ASIA/TURKEY – Covid-19, ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew: governments cannot impose rules on the celebration of the Eucharist
The Salt Lake Tribune
Istanbul (Agenzia Fides) – The Orthodox Churches have followed the dispositions imposed by the civil authorities of their respective Countries to combat the coronavirus pandemic, closing the churches and celebrating the divine liturgy without the participation of the faithful. But now, after the months of quarantine, and places of worship are beginning to reopen, the “authorities of this world” cannot expect to dictate ecclesial dynamics that affect the celebration of sacred mysteries, starting from the way the divine Eucharist will be distributed to the faithful. This is how Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, “Primus inter pares” among the Primates of Orthodoxy warns governments and civil institutions, in a letter sent to other Patriarchs and Heads of Churches to request their opinions and define a pastoral approach shared before the controversies that arose in Countries where local political authorities claim to impose new protocols for the celebration of the sacraments and in particular for the distribution of the Eucharist, on the basis of hygienic-sanitary considerations linked to the policies to combat the Covid- 19 pandemic.
Government consultants in particular argue the method of distribution of the Eucharistic: bread and wine, which Orthodox priests administer to the faithful using the same spoon to be immersed in the only chalice, where bread and wine are mixed. Government-related bodies have already said that this method of distributing the Eucharist does not comply with the health provisions imposed by the pandemic emergency. Controversy arose in Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and other Countries where a large part of the population is of Orthodox Christian faith.
With his letter, signed on May 17 and made known on Sunday May 31, Patriarch Bartholomew claims the role of the “Mother Church of Constantinople” in coordinating the uniformity between the local Orthodox Churches on the extremely important question of the divine Eucharist and how to distribute it to the faithful”. Bartholomew stresses that the Orthodox Churches have adhered to and obeyed the provisions imposed by the health and political authorities before the planetary spread of the virus, and adds that “the condescension of the Church” can go as far as “the cross”, but cannot submit “to the authorities of this world when the Divine Eucharist is called into question”. In the life of the Church – adds the Patriarch – “the interpreter of the evangelical and apostolic exhortations, but also of the spirit and letter of the divine and holy canons is the Holy Tradition, indissolubly woven with daily ecclesiastical practice and kenotic experience”. Tradition has always recognized that the Church lives in the world “thanks to the Divine Eucharist and in the Divine Eucharist, or, to put it another way, that the Divine Eucharist is the revelation and experience of the divine-human mystery of the Church”. For this reason, given that during the pandemic “some inconvenient opinions were heard on how to deal with the immaculate mysteries”, according to the Patriarch it became “impossible for us to remain silent in the face of such an ambiguous situation, and inactive in the face of developments and the government regulations and prohibitions related to it”. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 2/6/2020)