Finnish Church investigating question of gluten-free Eucharist for those with celiac disease

Helsinki, Finland, March 5, 2020

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The Bishops’ Council of the Finnish Orthodox Church (Patriarchate of Constantinople) met on February 18 in Helsinki under the chairmanship of Archbishop Leo of Helsinki and All Finland, discussing, among other things, the issue of people who suffer from celiac disease receiving Holy Communion.

The report from the hierarchical session reads:

Gluten-free Holy Gifts

Those who suffer from celiac disease cannot commune of the Body of Christ at the Eucharist due to their intolerance to wheat protein. Those who suffer from an acute form cannot commune of the Blood of Christ either, because it could also contain particles of wheat flour.

After discussing the issue, the Bishops’ Council instructed Fr. John Lampropoulos to find out the practice of the Greek Orthodox Church in this matter, after which the need for consultation with the Ecumenical Patriarchate will be assessed.

At least one Greek hierarch has addressed the matter before, taking a strict stance.

On May 1, 2018, Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver of the Greek Archdiocese of America (Patriarchate of Constantinople) issued an encyclical to his priests and parishioners after hearing of a number of cases where people approached the chalice and asked to be communed only of the Blood of Christ, believing that the Body would harm them.

He responded:

If there are Orthodox Christians in our parishes who believe that, after the Holy Spirit consecrates the Bread and the Wine during the Divine Liturgy, the gifts are still bread and wine, they should never again receive the divine Body and Blood again, until they believe that the holy sacrament of our Lord Himself is His spiritual presence, that is, both His Body and His Blood.

… And, if the doctor's instructions to them about not eating the Body (bread) because of the doctor's medical knowledge are considered more important than the Holy Eucharist, then they should not receive the Holy Eucharist of the Lord, unless or until they believe that the Creator of all has more knowledge regarding eternal life than all the medical science of this fallen world.

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Nathan Land10/12/2020 2:26 am
And yet so many are afraid that the Holy Mysteries can transmit a virus....
Anna Stickles3/6/2020 3:48 pm
We have a couple of people who are gluten intolerant in our parish and they partake of communion. I have heard of others who privately ask the priest to set aside some of the consecrated wine before the bread is added and the bishop has approved this. But it just becomes a scandal when it becomes a source of public controversy rather than an individual pastoral issue. We all struggle with the need for more faith. Let's not condemn those whose faith is weak. St Paul says to encourage the weak, and so Met. Isaiah's response causes even more scandal. Let us not add scandal to scandal and stir up controversy, but let everything be done in good order without being nosy about our brother's struggles. Let the Catholic Church be burdened with its tendency to want universal rules for everyone, and let those outside the Church be sick with demands that society as a whole accommodate "my special problem" But let us as Orthodox follow and respond to these issues according to the rules of our spiritual practice which include discretion, love and humility.
Ages3/5/2020 9:14 pm
Thank you Metropolitan Isaiah for bringing sanity to our "first world problems" and excessive (obsessive?) concerns over bodily health. There are many testimonies of celiacs receiving the body of Christ, and even the antidoron, without any ill effect. One such person is at my parish, and they "draw near with faith and love" every time. Father is aware of their condition and may give them a smaller particle of the precious Body, but to fear the Lord's loving command of "take, eat" would seem unthinkable. Even if it were possible to become ill from receiving the Eucharist (and it's not), would I rather spare my body at the cost of "tasting the fountain of immortality"? No way!
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