Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Canadian govt. vs. the church. vs. the laity

It bears repeating that many of the protections on the practice of religion and freedom of speech in the United States are absent in Canada. What we have codified from the beginning, they have not. And yet, as with what we see in the UK, government overreach and thought policing in Canada often presage what will happen here. That's why it's important to see what they are doing to groups like the Knights of Columbus, to pro-life advocates, to students and faculty in universities who don't keep current on the latest woke theory, et al. 

So here is a letter from Archbishop Sotirios of Canada entitled "Coronavirus and Holy Communion: A Chronicle of Events."

(GOA-CA) - With the advent of the coronavirus, our churches were closed to the public on March 17, 2020, by order of the government authorities in Canada (we are generally referring to government authorities in Canada, because matters in regard to health do not fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government, but rather under the jurisdiction of provincial governments and local municipalities). The churches reopened on June 12, 2020.

For the period between June 12 to July 3, 2020, the churches dispersed Holy Communion normally, until one or more persons (their names are known, but will only be made public at a later date) complained to the government authorities in Canada that the Greek Orthodox Churches are giving Holy Communion with a common spoon for all the faithful, and that this practice would create serious health problems. It is noted here that all Christian churches, as well as places of worship of all other religions, have received and continue to receive the same treatment on behalf of government authorities.

Following this complaint, I met with some priests on Friday, July 3, 2020. (Not all of the priests were present since the authorities did not allow gatherings of more than 10 persons). Because it was a Friday and we could not communicate with the government authorities in time, it was decided that on Sunday, July 5, 2020, no Holy Communion was to be given to the faithful during the Divine Liturgy.

I then came into contact with officials of government authorities, as well as with other Church leaders. (Other Orthodox, Catholics, Copts, Armenians, etc.). The leaders of the other churches affirmed that they did in fact change in some way how Holy Communion was being dispensed.

I had a meeting with some of the priests (we telephoned all the other priests -34 all together- in Ontario). I contacted the government authorities and it was decided that Holy Communion should take place as described below:

  1. The celebrant (priest) will sanitize his hands before Holy Communion distribution.
  2. The celebrant (priest) must wear a mask while distributing Communion to the faithful.
  3. The celebrant (priest) will utilize multiple stainless steel spoons, that will be single use (one for every individual) when communing the people. This method eliminates (as per the directives of the goverments) the danger of using common utensils.
  4. Ushers will direct people to the priest to ensure physical distance at all times. Depending on the layout of the church, it may be necessary to distribute Holy Communion to one section at a time so that distance is maintained when people are both coming forward to receive and when they are returning to their seats.
  5. The communicants will continue to wear a mask as they line-up for Holy Communion, 2 meters (6 ft.) apart from others.
  6. The communicants will approach to receive, also wearing a face mask, and will momentarily remove mask to commune. Because the celebrant (priest) is still wearing a mask, this further mitigates the chance of infection and also any danger from the momentary breach of standard social distancing.
  7. Disposable paper napkins will be available for parishioners to take on their own if there is the need to wipe their mouths (they will be burned immediately after use).
  8. Following the Divine Liturgy, the stainless steel spoons will be disinfected using cleaners and then strong disinfectants according to Public Health of Ontario, Cleaning and Disinfection for Public Settings (

The above was accepted by government authorities in Canada and on Sunday, July 12, 2020, the priests in our churches gave Holy Communion with a separate spoon for each believer.

Most Communities accepted these measures without serious reaction. Some Christians reacted and shouted in the churches during the Divine Liturgy.

Some Christians have organized and are threatening to hold a rally outside our Holy Archdiocese next Sunday. It is said that there are two groups. One is a group of extremists and another a group that follows the monasteries and the late Fr. Ephraim. I cannot believe this, because Fr. Ephraim was peaceful and always cooperated with our Holy Archdiocese.

On Tuesday, July 14, 2020, a representative of the relevant government authorities called me and said that he had information that in two churches (he even named the churches) Holy Communion was given with a common spoon for all the faithful. He added that if this continues, measures will be taken for all Greek Orthodox churches, fines will be imposed (fines reach up to ten millions $ 10,000,000 for organizations) and they may go as far as to close our churches again. He went on to say that they do not police churches. However, when they receive reports of violations, they are obliged to investigate them and to act in accordance with the law and impose sanctions. ‘The problem is yours,’ he said. ‘You are the ones who are divided. Your people are making the complaints’.

You understand how sad this is.

I assured this government official that Holy Communion will be given with a separate spoon for each Christian who comes for communion.

We must all realize – archbishop, the priests, the community councils and the people (the faithful)-, that we are living in difficult times. The instructions of the government authorities clearly state that it is forbidden to share objects of worship. Therefore it is imperative for Holy Communion to be given with a separate spoon for each believer. This is a temporary measure depending on how long the Covid-19 will last.

Some Christians shouted in the churches. An instigator near the microphone shouted three times “Sotirios is unworthy.” I respond. I am not sinless. Every time I conduct the Divine Liturgy, I pray: “No one bound by carnal desires and pleasures is worthy to approach, draw near, or minister to You, the King of Glory…”. “He who is without sin let him throw a stone first”. Saint John Chrysostom says: “for more stormy billows vex the soul of the bishop than the gales which disturb the sea.” Is it possible, I wonder, that those shouting feel how much the Archbishop is suffering and how hard he tried? Shouldn’t they be like Simon of Cyrene? Must they always “throw stones” at the Archbishop?

As for the rally that some are organizing for Sunday, July 19, 2020, in front of our Archdiocese, I say to them: personally, I do not mind. But this will harm Orthodoxy and Hellenism. We risk presenting ourselves to all others as self-destructive, so willingly ready to inflict harm on each other. It would be preferable for the leaders who are organizing this demonstration to contact me and have a meeting, in order to discuss and solve our problems as a family.

I pray and I ask you to pray also that God helps us recover from this grave affliction of Covid-19. To restore peace to the world. To live peacefully as one Christian family, as befits true Christians.


  1. To our host: Your introduction is interesting, in that the thrust of the letter is about the real divide *inside* the Church, but your emphasis is about government/cultural pressure from the *outside*.

    I am with Archbishop Sotirios, that the outside pressure is almost besides the point (because its always there in one form or another, the purpose of being a "cult" - the Cult of Christ - is to form ourselves to endure it, etc.). The lack of unity *inside*, from the "left" (i.e. faithless who are running to the authorities) and the "right" (i.e. the "extremists" who demonize the economic actions of Archbishop Sotirios and the hierarchy)reveals that the secularization, even in the "religious" form of these extremists of the right, has already divided the Church to the point that the question must be asked: what does *communion* really mean in these circumstances?

    1. Two parishioners made complaints to the local government authority, who called Archbishop Sotirios and threatened him with millions of dollars in fines and closing their Churches, and your take away is that the government coercion is besides the point and the real problem is a lack of unity...

    2. "...your take away is that the government coercion is besides the point and the real problem is a lack of unity..."

      Yes, just as it was Archbp. Sotirios'.

      Intolerance, threats, millions of dollars of fines, hangings on crosses - what do you expect from your Godless and now (since we are well into post Christian culture) very intolerant neighbors?

      Don't get me wrong we should, on a political as well as every other level, fight this intolerance as best we can, mostly by pointing out how our intolerant neighbors are incoherent with their purported beliefs. However these are at best rear guard actions in a war we have been losing for a very long time here in western civilization, and we must be prepared to lose our property, our $millions$ in the short term (because we will lose some of these battles). Our children and especially their children should probably be prepared to lose their livelihoods, their freedom, and sometimes their lives.

      I along with ArchBp. Sotirios are much more interested in how intolerant secularism (of both the "liberal" and the "conservative" kind) is spoiling the foundation of the Church from within...

  2. As usual, there is much more to the story.

  3. The "issues" at hand has not made it to the "mainstream media" My friends in Toronto report other Orthodox Churches, of various jurisdictions, are giving Holy Communion with the Holy Spoon. Some priests are asking people not to close their mouth on the spoon. The Greek churches in question are also the ones who said the ArchBishop was sending pedofiles and defrocked priests etc to their churches a couple of years ago. This "issue" is just a symptom of other complaints in the GOC in Toronto

    1. Thanks for the insight - your right, these sorts of things almost always have a background and context.

  4. Snitches get stitches, yo.

  5. Agree with Basil, the health authorities seem to be reasonably accommodating without the complaints. This is not a "persecution", the GOC is shooting itself in the foot.

    We cant expect secular officials, (Canada is a relatively secular nation) to understand the importance of communion or to act like Christians. When we talk to them about communion they are surprised it is "important" and "not optional" and work with the churches to accommodate. But if they receive complaints their hand is forced to enforce rules (without an exception in writing). (these rules where drafted with input protestant church leaders who dont think communion is important). Its similar to many bi-law officers that self reporting something usually results in a warning versus someones complaint.

    This is a battle of secularization, with this church association and many others seeing Orthodoxy as a method of preserving culture, and other extremist internal groups seeing it all as a conspiracy and who see any attempt to accommodate as selling out.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. "...This is a battle of secularization, with this church association and many others seeing Orthodoxy as a method of preserving culture, and other extremist internal groups seeing it all as a conspiracy and who see any attempt to accommodate as selling out..."

      That seems a good summary.

  6. And frankly the high percentage of Greeks who are Masons, including clergy. Goes back to Greek independence movement.

  7. Historically, what did Orthodox rulers do with the churches during contagious epidemics. In the West, it was not uncommon to close the churches to protect against contagion. What of pre-1917 Russia and the Byzantine Empire? Is there a difference between ancient and more recent practices based on germ theory and and a more modern understanding of bacteria, viruses, and public health? These arguments are being had in a historical vacuum where people are trying to work through solutions to problems that have been with society forever. 1917 wasn't long ago and Greece was an independent nation. What did they do then? On what information (or lack thereof) did they make those decisions? Are we beholden to opinions based on erroneous facts? I can't imagine there have not been examples in Orthodox history where the churches were closed. Given the fact frequent communion was not the tradition of most of the Church for most of its history, a short-term decision not to commune out of necessity does not seem to be a problem. It's not like we are Catholics where daily communion became not only possible but an ideal. Despising communion is one thing, refraining from communion to protect life (your own and others) another.

  8. This assertion that secularizing Canadian cultural influence is going to flow south is a hoot! They all live within 30 miles of our border and their government agencies are continually trying to mitigate the strong one-way influence the US exerts on Canadians.
    This Toronto flap is not remotely a case of government overreach and persecution of Christians. It’s a case of unchurched Greeks having inordinate sway to the extent of owning (!) several church buildings and snitching on the priests appointed by the Metropolitan. The question no one seem to be interested in asking is what is their motivation? Why do these wealthy people who call the shots in Greek churches in Toronto want to make trouble? And what measures is Sotirios going to take to call them to heel/heal? I haven’t heard a word about excommunication.

    1. i think we know the answer but we are too polite to say what is uncomfortable "lest we offend." A friend used to say if u sup with the devil use a long fork.