A beneficial article by Metropolitan Joel of Edessa

Considering all that has occurred recently with the pause of the Divine Services due to this unprecedented virus, I would like to humbly present the position of our Holy Church concerning whether diseases can be spread through the Holy Mysteries or through other sanctifying practices of the Church: veneration of Holy Icons, kissing the hands of Priests, or even our presence in holy Temples.  

  1. Concerning the Sacrament of Divine Eucharist: It is communally recognized by the fullness of the Church that it is not possible for the Body and Blood of Christ to spread diseases. This is what our Holy Church believes and what its practice demonstrates. Priests, who served for decades in hospitals with infectious diseases, very contagious and incurable in their era, never became ill. Consequently, it was a great mistake of a priest of our Metropolis to commune the faithful with disposable spoons. 
  2. Concerning kissing the hands of priests and our presence in holy temples: The time of this discussion is greatly symbolic. On the 2nd Sunday of Lent, when we celebrated Saint Gregory Palamas, who elucidated and proclaimed in word and deed the possibility of man’s participation in the uncreated divine energies…. 

A priest is a man–weak, fallen, struggling to cleanse his inner man. A priest, “clothed in the grace of priesthood” takes part in and conveys the uncreated divine energies through the priesthood and not through personal sanctity. When the latter is present, of course, he has double grace. However, when we kiss the hands of the priests, we take part in the uncreated energies of God and we receive Divine Grace according to the measure of our faith and piety.  As St. Paisios, who would ardently kiss the hands of the priest who had just served Divine Liturgy said, “A priest does not have his own hands.” If we believe that the priest can transmit disease, we deny the Grace of the Priesthood, we deny the Grace of God. When we doubt, or deny with our actions the uncreated Divine energies, we create a different God and deny the true God. The same is true for the Holy Temples. The Church is the Body of the living God, and this is why it has the shape of the human body. And this is not merely symbolic. In our Holy Church figures and symbols contain the essence, the Truth; this is why we keep them. And the truth is that it is impossible for the holy Temple, as the Body of Christ, to be a place where disease is spread. If we doubt this, we doubt the existence of God’s Grace in it. We liken the Temple to an assembly room. 

All this discussion leads to an intense concern and sad discovery. 

The concern is: do we indeed believe in God? And if so, which God? A Barlaamitic* God created by our logic? A God in Whom we only recognize as much Grace as fits in our poor brain? The bitter discovery is that, without realizing or wishing to, we blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. We suffer from a heretical mindset while proclaiming our Orthodoxy. We blaspheme against the Holy Spirit and we risk not being forgiven even in eternity by doubting the Grace of the Holy Spirit. When we are afraid to venerate the holy icons, to kiss the hand of the priest, to be in the holy Temple, we are denying in action the saving and sanctifying Grace of the Holy Spirit. We reason that it is possible for the Holy Spirit to transmit something “common or unclean,” and this is a great blasphemy. 

Let us confess with our actions, as we likewise confessed with our lips, that we believe in Divine Grace dwelling in holy icons, in priests, and in the Holy Temples. Our participation in this Grace is dependent on our own faith. As much as we believe, that is how much Grace we will receive. Its existence, however, is not dependent on our faith.  God, “Who Is, and Who Was, and Who is coming,” is not eliminated if we do not believe in Him.

According to the above, we accept the pause of Holy Services by State Law as Divine chastisement because “we have sinned, transgressed, done wrong before Thee, we have not watched or done as Thou hast commanded us.” However, we do not acknowledge the rationale of the State, that there is danger of spreading disease through the Holy Church of Christ and the Mysteries served in it.

His Eminence Hieronymos, Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, and the Holy Synod, have already sent a letter to the Minister of Health and Religions and the General Secretary of Religions concerning this issue, and they are putting matters in order. 

In brief, it is impossible to become infected or to catch any disease from Holy Communion, holy icons, holy Temples, and kissing the hands of priests. If we wholeheartedly believe in the divine Grace dwelling in them, we will also have the Grace of God abundantly in our lives. If we deny it or doubt it, we suffer from the heresy of Barlaam and the iconoclasts. We deny God and we blaspheme against the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, let us stand well! Let us believe simply and rightly, and the Grace of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all always.

Your Intercessor before God,

      – Joel, Metropolitan of Edessa, Pella and Almopia 

* Barlaamism is a certain movement that preceded Barlaam and followed after him. In fact it is the theory and practice of scholasticism that was developed by the eleventh century in western lands and proved to be the primary expression of Latin theology. The Orthodox East came to know this movement for the first time through the person of Barlaam. The majority of the East, with St. Gregory Palamas as a defender, dealt with it successfully, but certain others were influenced by these scholastic views.