We recently discussed videotaped of Iranians licking the doors and objects of Islamic shrines in the belief that such traditions are protected by God from Coronavirus. Now, Greek Orthodox churches in Australia have announced that they will allow congregations of hundreds of people to sip wine from the same spoon during mass because “the holy cup cannot carry disease.”
Greek Orthodox priests dip a spoon into a chalice of wine and place it into the mouths of parishioners as part of communion. That is obviously a practice that would guarantee the spread of Coronavirus, but Steven Scoutas, a spokesperson for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, Rev. Steven Scoutas, insisted that “once we decide to go to church, we believe there is absolutely no possibility of contracting disease from the holy cup.” The reason is simple: faith. He stated “[w]e believe that no disease or illness can exist in holy communion, which we believe is the body and blood of Christ.”
In Australia, there are 373,000 people identified as Greek Orthodox, which now is the exact number of those persons being added to the high-risk category for contracting Coronavirus.
These controversies magnify the conflict between secular health policies and the free exercise of religion. Such practices fuel the spread of the virus which is a danger to the country at large. In the United States, even with our robust protections of the free exercise of religion, the state could curtail such practices. There is a point where the “laying the hands of the faithful” is also a vehicle for the pandemic.
The logic of the church is obvious and potentially deadly. If the wine is truly transformed into the blood of Christ, how can it be tainted? Of course, one can also say that it is the spoon that is tainted, but no health official would sign off on the practice even with changing spoons due to the breathing around and handling of the common chalice.
It is an interesting twist on Justificatio sola fide (or justification by faith alone) as a doctrine in Christian faiths. It allows for faith alone (rather than good works) to forgive the transgressions of holy scripture. Yet, the state is not required to recognize the doctrine when faith alone may spread the disease or virus. There is also that precept that “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”