Eastern Orthodox Church leader orders suspension of services in response to coronavirus

New directive follows controversy over the potential spread of COVID-19 via Holy Communion rites and other religious practices

The spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church took the most drastic measures yet in response to coronavirus, ordering a stop to all services and events until the end of March. The announcement came from the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul and immediately affects the Orthodox community in Turkey. However, it will also be seen as guidance to branches of the Church worldwide.

Coda Story previously reported on the decision of the Church to keep places of worship open and the adherence of some branches to the traditional Holy Communion rite, in which worshippers drink wine from a shared cup and spoon. Some recently modified the ritual by allowing single-use cups, but others drew the line when it came to plastic spoons. On Monday the Greek government ordered the suspension of services in all places of worship until March 30 and in Russia, home to the world’s largest Orthodox congregation, the Church introduced a wide-range of new hygiene recommendations.

“No genuinely believing Christian can for one moment accept that the Holy Mysteries might bring or be the source of sickness or ill-health,” wrote the Bishop of London and Western Europe on Instagram last week. “The Mysteries of Christ are the true medicines of our souls.”

In Georgia, Orthodox priests blessed the streets of Tbilisi with holy water earlier this week, standing on the back of black Ford pick-up trucks driven in procession through the city.

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