Friday, April 3, 2020

A pan-Orthodox directive on Holy Week & Pascha

This differs quite a bit from previous statements in that this is being put out by Antiochians, Greeks, ACROD, the OCA, et al. under the auspices of the Assembly of Bishops. This is the sort of united response I was advocating for from the first episcopal letter to today. It's also not just platitudes, but real directives.

If you look at the OCA for example, you saw one bishop put out a statement, then another bishop put out a very different statement. That's fine as each bishop is responsible for his own flock. But then the synod put out yet another statement which put into question the first two. And that pattern continued not only in the OCA, but also the Greek Archdiocese / Ecumenical Patriarchate, ROCOR, and others. And if you are privy to the letters from bishops to their clergy, you know that there was yet another layer of guidance being given that at times clarified and others confounded priests in understanding what they were supposed to be doing. All the while the faithful were calling at all hours grasping for any lifeline as to what they should be doing and how.

Sometimes the reasoning of these missives (both the public-facing and in pectore) made sense, and sometimes there was not enough explanatory material to encapsulate the why of a decision. In response, the clergy and laity variably either redoubled their prayers, threw their hands up in confusion, or picked up pitchforks and took to the Internet in disgust.

It has been a truly unpleasant experience to see one "side" taking the argument up that each bishop is infallibly doing what is right and another "side" claiming that every change made in the face of this pandemic was no less than complete abandonment of the Church and her people in our greatest hour of need. Neither pendulum swing is fair or reasonable. No bishop is living it up at an undisclosed and garishly appointed bunker under the flickering lights of gaudy candelabra while dining on lobster and champagne like some Bond villain. At the same time no bishop is wearing a protective mask and anointing people at your local hospital ER either. Your bishop is praying for you, though. I know mine is. I take solace in knowing that our hierarchs came together and prayerful put the below in effect.

May God have mercy on us all.


(AOB) - To the Clergy and Faithful Orthodox Christians of the United States of America:

During this period of crisis, we, members of the Executive Committee of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America, are meeting in conference call sessions every Friday to continually monitor the COVID-19 pandemic. Together, we discuss both pastoral and practical matters concerning the operational situation of our churches. As such, allow us first to thank all the medical health professionals, first responders, delivery personnel, and clergy who put themselves on the front lines in a sacrificial manner for the protection of our health and salvation.

We are facing unprecedented circumstances in extraordinary times. Many guidelines from various jurisdictions, following State and Federal regulations as well as CDC recommendations, have been successfully implemented in parishes around the country, helping to slow the spread of COVID-19. After consultation with public health and insurance officials, law enforcement, theologians, and pastoral care professionals, we, members of the Executive Committee, have reached a consensus concerning Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Pascha (Easter) and strongly encourage all Bishops of the Assembly to implement the following recommendations:
  1. Services, celebrated by a maximum of five people consisting of a Priest, a Deacon, and/ or Server(s), continue in the churches and may be streamed online for the faithful to pray from their homes. This is a lowering from the rather consistent ten seen in previous jurisdictional directives.
  2. None of the traditional material offerings are to be distributed to the faithful in any way, including palms and/or pussy willows, flowers, candles, and eggs, etc.
  3. Spiritual guidance may be heard over the phone, but the implementation of the Sacrament of Confession and Prayer of Absolution remains at the discretion of the local Bishop.
Whereas some Bishops might implement more stringent practices out of love and concern for their flock and broader society, less stringent approaches will put the Faithful and their Clergy at high risk and should be avoided by all Bishops.

These measures mitigate the risk of transmission due to proximity. We affirm that the Eucharist is truly the Body and truly the Blood of Christ. These measures should in no way be seen to diminish this sacred and eternal Truth.

The Church presently calls upon us, as the source of blessings, to nurture us in the commandments of Christ and lead us to His Kingdom. As the Church tells us when to fast, and when not to fast, we listen and do our best to obey these instructions. In like manner, when we suffer together in our isolation and are unable even to receive the Eucharist because of mandated distancing, we are in reality, due to circumstance, also in full communion as the Body of Christ. As we unite – as faithful Christians, as a nation, and as a global community – to stop the spread of COVID-19, may the blessings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ be with you all!

Conveying our paternal blessings with love in the Lord,

Archbishop Elpidophoros, Chairman
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

Metropolitan Joseph, Vice-Chairman
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America

Archbishop Michael, Treasurer
Orthodox Church in America

Metropolitan Gregory, Secretary
American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the USA

Bishop Irinej
Serbian Orthodox Church in North, Central and South America

Metropolitan Nicolae
Romanian Orthodox Metropolia of the Americas

Metropolitan Joseph
Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the USA, Canada, and Australia

Bishop Saba
Georgian Apostolic Orthodox Church in North America

Metropolitan Tikhon
Orthodox Church in America

46 comments:

  1. Holy Communion is the cure for coronavirus and the Bishops have decided to lock the people out of the Church and withhold the Holy Mysteries from them. May God have mercy on their souls.


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    1. Mikail,

      I'm speaking as a fellow Orthodox Christian & a physician when I say that it is important to remember that this extremely unique situation is only for a limited amount of time (likely a few months) and it is not merely for our own person wellbeing/health/life but more importantly for our neighbors'.

      All these isolation & social distancing efforts have the single goal of trying to slow down the spread of the virus through the USA so that we don't end up with more critically ill people than we have medical resources to care for at any give time.

      The truth is that COVID will cause many deaths even if we do everything right, but if we all act responsibly to "flatten the curve" then we won't end up with a lot of otherwise preventable deaths because many critically ill coronavirus patients will recover after a short period of time in the ICU on a ventilator when they would have otherwise died without that type of temporary care.

      We want to avoid Italy's situation where a rapid spike in infections overwhelmed their healthcare system & people over 80 years-old are being told to stay home (...and die) because there simply are not enough doctors, ICU beds or ventilators to help all the really sick people. The reality is that medical resource are indeed limited.

      Gathering in large groups (liturgy included) promotes viral spread & will drive a spike in the number of cases.

      If the Church building were on fire no bishop in his right mind would tell the people to come the the liturgy because the Eucharist will keep them safe. The bishops care about their flocks & know this a temporary situation. Even Moscow & ROCOR are moving in this direction.

      No doubt the Eucharist IS the life of the world. However, abstaining from it for a short period of time is not necessairly detrimental. Patriarch Kyrill of Moscow recently cited the example of St. Mary of Egypt in this regard (no Holy Communion for ~40 years) to reassure the Russian faithful that it was okay to abstain from Holy Communion for a period of time.

      Like so many things in life this too shall pass. I just try to remind myself that this terrible viral pandemic is somehow part of God's Providence, and like many people I struggle to patiently & humbly endure the trial & to have real faith. It is in this effort that I realize how weak my faith really is. Pray for me brother.

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    2. "...Let's bear, brothers and sisters, temporary hardships in order to preserve the life and health of our neighbors..."

      MP Kirill, following the Gospel, says this to our context and circumstances. While I appreciate your efforts Timmy, it's clear some are unable to even hear this central truth of the Gospel. Idol's, of the golden, legal, or pietistic kind are at the end of the day still idols (of the mind and heart) and they literally block the sun (Son) from even being seen even when those who worship them label them the Son...

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  2. Timmy...I am talking to you as an Orthodox Christian when I tell you that the Bishops are using their fallen human logic to make these decisions. They are supposed to be the successors of the Apostles. The Apostles would not have shut the people out and abandoned their ministry because of an illness. The people need the Church and the Holy Mysteries more now than ever. This is a tragedy. St Nikephoros the Leper appeared again to someone in Bulgaria (he appeared to someone in Greece a couple weeks ago). He told the man that the cure for coronavirus is Holy Communion. He also said that the Churches must stay open and that the people will not get infected in the Churches. The Hierarchs in America have done the opposite.
    Lord have mercy!

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    1. I would say your confused as to who has abandoned whom, but the fact is you were never really with them in the first place...

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  3. So Unction doesn't work anymore? I thought it was meant to heal the sick? Also, the Theotokos seems to have quit protecting us. If God and His mysteries only work in the good times than we have a false belief or maybe no faith. Either way we are in trouble.

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    1. "...Either way we are in trouble"

      Now your getting somewhere, even if the original terms of your dichotomy are figments of your imagination.

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    2. Yes, Jacob Lee. Orthodox in America may be irreparably damaged. The Hierarchs have taken the wide path. We need a Hierarch to emerge so that the people can follow them in confidence. I imagine many priests and deacons are praying for the same thing.

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    3. Jacob Lee,

      Unction still works. I don't believe anyone is saying otherwise. I can still personally meet my priest for communion, unction or even confession if needed on a one-on-one basis, which is the most reasonable & appropriate thing to do right now.

      The Mother of God is certainly with us protecting & praying for us. However, she's not a magician who shields us from experiencing the evils & tragedies of life in this fallen world. She experienced these painful realties herself, and she humbly & patiently endured them with faith in God's providence despite the fact that none of it made sense to the human intellect.

      I think it's important for us to remember that Christ doesn't save us from suffering the experience of evil & death, but rather He saves us from being destroyed by them if we accept & bear them as if they were our life-giving cross. Our Lord & our Lady have given us powerful examples of this.

      Orthodoxy is paradoxy: There's no resurrection without crucifixion. Kenosis is theosis.

      We are still Orthodox without big liturgies for a short period of time. This is a very unique & temporary situation. We'll get through this. We have to trust in God providence. We would all do well to follow the advice of the Psalmist, "Be still and know that I am God".

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  4. As to any judgement about the overall quality of the response of the bishops so far, I have been pleasantly surprised. It has been more humble (i.e. they have stuck to their competency/domain by and large), uniform (despite diversity in some details), and timely than I dared hope at the beginning. Glory to God!

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  5. Faith without works is dead. You can't do works online.

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    1. Correct again Jacob Lee!

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    2. Works and faith without love is empty...its idol worship.

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    3. But you can, and indeed must regardless do them with or without liturgical services.

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    4. Jacob Lee & Mikail,

      I would humbly submit that right now the ultimate work of love that our faith calls us to do is precisely to stay at home so that we don't accelerate the spread the virus.

      COVID-19 is incredibly contagious, and the more we go out & interact the faster it spreads. If we end up with too many people sick at once then people will die needlessly because there will be too many critically ill people at once to help them all.

      In my view as a doctor staying home right now is truly an ascetic / sacrificial work of love for the benefit of our neighbors.

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  6. If the Bishops truly believed that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of christ...they would realize that Holy Communion is the cure for COVID-19.

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    1. If these faithless bishops would just lobby to have the Body and Blood put into airplanes and cloud seeded, the Holy Gifts could be rained down upon the whole world and we would all be cured!

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    2. That is a blasphemous statement. Lord have mercy on your soul.

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    3. It's not blasphemy, but it is illegal.

      May Ggggooooodddd have Mmmmerccccy on your SSSoooouuulllll (says the baptist preacher)

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    4. It's blasphemy. How very sad for you.

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    5. What's blasphemous AND sad is the flame job on my Mazada.

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    6. Flames on a Mazda??? Not even a Baptist preacher could absolve such a sin!

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    7. Mikail,

      While holy communion is undoubtedly for the healing of our bodies & souls it is not magical or mechanical. Whether or not we are healed in soul and/or body is dependent upon our our faith/works/spiritual state. God's grace is always present, but often it is not able to take effect in us because we haven't prepared our hearts to receive it properly. As St. Theophan said, "God is alway with us, but we are often not with God."

      So while the Eucharist can potentially heal our physical diseases most of the time it does not. Case in point: St. Nikephoros still died a leper despite receiving communion and Fr. (?St.) Seraphim (Rose) still died of cancer despite receiving communion just to point out two examples.

      Jake's point was mere hyperbole not necessarily blasphemy. I think the difference hinges on the motive for making the statement, and in this case Jake was simply making the same exact point that I'm making, just in a sarcastic way, as St. Paul was so apt to do.

      If we throw caution to the wind and spike the number of cases of coronavirus infections then we'll needlessly be stacking bodies even higher.

      It's also worth noting that the early Christians received regular communion, and they were still turned into entertainment for the crowds by becoming lion food, firewood & whipping-posts in the circuses / arenas.

      Holy communion is a great mystery that we can't reduce to a magical/mechanical panacea. In fact, it's a double-edge sword as St. Paul so sharply reminds us.

      Just my two cents.

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    8. Dear Timmy,

      We will all die of something one day. I did not say that receiving it would make you live forever in this world. I hope you are not implying that I believe that the Eucharist is magic. That is rather insulting. If you do not want to attend Liturgy...then stay home. But others should not be deprived who need to be there. And yes...St Paul tells us that sometimes receiving the Eucharist unworhily can make you sick...or even kill you.

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  7. Any person, at the time of a trial, seeks for deliverance and consolation... Today, when a new infection that has spread throughout the world threatens the life of the population, it is natural that parishioners would place special hopes in the Lord and be drawn to church.  For believers, spiritual food is just as important and necessary as physical food; therefore, it is impossible to close the doors of the churches, and they will be open for those who want to come to Church, to receive God’s grace and be spiritually strengthened.”
           
    Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia 

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    1. But I, brothers,[a] could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready...

      St. Paul

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    2. Mikail,

      One final thought for tonight:
      The Church is the people of God not a building. The doors of the building may be temporarily closed to the masses just like the grocery store I went to yesterday that only allowed a certain number of people inside a time so I waited outside in a spaced out line until it was my turn. However, the Church is still here for us. Yes, we may be doing thing very differently for a few months out of love for our neighbors, but the Church itself is still present & Gods grace is still being given to us.

      Keeping up with the St. Paul quotes: "I became all things to all people so that by any means I might save some."

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    3. Dear Timmy,

      It would be wonderful if, like the grocery stores, the Church would let a few people in at a time. Our spiritual food is much more important than our physical food. And furthermore, somehow, I don't see St. Paul agreeing to shut the people off from the Eucharist because he is afraid of illness and/or disease. I am not saying that God's Grace does not exist outside the Church. God gave us the Church to partake of the Body and Blood of His Son...especially in times of trial and tribulation. They should not be closed...not even for a few months. My neighbor to the left wants to stay home because he has a compromised immune system. Let him stay home. My neighbor to the right is healthy and wants be in Church for the healing of soul and body. Let him attend. We should love all our neighbors. We should not lock a portion of them out of the Church.

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    4. One last thought Timmy. Saying that the Church is the people of God and not a building is partly true. It is both. St. Paul tells us that it is the pillar and foundation of truth. The protestants use your comment to justify the fact that they don't need to be in a brick and mortar building.

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  8. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

    St Paul

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  9. Both sides have valid arguments. Simple solution: obey your bishop.

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  10. Yes, Father. Obey your bishop. But we don't have to agree with them. I believe history will not look kindly on the decisions they made for Christ's Church in 2020.

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    1. Obedience also entails not making a judgement on those to whom you are obedient but loving them all the more especially if you disagree.

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    2. It is within the scope of my responsibility to call out a bishop when I believe they are doing a disservice to Christ's holy Church, Mr Bauman. They are not infallible and neither am I. I do not love them any less. St. Mark of Ephesus pray for us.

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  11. I find it quite incongruous to make any statement about the Holy Sacraments "working".

    That is an oxymoron born of our descent into utilitarianism.

    People die despite unction, people get sick despite Holy Communion, people commit sins despite Confession.

    The Orthodox faith is not magic. An old mentor of mine used to say that if you were not able to know Jesus sitting on a curb talking to a homeless person, you did not know Him.

    Fr Stephen has a post on "Glory to God For All Things" about Pascha 1928.

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  12. Why do you keep saying they are not magic? People die in the flesh, no doubt. But the argument is not whether you believe they "work". The argument is whether you think Holy Unction or Holy Communion can spread disease to you. What say you Mr. Bauman? St. Nikephorus appeared in Bulgaria and said that the people must be in Church and that Holy Communion is the cure for coronavirus. I don't care if you believe that or not. I do.

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    1. "...the argument is not whether you believe they "work". The argument is whether you think Holy Unction or Holy Communion can spread disease to you..."

      I agree with you here, in that this is a central pillar of the disagreement. Theologically, it is what the "Docetic Eucharist" debate is all about.

      Yor and pastor Jake's problem, is that while some (but not all) bishops have affirmed a "strong" version of the transubstantiated/docetic Eucharist, not all have - and even those that have (such as Met. Isiah of Denver) have made equally strong, and thus seemingly opposite, economic accommodations which include pastoral adjustments for those who suffer celiac, and now these temporary extraordinary changes to our pietistic and liturgical routines. Note well, this ALSO includes you both tend to lean on as "conservative" or "traditional" in your usual us vs. them mode, such as ROCOR, Moscow Patriarchate, Antioch, etc. etc.

      So the theological has been "swallowed up" as it were by praxis, the normative economic action of God and real human beings in the Church, and other *larger* considerations. It turns out that theology and even belief are themselves but servants to our salvation.

      All this to say, this is one argument (to put aside the question if it is really your "responsibility" in the first place) your not going to win, because even if you win, you lose. As a person with strong "intellectual" tendencies I don't like it either, but it is nevertheless the situation of our existence and the Church we find ourselves in.

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  13. Anybody notice they consulted insurance professionals? They should have consulted some behavioral psychologists. 3 weeks and counting new behavioral patterns are being formed. You can come up with rational arguments to close the Churches. It's the irrational behavior of people that in the end will determine the long term effects of this decision.

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    1. "It's the irrational behavior of people that in the end will determine the long term effects of this decision."

      I agree with the insight behind this assertion: that we are largely "formed" by forces larger than our discursive reasoning and inner chatter (though I would not call them "irrational" - on the contrary they are Provenditional and thus "suprarational").

      Yet, at the same time your argument itself rests on an equally "rational", that is the Sacremental life of the Church is somehow a mere "rational" bulwark against the irrational and dark forces of nature - or principalities and powers. On the one hand it is, as we affirm during every Divine Liturgy when we say "...this rational and bloodless sacrifice". On the other hand, we don't reduce the Sacrements to the *mere rational*. They are larger, and thus more flexible than that. They can "handle the real" as the say - and this pandemic is very very real.

      The Church is not threatened or in danger by this pandemic anymore or anyless than it has been threatened in the past by war, flood, calamity, unbelievers, persecution, plague, islamic hordes, crusaders, Mongals, Communists, or any other created thing.

      Truly pastor Jake and Mikail, take a breath. Believe it or not, our humble hierarchy are both more faithful, experienced, and wise then either you of you are wanting to admit.

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  14. Yes, Jacob. We are permitted to call the bishops out for their abhorrent decisions, but we do not judge them. God is their judge.

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    1. Did I say they were going to hell?

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    2. No. I am saying that I keep getting accused of passing judgement on bishops (not by you). I am saying that disagreeing with them and pointing out their errors is not passing judgement on them. God is their judge.

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  15. https://www.medievalists.net/2015/02/priests-black-death/

    The last time the Catholic Church faced the plague it did not end well. Their decline can be traced to their actions. We are following the Catholic Churches lead on this one.

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    1. Um, no. No on that article being very useful - I would call it "soundbite history" but I am not sure it even rises to that level. For example, the idea that Chaucer is indicative of "criticism of church/priests" after (as opposed to before) the black plague is bad medievalism.

      No: the black plague might have stressed the medieval church/state/cultural synthesis in all sorts of ways, but if you take that articles conclusions (such as they are) seriously then it follows that the priests/bishops/church should have been more careful around how they served the sick - this is the opposite of what you and Mikail have continually argued for.

      No: "we" (i.e. normative "canonical" Orthodoxy) are not "following the Catholic's lead on this one", and no a False Union is not immanent.

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  16. Don't expect California Churches to be open by the fall. If they aren't going to allow football, our Churches won't be open either. Football is the secular religion. https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/04/04/coronavirus-will-fans-pack-nfl-stadiums-for-week-1-dont-count-on-it-gov-newsom-says/amp/

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