Church of Cyprus Refuses to Cancel Masses over Coronavirus

Cypriot Greek Orthodox worshippers stand outside Faneromeni church in the old city of Nicosia, carrying candles during the Easter Saturday vigil after midnight on April 16, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Amir Makar (Photo credit should read AMIR MAKAR/AFP via Getty Images)
AMIR MAKAR/AFP via Getty Images

The Orthodox Church of Cyprus has rejected a government ordinance banning gatherings of over 75 people, saying it would continue to hold its divine liturgy as usual for all who desire to participate.

“Attendance is voluntary. No one is forced. If some people feel that they want to stay away at this time, they are free to do so,” the Holy Synod said in a statement Wednesday.

“Nor will we tell someone they have to leave a service because the allowed number had been reached, as if it’s just any old gathering,” it said.

The Church also insisted that Holy Communion is not merely a symbol but actually is the body and blood of Christ and thus it would be “blasphemous” to think that it could transmit any disease or virus.

“The experience of so many centuries of Christianity has shown no evidence of such transmission,” the statement said, referencing the many priests over the centuries who served in hospitals for infectious diseases and gave out Holy Communion and then consumed whatever was left over.

“No priest was infected in these cases,” it said.

Members of Christian Orthodox churches share a single spoon in receiving Holy Communion in the form of a sweet red wine, which they believe to be the blood of Jesus.

Cyprus Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said Tuesday he thought people “shouldn’t receive Holy Communion” but the ministry itself has refrained from issuing an official statement on the matter.

The synod urged church staff to follow the instructions of the health ministry in matters such as hygiene, ventilation of the buildings, and the cleanliness of the icons kissed by the faithful.

The Holy Synod has urged the faithful who wish to receive Holy Communion to attend services on Wednesdays and Fridays “to avoid high attendance in churches on Sunday.”

The Catholic Church in Italy has suspended all Masses until April 3 after the government banned all gatherings to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

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