My readers in Finland may not be aware that last year in the United States there was discussion in one denomination (the United Methodist Church) about the practice of “online communion,” which a congregation in North Carolina had proposed as part of its online ministry. The United Methodist Council of Bishops placed a moratorium on the practice, at the recommendation of an informal task force convened to discuss the issue last October. One of the arguments against the practice was the effect it would have on the ecumenical relations between the UMC and other churches.

I was happy to see that the United Methodist bishops reached the conclusion they did. At the same time, though, the larger issue of liturgical practices and cyberspace remains and will not be going away. Agree or not with the question of the possibility of receiving the eucharistic gifts online, you have to give credit to the United Methodist congregation in question for attempting to wrestle with how to reach people whose lives are increasingly spent in “augmented reality,” in which life is no longer either exclusively offline or virtual, but is an increasingly interwoven combination of the two.

In the course of reading some of the debate on the issue I ran across a reference to an article by the liturgical scholar Theresa Berger published in Worship last year entitled

“Participatio Actuosa in Cyberspace? Vatican II’s Liturgical Vision in a Digital World.” Berger basically makes the point that the emergence of cyberspace has changed the Christian liturgical landscape, and that liturgical scholars and theologians are going to have to acknowledge and address the phenomena of liturgical practices in cyberspace rather than simply ignoring or dismissing them. Whether one agrees or  not with every point in the article, there is plenty there to learn from in it and plenty in it to get one thinking.

Interestingly, one of the examples she cites is that involving Syrian Orthodox in Syria who participate in a celebration of the Eucharist of a Syrian Orthodox parish in the United States. Have we Orthodox been contributing to the theological discussion of this issue? I genuinely don’t know. If you know of any sources, I’d be grateful if you’d send them my way.

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