Why Do We Use Communion Spoons?

In the Orthodox Church, Holy Communion is administered to communicants using a special spoon. Some have asked, doesn’t the 101st canon of the Council of Trullo forbid the use of Communion spoons? And why are the laity not allowed to receive Communion in the hand and from the chalice, as they did at the time of the Ecumenical Councils? Fr. John Whiteford answers these questions about the use of Communion spoons in our Orthodox Liturgy.


The canon in question has nothing to do with Communion spoons. It addressed the practice of some people who, rather than receive Communion in the hand, as was the practice at that time, would make vessels of their own, and would receive Communion in these vessels, thinking it was more pious than to receive it in the hand. Some may also have used these vessels to take some of the Eucharist to their homes. This practice was specifically prohibited by that canon:

“The divine Apostle loudly proclaims the man created in the image of God to be a body of Christ and a temple. Standing therefore, far above all sensible creation, and having attained to a heavenly dignity by virtue of the saving Passion, by eating and drinking Christ as a source of life, he perpetually readjusts both his eternal soul and his body and by partaking of the divine grace he is continually sanctified. So that if anyone should wish to partake of the immaculate body during the time of a Synaxis, and to become one therewith by virtue of transessence, let him form his hands into the shape of a cross, and, thus approaching, let him receive the Communion of grace. For we nowise welcome those men who make certain receptacles out of gold, or any other material, to serve instead of their hand for the reception of the divine gift, demanding to take of the immaculate Communion in such containers; because they prefer soulless (i.e., inanimate) matter and an inferior article to the image of God. In case, therefore, any person should be caught in the act of imparting of the immaculate Communion to those offering such receptacles, let him be excommunicated, both he himself and the one offering them.”

The practice of distributing the Eucharist to the laity with a spoon became the norm because of the practical issue of laity accidentally dropping particles of the Eucharist when communing. If you pay attention when people come up to kiss the cross at the end of the liturgy, and receive the antidoron, you can’t help but notice that there are almost always crumbs on the floor. We should of course make every effort to avoid this, of course, even when it comes to antidoron, but when it comes to the Eucharist, this is an infinitely more serious problem.

The clergy still receive Communion in the hand, and drink directly from the chalice—and they have the benefit of having the Holy Table to do this over, so that if something falls, it falls on the Holy Table, and can easily be consumed. However, even in the Altar, and despite the usual care that is exercised, accidents sometimes still happen. Such things are far more likely to happen outside of the altar.

If we believe that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, we have to believe that when it makes a change, like the introduction of the use of Communion spoons, there is a good reason for it. There are those who selectively advocate some ancient practice be revived because, “this is how they did it in the early Church,” but they usually do not advocate a return to the strict penitential system that they had in the early Church. Those who joined the early Church did so at a time when doing so could easily result in their martyrdom, and they were held to a very high standard, and so there are practices that made sense in that context that do not work so well in the context of a Church in which many people, unfortunately, grow up in the Church with a much lower level of piety.

We don’t have to speculate about the results of returning to this practice in our time. We can look at what has happened in the Roman Catholic Church after Vatican II when they began to allow laity to receive Communion in the hand. The result was not an increase of piety, but just the opposite. I know of a pious Roman Catholic who says more cockroaches receive first Communion each week than people, because particles so routinely drop to the floor—and most people do not seem to be concerned about it, either.

No less than Pope John Paul II observed:

“In some countries the practice of receiving Communion in the hand has been introduced. This practice has been requested by individual episcopal conferences and has received approval from the Apostolic See. However, cases of a deplorable lack of respect toward the eucharistic species have been reported, cases that are imputable not only to the individuals guilty of such behavior but also to the pastors of the church who have not been vigilant enough regarding the attitude of the faithful toward the Eucharist” (Dominicae Cenae 11.9).

The wisest course for us is to humbly accept the Tradition as we have received it, and to trust that what the Church has established is for our salvation.

Editor11/11/2018 5:15 pm
Theresa, yes of course you can use it.
Theresa11/11/2018 10:18 am
Hi, I wondered if you would allow me to use the photo in this post for my students. I teach religion in a German school and would like to discuss the differences between orthodox, catholic and protestant faith when it comes to baptism and holy communion and this photo illustrates quite well one of the main differences in practice - that in orthodox faith everyone baptised can right away receive communion without waiting for an age to receive it. It would be wonferful if you could quickly get back to me and let me know whether you allow the usage in class. Kind regards, Theresa
Fr Nicholas Young8/19/2016 5:28 pm
I understand that in the early Church, the faithful received the Body of Christ with their hands under a veil so that crumbs would be caught, and also to avoid the scattering of unseen particles. As well, the Body would be consumed from the hand under the veil, and not picked up like a piece of cake.
The current and widespread Roman Catholic practice of receiving in the hand without a veil and then handling the Body further is not the ancient practice.
The question of receiving both Body and Blood complicates the matter, as it could be from two chalices or one as in Orthodox practice.
To Wendy Leonenko - the priest was making sure that the Holy Gifts would be consumed, and not wiped off, say on a serviette, and then washed down into the sewer. This is how much we should reverence every part of Christ: down to the last particle!
Julie7/11/2016 12:27 am
"The wisest course for us is to humbly accept the Tradition as we have received it, and to trust that what the Church has established is for our salvation."

I have noticed that the individuals who attend our church, who are receiving chemo, and who must wear a surgical mask in case of infection, receive communion first. This means that using the same spoon is recognised as having the potential to spread disease. To persist in the tradition to avoid of the potential of spilling crumbs - there could be other ways / traditions of ensuring no crumbs fall. Drinking from the same cup is different, only your lips touch the cup.

In the catholic church the laity never received the wine - only the bread was placed in the mouth by the priest. The RC church did not see a decrease in piety because the bread was placed by the priest in the communicants hands rather than in their mouths.

On tradition - Jesus refuted some traditions accusing the tradition-enforcers of using tradition to negate the commandments of God. Thereby he suggested that traditions can be questioned, since they are "of men". If a tradition has been established it can be replaced, developed, or dis-established. Isn't it sometimes just a cop out to demand that people humbly accept the established tradition. In my opinion it is sometimes just a way of silencing / criticising perfectly genuine concerns or worries.
CZ4/16/2016 6:02 pm
There seems to be a need for a balance between the relevance and the reality of the Holy Communion. Spilling crumbs is obviously a part of the practice, as far as I have seen. We all try not to spill, but we are all fallen and so prone to systems that are imperfect. The spirit and truth of the worship is more important than the tradition, imo.
Wendy Leonenko3/29/2016 12:22 am
I converted to Orthodoxy in 2008. I wanted to take my daughter to church where we would be accepted.

I made a grave error the first time I took my daughter (she was about 3 years old) for communion in the Orthodox faith: I touched my daughter's mouth as she was receiving communion because I was afraid she was going to spit it out.

Complicating factors included lack of language (I did not speak Russian) and I had nobody to guide to me (my mother-in-law lives half a world away in Don Bass).

The priest, understandably, scolded me (that much I could understand although the exact words I did not). Then he did something I was not expecting: he licked my hand in order to clean it, presumably, of my sin (that is what I am guessing) - because I should not contaminate the purification of the liturgy service that prepares the Gifts.

It was a lesson I won't ever forget.

I know now, that the practice is not to interfere with the receiving of Holy Communion. This is what I think when I read about the communion spoon. Maybe this lesson underscores something we no longer regard properly: the presence of God in communion - appreciating God the Creator of all.
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