By John Sanidopoulos
I've been a bit perplexed why so many Orthodox Christians around the world have been quick to jump on the "get rid of the common communion spoons" bandwagon. Not just temporarily, but permanently. Has covid-19 frightened the faithful so much? It seems so. And sometimes our reactions due to an extreme form of fear causes us to forget the consequences of our actions. For this reason, I decided to list ten reasons why I think it would be a bad idea if the common communion spoon will be done away with permanently due to covid-19 or any other virus. I will avoid being theological and just stick to being practical as much as I can.
1. No Scientific Evidence
It is assumed that when a Church replaces a common thousand year old or so tradition and practice due to the fear of spreading a virus, then it would want to have some facts and evidence that such a thing can take place to back up why such a change is taking place. However, I have yet to see any such evidence or facts. I don't believe the debate on this issue should even begin until we are presented with the facts and evidence. And I'm talking about hardcore scientific facts and evidence. We can't rely on hearsay and anecdotal evidence, just because it may seem to make sense. What are the chances exactly of a virus being transmitted from the use of a common communion spoon? I think those who have longed for getting rid of the common communion spoon will be disappointed by the facts and evidence. Currently, we only have very strong evidence that the chances are pretty much zero to none, and this fact is based on various scientific studies that have already been done since the 19th century, as well as the fact that there are numerous recorded examples of Holy Communion and the means by which it is transmitted as never being the cause of the transmission of a virus, even in the most extreme circumstances (see links below).
2. Kiss Kissing Icons and Relics Goodbye
It logically follows that if you get rid of the common communion spoon due to a fear of spreading or catching a virus, then we should also abolish kissing icons and relics and anything else in the church. I mean, kissing icons and relics is basically like kissing someone on the lips, virus wise. No need to expand further on this, since it's so obvious. And not every church can have a professional icon and reliquary cleaner on hand at all times.
3. Antidron Awkwardness
Typically when the Divine Liturgy is over, the faithful go and receive the remaining portions of the bread offering, known as the antidron, from the priests hands and according to custom we receive it with both hands as we bend forward to kiss his hand. In a church that is afraid of virus transmission, this is a big no no. Who knows where the hand of the priest has been and who knows where the lips of the people have been? Too much of a big question mark to risk getting a virus. At best the antidron would need to be in a place by itself where we can get it on our own, but not in a common basket because you don't know where other people's hands have been. And as you grab your portion just send an awkward wave towards the priest.
4. The Kiss of Peace is a Kiss of Death
Saint Paul says, "Greet one another with a holy kiss." I say, "Are you crazy Saint Paul? Don't you know that a 'holy kiss' can kill me?" Personally, I don't attend a parish where a kiss of peace or even a handshake is exchanged during the Divine Liturgy, but many do. Maybe it can be replaced with an awkward wave or an Asian bow. This goes for the priests too, if there is more than one in the altar serving, where a kiss of peace is exchanged between them. Priests can carry the virus too, after all. This would include the fact that priests drink from a common cup and touch the same things. No more common cup for priests, and maybe priests will now need to wear gloves.
5. Polluted Pews
Literally anything we touch in a church can be a source of virus transmission, even a pew or chair. These will either need to be disinfected after every use from now on, or just eliminated altogether. For many anti-pewites this would be most welcome. The same goes for the liturgical books in the pews.
6. The Dangers of Candles
Not only do viruses bring harm, but I know of at least a dozen Orthodox churches that caught fire because of candles. Almost every Holy Week I have smelled burned hair due to a candle getting too close to someone. Paraffin candles, the white ones in other words, are a dangerous source of carbon monoxide emissions in a closed space. I myself fainted in church when I was younger because of these candles. Since there is much more evidence of candles being the source of harm and danger in churches than the common communion spoon, candles should be abolished.
7. Incense is Nonsense
I can't tell you how many times I have heard people tell me that they don't attend church because the incense bothers them, either due to allergies or asthma or some other sensitivity. This is an excuse I can actually understand, because incense, as much as I love it, sometimes bothers me too, especially during my allergy season. Since there is more evidence and facts behind incense being more harmful to people than the common communion spoon, we should abolish the use of incense along with the communion spoons. After all, the early Church didn't use incense, so why should we?
8. Social Distancing is the New Normal in Church Too
In a church of virus fear, social distancing must be perpetually practiced. This means no more packed churches - which shouldn't be too hard for most parishes anyway. But this includes major feast days as well. Communion lines, and any line, should be made with people six feet apart, at least. Social distancing is probably the best preventative practice to avoid catching a virus, as the evidence makes clear, so if you are going to abolish the common communion spoon, surely all churches throughout the world from now to eternity should practice social distancing. And don't get me started with mask wearing. Maybe we should just consider getting rid of church buildings altogether and have services outside only. But aren't the murder hornets outside?! Hmmm.
9. History Shows This is a Non-Issue
I'm not the paranoid type, and I hate playing one too, so let's get serious now. In traditionally Orthodox countries like Greece, Russia, the Middle East and the Balkans, there have literally been hundreds of epidemics and plagues and pandemics since the common communion spoon was introduced for very good practical reasons. No doubt a church can be a source of virus transmission, so in a time of crisis there must be great caution. We have some small historical cases where people were told to avoid going to church during outbreaks. This is fine. However, we have no recorded cases of the common communion spoon not being used out of fear of spreading a virus, not even temporarily. If there are, I haven't heard of one. Does this mean it can't happen? Even if it can, history does not record an instance that it was the cause or means of an outbreak, or even made an outbreak worse. The silence of history shows us this is a non-issue.
10. Change Through Fear
Fear makes one meticulous. Especially if your fear is against an invisible enemy. If you change one thing because of fear to prevent fear from consuming you, your fear will find a way to creep back into you another way. The examples above are just a few of many more examples of ways this could and will be done if we replace and abolish the common communion spoon due to an unfounded fear. Change should never take place because of a temporary fear. Maybe a temporary change, but not a permanent change. The consequences of one change due to fear will then lead to another, and another, and another. I'm not against the change of the common communion spoon if it needs to be done for a good reason, but this good reason should stand on its own. If it is going to happen because of fear, it better be based and justified on hardcore scientific evidence and facts. And if we find out now, after a thousand years or so, that common communion spoons do pose a great danger, then the debate can begin. But this debate will certainly not end with the common communion spoon. If anything, the debate should end with the common communion spoon. We must be very careful what doors we choose to open. It could unleash a worse virus into the Church than covid-19, a virus of fear.