The Tamasos Bishopric on Thursday urged the faithful who are unable to attend the church services to watch them on television or online as it announced that it had postponed all church events – bar services – and was adhering to instructions from the state against the spread of the coronavirus.
The call followed a statement from the Holy Synod on Wednesday that it would continue to hold masses despite the ban by the government on gatherings of over 75 people. The government did not include church services in the ban but there has been no criticism either from officialdom or from within the medical profession over the apparently deliberate omission of church services despite the fact that in the majority, it is the elderly – the most vulnerable group – that attend church services where they are exposed through taking Holy Communion and kissing icons.
The Holy Synod did not encourage or discourage the faithful from attending church, saying that attendance was voluntary but that they would not turn people away in the event the number ceiling was exceeded.
But while scientists have warned that a person can get infected through receiving Holy Communion, given that the virus is also transmitted through saliva, the Holy Synod said that receiving Holy Communion from the same spoon as hundreds of others was safe for believers. “It would be blasphemous to think that the body and blood of the Christ could transmit any disease or virus,” it said.
According to Dr Petros Karayiannis, professor of microbiology and molecular virology at the Nicosia University’s medical school, a person can contract coronavirus through the Holy Communion. “I believe that yes because the virus exists in saliva,” he told Omega TV.
Karayiannis, a member of the health ministry’s advisory committee on Covid-19, said that the virus is transferred through saliva and micro drops from cough and sneezing. He also said that the virus’ life outside the body is around 12 hours.
Christina, a regular church goer and observant of the religious customs who fasts before major religious holidays, says she will not be going to mass until coronavirus situation subsides.
“I will only go on Easter Saturday, and stand outside the church,” she told the Cyprus Mail.
Though hesitant admitting it would be a sin to say so, she said she would not be receiving the Holy Communion either fearing possible Covid-19 infection.
For Marios Chrysanthou, there is no such issue. “Of course, I will receive Holy Communion,” he told the Cyprus Mail.
He added that the virus cannot be contracted through the Holy Communion. “It’s blasphemy for believers to question this,” he said, adding that there are numerous examples in history where priests were giving the Holy Communion to communities of sick people without them becoming ill.
“As you may know, priests drink the remainder of the Holy Communion,” he said.
Chrysanthou agrees with the ban on gatherings of over 75 persons arguing that one can indeed contract the virus in a packed enclosed space but says it is not possible to apply this to churches.
“Priests are busy with the mass. If the government wants, they can send people guarding the church and count how many enter,” he said. He expressed the conviction, however, that due to the situation, there will be fewer people in churches anyway.
He declared he would continue going to church. “One must carry on living,” he said.
The Tamasos Bishopric, which covers the areas of Lakatamia, Paliometocho, Episkopio, Palechori, and the mountainous villages of Vavatsinia, Ayioi Vavatsinias, Odou and Melini said on Thursday however, that on Bishop Isaias’ instructions, it was postponing until further notice all events but also suspending Sunday schools and Bible studies meetings.
The bishopric did not discourage the faithful from attending mass but urged those unable to attend, to watch service on TV or the internet.
President Nicos Anastasiades announced on Wednesday that church mass would be broadcast live by state broadcaster Cybc to facilitate the faithful, especially those in vulnerable groups. Most churchgoers are elderly.
The Tamasos Bishopric also said that those among the vulnerable groups “who feel the need to participate in the Mysteries of the Holy Confession and the Holy Communion will have the opportunity to call their parish priest who will be visiting them.”
It added that these measures were part of tackling the spread of coronavirus.
The Holy Synod on Wednesday had said that attending the service was done with faith, which protected people from any dangers.