Friday, March 13, 2020

OCA Diocese of the South is shutting things down

The rest of Orthodoxy in the United States is zigging. The OCA's Diocese of the South is most certainly zagging.


(OCA-DOS) - COVID-19 Guidance for the Clergy and Faithful of the Diocese of the South - The Second Week of Great Lent

From the Life of St. Mary of Egypt: On the Sunday which customarily gives its name to the first week of Lent, the divine liturgy was performed as usual, with each monk participating in the undefiled and life- giving sacraments; and then, according to custom, they partook of a small portion of food. Afterwards they all gathered in the chapel and, after long prayers and many genuflections, the monks kissed each other and each one embraced the father superior. Then they made obeisance and asked for his blessing, so that they would have it with them as an experienced fellow combatant in their forthcoming spiritual struggle. After these proceedings, the gate of the monastery was opened and all the monks came out singing in unison, “The Lord is my light and my Savior, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defender of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?,”33 and the rest of the psalm. Often they left one or two monks behind to guard the monastery, not to guard what was stored inside (for there was nothing that could be taken away easily by thieves), but so that the chapel might not be left without ministry.

Beloved, along with diocesan administration, I have been closely monitoring the developing status of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past 48 hours it has become clear that if we do not slow the rate of infection through social distancing (i.e., self-imposed isolation) our healthcare system is likely to be overwhelmed by the number of cases. As we can see from the situation in Italy, this will result in a significantly greater number of deaths, due to lack of treatment, or rather the inability to effectively treat so great a number of those infected. Further, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests COVID-19 is an airborne contagion that cannot be contained simply by the reasonable hygienic measures with which we are all familiar (handwashing, disinfecting of surfaces, and the like).

In light of this, I am asking all parishes and missions in the Diocese of the South, in addition to the directives from the Statement of the Holy Synod, to respond in the following manner:
  • All parish and mission events and activities, including coffee fellowship, church school, and the rest, and all services other than the Sunday Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, the Vesperal Liturgy of the Great Feast of Annunciation, and the Presanctified Liturgies, are cancelled through March 29, beginning from today. At which point we will adjust this as the situation warrants.
  • Everyone in the parish or mission, other than the priest (and deacon), a reader, a server, and no more than two (2) chanters or singers (all of whom are physically strong and at low risk for COVID-19), should remain at home, even at the time of the Divine Liturgy. The holy body and precious blood of our Lord can never be a source of disease, it is after all for the healing of soul and body, but the COVID-19 virus can still be passed through the congregation. Out of love for our neighbor, we must do everything we can to protect the vulnerable by slowing the rate of infection not only in our parishes, but in the greatercommunity, and thereby allowing the hospitals and medical community to more adequately care for those most at risk. All who are “at risk” – the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions, any who are actively sick or exhibiting signs of illness – should absolutely absent themselves from the services.
  • Priests are instructed to commemorate all of the faithful on the diskos at the proskomedia (as I presume is your practice, regardless).
  • If possible, the service should be webcast on the internet so that the faithful may participate in the prayers, which are themselves a source of grace and consolation. Every effort should be made to provide the faithful with the service texts.
  • The clergy are to either:
    1. Include the OCA’s petition or prayer in your services, or add into the Great and Augmented Litanies the special petitions from the Molieben in Times of Pestilence (GB of N, vol. IV, pg. 93-94, and111-112 respectively). In our prayers we should especially remember health-care workers. They are going the bear a heavy burden during this time of trial.
    2. Offer the Molieben entirely following the Divine Liturgy.
  • Clergy are reminded that they have the primary responsibility of visiting the sick, but should take care not to expose the faithful and others to the virus.
This is not the season of Great Lent we anticipated, but it is nonetheless a fitting Lenten effort: focus on the greater good of our neighbors, recognizing that this initial response to this pandemic will work for the greater good of our faithful and our neighbors. Use this time of “social distancing” for prayer and to keep vigil “in one’s cell.”

Please continue to work through your dean and diocesan leadership to address any particular concerns not covered here, and I will let you know of further directives.

Wishing you strength for the weeks ahead, and assuring you of my prayers,

+ALEXANDER
Bishop of Dallas and the South

47 comments:

  1. Bullet point #2 seems to say that the Liturgy should continue to be served, but the faithful should stay away. I can't believe I'm reading this.

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    1. Update and mea culpa: When this came out, the idea of mandating services that the faithful aren't allowed to attend seemed bizarre to me. As the various diocesan directives have appeared in coming days, it turns out to have been a fairly popular choice.

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  2. "I can't believe I'm reading this"

    Our routines, INCLUDING our liturgical ones, can and should change fundamentally over the next 2, 3, 4 weeks - and I mean really change. Schools in our small city here in New Mexico will be shut down starting Monday for 3 weeks. The symphony, sports, and other gatherings are all cancelled. Waiting on results but my wife (who is essentially a hosptitalist) has already had her first COVID-19 patient.

    Wake up folks:

    https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/MfwBeDEDVl6y5sqq2r9d5bCwgpQ=/0x0:1497x841/1520x0/filters:focal(0x0:1497x841):format(webp):no_upscale()/cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/19780273/flattening_the_curve_final.jpg

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    1. I hope I'm aware of the severity of the situation. But in my opinion keeping the faithful away from the Divine Liturgy is literally like closing a hospital to prevent contagion.

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    3. And to be perfectly honest and frank, your "literalism" is religious and moral idiocy. On the religious side of things, such literalism has more to do with an almost fundamentalist "either/or" and a kind of Manichean religious/physchological impulse than it does with the Faith.

      Put your poisonous snakes down people, and pay attention...

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    4. Maybe you can find a nice mega-church to attend, scrupulously free of the Sacraments.

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    5. Maybe you good folks can drop the spiritualism and faith healing while your at it. Sacraments are not magical nor some kind of Heavenly Disinfectant. 100% of those who take part of them will die, just as Christ Himself did.

      You can believe (or do) the right thing for the wrong reasons. I admit I am just now learning how prevalent a certain Manichean belief around the Sacraments is very very prelevant. I suppose no harm no foul rules the economy normally, but apparently some of you are going to test God and do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons...

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    7. Just a reminder that the religious people crucified Christ because He didn't fit into their religious paradigm. Be careful. Our faith should be in the right place.

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  4. Utterly ridiculous. There is no Pandemic. The Swine Flu was supposed to kill us all, and even then they didn’t declare an emergency in America until 1000 people had died. At the end of the day it was once again a total bust with far less deaths than the standard flu in spite of media hysteria. Meanwhile we’re losing our collective minds over less than 500 deaths? Wake up sheeple you don’t need to kill each other over toilet paper for a virus that presents like the common cold for 98% of us.

    But by all means let us abandon the church whenever CNN prophesies the end of the world.

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    1. This is the same media that told us we were all going to die fromEbola, SARS, MERS, ZIKA, the Swine Flu, and whatever else happened to appear during an election year. The level to which the media can manipulate our population through fear, regardless of how many times they’re completely wrong, is amazing. But the fact that some hierarchs are basing decisions of the church on media hysteria is truly sad.

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    2. "Utterly ridiculous. There is no Pandemic..."

      Could I interest you in a nice beach house I own just outside of Phoenix?

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    3. Good grief my man. You can go straight to the WHO, CDC, any public health agency you name and see what facts are present. It's not media hysteria. God help you and God forbid this touches anyone you love.

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    4. There are a number of sensible steps that can be taken which my parish has implemented. In 40+ years of communing from a common cup, Episcopal and Orthodox, I have never seen an outbreak. I'm not more worried about coronavirus than the omnipresent concern about communicable disease attendant with life in a dense city. There are a number of steps coupled with the preparation and service of the Sacraments to keep things hygienic.

      It would be interesting if this served to make us more insular: only people comfortable with a common cup shared among people they see regularly with built-up immunities.

      De-scaling in general would be good and sensible. Airliners and cruise ships are not essentials. Neither is sportsball. We don't need the Olympics. We really don't even need schools.

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    5. Yes 5,000 deaths in the entire world so far. Swine Flu, the one that was going to end the world? Killed 18,000. The standard flu? 61,000. So far more people are starving to death every day, 15,000, than are dying from this world ender of yours.

      If this is finally the big one, the one that kills us all, you can write “My bad” on my tombstone, but until then I’ll go about my business as usual and look forward to a few months from now when the media returns to its usual propaganda about Iran and Russia.

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  5. A bit extreme for point 2, I would only do that if the city had a large outbreak. And even then....

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  6. "...In 40+ years of communing from a common cup, Episcopal and Orthodox, I have never seen an outbreak...."

    What part of Orthodoxy teaches you that your '40 years' adds up to anything more than a pile of ashes outside the gates of Heaven? Humility would suggest that we are not an expert at everything, and that our your particular sensible take (e.g. descaling, limiting some activities but not others such as liturgical gatherings) may or may not be correct - we simply do not know on our own.

    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2020/03/09/everybody-is-an-expert/

    What CDC and relevant authorities (and yes, they really are authoritative) is that this pandemic is probably not like any other (e.g. the yearly flu one that everyone compares with), and thus temporary changes are needed - for us Orthodox that even means our liturgical routines.

    Respectfully, your 40 years experience is irrelevant.

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    1. To be clear, when this all blows over, can I expect a written apology from you or any of these authorities who are consistently wrong, or do I just get to bask in the knowledge that I didn’t waste my time panicking over the Biblical equivalent of wars and rumors of wars?

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    2. When it blows over because of the heroic efforts of certain governments and health care workers to enforce social distancing?

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    3. An apology in challenging your expertise in epidemiology would be no more necessary than an apology for questioning your amateur canonical findings ;)

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    4. Sorry bro. The Sacraments are the Faith. Go be Protestant elsewhere.

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    5. "The Sacraments are the Faith"

      True, they are not however a Heavenly Disinfectant...

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    6. The Eucharist is the blood, and body of Christ, Christ came to give life , not death. Go be Protestant elsewhere please.

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    7. Ironically, the Heavenly Disinfectant is closer to Protestantism than the Faith. The Body and Blood does not negate the bread and wine - any more than His humanity negates His Divinity.

      How many natures does Christ have?

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    8. So in your solitary opinion, not backed by anyone of authority, not only does the consecration only work partially, contrary to St. Cyril of Jerusalem and St. John of Damascus, but also the Body and Blood of God is less potent than the nature of bread and wine? Interesting.

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    9. "... also the Body and Blood of God is less *potent* than the nature of bread and wine?..."

      Ah, but it is your "literalistic" (and in point of fact very protestant and/or counter-reformation RC) spirit vs. matter two-story-universe thinking that is without authority - certainly not how St. Cyril and St. John thought about God and His Creation.

      Is Christ divided? Does His Divine "potency" (your word) negate His humanity, and if so how exactly? Does it make His Body 'not humane', or the Eucharistic bread and wine 'not bread and wine', such that their bread-ness and wine-ness is negated in any way?

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    10. Christ wasn’t made of Bread and Wine last time I checked, your desire to apply a formula with a 1:1 correlation between the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and the consecration of the Holy Gifts, is purely based on your own opinion.

      Find me a saint, a canonized theologian, anyone who says that the Body and Blood of Christ remains bread and wine. Until the forgive me if I don’t value your opinion over the teaching of St. Cyril who explicitly says it is no longer bread and wine, or St. John of Damascus who explained that it is only because of our human weakness that God allows it to appear as bread and wine. I could cite more saints but you don’t care what they have to say.

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    11. https://orthodoxwiki.org/Docetism

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    12. Yes your high school worthy Wikipedia effort in no way refers to our discussion. I am not insinuating that Christ didn’t become Fully Man. You however are implying that He became bread and wine, and that the saints are heretics for pointing out that Communion becomes the Body and Blood of Christ, while appearing to remain mere bread and wine so that we don’t fear to draw near.

      Again I wait with baited breath for you to support yourself with anything other than personal opinion and concepts that don’t apply.

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    13. Try both/and, and not either/or thinking, you might like it!

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    14. Sorry Jake, I was catechized to follow the teachings of the church and her saints, not Protestant internet opinions

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    15. Can’t help but notice you still haven’t cited anyone other than your own ego...still waiting. Good news is C.S Lewis might agree with you, bad news is he wasn’t Orthodox...

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  7. Amen to that Fr. John. Lord have mercy.

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  8. “Public health authorities fail to inform politicians and the public that most (80+%) healthy people exhibit mild or no symptoms, develop natural antibodies that will provide life-long immunity and will not require future vaccination.

    If we had a vaccine that is as effective as the natural immunity that is now being exhibited, we would call it a miracle vaccine. The typical efficacy of flu vaccines ranges from 30-50% with almost total ineffectiveness among high-risk groups (elderly and young children).

    A Harvard professor says up 70% of the global population will be infected with coronavirus within the next year. That is actually a positive because most will naturally develop antibodies. If one were to say 70% of the world just got vaccinated against coronavirus that would be considered a major achievement but if 70% were naturally immunized against coronavirus without a needle and syringe that would be considered a dire problem. Why?”

    Hysteria. Pure manufactured hysteria over another seasonal bug. If this is all it takes to paralyze our faith then we are in for a rough ride.

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    1. https://bgr.com/2020/03/13/flatten-the-curve-what-does-it-mean-coronavirus-covid-19/

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    2. Again. Hundreds of thousands of people infected...42 have died in America, of which I am sure the overwhelming majority were the standard group of people who die from the flu, tragically, every single year. 1,000 people died from the standard flu in America alone, just over the course of last week. If the media wasn’t causing hysteria, the hospitals wouldn’t be getting flooded by people who have a cough and a runny nose. Hardly symptoms worthy of serious medical attention. Instead every person who sneezes will run to the E.R where they’re far more likely to catch actual life threatening viruses.

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    3. Being crass here, but if we really have a 70% infection rate, we've also solved our social security liquidity crisis, because about 10-20% of the over-60 population in the US will be dead.

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    4. “ - 22,000 flu deaths in the USA this season.
      - 47 Coronavirus deaths in the USA this season.
      One of these has shut the entire economy of our country down, canceled all sports, and caused a nationwide panic. Guess which one?”

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    5. Have you not been watching what this has done in China and now Italy and certainly soon elsewhere? The sudden impact overwhelms the system and there is currently the ability to take steps to lessen that.

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    6. The sudden impact of people with mild symptoms who have been told to panic and rush to the hospital when 9 out of 10 infected people do not require medical assistance.

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  9. Near the top of my list of prayers today (everyday from now on) is that clergy would be careful about what we say and how we respond to others publicly, especially on social media during this time of outbreak. What we say will last long after things calm down.

    Fr. Alexis Baldwin
    Priest in the OCA Diocese of the South
    Also, for our laity, that they too would be careful how they speak about our Church and clergy. What we say will last long after things calm down.

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