Since I posted previously about this topic, I've received not a hint of solidarity from any Orthodox Christians I know (save two friends I directly sought out feedback from), despite my site analytics telling me the post did at least make some minor rounds. The awkward silence can possibly be attributed to the fact that a majority of my Orthodox acquaintances, if not scandalized by the prospect of multiple Communion spoons, are more likely to remain quiet about the subject than to join the debate or "take sides". But the silence is thick in my corner of American Orthodoxy nevertheless, and makes one feel isolated. I also hate to think of my own venturing of comments on this topic as an act of "taking sides", per se, rather than a positive instructive impulse in response to friends who are encountering a spiritual stumbling block. Indeed, the thrust of my aforementioned post was nothing more than to say, "This isn't the stumbling block you thought it was. We're ok. You're ok. Breathe a little. Maybe get off the internet and quit listening to that pet podcast."
But as this is my first foray into publicly commenting on an Orthodox controversy, a sense of isolation gives way to a sense of self-consciousness. "Did I miss the mark on this? Should I have just kept silent as I have on other matters in the past?" Perhaps those are in fact separate questions, and to reemphasize my earlier point, I've only ventured commentary on this out of a desire to help calm the fears of personal friends who have felt scandalized by the prospect of temporarily departing from the common spoon. But I was nevertheless relieved and encouraged yesterday when I was made aware that my thoughts on this issue are in keeping with at least one archdiocese in the U.S. The OCA seems to be currently pacing the rest of American Orthodoxy on these issues, or at least the Diocese of the South is. I linked in my previous post to a document sent to their clergy a couple of weeks ago, in which a temporary, multi-spoon system is outlined and prescribed for parish priests to follow. The same diocese (my own, should I eventually decide to move my family into the OCA) has now released an illuminating and fantastic retort to the petition started by fledgling Orthodox podcaster and self-described priest, Peter Heers. The OCA letter, whose author is not named due to the contentious nature of the ongoing debate, makes many similar rhetorical points as in my own post on the subject, but in much greater depth and with a pastoral grace that I lack. The writer also minces no words about the person who seems to be at the forefront of online hand-wringing over multi-spoon methods of Communion distribution. Some excerpts:
Recently a priest whose canonical status is not easily discerned has posted videos trying to provoke schism and disobedience to the bishops’ directives in the wake of the pandemic. In one of the recent videos he interviews a so-called “Elder” who repeatedly calls the pandemic a conspiracy of the Zionists, Kabbalists, and Masons, and cites highly suspect Internet stories as evidence.
I'm immensely encouraged that the OCA's official website is deigning to call out the brain virus that is the Orthodox Internet Underbelly. It's prophetic and it's needed, and in a sense it isn't surprising insofar as the OCA deals with a much higher percentage of American converts than do most other archdioceses. But I digress on that point.
The writer, who affirms that the Church does not believe one can get germs from the Eucharist, decries efforts to make scientifically absolute statements to this end, explaining thusly:
The precious Body and Blood of Christ, is instructive. In Great Lent, when preparing Communion for the Presanctified Liturgy, the priest must take care that the consecrated Lamb does not get moldy. Thus, he takes precautions to make sure it gets sufficient air to dry out. The consecrated Lamb which has become the Body of Christ and intincted with the Blood of Christ remains a physical reality of our world even as it is now not of this world. Likewise, on Holy Thursday or anytime the priest prepares the reserved sacrament for the sick that will be kept on the Holy Table, the priest is warned in the strongest of terms to be careful lest it be burned (one method for removing the moisture in the Lamb is to warm it on some sort of hot plate) or become moldy. These examples alone should suffice to purge our thinking of superstitious or magical notions about the Holy Mysteries.
This is, in fact, the great marvel of Holy Communion, that the risen Son of God seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven deigns to become food! As we sing on Holy Saturday, He comes “to give himself as food to the faithful.” Brothers and sisters, superstitious thinking leading to condemnation and charges of heresy needs to stop. Taken to extremes, as is happening with some, it leads to dangerous false teachings.
And finally, the spoon:
Many people, particularly online, are now in a huff about practices concerning cleaning or even replacing the spoon. The use of a spoon for Holy Communion is approximately 1000 years old. That means, prior to that, there was no Communion spoon. I will not take time to go into the more ancient practices for receiving Holy Communion, I will only say that to make a dogma out of the spoon is wrong. One critic online insisted on the use of only one spoon (as opposed to multiple spoons) because there is only one Eucharist, one Christ, etc. But is she not aware that almost all of us have communed in a Liturgy at which there were multiple chalices (and, therefore, multiple spoons)? When I visited Moscow last year there were multiple chalices on the Holy Table even at the consecration of the Gifts. When there are hundreds of communicants practical necessity requires the use of several chalices and spoons, along with several priests to administer Communion.
The writer then issues a caution and a charge that we may be in danger of a sort of schism like one that occurred in Russia a few centuries ago, but with much less of a basis for it:
Brothers and sisters, there is real danger of another sort of Old Believer schism affecting the Church today as it did in Russia a few hundred years ago when people refused to accept changes to the service books and some of the practices of the faithful even when it became clear that the old ways were mistaken. At that time the corrections were often introduced heavy-handedly, but that is not the case in our situation, where the bishops have considerately and in the face of a serious health crisis introduced temporary changes, changes which in no way affect the dogmas or teachings of our Faith.
The writer concludes with a sober plea that Orthodox Christians not allow themselves to be appetized by the scandal-hungry corners of the Orthodox internet "that trade in conspiracies, fear, hatred and anger, ultimately leading to schism and the loss of faith."
I'm so thankful for the writer allowing his pastoral letter to receive wider circulation, I'm thankful for Bishop Alexander of the OCA's Diocese of the South for seeing the wisdom in it, and I'm thankful to the OCA for being in a level of one accord that would allow a letter of such immediate prophetic importance to receive speedy inclusion on the archdiocese's website.
I remain hopeful and prayerful that the current uproar is, like virtually all internet uproars, a transient one.
May the Lord give each of us mercy for ourselves and for each other, and may He give us the grace to recognize where internet vigilance should end and Christian prudence and humility should begin. ☦︎
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