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Pandemics and Holy Communion
Announcement by Metropolitan Nikolaos of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki
During the relatively recent threat of the swine flu pandemic, there also arose – albeit unnecessarily – the issue of contagious illnesses spreading through Holy Communion.
It is unfortunate that yet another such attempt is being made to “deconstruct” our Faith (often with impious dialectic, timorous style, and no genuine, well-meaning argumentation), at a time when we have been left with no other support to hold on to.
So, with this opportunity, I thought it would be good to mention certain truths that are deemed necessary for salvaging the valuable treasure of faith within us.
For over 2000 years, our Church has been transmitting the grace of Her Sacraments in the all-familiar, human and blessed manner, for “the healing of soul and body”.
The Church has never been troubled by the contemporary logic of disrespectful doubting; instead, the faithful have continued to live with the experience of a confirmed, major miracle. Could it ever be possible for one’s communion with God to become a cause for sickness or even the slightest harm?
Is it ever possible for the Body and the Blood of our Lord and God to contaminate our body and our blood?
Is it ever possible for a 2-millennia-old, daily experience to be crushed by the rationalizing and the cold shallowness of our times?
The faithful - both the healthy and the sick - for entire centuries have been receiving Holy Communion from the same Communion Spoon, which we never wash and we never disinfect; and yet, nothing detrimental has ever been observed.
Priests who serve in hospital chapels – even in hospitals for contagious diseases – will serve Holy Communion to the sick patients, and afterwards piously consume the remainder inside the Holy Chalice, and are known to enjoy a healthy longevity.
Holy Communion is everything that the Church and the faithful hold sacred; the most powerful medicine for the soul and the body. This is also a teaching – a teaching and experience of our Church.
Those who disbelieve in the miracle of the Lord’s Resurrection, those who mock His birth by a Virgin Mother, those who deny the fragrance that proceeds from saints’ holy relics, those who shun whatever is holy and sacred, those who plot against our Church, those who seek to eradicate even the smallest trace of faith from our souls, it is only natural that they would try to take advantage of any opportunity to insult the most sacred Mystery of the Holy Eucharist.
The fact that the Anglicans and the Papists have decided “for precautionary reasons” to discontinue the transmission of their “holy communion” in England and New Zealand respectively, if true, does not indicate (as some assert) prudence and freedom, but instead indicates in the best possible manner the vast distance between them and our Orthodox Church, who is Eucharistic in Her theology and Her way of life; Who lives, believes and preaches the Mystery, as opposed to the other Christian groups which are indirectly confessing the absence of Grace and signs from God in their self-designated mysteries, as well as the lack of an ecclesiastic identity. Life without any Sacrament is tantamount to a sickness without any medication.
Unfortunately, the big problem is NOT the flu virus, as proclaimed by the Media, nor is it the virus of worldwide panic, as disseminated by medical societies; it is the virus of disrespect and the germ of little faith. And the best “vaccine” for fighting it, is our frequent partaking of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, “with a clean conscience” and “blamelessly”. Our response to this unholy provocation of our days is our Orthodox way of living.
It would be good if our spiritual fathers were to exhort the faithful – with discretion, and wherever they discern that there are no spiritual impediments – to receive Holy Communion more frequently during these difficult times. Those of us who have received their blessing should definitely approach the Chalice of Life more frequently, but naturally “with the fear of God, plenty of faith, and sincere love”.
The Priest who served Holy Communion in the Spinalonga Island Leper Colony, using the same Spoon for himself after serving all the lepers
For ten whole years, Monk Chrysanthos Koutsouloyannakis was the consolation of the lepers on Spinalonga. He blessed and served Holy Communion to the sick by reaching out and receiving Holy Communion himself from the same Spoon, without any fear of the disease and its consequences.
Those who had met him spoke of an exuberant, benevolent form whose aim was to alleviate the suffering of people who were ailing. They characterized him as a “godsend” and a “holy man”.
More information on Monk Chrysanthos has been taken from the newspaper 'Orthodox Truth' and the testimony of Dimitris Papadakis, a former High School Headmaster and Chairman of the Heraklion Literary Society of Crete, who had met him personally.
“Dumped like manure in a filthy manure pit”
“In 1947 the pastor of Spinalonga, Fr. Meletios Vourgouris, had obtained permission from the Bishop of Petra, Fr. Dionysios Maragoudakis, for a 2-month leave, from July 20th to September 20th, to go to the Holy Land. Upon expiry of his leave, he did not return to his post. The Bishop couldn't find a priest to replace him”, Papadakis said.
Mr. Papadakis did not fail to mention his touching acquaintance with Father Chrysanthos, underlining: “I had the good fortune to become acquainted with Monk Chrysanthos on August 15th of 1967 at the Toplou Monastery. He was a short-bodied, ascetic form, with a white beard. The years weighed heavily on his shoulders. His cassock and his monk’s cap were both faded”.
“I was outside the Katholikon (=the Main church) with Father Chrysanthos one morning, when a very elderly man appeared. As soon as he spotted Father Chrysanthos, he exclaimed with great surprise and joy: 'Father Chrysanthos!’ At that same moment, two embraces opened wide. Inside Father Chrysanthos' humble cell, I was given the opportunity to acquaint myself with the stranger, but also to nudge him into talking about his experiences during his contacts with the priest on the island: 'I was a leper' - he said – ‘I lived on Spinalonga for many years. Our illness had deformed us. The fear of infection made all the healthy people not even dare to approach us. The doctor, the nurses, the other civil servants and the women who washed our clothes, would all leave the island with a motorboat a little before sundown, and go to the village of Plaka to the west and opposite Spinalonga Island. Journalists called Spinalonga the 'Island of the living dead', and officials did not wish to stay the night with the lepers.
We all felt the need for a priest. He alone could comfort us with God's word and support us spiritually. But a priest would come to our island from Elounda only twice a month.
He would come Saturday evening, serve Vespers, and then depart. He would come again the next day, serve the Divine Liturgy, and depart. He would also come at other times: for the unavoidable necessity to inter our dead!
One day some of us men were sitting in the yard of our café, which was close to the main gate. Then a priest appeared at a distance. We all understood that he had come to the island to officiate in the church. As soon as he saw us, he approached us. He bade us good morning kindheartedly.
We all stood up and welcomed him with a slight bow. But none of us extended their hand to greet him. A leper must never shake hands, the reason being, he might transmit his accursed sickness. But then he greeted us all with a handshake! He told us very simply that he would be staying with us, to help us fulfill our Christian duties. Our emotion was immense.”
The narration regarding the second day on Fr. Chrysanthos’ island was as follows: “The next day we went to the church of St. Panteleimon. All of us - men, women and children - participated with due solemnity in the Divine Liturgy, which was served with Doric simplicity and unfathomable piety. That Sunday we didn’t receive Holy Communion. We had not been informed in time for the Divine Liturgy and we had not fasted. At the end of the Liturgy, we received the Antidoron bread morsels from his hand. And as we took the Antidoron, we ALL kissed his hand!
It was something that he himself had aspired to do; as he distributed the Antidoron, he intentionally moved his hand closer to our mouths. Everyone’s eyes filled with tears of emotion.
Before his arrival, we would take the Antidoron ourselves, from a reed basket that the sacristan placed on the candle counter. On the following Sunday, practically all of us went to church. The church was packed, as was its courtyard. On that day, we all received Holy Communion. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, we noticed that our priest was consuming the remnant of the content in the Holy chalice, after all of us had partaken of it!
All of us stood with eyes opened wide in surprise. We thought we were dreaming. Large beads of hot tears welled up from our eyes. The previous priest would pour the remnant of the Holy Chalice into the special disposal crucible (naturally per Divine Providence); he would not consume it himself.
The priest-monk Chrysanthos stayed with us night and day. And he stayed with us for ten whole years! During those years, he showed his love for all of us. He would visit us at our homes. He guided us all. He helped the poor with what little money he had; and he did that, by observing the gospel words: ‘Don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing’. Like all the other patients of Spinalonga, I too am grateful to Father Chrysanthos for .....”, but was unable to complete his phrase. He burst into a muted sobbing”.
“Father Chrysanthos,” continued Mr. Papadakis, “with his gaze focused on the floor as he listened to the descriptions by the former leper, commented with an inner grandeur: “ 'I don’t believe what I did was something so great. It is what every officiator of the Most High and what every Christian would have done. I just helped our fellow-man as much as I could, to lift up their Cross upon their Calvary. After all, their sickness is not transmitted with Holy Communion – with the Body and the Blood of Christ.’ “
He stayed there to tend to the graves!Father Chrysanthos - emotionally charged - spoke to Mr. Papadakis about his decision to stay on the island when everyone had departed from it: 'The Spinalonga Leper Colony was shut down. It was July of 1957. Everyone left the island; only I remained there.' I asked him why, and he replied: 'I had to tend to the graves of the Hansenites. Furthermore, as I stood before their graves, I had to chant prayers for the repose of their souls. I abandoned the island in 1959. My health was shaken. That’s when I left the island. My Bishop placed me in this Monastery.’ “...
Article published in English on: 08-08-2019.
Last update: 08-08-2019.