Thursday, June 4, 2020

Jad Ganem: The Pastoral Handling of Distributing Communion

Arabic original here.

The Pastoral Handling of Distributing Communion

Yesterday some church websites published the text of the letter that His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew sent on May 17, 2020 to the patriarchs and primates of the Orthodox Churches regarding "certain unseemly points of view have been heard on how to approach the immaculate mysteries" during the Corona crisis, which make it "impossible for us to remain silent and foreign to such an ambiguous situation, and inactive in the face of development and related government regulations and prohibitions."

 His Holiness declared in his letter that "we have no intention of renouncing what was bequeathed to all of us by our blessed Fathers. In the light of the circumstances that have arisen, we wish to listen to Your fraternal opinion and Your thoughts so that we may commonly walk in the pastoral approach to controversies over the established mode of the distribution of divine communion."

If one closely examines what is stated in His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew's letter, one will notice that, contrary to the previous letters that he has sent on other occasions, it does not contain any practical suggestion or proposal from Constantinople, but rather it aims to solicit the opinions of the heads of the churches about how to find a pastoral approach to distributing holy communion to the faithful. Perhaps:

-- This stems from Constantinople's experience over the past months, when it witnessed a heated discussion within its jurisdiction between various tendencies, some of which call for changing the manner of distributing communion and others categorically reject anything that would affect the manner traditionally practiced.

-- This is based on the various and sundry ways it has witnessed its own dioceses manage the issue of distributing holy communion during the pandemic, which may leave negative effects and doubts among the faithful in the future.

-- It takes into account the experience of the Orthodox Church in past centuries when she undertook to modify the calendar without the unanimous consensus of the local churches, with all the accompanying disagreement over which calendar to follow within the family of Orthodox churches and the schisms and disputes within individual churches, some of which continue until today.

Perhaps it has not eluded His Holiness that the current situation of Orthodoxy, which is witnessing a sharp division on account of the Ukrainian crisis between the Russian Church and a number of Greek-speaking churches headed by Constantinople, does not permit any unilateral recklessness in changing the manner of distributing communion, lest this change turn into a cause for deepening the disagreement and maybe even for sealing the schism, as happened in the first millennium, when the discussion over issues such as leavened and unleavened bread, tonsure, single immersion, and other non-dogmatic differences became fuel for deepening the schism between Rome and Constantinople.

Therefore, the issue of the manner of distributing communion, with all its significance for very many of the faithful today, remains a pastoral issue that requires great wisdom and serious consultation and coordination between the Orthodox churches, as well as a bold and transparent dialogue with the faithful, so that the Church does not lose everything in her effort to change everything with speed approaching hastiness.

Of course, these words are not a call for accepting ossification and surrender to an inability to make any change, but they are a call to find a pastoral treatment of the issue of distributing holy communion to the faithful based on instruction, constructive dialogue, historical experience and the overcoming of disagreements, lest we go from inertia to recklessness and from fragmentation to schism! History, both recent and ancient, is the best teacher.

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