ATHENS – Ripped by criticism that taking Holy Communion from the same spoon was safe during the time of the raging and highly contagious COVID-19 Coronavirus, the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece will hold an emergency meeting March 16 to decide whether to keep doing that and let churches stay open in the run-up to Easter.
The New Democracy government that is close to the Church so far hasn’t moved to force a shutdown of churches as it did for restaurants, theaters, cinemas, playgrounds, sports facilities, malls and other venues where large crowds congregate.
While churches in other countries have shut down to help prevent the spread of the virus, Church officials in Greece said they will stay open for now after claiming that the Holy Communion was safe in the face of evidence it could expose attendants to the disease.
Also uncertain for now is what to do about funerals and whether to limit crowds at cemeteries for burials as Health Ministry officials said people should stay at least two meters, more than six feet apart as the disease can be spread by coughs and by hands touching affected surfaces.
Archbishop Ieronymos had urged worshippers to display “a spirit of responsibility,” saying their faith would not be in doubt if they didn’t go to church. “There is no way to measure faith, neither do our clerics keep a register of who attends our churches,” he said.
The Holy Synod earlier said that the elderly, the highest risk group, should consider avoiding Church services but not Holy Communion, in which they consume wine-soaked bread symbolizing Christ’s blood and flesh from a spoon used for all.
Ieronymos repeated the Church’s call for worshippers to follow Health Ministry hygiene guidelines but didn’t ban Communion, instead criticizing those who wanted the practice suspended as coming from “ostensibly elitist circles.”