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No Holy Communion for the Sick, They Said


No one likes getting this kind of call.

“Father John, my mother’s got covid. We’re taking her to the hospital, now. Can you come to see her?”

So you drop what you’re doing, get your things together, get the black leather bag which contains what we Orthodox call the Reserved Gifts, dried Holy Communion, and drive moderately over the speed limit (it’s Massachusetts where even the police speed) and arrive at one of the largest hospitals in Worcester. 

By this time I was well aware that Covid-19 was not nearly as dangerous as the media had made it out to be. I had even followed Dr. Pierre Kory’s research on Ivermectin and was able to acquire some for myself, family and some extra for just such an emergency before the Mass Media deceptively proclaimed it to only be a horse dewormer. I had been able to fulfill the prescription at the local CVS pharmacy, which a few weeks later would refuse to fill all prescriptions! Even my own.

At the hospital parking lot.

“How is she?”

“Not good, she’s in the ICU. Her oxygen was down into the high 70’s,” Kim, her daughter, answered.

As we talked, we wound our way through the labyrinth of hallways and elevators. Finally we arrived at the ICU.

The doors the doors!

The doors are locked, sealed; only the enlightened professionals can enter; the new masked hierarchs that give and take life. Family members, priests, loved ones; even spouses are not allowed in because of the deadly plague which kills approximately 0.02% percent of everyone my age who catches it; a percentage that is just a hair above the average flu.

She wanted to receive Holy Communion. She was 88 years old, even previously catching covid not in particularly good health and had strong religious beliefs her entire life, taking Holy Communion just about every week. 

Now, for someone her age the risk of dying was certainly real, especially when the hospital protocols consist of Remdesivir and intubation! 

In our faith, receiving Holy Communion on your deathbed, especially the day you die, is seen as a tremendous blessing and as close as you can get to a guarantee that you’ll make it to heaven and be with Jesus Christ forever in a kingdom with a ruler that actually cares for all mankind.

The Doors the Doors! Locked and magnetically sealed.

The nurses avoided our questions, ignored us, and then finally told us you can’t come in. “She can’t have any visitors,” the disembodied cowardly voice crackled through the intercom.

I say, “It’s her religious right!”

The spineless, “No, I’m sorry you can’t come in, that’s the protocol.”

So her daughter and I consulted. I’m not a very pushy person by nature, but I lived in Romania for 15 years. I had been exposed to the spirit of a totalitarian regime that still persists in various institutions in that country and heard countless tales of atrocities in that system due to my deep personal relationships and academic research there. I was not going to back off if this poor old lady and her daughter wanted her to receive Holy Communion. 

I detected the familiar, sinister spirit of blind obedience to a soulless, state policy. I had to fulfill my sacred duty. I’m a poor wretch. I’m just as flawed as the next guy, but I couldn’t let this malevolent, unscientific system keep this person from benefiting from the religious freedom our country proclaims to offer its citizens. 

So we waited for the doors to swing open when a nurse was walking out and we both walked in like we owned the place.

A tall, blond nurse eventually stood in my path as I drew near to the room where the ill lady lay in expectation and prayer. Several people were startled, all turning towards us, “You can’t be in here!” The blond nurse said.

“Are you refusing this woman her right to practice her religion? She wants Holy Communion!”

“I would never refuse someone their religious right!”

“Then you’ll let me in!”

“I can’t do that; it’s against policy!”

“Then you are refusing her, her religious right!”

“No, no, I would never do that!”

“Then you are letting me in…”

“No, I can’t! It’s against policy…”

“Then you are by definition refusing this lady’s religious right by refusing her Holy Communion!”

“I would never refuse someone their religious right!”

“But you are doing exactly that by not letting me in…”

I’m not a writer, but I’m not exaggerating. This went on much longer than what I wrote here, round and around; long enough for me to remember the Kafka I had to read in college and long enough for me to wonder if this person was capable of rational thought. The conversation culminated with the question, “Why does the policy say I am not allowed in there?”

“Because it’s too dangerous.”

“For who? She’s dying!”

“For you.”

“Too dangerous for me? I’ll take that risk! Let me in! I’m a priest; I’m not afraid to die!”

That last phrase was melodramatic since I knew it wasn’t much more dangerous to me than the common flu, and besides, I had Ivermectin at home waiting for me. I was starting to get angry, and it seemed like a good line at the time.

Fortunately, they consulted and let me in to give her Holy Communion. Unfortunately, that’s not where the story ends.

In my mind, we had won. I thought they had realized the error of their ways and would now let us in whenever the patient wanted Holy Communion.

I was wrong.

I was called back the next day, and we had to go through the whole laborious process again; refusal at the intercom, sneaking through the doors, different staff, same basic dialogue with a moderate amount of tension and refusal, after more pressure again they let us do our thing, glory to God.

The second day, after Communion, I sat with Kim and the ICU’s public relations doctor came and spoke with us. He said the patient had about two weeks to live at the most. She hadn’t responded to treatment, the oxygen level wasn’t going up, and basically – start making funeral preparations.

During these past few days, Kim had asked her mother’s doctor if they could try Ivermectin. The answer was, no. Her doctor said that according to the risk/benefit ratio it was too dangerous! Mind you, that doctor, too, had said she was going to die! 

So the woman wanted to try the drug, her daughter wanted her to take the drug, she had a fatal, impending prognosis and yet they refused her the right to just try a low-cost tremendously safe drug! What risk could there have possibly been? What is more dangerous than death? 

Apparently, the risk for the so-called doctor’s career was more dangerous to him than the death of one of his patients. That was the real risk/ratio factor.

All doctors who refuse or have refused this life-saving medication should lose their licenses, if not face malpractice or criminal charges.

The third day, since the doctors didn’t prescribe Ivermectin, we spoke to a telemedicine doctor who explained the proper dosage for someone in this patient’s dramatic situation. We had the medicine prepared and we had a plan. 

This third day the whole circus started over; refusal at the intercom, waiting for people to exit through the doors, sneak in through the door, new staff, stone-cold refusal, against hospital policy, etc.

This time there was a young male nurse who liked to lift weights and who didn’t take too kindly to us stepping onto his turf. He was ready to get violent, and honestly at this point I was too. He would have won, but I would have let off a lot of steam. They called the police.

We backed off a bit and went out of the ICU doors. The police came and threatened to arrest us. We started saying that this is America and people have religious rights, the daughter, too, was pleading her case. We were very respectful to the police but we persisted with zeal. 

We looked the officers in the eyes and said, “You swore an oath to defend the law. The right to practice religion is a higher law than hospital policy!” They both had a tremendously guilty look in their eyes and didn’t say anything back. They were very professional, but they were “hospital police,” employed by the hospital. They weren’t going to stick their necks out either.

Glory to God, finally after about a half an hour of this the hospital staff capitulated and let us give her the Ivermectin… um, I mean, Holy Communion. Please excuse the typo.

That evening the ill, 88-year-old woman who had been condemned to death by soulless, witless, incompetent or perhaps sinisterly, evil doctors, was feeling much better and sitting up by herself. 

The next day she was walking and her oxygen level was improving. She was fully conscious, so the second dose was mysteriously delivered to her to take, unbeknownst to the masked hierarchs. Then the daughter checked her out of the hospital. Of course, the staff made her sign a waiver stating that her mother would probably die outside of the hospital and that she would be fully liable, etc.

I visited her at home the following day. She was sitting at the side of her bed eating eggs. She could walk to the restroom herself. Her fever was down, the terrible aches and pains were completely gone, her oxygen level was improving.

This lady is still alive to this day, two years, not two weeks after the hospital nearly killed her and ignorantly, emphatically, and persistently tried to keep her from her religious and medical rights.

What saved this woman’s life was her faith and family. She refused vaccination, intubation and chose to take her health into her own hands. What would have happened to her if her family hadn’t insisted? How many had no family, or no nearby family? How many priests were turned away at the doors and just gave up? This insanity needs to stop now! 

We must insist on the religious and medical freedom of our fellow citizens at all times and at all costs!

When a person is dying or in danger of death, this is the moment when their religion is most dear to them. It is not within the hospital’s jurisdiction to decide when you can or can’t confess your sins, receive Holy Communion and prepare to meet your maker. This abhorrent practice of refusing entrance to clergy must stop now.

The good news is that after this debacle I asked many other priests if they suffered similar situations. Not many had. Apparently the hospitals in Worcester were more tyrannical than those in Boston at least when it comes to receiving the Mysteries of the Orthodox Church.

May the community of Brownstone Institute be blessed for your efforts to bring light to the terrible darkness of our times.

May our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ bless you all.

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  • John Lincoln Downie

    Fr. John Lincoln Downie was born in 1971 in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. In 1992, he graduated from the Christian Geneva College in the same state (the Biology and Philosophy Department). He spent two years at the Koutloumousiou Monastery on Mt. Athos (1999—2001), where he was received into Orthodoxy through Baptism. Then Fr. John studied at the Department of Orthodox Theology at Bucharest University (2001—2006), where he defended his thesis on the subject, “The Doctrine of Creation According to Fr. Dumitru Staniloae”, getting a Master’s Degree in Biblical Theology. He serves as an Orthodox priest in Romania.

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