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United States

New Hampshire Attorney General Intervenes in the Metropolis of Boston Regarding COVID-19

September 30, 2020

BOSTON – The Office of the Attorney General of the State of New Hampshire headed by Gordon J. Macdonald in a letter dated September 25, 2020 addressed to Metropolitan Methodios of Boston, his chancellor Fr. Theodore Barbas, and Fr. Robert Archon cites them for violating Emergency Orders 42 and 63 of the Governor of New Hampshire – which have the force of law – for not abiding by them regarding the protective measures for COVID-19. A copy of the letter was obtained by The National Herald.

The letter’s recipients seem to have ignored the warnings of the Public Health authorities regarding the worship services and the distribution of Holy Communion from the same chalice and the same spoon at St. Nicholas parish in Portsmouth, whose Pastor is Fr. Archon and where an outbreak of COVID-19 occurred among the parishioners. According to exclusive information obtained by The National Herald, at least six congregants contracted the dangerous virus at the beginning of September and one of the cases was very serious, requiring hospitalization and treatment in an Intensive Care Unit. It appears that parishioner is doing better and the danger has passed.

The problem started back in July, when an initiative by members of the Parish Council to use multiple spoons for Holy Communion were not realized due to the prohibition of Metropolitan Methodios. The parish has been closed for the last few weeks and no Divine Liturgy has been performed. The rest of twelve parishes in New Hampshire have also not abided by the Emergency Orders of the Governor because Methodios insists on the use of the common spoon for Holy Communion, invoking the announcement of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of June 25, 2020 that was issued after the meeting of the Holy Synod in Geneva. However Methodios makes a selective use of the Patriarchal announcement, disregarding the following part that says the following: “At the same time, the Mother Church, mindful of the special needs of Her children in the Diaspora, urges the Chief Shepherds who serve in the Diaspora that with a pastoral sensitivity, responsibility, and consciousness, to temporarily make, by economia (leniency), accommodations to problematic situations that arise from local laws of the State for the greater spiritual benefit of the Christian people, always in coordination with the Sacred Center at the Phanar.”

The National Herald has learned that Fr. Robert Archon appeared to be willing to acquiesce regarding the use of multiple spoons, but a few days after speaking with Methodios and Barbas he changed his mind and insisted on the use of the common spoon. Consequently, after ten years of priestly ministry at St. Nicholas he was transferred to the St. Athanasios parish in Arlington after the resignation of Fr. Anthony Evangelatos, who only lasted two-and-one-half years after succeeding Fr. Nicholas Kastanas, who was ousted by Methodios more than three years ago, in July of 2017, placing the once thriving community in jeopardy.

The Metropolis of Boston did not notify the Archdiocese and Archbishop Elpidophoros about the serious recent events in the community and because of Methodios’ handling of the issue the entire Church in America is in danger of being the target of blame and shame throughout the United States.

Excerpts from the letter of the Attorney General follow:

“The Greek Orthodox practice of using a single, shared chalice and spoon appears to be a possible source of the COVID-19 outbreak at St. Nicholas. This practice of using a single, shared chalice and spoon does not comply with Paragraph 15 of the Guidance and therefore, is a violation of Emergency Order 52, as extended. St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was informed of this violation on July 25, 2020, by Portsmouth’s Public Health Officer, Kim McNamara. However, the practice seems to have continued. This practice must be modified in order to achieve compliance with Emergency Order 52, as extended.

“Violations of the Governor’s Emergency Orders 52 or 63, as extended, and its applicable Guidance are taken very seriously. These provisions have been instituted so New Hampshire businesses and organizations can operate as safely as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. By not complying with the Emergency Orders, organizations risk endangering the health of all individuals involved in an event as well as everyone else who those individuals come into contact with after the event ends. Organizations also risk further legal enforcement action to achieve compliance.”    

In another instance the letter states that “the DPH has been working with St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church with respect to managing and controlling an outbreak of COVID-19 among its parishioners. We understand that there is some confusion within the Greek Orthodox Church regarding whether Emergency Order 52, as extended, is applicable to it. As explained below, both Emergency Order 52, as extended, and Emergency Order 63 are applicable to the Greek Orthodox Church in New Hampshire and must be complied with.”

The latter further notes that:

“The Places of Worship Guidance is intended to cover all religions, no matter what denomination, and all religious services. The language used in that Guidance is intended to be as general as possible and was not intended to place restrictions on only specific religions. There is no language in that Guidance that states that it only applies to certain religious sects, such as Protestants or Catholics. Therefore, the Places of Worship Guidance applies to the Greek Orthodox Church in New Hampshire.

“Some of the mandatory provisions of the Places of Worship Guidance include the following provisions:

Paragraph 3, states that any place of worship – shall limit building occupancy to 50 percent of the building’s maximum permitted occupancy level as documented in its occupancy permit on record with the municipal building department or other municipal record holder. However actual occupancy might need to be lower than 50% occupancy in order to comply with social distancing and other guidance contained in these Guidelines….

“Paragraph 11 requires that all attendees ‘who are not part of the same immediate household must be seated/positioned at least 6 feet apart.’

“Under Paragraph 15, the lead-in language states that, ‘Shared cups, serving utensils, books of worship, or passing of plates must he avoided. The three subparagraphs then provide some examples of what the lead-in language is referring to.’ “Subparagraph b states, ‘Communion and Eucharist, for example, should not involve a shared cup or passing of a plate between people. Having individual elements that are picked up by attendees upon entry to a facility is recommended.’

“Emergency Order 63, requiring face coverings to be worn when at an event with more than 100 people present, also applies to “faith based … events.” See Paragraph 1. While individuals can remove their face coverings while seated at a distance of at least 6 feet from other household groups or individuals, face coverings must be worn when moving inside the facility or at the event. See Paragraph 2(a). Additionally, the organizer of any event or the property owner where an event occurs ‘shall make reasonable efforts to ensure compliance with this Order.’ See Paragraph 4.

FR. ARCHON’S RESIGNATION

In the meantime, Fr. Archon, after ten years as priest at St. Nicholas, on July 20 sent a letter to the parishioners stating among other things:

“This is the most difficult letter I have ever had to draft. I wish to first respond to the recent letter you received from the Parish Council. What the letter failed to state is my reason for leaving St. Nicholas. In the coming days, you may hear various reasons why I am leaving, such as another parish opportunity, opportunities with my PhD, or being re-assigned by His Eminence. All of these are untrue. 

“Unfortunately, in light of recent events, my continued tenure at St. Nicholas is not possible. Five months ago, when this pandemic arrived it caused and continues to cause much fear and disruption to our lives, and more importantly affected how we understood reception of Holy Communion. The Ecumenical Patriarch and His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios have made it abundantly clear that the Eucharistic practice of the Church is to remain unchanged through the use of one spoon. During this time, I have had many discussions with the Parish Council with regard to this issue. I have demonstrated great love, compassion and patience while instructing and educating them as to the teaching of the Church on the reception of the Holy Eucharist, but to no avail. Consequently, for the Parish Council of St. Nicholas this issue still remains unresolved. This is a theological issue, and not up for debate for the Parish Council or the congregation to decide. Our Church is hierarchical in nature and all of us need to comply with the directives of our Spiritual Leaders. I have demonstrated great compassion towards those who feel uneasy and wish not to receive at this time. However, fears, health concerns, and even legal recommendations do not change our two-thousand-year Church tradition.” 

He also wrote, “please understand that I hold no malice towards anyone, especially the Parish Council. I love all of you as my spiritual children. There is a difference between a healthy and respectful exchange of ideas and the compromising of our theological dogmas and traditions. This decision to use one Communion spoon was not mine, but I am merely a faithful servant of His Eminence and the Church following her directives.”

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