Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On Chalices, Illnesses, and the H1N1 Flu

The following is posted thanks to Father Miguel Grave de Peralta, pastor of St Ignatios of Antioch Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Augusta, GA, who was passing along the information from the St George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral in Witchita, KS. The topic is considerations regarding receiving "from the Chalice" in regard to the potential spread of disease.

I recall some years ago, an newspaper story about disease featuring a photograph of an Eastern Christian priest administering Holy Communion via the spoon. The article gave the impression this was a less than sanitary way to distribute the Holy Body and Blood of our Lord. While I don't remember my exact comments in reply, I do remember being one of several Eastern clergy (and at least one Roman priest, if I recall correctly) who took the author(s) to task on the slant in the article. As one might expect from a website of the Cathedral of Bishop Basil Essey (on of the finest Eastern Christian Bishops in the Americas - of any Eastern Christian Church), the below piece is thorough, accurate and precise.

Can I Get Sick from Receiving Communion?

With all the talk about “Swine Flu” (H1N1) and other communicable diseases, the question arises: “Can I get sick from the Chalice?” There is a one word answer to this, but more on that later. First, a few words about those who should not receive Holy Communion …

+ If you are Orthodox and not taking your spiritual life seriously;

+ If you are not living a life of faith and repentance;

+ If you have not been faithful in prayer in and worship;

+ If you refuse to forgive someone;

+ If you have not fasted;

+ If you have not made an honest effort to prepare yourself to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ;

If any of the above is the case:

You should not approach the chalice without first making a sincere confession. In reference to Holy Communion, St Paul writes: “For he who eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks condemnation to himself” (1 Corinthians 11:29).

Living a life of repentance means that you are making an honest effort to refrain from sin: fighting against temptations and the lusts of the flesh, abstaining from all sexual relations outside the Sacrament of Marriage, refraining from the poison of lies, gossip, cursing, and slander, avoiding excessive drinking, drug use, and other bad habits. It also requires that one be striving to better oneself spiritually, attending services regularly, confessing one’s sins, and making peace with one’s enemies.

To sum up: Receiving communion means we are living our life in Jesus Christ.*

According to Saint Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (11:30), many of the people who received Communion in an unworthy manner would become weak, sick, or even would die. In the St John’s Gospel, we hear our Lord say to the Paralytic: “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you” (John 5:14). We see a strong agreement between Jesus and St. Paul on how sin and illness are correlated. It is not the Body and Blood of Christ which is a vehicle for illness, but our own human tendencies to fall into sin. The H1N1 virus and many other incurable viral diseases (HIV, the flu, herpes, cold sores, etc) are in existence because of the fall of humanity and our insistence to remain fallen in sin.

Can I get sick from the Chalice?

The answer is, simply, no.

We should not worry about transmission of germs through common use of sacred vessels that have held and touched “the divine, holy, pure, immortal, heavenly, life giving, and awesome Mysteries of Christ, let us worthily give thanks to the Lord” (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom). Further, Saint John in his Gospel quotes Jesus saying “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal LIFE…” (John 5:54). Why would something that is LIFE-giving be the carrier of something that causes disease and death? **

Besides, after everyone else receives Holy Communion, the priests and deacons consume the remainder of the chalice. The clergy, therefore, would be the recipients of a host of germs – from everyone! Yet, in truth, that which is in the consecrated chalice is the very Body and Blood of the Physician of our souls. He has trampled down death by death, and upon us, His faithful children, He has bestowed Life!

We can, however, get sick from contact with each other!

Take precautions:

+ Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

+ Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.

+ Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.

+ Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

+ If you are sick with flu-like illness, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.) Keep away from others as much as possible. This is to keep from making others sick.

+ While sick, limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

+ Visit the CDC website to find out what to do if you get sick with the flu and how to care for someone at home who is sick with the flu.


* - Taken from the May ‘09 issue of The Cathedral Messenger, St George Orthodox Christian Cathedral, Wichita, Kansas.

** - Taken from:
The Quiet Revolution

See also: This Side of Glory

Image of the Communion of the Apostles is taken from the website of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St John the Baptist, Washington, DC.

This article is taken from the quarterly newsletter, The Messenger, of
St George Church.
And, of course, your rambling host copped it from Fr Miguel - a priest who's heart always leads him to find uplifting and important information from around the web!

And so, again, thanks to Fr Miguel; St George, Houston; Sayidna BASIL and all the Wichita Cathedral.

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