The case of six parishioners who came down with COVID-19 from St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire has re-kindled a millennium-old clash between science and religion.

The schism on the part of the Attorney General's office is over the method during a pandemic that Eastern Orthodoxy uses to dispense Holy Communion, with its shared common spoon and chalice. The faithful insist, as I do, that not allowing for it is a violation of their beliefs, sacred traditions and teachings.

For centuries, Eastern Orthodox faithful have received Holy Communion by tilting their head back and opening their mouth widely, allowing the priest to simply drop the Body and Blood of Christ into the communicant's mouth without ever coming into contact with the spoon. Following the liturgy, the priest consumes the remaining Eucharist after it was served to many worshipers. There are no cases of parishioners or clergy becoming infected as a result of consuming the Holy Gifts. I receive Holy Communion every Sunday and I have never been sickened with anything.

And, according to the reports, none of the six stricken parishioners had received Holy Communion, so it couldn't have come from the common spoon.

My wonderful friend and brother-in-Christ, George Tsonis, Reader and Sub-deacon of the Holy Orthodox Church, reminds me that theologically, the wine and bread offered is sanctified, becoming the Body and Blood in the Holy Mystery of the Divine Luturgy.

I believe Holy Communion is a holy sacrament. In other words, it's a matter of devoted faith that one cannot contract a disease from the Body and Blood of Christ because sickness of any kind is unsurvivable there. I'll take this to its rightful place and state that any suggestion that a disease could be transmitted through the spoon or the Holy Communion is blasphemy.

His eminence, the much admired and respected Metropolitan Methodios responded to the New Hampshire Attorney General with a stern rebuke, saying the Church has taken every CDC precaution and that the AG's letter raises important issues of church-state relations. The Metropolis said, on the one hand, the Church is recognizing the public health threat but is also "mindful of the historical Church practices" that are protected by federal and state constitutions. This has been referred to the Ecumenical Patriarchate for decision.

Phil Paleologos is the host of The Phil Paleologos Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Contact him at phil@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @PhilPaleologos. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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