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Letter from Athens: COVID-19 Pits Greek Church Vs. Science, God Or Vaccine?

Αssociated Press

Priests wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, attend the funeral of senior clergyman Ioannis of Lagadas after he died of COVID-19, in Greece s Orthodox Church, in the northern city of Thessaloniki, Greece, Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

You couldn't be a more devout Man of God than Metropolitan Bishop Ioannis of Lagadas, outside Thessaloniki, the region hit hardest by COVID-19, as he continued to preach that Holy Communion was a safe act. 

Make that The Late Metropolitan Bishop Ioannis. 

He's dead and buried, a victim of the Coronavirus he said couldn't spread in Church but apparently God's not listening – unless it's his will and he's acting in mysterious ways – because other clerics are being infected and dying while denying Communion could be to blame. 

It turns out, however, that this sacred act, during the pandemic, may be more dangerous than Church leaders want to admit because a long line of people are receiving what they believe is the body and blood of Christ from the same spoon. 

During a first lockdown in the spring – Greece is in a second until at least Dec. 1, likely longer because COVID-19 is spreading even faster than conspiracy theories – the Greek Orthodox Church said it was impossible for any disease to spread through the giving of Communion. 

“There is not a shred of suspicion of transmitting this virus, this disease, as in the Holy Chalice there is the Son and the Word of God” the Rev. Georgios Milkas, a theologian from Thessaloniki told The Associated Press in May. 

A lot of people have died since then, unknown, of course if any were infected or became a fatality of the horror show because of Communion because there's no real tracking and tracing, and the Church isn't coming forth about even its own clerics. 

At the time, Dr. Nathalie MacDermott, an academic clinical lecturer for Britain's National Institute for Health Research at King's College London, told the AP that the danger was real, perhaps unless you believe in some kind of Divine Intervention. 

“The danger of transmitting any kind of respiratory viral pathogen or even bacterial infections is quite high with the sharing of utensils,” she said. 

“And for it to be passed among what is probably a relatively large group of people means that all it would take is one person to have Coronavirus at the back of their throat, which potentially is in their saliva as well,” she said. 

The Holy Synod, the church’s governing body, said any suggestion illness or disease could be transmitted by Holy Communion is blasphemy so this is where religion and science collide. 

Christian Scientists don't believe in medical science either, preferring prayer, even if it has meant letting their children die instead of getting medical care. 

If you believe God is omnipotent and omniscient and created life maybe you could stretch that to accept he made penicillin but COVID-19 has brought a real pother. 

Bishop Ioannis had a lot of support from other Church leaders and members, including people willing to drink from the same spoon, although maybe they'd think twice if the person in front of them coughed, spit, or sneezed into it. 

That is not to belittle belief in God or the Church's role in providing salvation and serenity to those who need it, especially during the rampaging Coronavirus. 

You're better off listening to religious leaders than President Psycho and his whacko pandemic advisor Dr. Scott Atlas – essentially an X-ray technician who has no infectious diseases experience or brain. 

But no amount of wishing and hoping and closing your eyes and believing with all your might is going to change the scientific fact that if the person or persons ahead of you in the Communion line are infected you're next. 

COVID-19 is spreading in the Greek Church – Archbishop Ieronymos got it, perhaps even before he met Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for a maskless meeting despite lockdown rules that everyone should wear one everywhere, except apparently for a key photo opportunity. 

Neither was fined and the argument they were a safe social distance doesn't cut it because either everyone wears a mask or no one does because if there's 10 people in a lifeboat and eight are rowing and two are sleeping you're not going to make it. 

After Bishop Ioannis' death from COVID-19, the Holy Synod said that media focus on the alleged dangers from Communion was “neurotic.” 

The Synod attacked “aspiring public opinion leaders (who seek to) impose unscientific correlations regarding the spread of Coronavirus in defiance of epidemiological data and who even opine on issues of faith without having any knowledge or competence in the area of theology.” In politics, that's what's called a spin. 

“Since the democratic state guarantees religious freedom, they do not have the right to demand that the state ban Holy Communion as ‘unhealthy,’ just because they themselves choose not to believe,” the Synod said. 

This is a no-win argument because you'd have better luck persuading believers COVID-19 can be transmitted through Communion than convincing a supporter of President Psycho he's whacko, but there's no arrows left in either of their quiverings. 

The government, while noting that World Health Organization guidelines list saliva as a leading means of contamination, wants no part of this argument and Mitsotakis didn't challenge Ieronymos. 

The Church insists that Communion “does not transmit viruses, but eternal life,” but if it's wrong it will be eternal death – at least for communicants’ bodies – although there's vaccines coming and let's hope God made those too.