THE HOLY SPOON AND PROPER HYGEINE
by Rev. Fr. Stylianos Muksuris
A concern often expressed by certain Orthodox Christians who attend the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and who receive the precious Body and Blood of our Lord, is having to share the same Communion spoon with others. Indeed, as concelebrating clergy commune from the same chalice, so too do the lay people commune from the same spoon. A fear often verbalized is contracting infection or germs or some other disease by coming into contact with another person’s saliva or lipstick that may come off on the spoon when receiving Holy Communion. The question I would like to address in this article is: Is there any reason to fear such a possibility?
The immediate answer is no. From a purely microbiological perspective, the sweet red wine used in Communion is typically high in alcoholic content. This means that the chances of bacteria or germs surviving in it are virtually minimal to non-existent. Although each of us communes the Body and Blood of Christ, the invisible microbes that may enter our mouths from the previous communicant are harmless. From a purely experiential perspective, every chalice on Sundays is consumed in its totality by the priest, after several mouths have communed from it. No priest, including the writer of this column, has ever become ill or incapacitated after consuming the Holy Gifts. And finally, from a purely spiritual perspective, the Holy Gifts are exactly that: they are sacred, in that they have become imbued with the fullness of God’s presence and grace, and they are divine (not human) gifts, “for every good and perfect gift is from above, coming from [You] the Father of lights” (Prayer behind the Amvon in the Divine Liturgy). If we truly believe in God, we know quite well that God would never allow harm to come to us, most especially in the reception of Holy Communion.
While there is no fear then of disease, it is pertinent that all Orthodox Christians follow certain basic rules of hygiene before approaching the holy chalice. First, it is important for us to wipe our mouths well after receiving Holy Communion. This prevents the elements from accidentally dripping onto the ground. Also, it is important for women who wear lipstick to wipe it off before receiving Communion or not to wear any lipstick at all when attending church. Not only does this show the proper respect to the Body and Blood of Christ, but it also shows respect to the woman’s fellow communicants who wish to commune the Holy Bread and Cup and nothing else! Finally, when receiving Communion, some individuals may wish to simply open their mouths wide and allow the priest to ‘drop’ the Communion into their mouths, thus not allowing the spoon to make contact with their mouths.
It is important for us to know that the early Christians used to receive Holy Communion in a completely different manner than the present practice in the East. They received from the celebrant a portion of the consecrated Bread into their hands, and they communed directly from the chalice, exactly the way priests do today. In fact, some of the more ancient liturgies, such as the Alexandrian Liturgy of St. Mark and the Jerusalemite Liturgy of St. Iakovos, still call for the lay people to commune in this way. Because of the fear of accidents, the Church adopted, in time, the use of tongs, with which the elements were mingled together and placed carefully into the mouths of the communicants through this instrument. By the ninth century, the Church changed over to the Communion spoon for the same practical reasons, and it is this practice that remains in place today.