Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria has held his weekly Wednesday sermon without an audience and the sermon was broadcast live on Coptic channels, as part of the church precautionary measures against novel coronavirus (Covid-19).
The decision came after the Coptic Orthodox Church announced on Saturday the suspension of all church education services and theology schools for two weeks in parallel with the government preventive measures against the disease.
The church has not suspended daily Mass but said it will reduce the number of group seats, prevent the kissing of priests’ hands or the cross, and sterilising churches after each Mass. It also said it will provide antiseptics to worshipers at the gates of the churches.
Debates have been raised recently among Egyptians over calls to suspend daily Mass and the Eucharist which is also called Holy Communion, amid fears of Covid-19 spread.
The Holy Communion is the partaking of a sip of wine and eating a tiny piece of some form of bread. It is a Christian rite that is considered a sacrament in most churches around the world. It is a remembrance of the body and blood of Jesus that was broken and poured at the cross.
Anba Raphael, Bishop-general of Cairo Downtown Churches said earlier this month that the Holy Communion “would never transmit Covid-19” among Christian worshipers as it is “the secret of life and cures bodies from diseases.”
In a televised interview, Anba Raphael added that other ways could transmit diseases such as kissing and hugging, so he advised Christians to avoid that.
The debate went to social media, as many Christians harshly denounced any calls of halting Holy Communion or Mass amid fears over Covid-19 spread. However, others said that it is OK to halt to avoid the transmission of Covid-19.
“Our faith is stronger than being swayed by heresy that just showed to keep us away from our church and heavenly Father,” wrote a Twitter user.
“I am frustrated that some people attack those who are afraid of the Holy Communion. I understand their fears, but we have to comfort them and raise their awareness of the sanctity of the secret (Holy Communion) not attack them,” wrote another.
On the other hand, a Twitter user said:” I am really surprised that some people said that the disease could not be transmitted by Holy Communion? Really. How did you know?”
Another user said: “Even if the Holy Communion was the holiest religious ritual but could transmit the disease, then a decree has to be made by the church to protect people health and lives.”
“How people are calling for halting the Holy Communion because of coronavirus, are you crazy? I am alive because of it,” wrote another.
“People are afraid of contracting the disease because of the church and Holy Communion. Do not you see what is happening in Cairo’s Metro, public transportation and how people spitting in the streets,” a Twitter user said.
Greece’s Orthodox Church announced also earlier this month that Holy Communion will continue to be carried on.
The Egyptian government took several strict measures over this week in a bid to contain the spread of the Covid-19, as more people have tested positive to the disease. The country total until Tuesday was 196 cases, including six deaths.
The government temporarily halted flights, schools, sports activities, cinemas, theatres, public gathering to combat the spread of Covid-19.
Mosques are still open but the top Islamic body, Al Azhar, said worshipers could pray at home instead of mosques at this time.