During the height of the Covid 19 pandemic, I attended a church that would use multiple spoons for communion. I know that there are many Orthodox authorities like Fr. Peter Heers who condemned this innovative and seemingly faithless practice. There is nothing that these commentators have said that I disagree with, however I know that my priest can hardly be called an innovator or modernizer, and his use of multiple spoons was not an act of faithlessness on his part. I told him about my concerns with the use of multiple spoons and he said that in Church history, there are a number of examples of communion being served in an irregular manner to condescend to the times. He told me of this saint who would partake of communion from a hollowed-out apple, as he was imprisoned by the Turks and could not commune at a church. He also spoke of how during the early Soviet persecutions and famines, some priests would substitute the bread and wine of the Eucharist for tree bark and water, as that was all the sustenance they had available to them. Of course, the Covid pandemic ultimately did not become as severe as the Turkish or Bolshevik yokes, but at that time it seems like events could have followed those historical examples. For secular people, Orthodox communion is exceptionally off-putting, as to commune the entire laity utilizes the same spoon. A pandemic would be the perfect justification to shutter Orthodox churches, as they had attempted (and largely succeeded) with Catholic and Protestant churches. Furthermore, the secular organization representing the ethnic community of the church I attended had already petitioned the local government to shut down and fine a church that had supposedly “violated” Covid mandates. So during the pandemic, there were hidden wolves amongst the laity who were willing to use the power of the state to shutter their own church. This event understandably became the subject of multiple homilies, and my priest condemned those who essentially betrayed the Church to the state. In this state of affairs, with a power-mad government, hidden Judases, and a laity who is being misled by those in authority, my priest, under the advisement of his bishop, decided to utilize multiple spoons. I have no reason to question Fr. Heer’s teachings, and I do not. He is correct and multiple spoons is a sacrilege, but so also would be allowing for a church to be closed. I know that my priest did not do what he did because he thought the Body and Blood of Christ could communicate illness. He did it as a precaution so as to ward off the eye of the secular authorities.
Now, some may say that my church should have been willing to risk being shut down so as to continue the Orthodox practice of communion. This is a fair point, and one I cannot really argue against. In that time of uncertainty, it seemed like the Orthodox, other traditional Christian sects, and people broadly on the right were gradually being pushed towards a confrontation with secular national and internationalist institutions. Covid was being fixed to become the Golgotha of the right-believing. The use of multiple spoons was thus less of an avoidance of persecution and martyrdom, but a stay by which we could be given extra time so as to prepare for what was evidently forthcoming. I believe my articles of that time betrayed a certain expectancy of the end. When I came to Quebec, the church I first attended had received visits from the local police during services, and the provincial government was announcing its plans to tax those who refused to receive the Covid vaccination. Such a tax would have either rendered my family homeless or compelled us to move at short notice and at great expense. The end seemed to be approaching, and the institutional Church was going to be destroyed regardless of if it was today as a result of retaining the single communion spoon, or in the future when churches themselves were to be deemed as too great a transmission vector for the disease. We can argue whether my church should have been willing to face persecution in that earlier phase of the pandemic, but even if my church was in the wrong, I know that when the ultimate time came to either submit of face martyrdom, my priest would have unhesitatingly led us to Golgotha. As for me personally, I did not like the use of multiple spoons but I understood the reason why they were used. I never was hesitant or fearful to commune.
This lengthy introduction conveys (I hope) the importance of the Eucharist both to the Church as a whole and to me personally. One should always be fearful of the Eucharist when we commune. In our prayers, the Eucharist is described as a fire, and we pray that it will be a fire of purification for us and not one which consumes (i.e. destroys) us, which it can. My priest has made warnings regarding the Eucharist, and has experienced supernatural events relating to it. Although I will not retell his personal stories here, I will say that they were not pleasant accounts and seemed to be instances of God condemning or giving warning. In Orthodoxy, unlike other Christian traditions, Eucharistic miracles are seldom seen as a blessing, as what is normative is what is good. The Eucharist should not take on the physical properties of flesh or physically bleed, and if it does this is a call to repentance. If the Eucharist behaves in an odd or miraculous manner during the liturgy, the service is immediately stopped and the presiding priest immediately contacts his bishop. I take the warning of Scripture seriously when St. Paul writes to the Corinthians saying, “for as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup”, (1 Corinthians 26-28). Thus, the proper reception and care for the Eucharist is of deathly importance, and the Covid pandemic was a serious risk for the Church not because the virus could bring us death, but because the Eucharist could bring death physically and spiritually. But of course, the pandemic was put away by the authorities, and Church life resumed its normal course. Last I checked, those churches that eagerly accepted shutdown or other restrictions have seen a decrease in attendance, whereas churches that have remained faithful even as they condescended to aspects of the Covid mandates remain healthy in regards to attendance and spiritual teaching.
Some weeks ago, I attended the Liturgy with my family. At the time, my daughter and I had been recovering from an illness. We both had runny noses, and I found it difficult to concentrate during the service. Of course, this is not exceptional, as there have been a number of times where I have been unable to focus as well as I should have during Liturgy, but this is par for the course with young children. When I went up to communion with my daughter, I saw that her nose was running. I wiped it with a tissue, but in that moment I had thought that I did not wish to commune, as the thought of a spoon going from her sick mouth to mine was disgusting. I even thought it might be better to not go up at all, as I am sure the others around us would feel uncomfortable communing after we, the sick, communed first. I am not unfamiliar with wayward thoughts during Liturgy or prior to communion. These I am usually able to ignore or tame them with the Jesus Prayer. Maybe it was due to myself being ill and thus mentally fatigued, but this time the thoughts and the feelings they instilled persisted. My daughter communed without issue but when it was my turn, I found that the Eucharist tasted foul to me. So bad was the taste, my instinct was not to swallow, and I kept it in my mouth for longer than what is normal. I do not really know what it tasted of. I can best describe it as salty, bitter, possibly soapy, with a consistency of a slime or mucus. I am tempted to say it also had a fleshy quality to it, but the overriding flavour and sensation was of mucus.
Of course, those skeptically minded would say that there was probably some foreign contaminant in the Eucharist which had made it taste foul. However, this is unlikely, as the chalice is not cleaned in such a manner that would lead it to be contaminated with soap, and if there had been a contaminant it surely would have been masked by the taste of the wine. Alas, I knew then as I do now that when I communed I did so in an unworthy manner, and thus was “rewarded” with the type of communion I was worthy to receive. Even if we insist that there was a natural explanation for what occurred, then given my mental state and unworthiness to commune God must have allowed the contamination to occur for my behalf, and I might have unfortunately given my fellow communicants an unpleasant experience. Of course, after I consumed I was gravely concerned. I decided not to speak to my priest about this, and instead decided to privately repent and make myself ready for when I next communed. I wanted to wait before telling him to see if a similar experience occurred, and then I would know that I was suffering from a serious spiritual affliction greater than that singular instance of hesitancy. Maybe this was unwise, but considering how serious events like this are, I can honestly admit that I was scared to tell him. Who wants to go before their spiritual father and admit such things? Confessing one’s sins is difficult enough and this is essentially admitting to a divine condemnation.
It was two weeks before I could attend liturgy again. Again, at times I was distracted but I was prayerful. For the whole Liturgy I wanted to commune, so much so that I was nearly impatient. Just nearly, however. When I went up with my daughter to commune, I saw another father ahead of me in line holding his young child in his arms. I saw the face of this child and saw that he had a stream of mucus coming from his nose. When I saw this, I felt great joy and thought to myself how I did not care if he was sick, that I desperately wanted to take into myself the Body and Blood of Christ. My daughter and I communed and it was a joyous, indescribable experience. The Eucharist tasted as it should, I hurried back to where I stood during the Liturgy and thanked God for receiving me and forgiving my impiety. I debated as to whether I should share this account. I think in most instances it is prudent to forgo sharing one’s spiritual experiences. Often times such accounts are used to present oneself as special, and I have had a former friend who has taken his spiritual experiences as proof that he did not need Christ or the Church and has since become a practicing occultist. Alas I am anonymous, so I will personally receive no credit for this experience, and likewise considering what occurred I do not even think it could be taken as such. God was clearly warning me, which is a terrible and horrible experience, not at all something that can be used for self-aggrandizement. Furthermore, it shows what a hypocrite I was, as during Covid I never feared or was hesitant to take the Eucharist, yet I was so then because my daughter was sick with an illness which I already had. It is all very shameful but I am thankful that Christ saw it fit to give me warning and not a serious punishment. But again, it is to Him that all credit and awe are owed, and I hope that my account can bring this about, as well as also be a warning so that others will not err in the same manner that I have.
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