that may come off on the spoon when receiving Holy Communion. The question I would like to address in this article is: Is there any reason to fear such a possibility?

The immediate answer is no. From a purely microbiological perspective, the sweet red wine used in Communion is typically high in alcoholic content. This means that the chances of bacteria or germs surviving in it are virtually minimal to non-existent. Although each of us communes the Body and Blood of Christ, the invisible microbes that may enter our mouths from the previous communicant are harmless. From a purely experiential perspective, every chalice on Sundays is consumed in its totality by the priest, after several mouths have communed from it. No priest, including the writer of this column, has ever become ill or incapacitated after consuming the Holy Gifts. And finally, from a purely spiritual perspective, the Holy Gifts are exactly that: they are sacred, in that they have become imbued with the fullness of God’s presence and grace, and they are divine (not human) gifts, “for every good and perfect gift is from above, coming from [You] the Father of lights” (Prayer behind the Amvon in the Divine Liturgy). If we truly believe in God, we know quite well that God would never allow harm to come to us, most especially in the reception of Holy Communion.

While there is no fear then of disease, it is pertinent that all Orthodox Christians follow certain basic rules of hygiene before approaching the holy chalice. First, it is important for us to wipe our mouths well after receiving Holy Communion. This prevents the elements from accidentally dripping onto the ground. Also, it is important for women who wear lipstick to wipe it off before receiving Communion or not to wear any lipstick at all when attending church. Not only does this show the proper respect to the Body and Blood of Christ, but it also shows respect to the woman’s fellow communicants who wish to commune the Holy Bread and Cup and nothing else! Finally, when receiving Communion, some individuals may wish to simply open their mouths wide and allow the priest to ‘drop’ the Communion into their mouths, thus not allowing the spoon to make contact with their mouths.

It is important for us to know that the early Christians used to receive Holy Communion in a completely different manner than the present practice in the East. They received from the celebrant a portion of the consecrated Bread into their hands, and they communed directly from the chalice, exactly the way priests do today. In fact, some of the more ancient liturgies, such as the Alexandrian Liturgy of St. Mark and the Jerusalemite Liturgy of St. Iakovos, still call for the lay people to commune in this way. Because of the fear of accidents, the Church adopted, in time, the use of tongs, with which the elements were mingled together and placed carefully into the mouths of the communicants through this instrument. By the ninth century, the Church changed over to the Communion spoon for the same practical reasons, and it is this practice that remains in place today.

+ Fr. Stylianos,St. George Cathedral, Manchester, New Hampshire

orthodox 2

I wonder if any Orthodox congregations have adjusted their thinking in the light of SF?

Meanwhile, the author of this letter  in Church Times might agree with Father Stylianos.

” Sir- Last week-end I was visiting a church in Suffolk. There was a leaflet inside the pew sheet which set out in detail the SF precautions that the Diocese of Eds and Ips ( my abrevs) had issued to parishes. Fair enough – perhaps.

I was, therefore, both amused and a little horrified to observe that after the normal Peace chaos, the two clergy and Reader, by now at the altar, passed to eachother a plastic spray bottle containing, I assume, some form of anti-bacterial liquid, and sprayed their hands, rubbing them vigorously together before continuing with the service. ( Paxtonvic nearly faints at the thought of this manual act!) No doubt a new form of lavabo!

In this not taking things a little too far? Will congregational hymn books and service books now be banned incase the faithful get contaminated?  (Well actually that is being suggested in some quarters…)

I think a little of ” Put  thou thy trust in God” is called for. ( Concludes the writer)

The debate goes on. In our Benefice we have voted to suspend the use of the chalice and will withold our holy peace hugging for a while.

July 24, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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