Greece's Orthodx Church rejects criticism of Communion under lockdown

Athens (AFP) –


Greece's Orthodox Church on Monday condemned as misplaced and "neurotic" criticism of the pursuit of Holy Communion which has been banned in the presence of the public during virus lockdown curbs.

The Holy Synod, the church's ruling body, said it had cooperated with the state from the beginning of the crisis and complies with health measures.

The church insists it is impossible for Covid-19 or any disease to be transmitted through Communion, the tradition of handing out bread soaked in wine from the same chalice.

Doctors and experts say the virus can be transmitted through saliva.

The government this month ordered the suspension of all services at all places of worship, for all religions in the presence of the faithful. The services continue to take place, but only with the priests who perform them.

Churches are open during the rest of the day for individual prayer.

The synod statement follows the virus death over the weekend of a senior Orthodox cleric in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, Orthodox cleric in Thessaloniki, northern Greece.

It was a response to the "ironic comments" made by some media regarding his faith in Communion, "as if they had evidence on the cause of the transmission of the disease", the synod said.

"Aspiring public opinion leaders neurotically insist on engaging exclusively in Holy Communion and impose unscientific correlations regarding the spread of coronavirus ... even opine on issues of faith without having any knowledge or competence in the area of theology", the statement adds.

"Since the democratic state guarantees religious freedom, they do not have the right to demand that the state ban holy communion as 'unhealthy' just because they themselves choose not to believe."

The Holy Communion debate has divided the deeply religious Greek community on whether it would be prudent to continue with Holy Communion.

The suspension of services was also put in place during the first lockdown when churches remained closed during Easter.

After lockdown, the churches resumed the tradition and a number of politicians from the ruling conservative New Democracy party, including ministers, were photographed receiving the Holy Communion.

Last week, the Holy Synod asked the government to allow church services for 10 days during Christmas, with strict adherence to all the necessary health precautions.

- Churches open for Christmas? -

In a weekend meeting with Greece's top cleric Archbishop Ieronymos, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said, "It is up to us to observe the measures and to have Christmas with our churches open.".

Greece weathered the first wave of the pandemic well, but cases have risen aggressively in recent weeks with the government imposing a second nationwide lockdown.

Authorities on Sunday reported 1,698 new daily cases, taking the total to 74,205, and 71 fatalities, a new record, raising the overall death toll to 1,105.