The Georgian Orthodox Church has removed a statement defending their use of a shared spoon during Holy Communion from their website, OC Media has learnt.
The move comes as the Church’s decision-making body, the Holy Synod, prepares to meet at midday tomorrow.
The 29 February statement had objected to advice from health officials that they use disposable spoons to try to minimise the spread of the coronavirus.
[Read live updates on COVID-19 in the Caucasus on OC Media.]
‘The tradition of using a spoon in communion dates back thousands of years. Throughout these years, there have been many cases of life-threatening infections, during which Orthodox believers did not fear but strived even harder to get communion through a common chalice’, the Church argued.
[Read more on OC Media: Georgian Church refuses to change Communion ritual despite coronavirus fears]
Earlier today, the Church admitted there were different opinions ‘even within the clergy’ but also called on ‘everybody’ to abstain from voicing their ‘personal positions’ on the matter publicly.
Following their initial statement, which is now offline, the Church agreed to allow state services to disinfect churches, while Georgian Orthodox priests started scattering holy water in the streets of Tbilisi and Batumi to fight the virus.
On 15 March, Metropolitan Grigol (Berbichashvili) of the Poti and Khobi Eparchy even questioned if the ‘recommendations’ voiced by the Church were actually coming from the head of the Church, Patriarch Ilia II.
The Church under pressure
Controversy over the ritual emerged days after Georgia’s Health Ministry confirmed the first case of the Coronavirus in Georgia, on 26 February.
Following public pressure, including from opposition MP Roman Gotsiridze who as early as January suggested that priests use disposable spoons, Georgian health officials said they could only recommend preventive measures to the Church.
They said they had already done so weeks before the first case of the virus was confirmed.
On 29 February, with three confirmed infected persons in Georgia, the Church made it clear they did not intend to change the practice.
On Tuesday, Nika Melia, one of the leaders of the opposition United National Movement Party, published a strongly-worded statement on Facebook accusing the government of being ‘timid’.
‘The state should not avoid calling openly and categorically on the Patriarchate to temporarily halt church services!’
‘I'm appealing to the state, act more boldly!’, Melia wrote.