03/13/2020, 13.35
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Russian Orthodox Church and coronavirus: Communion and kissing icons

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow: disinfect the icons, kissed for devotion; beware of blessed drinks. For some priests, communion, being a sign of God's love, cannot bring us sickness and death. The Greek Church is more cautious. The long lines to kiss the relics of Saint John the Baptist in Saint Petersburg. But Russia is more concerned with Putin's "crown".

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The Moscow Patriarchate has also decided to recommend compliance with certain rules of conduct in the face of the spread of the coronavirus. Russia actually appears rather immune to the spread of the virus, recording a few dozen cases. Some suspect that perhaps the government is not distributing credible statistics.

National attention is on another "crown", the presidential one, linked to the approval of the various changes to the Constitution and above all to the proposal of the deputy Valentina Tereshkova (the first female astronaut), which at the end of the discussions on Constitutional reform proposed the law limiting presidential mandates be eliminated allowing Vladimir Putin’s continued mandate “to ensure stability to the country".

The Duma president, Vjačeslav Volodin, immediately supported the proposal, asking the parliamentarians to defend Putin as Russia's "prerogative and excellence". The president himself accepted the proposal, revealing the true purpose of all constitutional maneuvers: to remain in power in any way possible. Under the proposed amendments, he could remain president until 2036, approaching the reigning record of Ivan the Terrible (50 years) and Peter the Great (40 years).

However, the patriarchal synod met on March 11, issuing a declaration expressing the "condolences for the relatives an of the coronavirus victims in China, South Korea, Iran, Italy, France, Germany, Spain and other states. ". Blessing the work of doctors and volunteers, the synod recalls that "during epidemics the Russian Orthodox Church has always fulfilled its ministry of testimony, not refusing spiritual assistance to anyone and full participation in the sacraments". We invite moderation and common sense, "tranquility in prayer" not ceding to panic and fears about the spread of the pandemic.

The Synod recommends that “prophylactic hygiene and health measures in parishes and monasteries be observed in a consistent and inflexible way, especially in regions where epidemiological conditions are officially recognized as critical, using solutions to disinfect icons exposed to veneration, which the faithful they kiss by bowing, and to use disposable glasses for devotional drinks. " In Orthodox rites, apart from the Eucharistic communion, the intake of blessed water and wine is in fact used, as part of devotional participation in the community liturgy.

The issue of Eucharistic communion has provoked several perplexities which the Synod has decided to overlook. The Orthodox faithful receive the Eucharist in the form of fragments of bread dipped in wine, and distributed to the faithful with a golden spoon from the priest's hands directly into their mouth, while the deacons dry the face of the communicant with red manutergi (of the color of the wine) . Those who do not receive communion (for which it is mandatory to confess during the liturgy), that is, the majority of the faithful, limit themselves to drinking the water and wine blessed at the sides of the altar. All these procedures are stirring apprehension, with fewer and fewer faithful participating in sacramental and devotional communion.

Some priests, such as Archimandrite Filipp (Ryabikh), representative of the Russian Church to the European institutions in Strasbourg, believe that "although it is terrible to get sick of this serious virus, which can also lead to death, it would be even more serious if for this reason to deprive ourselves of sacred communion or of the liturgy itself, the great gift of God”. Father Filipp recalled the words of the fathers of the Church, according to which "the world stands on the celebration of the liturgy and the Eucharist", and compared the closing of the churches in these days with the Soviet period, when the churches were closed or destroyed by the regime.

Even the Greek Orthodox Church, in the meeting of the Synod of March 9, had declared that "Holy Communion cannot be the cause of transmission of the coronavirus, because it is a handing over of the of God into the hands person and a manifestation of His love".

 It is also true that, compared to the Russians, the Greeks are less "imposing" in the sacramental gesture, rather leaving the faithful the opportunity to adapt to the reception of the consecrated bread and wine, as also happens in the Coptic Church. The Old Believers, the ancient traditionalist Russian Church, on the other hand, warned about the risk of infection at the act of communion, calling for stricter measures right up to the suspension of liturgical celebrations.

In St. Petersburg, regardless of the risk of infection, masses of faithful are flocking to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, in the center of the "capital of the north", where the relics of St. John the Baptist are exposed (see photo). Thousands of people are queuing in rows outside and inside the church, to finally come to kiss the relics, an act certainly devoted and perhaps salvific, but clearly unhygienic during the coronavirus period.

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