The uncommonly clean common Cup

  • chalice.jpgFather Elias took the time to give a short talk at the end of church, and I’m so glad he did. He was reminding us to take communion with the utmost care and come forward to the cup prepared, or don’t come up. But he also touched on a subject that has started to weigh on people’s minds: the “commonality” of the common cup. Meaning, it’s one chalice and one spoon. All those who come forward partake from it, so … what about germs?

    I actually had a non-Orthodox lady ask me about that recently. Our church was having an open house for the community, because we want to be good neighbors and we understand that there are a lot of people — especially in Baptist-centric Missouri — who don’t know anything about Orthodoxy. This was a very nice young lady with a cute little family, but the burning question on her mind to ask another parishioner and me was: What about the common cup? Meaning, the whole germ thing. While I was still trying to even begin an answer, she followed up with “I mean, you MUST think about it, right?”

    Didn’t know whether I’d look dumb or just argumentative if I said the truth: Um … no.

    I didn’t know if it was correct to lay the big spoiler on her or not, so I didn’t. But any Orthodox coming to the cup should know it: We believe that this is the real Body and Blood of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. And we’re going to think God can’t take care of a few germs?

    Father Elias summed it up: “This is the cleanest thing in the world.” Amen!

    He encouraged us to take the elements from the spoon with our lips, which is our parish custom, and then said, “You don’t have too worry about your mouths. I’ve seen all your mouths. You all come and partake and then I go back after the service and consume anything that remains. If anyone was going to get sick, it should be me! But look at me!” And he thumped his sturdy chest and beamed like the picture of health he is.

    I never even thought of that. But it’s true. He ends up partaking of more of the elements than any of us, and he doesn’t appear to have contracted plagues and diseases. Quite the opposite, in fact. He works harder than we do, prays longer, fasts more vigorously.

    If these are diseases, I wish I would catch whatever he has.

16 Responses and Counting...

  • Erica 08.16.2009

    I've thought about this before. When I know someone in the church is sick and then I partake after her or something but then I quickly shake off that silly thought. I mean, something that holy would cleanse the diseases from the spoon!


  • Back when AIDS was more of a front-burner scare in the general population, I remember reading a letter to the editor in one of the Orthodox publications — the writer was pressing for the use of disposable spoons or something similar.

    I'm so glad *that* didn't catch on.

  • Greg:
    Kind of glad I didn't see that letter. This one's a bit of a pet peeve of mine, but I suppose I'll get over it sometime.

    Or else maybe I'll just give up. The society keeps getting more and more germaphobic, and worryworts have a way of complaining until everyone gives in. It makes me mad, but it's important to pick your battles.

  • Erica:
    Not like I don't understand the impulse. If I'm in line behind someone who's getting over a cold, it passes through my head. Lucky for me, my mind is like a sieve and most thoughts pass right through.

    On the other hand, if I'm the one getting over a cold, I'll try to be the last one in line, in the spirit of not distracting my brothers and sisters on the way to the Cup. Everyone's got their own issues to deal with.

  • s-p

    Hi Grace, Not to throw a theological wet towel on the discussion, but it seems to me (and mostly only to me, it seems) that we border on being Nestorian regarding the Eucharist: The "earthly" is swallowed up in the "divine". Christ was two natures in one person and it was heresy that either one was obliterated by the other. After the consecration the elements retain their "earthly properties": the bread will mold and get stale, the wine still makes the priest drunk if there's enough of it left over, etc. (notwithstanding some claims to isolated miracles regarding these things). I believe God CAN take care of the germs, it just bothers me when we try to make the Eucharistic gifts something other than what actually are as an apologetical tactic.

  • Funny, I have never once thought about getting sick from taking communion.

    I was told the above a couple years ago and thought "right on!" when I heard it but was amazed that there needed to be an explanation because it truly had never occurred to me that I could get sick taking communion.

  • s-p:
    I had never thought of it that way. Seems like you could go to an extreme in either direction and get into trouble. A smart man I knew once said, "Extremism is easy for human beings; moderation is difficult."

    So do you think a person should be worried about catching colds from the eucharist?

    The Church is obviously aware of the earthly aspects — hence, the liturgical fans and other things that originally were for keeping the flies out of the wine. But what about us?

  • Anam Cara:
    Me neither. Anyone who knows me can testify that I'm kind of "casual" about stuff like this at all times — sort of an anti-germophobe — so I need to realize that I don't represent the norm.

  • s-p

    Hi Grace,
    I dunno. People get sick all the time. I don't know if we could (or even should) try to prove it was from the common cup or shaking hands with someone at coffee hour or opening the bathroom door at the Church, or somehow else. All I know is every Sunday I draw near with faith and love. If I get sick during the week I don't replay who had sniffles on Sunday. :)

  • Boy, isn't that the truth. I've known people that were fixated on health issues constantly, feeling like they needed to be their own CSI team to figure out exactly how they got every cold. Those are ALWAYS the ones catching every bug that comes around.

    Anyway, in the interests of accuracy, I changed the title of this post. Not the 'uncommonly germ-free cup' but the 'uncommonly clean cup.' I leave the specifics to theologians to figure out.

  • We just had an IOCC presentation at St George, Houston, yesterday which, at the end, dealt with this topic. Agreeing with s-p to a degree, my boss said: "We were told in seminary that with 13% alcohol content, with added boiling water, and using gold and silver vessels — you couldn't get sick from the chalice even if it WASN'T the Body and Blood of Christ!"

    The fact that virtually all clergy, in every Orthodox parish, consume the remainder of the holy gifts AFTER everyone else … and those guys usually show up for work, healthy, the next week is a good enough indicator for me. (Aside from the faith aspect, of course.)

  • Fr. Joseph:
    That's good information to hold onto for newbies and non-Orthodox, like the lady that originally asked me the question. Eventually, if they are destined to draw near to the Cup, I assume they'll have faith. But before that time, it's good to have some common sense to fall back on.

  • s-p

    Fr. Joseph, There is that… but I'm not as impressed with that as much as I am how you guys can eat all that soggy bread. That is a miracle to me. When I was a kid soggy cornflakes made me gag. If I were a priest, I'd drink the wine and leave the bread for my deacon. :)

  • That's the funniest thing I've read all day. I can't wait to tell the deacon!

    (I was taught, by a Russian Protodeacon, that the largest piece — the main section of the Lamb — is to be left in the chalice and consumed first … in remembrance of all those who have something against you (the priest/deacon). Such a solemnization does help to distract from other so-called "accidents" and properties. And, on closer exam, it could be said to be quite fitting. :)

  • "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." Works for me. ;-)~

  • Thanks, Grace! As a recent convert myself, it was helpful to know others have thought about this issue. My non-Orthodox mom just sort of grimaced when she saw how Communion is served in an Orthodox Church! I have even abstained from the Cup when I have had terrible cold sores on my lips, feeling like I could be an unnecessary distraction to my brethren. Thankfully, that hasn't happened except for a couple of times. Fr. Joseph, your perspective as a Priest is very helpful!

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