Friday, February 28, 2020

Romanian Church: Eucharist never source of sickness & death

( - The Press office of the Romanian Patriarchate published a communiqué on February 27, 2020, in the context of excessive media coverage of the epidemic caused by Coronavirus (Covid – 19) and following requests from some state institutions that the Church should take measures to prevent the spread of the virus and to reduce the population’s fear of this phenomenon.

For this reason, the communiqué addressed especially those who are too afraid of illness when they kiss the holy icons or when they take Communion from the same Holy Eucharistic Chalice, as the priest uses a collective spoon.

This attention given especially to those “whose faith is weak” (Romans 14: 1) has caused fear elsewhere, more precisely among clerics and believers who consider that an exceptional and temporary measure (economy) in favour of those more frightened and weaker in faith can be transformed into a new liturgical rule of receiving Holy Communion that applies to all believers.

In order to overcome polarization and polemics that weaken Orthodox unity, hasty judgments must be avoided, and we must firmly reaffirm the Orthodox belief that the Holy Eucharist is not and can never be a source of sickness and death, but a source of new life in Christ, of forgiveness of sins, for the healing of the soul and the body.

That is why, while believers receive Holy Communion, we chant: “Receive the Body of Christ, taste the Fountain of Immortality.“

Therefore, the rule of distributing Holy Communion to the clergy and believers from the same Holy Chalice remains unchanged, and the priests will explain to all believers that this way of partaking of the Eucharist has never been for anyone a danger and will not be to them either.

The believers, who are still afraid of partaking of the same Holy Chalice with the same spoon, will ask the counsel of their spiritual father to strengthen their faith and increase in Church communion.

Also, in the case of kissing the holy icons, the believers who have a strong and living faith are not afraid that they will become ill, but they enjoy the prayer and the blessing of the saints depicted in the icons.

As faith unites freedom with love, it is through faith that people express their love of God and His saints freely.

For this reason, Orthodox believers kiss holy icons and freely partake of the Holy Chalice, not because they would be compelled to do so.

Therefore, the ministers of the Holy Altars will urge all believers to strengthen themselves in the faith and cultivate the Eucharistic Communion in the Church, to gain salvation through the union with Christ the Lord, the source of eternal life (John 11:25).

We wish all servants of the Holy Altars and believers of the Romanian Orthodox Church good health and salvation, as well as much help from God during this Great Lent, as a progress to the light and joy of the Resurrection!

Your fervent intercessor before Christ the Lord,

† Daniel

Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church


  1. This is really heartening. I've been dismayed at the worldly responses of manychurches to this epidemic. I think the Romanian letter hit just the right note.

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  3. passing on my wife who is a physicians take:

    The corona virus has about a long (for a virus) 36 hour fomite survival rate (e.g. on surfaces, in the air, etc.), which is one reason why it is so infectious. So while no known human pathogens (including the corona virus) can survive even a very short time in wine (or beer! ;)), it would survive higher up on the spoon handle for example, as well as all the other surfaces and human contact in space such as a church. These facts would be especially relevant with the veneration of icons.

    My musings:

    While I appreciate these sorts of efforts to explicate the Faith and oppose a crude materialism, P. Daniel could be said to be willing to place piety ahead of, I don't know, a God given rationality and instinct to not harm to oneself or others...A kind of purposeful "you who are weak and afraid - piously kiss this icon!". I wonder if this kind of piety is not a human (and thus blasphemous) tempting and testing of God...

    1. "you who are weak and afraid - piously kiss this icon!"

      No one is forcing anyone to do anything. The communique recommends talking to one's spiritual father.

      Moreover, as it has been pointed out many times before, if it were possible for diseases to be spread via Holy Communion, we would know by now (we have been doing it for some time) and it is our priests who would have suffered the most. They are responsible for consuming any of the Gifts left at the end of the Liturgy.

    2. Matvey,

      I have to wonder if you read the same letter by P. Daniel as I did. His narrative is plain and explicit: if you "fear" or are "weak" in faith you will be concerned about the how and when of viral transmission - two examples given are communion and icons - in a parish.

      We are not Roman Catholics in that we don't posit a metaphysical transform of the bread and wine (i.e. transubstantiation) into another substance that would theoretically prevent a virus from being able to be what it is and do what it does. Indeed, we maintain that the bread and wine really remain bread and wine, that God becoming man really did become man, etc.

      While there are no *known* human pathogens that can survive in wine (which includes the corona virus), that does not exclude the possibility that there might not be one now or in the future. Be that as it may, icons and every other surface (and humans of course) in a parish are not protected by the properties of wine.

      I admit I don't really get this sort of piety, this need to protect the elements of Holy Communion, icons, or anything else in the temple as somehow (meta?)physically "immaculate" and incapable of taint (of pathogens or anything else), disease, and death. The conversation about gluten 6 months or so ago was essentially about the same thing.

      Perhaps the Orthodox like the RC's have tradition about this I am not aware of? Is this what P. Daniel is presuming and if so can someone point me to it?

    3. We receive the Body and Blood of Christ, the God Man, in the form of bread and wine. Communion isn’t simply symbolic, its not merely bread and wine that we place ritual importance on, . If Christ’s Body and Blood can make us sick, our faith is a sham.

      St. Ambrose among countless others explicitly points out “Perhaps you say: “The bread I have here is ordinary bread.” Yes, before the sacramental words are uttered this bread is nothing but bread. But at the consecration this bread becomes the Body of Christ...”

      If your hang up is more with people thinking germs cannot be transmitted through icons or crosses etc, while I can’t recite a specific saint’s words about this verbatim, I would think it fair to say that faith plays a role in how our interactions with matter play out. Peter walked on water until his faith wavered, the properties of water were affected by faith; Paul was bitten by a venomous snake but his faith negated the effects of the venom. In a similar manner I would say germs may or may not be present on icons or other items in church but if we venerate with faith God is the one who will determine if we catch a cold or not as a result, according to our needs, if anything you could argue the only reason we still get sick as Orthodox Christians is because it can help us work out our salvation.

      Not to mention the fact that if you’re going to get sick its probably going to happen at work or school or from your countless social interactions, and I don’t think anyone is going to be opting out of those except under threat of imminent harm, of which the Corona Virus honestly isn’t one, so why would opting out of Church be more appropriate or reasonable?

    4. Thank you for your witness to Holy Orthodoxy. May God richly reward you.

    5. "...Peter walked on water until his faith wavered, the properties of water were affected by faith; Paul was bitten by a venomous snake but his faith negated the effects of the venom. In a similar manner I would say germs may or may not be present on icons or other items in church but if we venerate with faith God is the one who will determine if we catch a cold or not as a result, according to our needs..."

      We could say that Soujourner, we could. Is it a good analogy? Analogy and analogical reasons has its limits. Are the Pentecostal snake handlers really rightly imitating St. Paul? Where are the Orthodox snake handlers? If I were to affix a Holy Icon on the front your local city bus, will you and your fellow Orthodox Christians step out in front of the moving bus and kiss it? Or will only those "weak" and "afraid" wait until the bus stops moving? What of the miracles of Satan, who tempted Christ and us and will do so again(see Gospel's, Revelation, etc.)?

      You and P. Daniel seem to be, vaguely, arguing for a continuing sacramental miracle vis-a-vis known diseases and (perhaps) for a kind of snake handling/fire walker intentional testing of God. I do notice how you allow for the "threat of imminent harm". I suppose if this were MERS or SARS (both of which have mortality in the 30-40% range) then would you be, out of the strength of your faith, kissing the icon in your local parish of you during an outbreak in said community?

      I admit my understanding of miracles and faith was formed by Lewis and Tolkien before I became Orthodox. In theological terms,I have found their understanding to be but a compatible expression of the Orthodox East's affirmation of "Christian Platonism/Aristotelianism", where say the substance & properties of water, bread, wine, Christ's incarnated flesh, etc. are not changed or "transformed" but rather fulfilled to their true end (telos) and become what they truly are in relation to us and our true end. In this theology miracles are not a 'magical' and/or ontological antinome's of substance, physics, property, etc. but rather the very fulfillment of the essence of a thing - miracles are a nexus in time, the now, of a things/persons eschatological "restoration" (apokatastasis).

      However I can't recall that I have seen a specific theological treatment of miracles from an Orthodox perspective. Quickly Googling "Orthodox miracle Holy Fathers" and the like brings up this by Bulgakov:

      And this from a Coptic website:

      Anyone know of any definitive source?

    6. “Ask not how this is accomplished, for where God wills, the order of nature is overturned”

      It’s easy to knock down straw men that you’ve set up. You’re comparing the grace of God’s Church with Satan’s miracles?

      I mentioned that the average person in society will only change their daily routines if there is an obvious threat to their lives. The first Christians thought services were so important that they risked their lives every day to attend Church, and they were willing to be tortured and killed rather than stop going to Church, it would have been safer to stop going but they didn’t, but you want to shut down our churches out of fear of germs?

      As someone who will be working in hospitals and churches for the rest of my life I don’t plan on avoiding either simply because I might get sick and die, welcome to the human condition. If you’re already sick you can stay home to rest, and call for a priest to come with communion or to serve Holy Unction, and thank God the priest wont avoid you to spare himself exposure to germs.

      If attending Church is testing God in your opinion, then we have a very different view of God. Lewis and Tolkien are great authors and were faithful Christians, and for that they were admirable men, but their theology is not Orthodox.

      We’re also not Neo-Platonists, Origen was condemned for a reason. Matter can be sanctified, the relics of the saints, the True Cross, miracle working icons, holy water, myrrh even Peter’s shadow; we bless our homes and consecrate our altars for a reason, the Church is a source of life and immortality. If you’re saying that Christ’s miracles were just the natural order being fulfilled, then you’re denying His Divinity, which St. John of Damascus and others have pointed out was the source of His miracles. Jefferson didn’t like miracles either, his Bible is more scientifically minded if you don’t care for nature being overturned.

      You make it sound as if encouraging people to attend Church is a death sentence, when in reality it is a call to be saved body and soul. We’ve also been told that we can work out our salvation by patiently enduring sickness and sorrow, and thank God, because good luck isolating yourself for the rest of your life if you’re afraid of germs.

    7. An honest smile Sojourner, thank you!

      Careful with Origen. St. Gregory the theologian said that he was "the whetstone of us all". All too true. Still, perhaps like yourself I lean towards Antioch myself.

      What are you going to be studying? Are you looking towards ordination or going into medicine?

      I have to keep it short, I got to go look for my Jefferson Bible ;)

    8. Finishing up seminary and training to become a hospital chaplain, at some point i’ll be ordained, but one step at a time. Probably spent more time examining Origen than any Church Father, for better or worse; he’s arguably the underlying influence of Western Scholastic theology and he was more valuable for the questions he raised than the answers he provided, but its undeniable that he had a huge impact on the Church, not all good not all bad. I sympathize for him in that he was a certified genius, put on the fast track, and living before the big questions had been answered by the Ecumenical Councils, and he endured torture for the faith. I’d like to think that he would have corrected himself if given the opportunity.

  4. we are so blessed because God has given us not only faith, but intelligence and knowledge. As such, He has given us the ability to assess a situation for risk and determine how to reduce the risk. As such if we do not give use the talents that God has given us, we would not be faithful to his teaching - e.g. the parable of the talents. from an health and safety perspective we do know how to do this -- one must be hygenic - this is why clergy are seen washing their hands during the liturgy ---- we must have a clean altar area --- that is why we cense, to keep the bugs away,,,,, we mix hot water and wine for the eucharist,, water of a certain temperature and alcohol of a certain concentration do kill bacteria, viruses and fungases,,,,, we also know that brass and silver surfaces possess anti bacterial, anti viral, and anti fungal properties -- gold, steel, chrome, glass etc surfaces do not, infact they may encourage growth of these organisms. That is why we use alot of silver and brass chalices and crosses.

    Now in serving in the altar i have observed no hand washing per se, but rinsing with, at best, tepid water,,, clergy and altar servers choughing and sneezing over the holy bread,,,moldy holy bread being used,, and communion cloths in dire need of cleaning or replacement, also I have obeserved in 70% of the cases that the laity touch their lips or tongues to the spoon and do not just let clergy drop the contents into their mouths

    ergo, during this critical time of concern,, it may be prudent to issue directives such as 1) there will be no kissing of the clergy hands 2) kissing of each other should be refrained from, just bow 3) there will be no touching in the passing of the peace, just bowing 4) the spoon is not to be touched by the mouth,, the clergy need to wash their hands with hot water and antibacterial soap at the times prescribed in the liturgy for washing,,, only brass or silver chalices and spoons are to be used,,, the water that will be put in the chalice needs to be boiling and an equal amount of 30 proof wine added to it,,,the holy bread needs to be supplied from a safe baker and be kept covered until used. Antidorion is to be cut on a hygienically clean surface, with a clean knife, by an altar server wearing plastic gloves, a face mask and hairnet. the cross held by the priest at the end of the service must be either silver or brass. Icons with brass or silver oklads/rizas may be kissed.

    I have been in the environmental health and safety field for 55 years and had been tutored by two russian orthodox archpriests and was made a subdeacon --- so my my obervations come from knowledge, involvement, and experience -- they are not meant to blaspheme but to ensure that that which is aleady in place is understood and properly employed. these qare very stressful times - God Bless

    The prescription above just ensures that what is already in place in properly maintained - otherwise we become like the person in the anecdote --- there was a flood,, nicholas was in a house where the water came up to his porch, a resuce crew arrived to remove him, and he said he had faith tht God would save him,,,the water rose and now he was force to be on the porch roof, another boat came by and again he said that he had faith that God would save him,,, at this time he was on the house roof and another boat came and again he refused their offer,,,, well nicholas drowned and when he went to heaven he saw God and said why didn't you save me and God said, I sent help 3 times and you refused.

    so we must all be sensitive to what God is trying to tell us. Here He is saying I gave you faith,,, I gave you the tools to worship me in a safe manner,, I gave you knowledge and intellegience so you can always worship me in such a manner,,, so therefore do not hde your talents under a bushel but use them to continue to worship me to the fullest.