Fr. Cyril Costopoulos, Preacher of Holy Metropolis of Patras, Doctor of Theology
Amongst the God-instituted Holy Sacraments, by which humans become actual members of our Orthodox Church and accomplish their salvation, lies the greatest of all Mysteries, namely the Holy Communion. God-man Lord Himself told His Students a little before His Saving Passion, during the Last Supper: «Take, it; this is My body. […] Drink ye, all of it: for this is My blood.» (Matthew 26, 26-28). By saying these words, Jesus Christ handed over the Mystery of Holy Eucharist and confirmed that inside the Chalice are His Body and Blood and not just bread and wine. Previously, he had asserted that «Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life […] dwelleth in Me, and I in him.» (John 6, 54, 56).
Saint John of Damascus makes clear that «the consecrated bread and wine are not merely “symbols” of the body and blood of Christ -never may that happen- but Christ’s divinized body Itself.» (PG 94, 1148A). Further, Saint Cyrillus Hierosolymitanus teaches that, by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, we become of common body and of common blood with Him, but we also become Christ-bearers (Cf. PG 33, 1100A). Thus, our bodies become members of Christ.» (Α Corinthians 6, 15)
The gifts which, according to the Evangelical tradition, are offered by the faithful member of the Church for the celebration of the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist are the bread and the wine. Through these gifts, he offers his whole life, his culture, his labor, his whole being, soul and body. Afterwards, the God-man Lord offers Himself in return, namely His very own Body and Blood, «as a whole in all and at the same time in His entirety, whole and undiminished in particulars» (Maximus the Confessor PG 91, 1285D). Patriarch Dositheos of Jerusalem confesses: «We believe our Lord, Jesus Christ, to be present in the Holy Eucharist, not typically, nor figuratively, nor by superabundant grace, as in the other Mysteries … But truly and realistically, so that after the consecration of the bread and of the wine, the bread is transformed into […] the true Body Itself of the Lord […] and the wine is converted and transubstantiated into the true Blood Itself of the Lord» (Confession, decree 17, I. Karmiris, Dogmatic & Symbolic Monuments., v. 2, p. 761).
From all these we can assume that through the consecration of the Holy Gifts and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, by the bishop or the presbyter, the bread and the wine are via His power and action truly and really transubstantiated into the Body and the Blood of the God-man Lord, even if -by divine concession, due to our human weakness- they seem to be common bread and wine as regards their external appearance and flavour.
The faithful Christians, through the participation in Holy Eucharist, are united to Christ and to one another. For that reason the Chalice is common. Saint John of Damascus clarifies that the participation in Holy Eucharist is said to be and really is a «Communion», because, on the one hand, we commune and belong with «both the flesh and the deity» of His and, on the other hand, we, who partake of this, connect and commune with each other. Moreover, he clarifies: «For, since we partake of one bread, we all become one body of Christ and one blood, and members one of another, being of one body with Christ.» (PG 94, 1153A).
Is, therefore, possible for the faithful Christian to think that he can be infected by the virus carried by the person who partook of the Holy Communion before him? Christ Himself is He Who comes inside you through the Holy Communion. How is, in any case, possible for the Coronavirus or for any other virus to survive? How can the «Chalice of Life» treat you to death?
Nevertheless, we have to note that all the aforementioned facts do not apply in cases where the heresy prevails, like the Papacy, the Protestantism etc., for the simple reason that the supposed mysteries of the heretics are invalid, because of lacking Grace of God.
The Holy Eucharist, according to Saint Ignatius, is «the medicine of immortality and the antidote against death, so that we might live forever in Jesus Christ» (Cf. SC10, letter 1, 19–21). Similarly, Saint John of Damascus emphasizes that whoever partakes of the Body and Blood of Christ, being worthy of it and full of faith, acquires «not only the forgiveness of his sins and eternal life but also the protection both of his soul and body» (PG 94, 1148A). In addition, holy Chrysostom notes: «He calls Himself the bread of life because He constitutes our life, both at present and in future.» (Speech 46, PG 59, 258).
But there are also, unfortunately, some members of the clergy of every rank who doubt this truth and in this way scandalize the people of God. They must, though, make clear if they truly believe that the Holy Communion is the Body and Blood Itself of Christ. Could the coronavirus or any other lethal disease reside in the Godly human Body and Blood? Could life and death coexist? Is it possible for the Source of Life -«I am the Life» (John 11, 25)- the God-man Lord, Who offers Himself through the Holy Communion, to grant in return something alien and contrary to His own nature?
The worshipper who partakes of the Holy Communion becomes of common body and of common blood with Christ, according to the Fathers of our Church. Just as in the Body of Christ dwells «all the fullness of the Godhead bodily» (Colossians 2, 8), in a similar way the Holy Trinity resides in the worshipper becoming of common body with Christ. How is it possible for this person to be infected by any disease-causing organism due to his contact with the Chalice or the Holy Communion-Spoon? If something like this was true -be gone blasphemy- then the first who would be contaminated by diseases would be the priests, who consume the remaining Holy Gifts into the Chalice, after the reception of the Holy Communion by hundreds of worshippers.
However, we are obliged to lay stress on the fact that whoever comes to receive the Holy Communion without deserving it (which means that he does not believe in God rightly and ontologically or that he has not confessed his sins with repentance in the Mystery of confession before partaking of the Holy Communion), then the uncreated grace of God does not have any influence by means of the Holy Communion and consequently anything could happen. Apostle Paul confirms this: «But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s Body. For this cause, many are weak and sickly among you and many sleep.» (Α Corinthians 11, 29-30). And this is why Basil the Great emphatically stresses that «he who is impure both in flesh and spirit and approaches the Sacrament unworthily, not only suffers terrible judgment; for, if he approaches it, he becomes guilty of the body and blood of Lord» (PG 31, 1577A).
The current scandalous conversation concerning the contagiousness of diseases through the Holy Communion, which is an unproved statement, actually aims at achieving the erasure of the memory of God-man Lord’s Sacrifice on the Cross for the sake of the salvation of the mankind. He Himself commanded: «This do (i.e. the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist) in remembrance of Me.» (Luke 22, 19). The participation in the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist, provided that it is accompanied by faith and the right preparation, constitutes an open confession of the Resurrection of Christ, it is an exaltation of God-man’s victory against death, it is a confirmation of the Eternal life. It is the whole fullness of the Holy Spirit, it is a reconciliation of the fallen human with his Creator God.
We have to understand that the moment of the Holy Eucharist – Holy Communion, where «we always remember and make mention of Him Who died and rose from the dead for us» (PG 31, 1576B), is the very moment of our personal meeting and of our union -by Grace- with the God-man Lord and we should free ourselves from our distressing thoughts.