Hotspot church’s ‘concerning’ practice
A church in a coronavirus outbreak hotspot in Sydney is continuing to offer communion using the same spoon for each worshipper and one cloth to wipe their mouths.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese is resisting pressure from some of its members to discontinue the practice during the COVID-19 crisis.
Concerns have been raised by worshippers about the lax safety measures of a church in Sydney's west, an area hit by a resurgence of coronavirus cases in the past few weeks.
St Euphemia in Bankstown, a Greek Orthodox Church, has been giving holy communion in a way that seemingly breaches guidelines provided by NSW Health for places of worship.
At a service on Saturday, koinonia - the mixture of bread and wine symbolising the body and blood of Christ - was given to an estimated 70 people from a chalice using a single spoon, with the priest wiping each person's chin with one cloth afterwards.
After a large number of worshippers partook in the ritual, one contacted Archbishop Makarios Griniezakis, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia, to express concern.
"This is extremely concerning at these COVID times," the email states.
"People will blindingly follow this tradition simply because of their sense of faith."
The email, pleading with the Archdiocese to take "appropriate measures" to ensure worshippers were safe, went unanswered.
So too did a follow-up urging action on the "major public (health) concern".
In March, the Archbishop received strong criticism for refusing to suspend communion and for claiming that there was no risk of infection.
In an interview with The Greek Herald in March, the Archbishop claimed that "up until now in the history of our Church there have never been any cases where an epidemic of infectious disease has been transmitted through Holy Communion."
However, he did urge priests to avoid offering their hand to be kissed - customary during mass.
Eventually, the Archbishop ordered that all public masses would be suspended after mounting pressure, but they have largely resumed since in most parts of Australia.
Several churches in the city's west have been sources of COVID-19 outbreaks recently, sparking the implementation of new measures by authorities.
As of July 24, all places of worship in NSW must register a COVID-19 Safety Plan and adhere to public health guidelines.
This includes a limit on worshippers of no more than 100 people, or one per four square metres excluding staff, whichever is the lesser. NSW Health has urged religious organisations to "consider modifying religious rites or rituals to avoid direct contact, such as communion".
Advice on communion includes ensuring hands are washed before and after each interaction with soap and water or sanitiser where practical.
In all instances, sharing cups or other objects during services should also be avoided, NSW Health has advised.
Confirmed COVID-19 Cases in NSW since July 1Live Data Source: Health Protection NSW
There are concerns that a strong sense of faith will see people attending church take holy communion in the manner that poses increased risk of COVID-19 infection.
Elderly people are especially vulnerable to serious illness or death if they become unwell.
The upcoming Hagia Panagia, one of the holiest days on the Greek Orthodox calendar, marking the saint day for the Virgin Mary and Saint Peter, will see thousands attend church services and take communion.
Across Australia, some 370,000 identify as Greek Orthodox and a large proportion are elderly.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese was approached for comment for this story.
Originally published as Hotspot church's 'concerning' practice