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COVID-19: The Church and the World

Since I have been getting a lot of questions regarding the Eucharist and the spread of the corona virus, I thought I would share some thoughts with you. Here are the facts: 

1- The virus is spreading at high rates and some groups are more vulnerable than others  

2- The Church has taken good measures to halt the spread of the disease such as limiting handshakes, cancelling most gatherings except the divine liturgy, and hand sanitizing, etc.  

3- The State might require masses to stay home and avoid gatherings of more than 250 individuals

Some say the Church should by no means succumb to the current measures taken by different countries and continue holding liturgies. Others have said let us shut down everything completely. Some have taken a middle path by requesting that we continue holding liturgies and change the mode of receiving the Eucharist.

Here is my opinion with a few points for us to consider, think about, reflect on, etc. Remember that this is simply my opinion which you are free to disagree with.

  1. If the Churches close for a few weeks, this does not stop you from being a Christian. Early Christians had to flee from persecution and were deprived from holding liturgies as frequently as they would have liked. Early ascetics lived in the desert and barely partook of the Eucharist as monks were not ordained to the priesthood until later. Churches under Islamic persecution such as the Coptic Orthodox Church during medieval times, the Armenian Apostolic Church during the genocide at the hands of the Turks, and the Russian Orthodox Church under the communist regime have been shut for years. These Churches continued to produce saints amid the persecution. You still can be a saint if you put your mind and heart into it.
  2. If Churches remain open,
    + The Church should reconsider the way it administers the sacrament of the Eucharist. Personally, I believe the deified and life-giving body and blood of Christ would never communicate disease. However, I know that I am partaking of the Eucharist with brothers and sisters who might not have the same opinion. The Church needs to cater to their needs. This food is for the weak to be healed of their weakness and even if their opinion is seen as lack of faith, the Church, as a mother, should still do something about her children. Rites were made for man not man for rites. I cannot simply ignore the needs of my brothers and sisters if I believe myself to be united with them Eucharistically. Dipping the body in the blood then giving it to the communicant in their hand has been an ancient custom that can be restored. A more conservative alternative is receiving both from the priest into the mouth from a distance without a spoon.
    + Believers should avoid overcrowding liturgies. While we are always encouraged to commune, this might be a time where lowering the population attending is wise. Attending one liturgy during the week or even every two weeks is not a bad idea. People can spread their attendance in a manner where only 250 parishioners are in. Churches can shut their doors after 250 people or create a schedule and people can sign up for which liturgy they attend during the spread of the pandemic. Until a century or two ago, most Christians communed a few times a year. While I believe the Eucharist won’t spread disease, I believe that being in close proximity with one another will only cause trouble.  

The Church is in the world and is commissioned by Christ to serve it. We do not live in isolation as a Church. The same Christian clinging to stay in a crowded liturgy while sharing a spoon with hundreds of people is the same person who will be skeptical of a different religious gathering. Trust me it goes both ways. People with different worldviews see our liturgical rituals as jeopardizing their safety. Staying consistent in this regard is being civil. We can and should be considerate of people’s needs especially in times of necessity.

If staying at home is inevitable, here are a few things to consider doing:

  1. Dedicate more time to prayer for the salvation of the world, for the sick, the suffering and for medical teams participating in healing them and possibly discovering a cure.
  2. If you are missing liturgy, listen to different liturgical rites online—you won’t run out with the amount of Eastern Christian rites.  
  3. Read more scripture and spiritual books—Lent is a ripe time for this.
  4. Practice asceticism. Consider eating less. Instead of buying insane amounts of food, lower your food intake that your brother and sister may find food to eat in convenience stores and supermarkets.   
  5. Do your part in staying healthy and avoiding getting sick. We believe the human being to be a holistic being: one person formed of body and soul. The unity of our body and soul was used by the fathers to describe the unity of divinity and humanity in Christ. What you do with your body or soul will affect you as a whole. Do not jeopardize your safety then say God will heal me. This is an unorthodox way of thinking that does not emphasize the synergy between God and man upon which Orthodox life is built.

Let us unite in prayer for the Church and the world. We are of the former, but we still live in the latter

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