The Romanian Orthodox Church has pushed back against suggestions that the Eucharist ritual is potentially a source of COVID-19 infection, saying not a single believer had caught the virus from taking the communion wine.
The church said in a statement Saturday that „the chalice…. and the spoon are cleaned before and after use,” and “the use of the communal spoon (for Eucharist) has never been a source of contamination for an Orthodox believer in these two months of pandemic.”
It said the church rather than the state would be responsible for deciding the way it adapts its rituals to the health crisis.
The statement came after the interior ministry published new rules for church services. Only outdoor church services are allowed, and worshipers will need to space themselves out and wear face masks.
A maximum of 16 people can attend private services such as funerals and wedding blessings, and they will be required to wear face masks.
The interior ministry went further Saturday, saying that religious objects used during the service such as the chalice would be disinfected after use, and other objects which are frequently touched such as icons and crosses would be disinfected every four hours.
Church leaders appeared to bridle at the encroachment on their territory and said: “The way the Eucharist is celebrated and all that it entails will be exclusively decided by the church in the spirit of communion and priestly judgment.”
It pointed out that new rules laid out by the government on Saturday “are applicable for all confessions.”
Some 87% of Romanian citizens belong to the Orthodox church and the way the church has responded to the pandemic has come under scrutiny during the two-month state of emergency.
Like other Christian churches, the Romanian Orthodox Church has had to adapt its rituals to the pandemic and strict rules under the lockdown. There were no public services at Easter, although priests carried the sacred light to believers’ homes to mark the Easter Vigil.
“The Orthodox Church is realistic and understanding about the worries of some believers and the fear of authorities who are obviously thinking in secular rather than religious ways about protecting the population,” the statement said.
“The Romanian Patriarchy has recently communicated the decision of the Holy Synod that the celebration of the Eucharist during the holy liturgy will be deferred for a short time to allow consultations with other Orthodox Churches about how to share the communion with believers during a pandemic.”
“At this time, individual communion according to the Holy Liturgy will be decided by the priest,” the statement added.
However, the church said it was putting in place new measures to minimize the risk of contamination.
It said worshipers would use different doors to come in and go out of a church where possible, and churches and other holy places will be aired at four-hour intervals.
Disinfectant will be placed at church entrances, and during the pandemic worshipers will refrain from kissing icons, holy relics and the priest’s hands.
Believers will be encouraged to show reverence by bowing, making the sign of the cross or nodding their heads to cleric in a sign of respect.