Thursday, March 5, 2020

The international gluten wars continue

( - The Bishops’ Council of the Finnish Orthodox Church (Patriarchate of Constantinople) met on February 18 in Helsinki under the chairmanship of Archbishop Leo of Helsinki and All Finland, discussing, among other things, the issue of people who suffer from celiac disease receiving Holy Communion.

The report from the hierarchical session reads:

Gluten-free Holy Gifts

Those who suffer from celiac disease cannot commune of the Body of Christ at the Eucharist due to their intolerance to wheat protein. Those who suffer from an acute form cannot commune of the Blood of Christ either, because it could also contain particles of wheat flour.

After discussing the issue, the Bishops’ Council instructed Fr. John Lampropoulos to find out the practice of the Greek Orthodox Church in this matter, after which the need for consultation with the Ecumenical Patriarchate will be assessed.

At least one Greek hierarch has addressed the matter before, taking a strict stance.

On May 1, 2018, Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver of the Greek Archdiocese of America (Patriarchate of Constantinople) issued an encyclical to his priests and parishioners after hearing of a number of cases where people approached the chalice and asked to be communed only of the Blood of Christ, believing that the Body would harm them.

He responded:

If there are Orthodox Christians in our parishes who believe that, after the Holy Spirit consecrates the Bread and the Wine during the Divine Liturgy, the gifts are still bread and wine, they should never again receive the divine Body and Blood again, until they believe that the holy sacrament of our Lord Himself is His spiritual presence, that is, both His Body and His Blood.

… And, if the doctor's instructions to them about not eating the Body (bread) because of the doctor's medical knowledge are considered more important than the Holy Eucharist, then they should not receive the Holy Eucharist of the Lord, unless or until they believe that the Creator of all has more knowledge regarding eternal life than all the medical science of this fallen world.


  1. "...If there are Orthodox Christians in our parishes who believe that, after the Holy Spirit consecrates the Bread and the Wine during the Divine Liturgy, *the gifts are still bread and wine*, they should never again receive the divine Body and Blood again...because of the doctor's medical knowledge are considered more *important* than the Holy Eucharist...the Creator of all has more *knowledge* regarding eternal life than all the medical science of this fallen world..."

    I can't tell if Met. Isiah is making a metaphysical, or an epistemological, or an ascetical argument around a moral failure of the will. I can't even tell if he affirms that the bread and wine are really bread and wine after consecration, or if he believe in some version or other of RC transubstantiation.

    It's like Kierkegaard said, what the modern church needs is not Jesus, but Socrates...

  2. If we don’t accept that Holy Communion becomes the very Body and Blood of Christ and is no longer mere bread and wine, we might as well start using grape juice and tofu...glad to see the bishop of Denver gets it.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. What does he "get"? As near as I can tell, he is arguing for some kind of eucharistic docetism - a metaphysical transform of the bread and wine into something other than their usual *nature*. Strange, given how we affirm that Christ has two natures, fully divine yes BUT fully HUMAN as well. Does Christ's divine nature somehow smoother the wine and bread's nature, such that they no longer really exist as themselves, truly bread and wine?!?

      AND/OR, perhaps he is taking up some version of the western material/spiritual split and atomization of natures (i.e. the "Two Story Universe"), disconnected from the Patristic paradigm of metaphysics (if it is anything other than speculation) being subsumed under the ontology of Realism and Symbol (e.g. see Fr. Schmemann's basic work).

      I lean he has fallen victim to the latter, and thus the "faith vs. science" or "spirit vs world" dichotomy he displays...

    3. Again there is no dispute among the saints or the dogma of the church that communion is not merely bread and wine, it becomes the body and blood of Christ in actual fact.

    4. Nobody (well, except the extremely secularized, Protestantents, etc.) disputes that the bread and wine is not "merely" bread and wine, that it is in *fact* the actual Body and Blood of our Lord.

      What about the other side of the coin? Do you see it? When the bread and wine truly and really becomes the Body and Blood, is Met. Isiah saying that it also - at the same time - becomes "not" bread, and "not" wine - a (meta)physical change, such that the nature of the bread becomes "gluten free" or gluten becomes something that it is not such that a person sensitive to it can not actually be sensitive to it...or is it perhaps a failure of their will - if only they had Faith the nature of gluten would not be what it is...

      in other words, what are the *facts* of "becoming" (i.e. physically, metaphysically, and ontology) in relation to the bread, wine, and Christ that has Met. Isiah counseling the way he does?

    5. “You have now been taught and fully instructed that what seems to be bread is not bread, though it appear to be such to the sense of taste, but the body of Christ; and that what seems to be wine is not wine, though the taste would have it so, but the Blood of Christ. . . . So strengthen your heart by partaking of that spiritual bread.” St. Cyril of Jerusalem

      Mystagogical Catecheses 4.9, in Yarnold, The Awe-Inspiring Rites of Initiation, 87.

      “About the truth of his Flesh and Blood there is left no room for doubt. For by the Lord’s own word and by our faith [we know] that it is truly flesh and truly blood. And when we have received and drunk these realities it comes about that we are in Christ and Christ in us. . .” St. Hilary of Poitiers, De Trinitate 8.13 (PL 10:246–47)

      “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.”
      St. Ambrose, De Sacramentis 4.14–19

      “You ought to know what you have received, what you are about to receive, and what you ought to receive every day. That bread which you can see on the altar, sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. That cup, or rather what the cup contains, sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ.” St. Augustine, Sermon 227

      “Rightly, then, do we believe that now also the bread which is consecrated by the Word of God is changed into the Body of God the Word. . . . It is at once changed into the body by means of the Word, as the Word itself said, “This is My Body.” St. Gregory of Nyssa, Great Catechism

      “It is not man who causes what is present to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but Christ Himself who was crucified for us. The priest is the representative when he pronounces those words, but the power and the grace are those of the Lord. “This is my Body,” he says. This word changes the things that lie before us” St. John Chrysostom Homily on the Betrayal of Judas

      This is a hill worth dying on. If you believe the Body and Blood of Christ can cause harm then you have a different faith and a different god.

    6. And for what its worth one of my fellow seminarians had Celiacs disease, he never abstained from communion, but would have extreme reactions to gluten in any other context.

    7. My wife is the same way. Something that has a trace of gluten and even if she doesn't know and it'll end up a bad night for her. But, Communion? She never hesitated once and she's never had an issue (interestingly, she also will take antidoran without issue).

      But give her regular soy sauce or something that has any sort of gluten and she'll feel it soon after.

  3. Then why do people get drunk from the blood? Why can unconsumed body become moldy?

  4. Was your fellow seminarian self-diagnosed? :) It really is a quite rare condition, though you would not know that by visiting your local grocer. A physician I know told me that even if you have a relatively severe sensitivity, the small amount in the host once a week or so would not cause any symptom, and this is true *factually* whatever the state of your faith and spiritual condition is.

    You know soujourner, if you don't want to see, admit, or confront the many paradoxes in the Christian life and faith that's ok I suppose...but there is a certain dullness of mind to it that is apparent in this conversation.

    As far as your quotes, the first appears to be a rather bland statement of a eucharistic docetism. The bread and wine retain their *nature*, the don't merely "appear" to be bread and wine they *really are* bread and wine when, paradoxically, they *become* and thus *really are* the very Body and Blood of our Lord.

    The rest merely affirm the "becoming", but they in no way indicate that the bread and wine loose their very essence - their "bread-ness" or their "wine-ness" - anymore than my body will loose it's essence in the resurrection, or Christ looses his human nature or his Divine nature by Him "becoming" incarnated.

    This is all both/and, not either/or...

    1. I’m fine with being labeled any which way, at the end of the day if the choice is side with the saints or side with the “wisdom” of the times, I’ll be comfortable with the saints every time.

    2. Obviously, I deny the "wisdom" of a dichotomous view of a bread/wine vs. Body/Blood of the Eucharist. Ironically, the Saints are not what are being chosen in this view of it, but rather the nominalistic natural vs. supernatural split of the modern world...

  5. Father John wrote about this two years ago:

    I also look at this issue historically, i.e. do we really believe that for centuries people with gluten intolerance were suffering after receiving the Gifts until resolutions like this? These arguments sound a lot like those surrounding germs or viruses and Communion.

    1. Thanks for the link Matvey. I wish Fr. John had said more to what lies behind our question: Since we affirm the bread and wine "become" (without looking it up I assume the Fathers use the greek term μεταμορφόω) the very Body and Blood of our Lord, do we also affirm that they *at the same time* retain their nature (essentia) as bread and wine?

      Disease such as Ciliacs is not due to a defect in the bread - there is no "original" metaphysical defect/sin of the bread, rather the defect is on the part of person who can not properly process the protein. Does Christ "appear" to be a man, or is he really a man? Is all of the Creation corrupt, such that it will only "appear" in the Eschaton - essentially changed, or is it truly raised and 'restored' (ἀποκαθίστημι), essentially itself but healed?

      As Fr. Schmemann argues in his essay "Worship in a Secular Age (included in the "appendices" which are found some printings of his book 'For the Life of the World'), there has been a breakdown of Christian Symbolism itself, leading to a false dichotomy between "natural" and "supernatural". In section 6 Fr. Alexander even uses the history of the debates of how Christ is "in" the Eucharist in the western Church as his example of how this dichotomy replaced a realist and Christian symobolism with the newly birthed nominalistic "symbolism":

      ...{in this} view the world ceases to be the "natural" sacrament of God, and the super-natural sacrament to have any "continuity" with the world. Let us not be mistaken however. This Western theological framework was in fact accepted by the Orthodox East also, and since the end of the patristic age our theology has been indeed much more "Western" than "Eastern". If secularism can be properly termed a Western heresy, the very fruit of the basic Western "deviation", our own scholastic theology has also been permeated with it for centuries, adn this in spite of the violent denunciations of Rome and papism. And it is indeed ironic, but not at all accidental, that psychologically the most "Western" among the Orthodox today are precisely the ultra-conservative "Super-Orthodox", whose whole frame of mind is leagalistic and syllogistic on the one hand, and is made up on the other hand of those very "dichotomies" whose introduction into Christian thought is the "original sin" of the West...

  6. What the Eucharistic Lord is is certain; how this happens is the Mystery of Faith brought about by the change wrought by the Holy Spirit. On this the Orthodox Church is clear in her ongoing paradosis.

    1. Yes. Yet you don't stop there - you appear to agree with sojourner, Met. Isiah, and others who go further in setting up (or, no doubt largely unconsciously, agreeing with the usual western) dichotomy of natural vs. supernatural, reason vs. faith, science vs. religion/faith.

    2. Jake, up to this point you have accused saints of heresy, disregarded the proclamations of hierarchs, thrown out the canons, and rejected tradition. As far as I can tell the only authority you believe in is your own opinion. I hope you at least have a spiritual father and confessor, but in any case history has not been kind to those who trust only in themselves. If you present your case with the words of saints and the canons of councils, I’ll be open to amending my views, but if I have to choose between listening to you or St. Cyril of Jerusalem, who you accuse of heresy, I know how I’ll choose. It’s the classic mark of Western progressive buffet style Christianity to reject the Saints in favor of modern understandings.

  7. Thank you, Jake. Yes, the problem is Western philosophical categories messing up Orthodox understandings of the nature of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist here. It’s sad when even our hierarchs don’t quite understand. Thanks for the Schmemann quote. It is quite to the point.

    My daughter is on the autism spectrum and doesn’t eat gluten. She does fine with the Eucharist, thank God, but has always been able to handle trace amounts. A few years ago I read of an Orthodox mom trying to bring her infant who had celiac, and he would be in agonizing pain and scream for hours after partaking. The mom was beside herself trying to figure out what to do. She certainly didn’t start out thinking there would be a problem. So maybe the infant has a sinful doubt problem here (sarcasm)?! I don’t think so!

    Nominalism and legalism are a scourge of modern Orthodoxy. May the Lord enlighten us and give us compassion for the afflicted!

    I get so disheartened sometimes with the rush to judgment on their Orthodox brothers and sisters I sometimes find at this site. I don’t read here often anymore because of it.

    1. ofgrace,

      You should avail yourself of these two essay's of Fr. Schmemann. As he says, the form (i.e. the liturgy, the prayers, etc.) have not been impacted much by secularism, rather it is the individuals "experiences and *comprehension* of worship", what he calls "liturgical piety"

      Sojourner and others are so desperate to defend a facile reading of the faith/traditions/fathers/canons/Eucharist, but why? Fr. Schmemann believed it was because of this natural vs supernatural *secularization* of their mind/piety, which granted is largely unconscious in them is nevertheless real: { - this dichotomous "comprehension", in this conversation between the between 'sacred' Body and the 'profane' bread - } has had this impact because it satisfied a deep desire of man for a legalistic religion that would fulfill his need for both the "sacred" - a divine sanction and guarantee - and the "profane", i.e. a natural and secular life...a religion which Christ denounced by every word of His teaching, and which ultimately crucified Him. It is indeed much easier to live and to breathe withing the neat distinctions between the sacred and the profane, the natural and the supernatural, the pure and the impure, to understand religion in terms of sacred "taboos", legal prescriptions and obligations, the ritual rectitude of "canonical validity". It is much more difficult to realize that such religion not only does not constitute any threat to secularism, but on the contrary is its paradoxical ally...the deep tragedy here is that imposition of these {western dichotomous categories} is accepted today to such an extent that any attempt to denounce them, to show their incompatibility with the true spirit and mean of the liturgia, is met by accuations of *modernism* and other mortal sins...

      His example of the two pietistic "comprehensions" of the prayer of great blessing of water at Baptism or Theophany is an nearly verbatim description of these two comprehensions of the Eucharist on display in our conversation here.

    2. Ah yes, Schmemann, far more reliable a source than the saints; especially if you like Vatican II theology in an Orthodox context.

  8. You have the proper understanding of what I believe and that I stand with the bishops you mention as they uphold the Faith of the Orthodox Church. Have you ever read the decisions of the Council Bethlehem/Jerusalem? That local coucil was ratified by the Council of Crete 2018. Jake Iam not trying to convince you of anything. Frankly that is a matter between you and your priest, presuming that you are an Orthodox Christian.

    1. Respectfully Fr. Gregory, try harder. Try to see that an affirmation of the real presence of "natural" bread and wine is not a dichotomous negation of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

      How many natures does the Holy Eucharist have?

  9. The following comment from an Orthodoxophile Protestant friend of mine may be of interest:

    "Regarding recent correspondence:

    Jake (apparently an Orthodox physician) said to another commenter, "As far as your quotes, the first appears to be a rather bland statement of a eucharistic docetism. [I believe] the bread and wine retain their *nature*, the don't merely "appear" to be bread and wine they *really are* bread and wine when, paradoxically, they *become* and thus *really are* the very Body and Blood of our Lord.

    The rest merely affirm the "becoming", but they in no way indicate that the bread and wine loose their very essence - their "bread-ness" or their "wine-ness" - any more than my body will loose it's essence in the resurrection, or Christ looses his human nature or his Divine nature by Him "becoming" incarnated.

    This is all both/and, not either/or..."

    Seems right to me. I have heard it most often from Lutherans who do not like the term "consubstantiation," because it implies an unreal separation of the earthly elements from the Heavenly, and whose Eucharistic theology is strongly divided from both that of Rome and the Reformed--not to mention that of the Zwinglians--in that respect. It appears that what I have heard among Lutherans is highly compatible with Orthodoxy--at least that is how Dr. Jake understands the teaching of his church.

    In my own judgement on this question, it must be held as both obvious and fundamental that the elements of the Lord's Supper are bread and wine, however the sacramental relation between them and the body and blood of the Lord is explained theologically. Bread and wine. I cannot fathom how anyone would feel at liberty to alter or modify or experiment with this in any way whatever.

    There is no such thing as gluten-free "bread," properly speaking, since an essential element of "bread-ness" has been artificially removed from the flour, just as there is no such thing as unfermented "wine" acknowledged in scripture. Gluten-free "bread" is analogous to a Christ who is not fully man because some part has been removed. I take this to be just another attempt (like the egalitarian one to ignore his maleness) to attack the Incarnation among the gullible and naive, and it does not surprise me that churches that have the lowest view of the sacraments have no problems with making them gluten- and alcohol-free, completely ignorant of the theological implications of what they are doing with those excisions.

    Believers who cannot participate in the sacraments due to some disorder are in a position analogous to that of the "good thief." The only way he can be explained in Christian terms is not by devaluing the sacraments, as some do (Quakers, Evangelicals, etc.), but by understanding the faith by which he was saved as perfectly comprehending them. Anything else I reckon to be just another temptation by which to make enemies of dim Christians, providing the demons with the kind of cock-pit entertainment they enjoy most."

    1. Thanks for posting this comment professor Tighe. To clarify I am not a physician, though I listen to my wife who is and the other physicians in the practice we own and run together.

      I am only vaguely aware of proper Lutheran theology and "ethos", just enough to be pleasantly surprised by their take on things that I run across from time to time.

      This conversation and debate prompted me to re-read Schmemman, who of course is "the" Orthodox sacramental theologian of the last 100 years or so. I have really noticed this time around how he ties sacramental *Realism* and its "suicide" in the west into the whole character and breakdown of the Scholastic synthesis, the subsequent history of the west, which is itself the story of modernity. I have also noticed this time around just how pessimistic he was about the East, since in his view a thorough "pseudomorphism" occurred in the East at around the same time - an uncritical appropriation of these western dichotomies at the formal theological level (i.e. "the manuals", etc.), but much more importantly at the level of common piety and lived "comprehension". He believed this is nothing less than secularism itself - its very root as it were, and even says it is the west's "original sin". It is here, in these debates/confusion around the essence of the Eucharist, that he places the historical nexus of secularism on the one hand, and when theology ceased to be "of" God, but "about" God on the other.

      Contrary to most of the history of these theology(s) concerning the Eucharist, these particular questions around bread, celiac disease, the possibility of human pathogens "in" the eucharist, is how the "profane" side of the dichotomy is are driving the questions/anxiety. Historically of course the question(s) and anxiety around the what/how of the "supernatural" drove the theologizing. That said, in my opinion this is not accidental and is correlated with how in our secular culture and our secularized Christianity the anthropological side of Christology is being tested - sex, gender, marriage, abortion, women's ordination, sex, death and dying, sex... these are not anxieties that in the end are "answered" in relation to divinity of Christ, but rather His humanity. Of course to even say such a thing I am affirming that *all* theology is Christological and Sacramental in essence, so clearly I agree with Schmemann and his critique.

      Your correspondents point about the make-up of bread and wine is important I think - it more than just an "analogous" observation. His point about the good thief's "comprehension" of the Sacraments, which are nothing less than the Real(ist) Symbols of Christ Himself, is important in my opinion, in that it is not a vague "mysterion" hermeneutic, nor is it a metaphysic of one sort or another, nor an epistimic "assent" to the Truth that was before him, or any other kind of "about God" theology...

  10. These exchanges about the nature of the "change" of the eucharistic elements at the consecration seem implicitly to reflect intra-Orthodox differences arising from "the Western Captivity of Orthodox Theology" notion, originating among the Russian emigre Parisian Orthodox in the interwar period, and especially in the years after 1945 (e.g., Vladimir Lossky) and which rejects a "captivity" which, if examined historically, extends as far back as the 13th/14th centuries among the Greeks (cf. Mark of Ephesus' knowledge and use of Scotist scholasticism and George Gennadios Scholarios's praise of Thomas Aquinas as one who would have been the greatest theologian ever, if only he had been Orthodox). This WCOT meme - for so I think I may term it - has always struck me as historically doubtful (since when has there not been theological cross-fertilization between different Christian cultural regions?), driven in large part by anti-"Latin" animus (one reason to uphold 1054 as "The Date of The Schism," however historically absurd, may be that any "Latin" influence on "Greek" theology after that date can be represented as an alien "corruption," analogously to the embarrassment of some Orthodox over the veneration of Francis of Assisi found among Orthodox on some of the Aegean islands and especially in rural Crete when contrasted with the rejection of the frars and later variants of "Latin" religious life among the WCOT folks as "aien to the Orthodox phronema"), and capable of infinite and indefinite extension (e.g., to justify the ordination of women to "the diaconate," or the acceptance of contraceptive practice, or even homosexual pseudogamy, opposition to which can likewise be represented as "aien to the Orthodox phronema," as in fact it already has been represented, cf. Kyriake Kydonis Fitzgerald on "deaconesses" as "female deacons," and the song she sings is not by any means a sole siren's song among the Orthodox).

    1. This seems to happen to these sorts of "meta" ideas such as WCOT; their appropriation by anyone and everyone, where they are re-reinterpreted and made to serve particular perspectives and agenda's. Dr. Carrie Frost whom I studied under (she is a sensitive and able teacher by the way) is one of the leaders of the "female deacon" movement within Orthodoxy. She argues that St. Paul suffered from a "pseudomorphosis" and erroneously placed Greco-Roman cultural norms around anthropology and women into the New Testament itself. In my opinion, her anthropology and moral calculus has everything to do with Kant, and little to do with NT/early/Patristic/classical Christianity. Obviously at this point we are far from the spirit of Florovsky and Schmemann and their meaning/ application of the term.

      Another example is Florovsky's "Neo-Patristic Synthesis". You have everyone from the "Old-True-Ultra-Super-Dox" to the most secularized academics (e.g. Fordham's program) appropriating the phrase. It's actually comical to me how little of Florovorsky actual meaning is left from when almost everyone refers to it. That said, Florovorsky's point was subtle, creative AND Patristic and most who appropriate the phrase have much more immediate and pressing agendas to press upon you ;)

      I do find Schmemann's particular use of WCOT convincing, if nothing else for his' explanatory power towards the general secularization I have sensed in the 'average' person who stood next to me in an Orthodox parish all these years, and in particular these current Eucharistic and sacramental issues.

      I had a wonderful conversation with my father in law last night. He was a Southern Baptist most of his life, but about 10 years ago converted to RCism after spending some time with the (mostly Latin) Fathers. He has always had a irenic and natural classical Christianity, and has a sensitive mind and heart. Starting with this recent intra-Orthodox Eucharistic and virus debates, we ranged over sacramental theology, Augustine's negative anthropology, original sin, Vat. I and Immaculate Conception, C.S. Lewis, and the like. In a way that is compatible I think with both your Lutheran friend as well as Schmemman's "symbolical" patristics, he maintained that whatever the *truth* of these various theologies, the *meaning* is found only in their actual embodied use to each individuals persons salvation. Of course he is right, their vitality, or lack there of, is found in only to the extent that they bring each person that much closer to their True End in Christ. I often despair at our 'religious situation' here in western civ. and Orthodoxy’s place/role in it, but last night I realized that it is in conversations like the one I was having, and the underlying spirit and relationship upon which it is based, that the real 'Neo-Patristic Synthesis' occurs and has always occurred...