Thursday, April 2, 2020

OCA issues lengthy guidance for month of April

(OCA) - Synodal Directives for the Clergy and the Parish, Mission, and Monastic Communities of the Orthodox Church in America Concerning the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

March 30, 2020

In accordance with the Synodal Statement of this same date and in effect for the period of: March 30, 2020 – April 30, 2020

1. A General Directive regarding the Divine Services and Parish Gatherings:

Keeping in mind that in the Orthodox Church in America in general, all Divine Services and all ministries that are done in a monastery, parish, mission, or mission station are only done with the blessing of the Ruling Hierarch (the Diocesan Bishop or the Locum Tenens):

- All monasteries, parishes, missions, and mission stations must seek a specific blessing from their bishop to perform any Divine Service whatsoever during this period. This includes not only ordinary services, such as the Divine Liturgy, but also particular Holy Week and Paschal Services, as well as extraordinary services such as Holy Unction, funerals, baptisms, and weddings.

- Clergy may not serve Liturgy in their home or in any private home. If they desire to serve other Divine Services in their own home, they must consult with their bishop.

- As usual, the directives of a bishop given either via diocesan-wide letters or by individual communication of the bishop to his clergy and parishes are to be considered as binding.

- All other in-person gatherings and in-person activities of any kind continue to be forbidden.
2. Regarding Civil Directives:

In accord with the Apostle Paul’s injunction to bishops to remind their flocks “to be submissive to rulers and authorities” (Titus 3:1):

- The authority to interpret the civil authority’s directives resides with the bishop.

- All Divine Services performed in a local community must be in accord with all local, state/provincial, and federal civil directives regarding the prevention of the spread of Covid-19.

- All parish priests must daily make efforts to ensure that they are aware of any changes in the local, state/provincial, and federal civil directives in their community’s locality, and must ensure that the Divine Services of their parish or mission community are in compliance with all such civil directives.

- If anyone among the clergy or if any member of a parish, mission, or mission station holds any sort of church service or gathering in direct opposition to the local civil authorities’ Covid-19 preventative directives, such an action may result in severe canonical sanctions.

3. Limited Divine Services:

If the Ruling Hierarch has blessed for limited or “closed” Divine Services to be served in a community, services must be served according to whatever directives he has given to the priest and his parish or mission community either by diocesan-wide letter or individually. Nevertheless, all communities serving such limited services must adhere to the following at this time:

- Once the Priest and the assigned server(s) and singer(s) have entered the building for the service, the doors of the church must be locked.

- Anyone among the at-risk population, including those over 65, those with serious medical conditions, and those with any symptoms of illness of any kind, should not be among those attending any of these limited Divine Services. ​An exception may be made in the cases of a priest and of a priest’s wife, due to age only. See below.

- Anyone who within 15 days has made in-person contact with a household member, family member, or other acquaintance working in a medical facility with Covid-19 patients must absolutely not attend services. Even if such a person be a priest, a singer, or server in the parish, this still applies.

- Anyone who is a health-care provider or a regular caregiver for a person among the at-risk population must not be among those at services. ​An exception may be made in the case of a priest’s wife, due to age only. See below.

- Any priest of age 65 or older has the blessing of the Synod to excuse himself from serving the Divine Services without canonical penalty. Any priest of age 65 or older but in good health and suffering no symptoms of any illness may be able to serve the Divine Services if he consults with his bishop. Any priest’s wife of age 65 or older, but in good health and suffering no symptoms of any illness, may be able to attend the Divine Services, in consultation with the bishop.

- During all Divine Services, all entrances into the church building, and church complex if applicable, must display a warning statement regarding the fact that no one may enter the building without the express blessing of the parish priest, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

- Appropriate medically-approved prevention measures as prescribed by the public health agency of the federal government (e.g., the CDC in the United States) must be followed as much as possible.

- For the serving and celebration of the Divine Services, only as many parishioners as needed in order to serve in the altar and sing the responses should be present. Efforts should be made for this limited “crew” of singer(s) and server(s) to be the same at every service.

- If it is possible, live-streaming of the Divine Services should be provided. Live phone access should be provided for those parishioners who do not have internet access,. If a parish is not serving Divine Services, or is unable to live-stream, parishioners should be directed to the live-streaming services of another parish or monastery.

- A priest should take extra care if in his family his wife is pregnant or there are infants and/or young children. If he has such concerns, it is recommended that he consult his bishop.

4. Holy Communion:

On the days when the Ruling Hierarch has blessed the Divine Liturgy to be served by a limited number of community members, the following directives hold:

- In the case that anyone is unable to receive Holy Communion at this time due to any reason related to parish closure, distance, health risks, or civil travel bans and “stay at home” directives, the Holy Synod blesses that such a person may wait until such a time as they are able to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, with all proper preparation and faith in the Eucharist.

5. Confession:

Taking into consideration the spiritual and mental healing that comes through the Sacrament of Confession, the Holy Synod blesses, for all priests and communities in the Orthodox Church in America, that for this period:

- The Sacrament of Confession may not be held in person during this period, except for those who are among the limited “crew” of servers and singers in a parish or mission that is holding Divine Services. If thus done in person, six (6) feet of social distance must be maintained, as well as must be all other civil and public health measures applicable in the locality.

- The Sacrament of Confession may be held over the telephone or by live video communication.

- If Confession is heard over the telephone or by live video, the priest must read the Prayer of Absolution before ending the phone call or video communication, in the hearing of the penitent.

- If anyone of the faithful is uncomfortable with Confession over the phone, then he or she is not bound to confess, but may wait until a time when in-person Confessions will be possible again.

6. Unction:

If the Ruling Hierarch has given his blessing for the Sacrament of Holy Unction to be held in a community, the following directives hold:

- The Unction service should only be held with the minimal crew of singer(s) and server(s) present.

- A new burnable cotton swab or cotton wand (Q-Tip) must be used to anoint each individual. The used cotton swabs or wands must immediately be placed in a separate bag or container and set aside for burning.


  1. Wow! The bishops have abandoned us.

    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 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 the faithful & 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.

  2. No, they are being prudent,,,,having been in the environmental health and safety field for fifty five years ,,, I see them as being very prudent ,,, if we have faith in the professionals that God has provided us,,,and we have faith in their God given talents and knowledge,,,then we follow their recommendations so that we sacrifice on the short term so we can resume on the long term,,,,,this is a test of our faith and trust in God,,,,God has shown what needs to be done to minimize the loss of life,,,nothing else needs to be said

  3. The people need the Bride of Christ and the Holy Mysteries now...more than ever. They have abandoned us.

  4. Re Confession: Many priests are not tech savvy. There is no secure encrypted texting, telephone service or video service (unhackable and not open to a third party) Except between two persons using signal apps from HIPAA compliance is not Confession worthy. Some priests as well as physicians already use protonmail for confidentiality. Despite claims of HIPAA compliance by some companies, a careful read of the privacy policy is convincing. As a psychiatrist I must protect my patient’s privacy and a priest surely has a higher responsibility.

    Re: those singing in the small choir and confession: it is now known that singing and of course confessing actually violate social distancing and asymptomatic people can easily spread the disease to others and to those in their homes. The directive is inconsistent in its message.

    Re:,Holy Communion: I am sad to see that I personally am not allowed to receive Holy Communion even if I am asymptomatic and as a “vulnerable” would like to take what the directive assumes is the risk Of receiving Holy Communion, especially since I may need it sooner than young folk. Also sad to see no explicit understanding of the importance of Holy Communion particularly at this juncture big a priest and a parishioner need to glove and mask up to interact to make the Abp more comfortable , I am glad to do so.

    One lovely reprieve from this directive is the very reverent service of Matins with the Great Canon with all focus on Christ and the icons and the priest , a son of Vladika Dmitri, prostrating, chanting and reading from the heart for all of us who could not be present. St Maximus Orthodox Church YouTube April 1. Watch in the dark, very moving.

    1. Nicole,

      You got me thinking. In the olden days, the day before yesterday ;), land lines were strictly a "switched network" and thus quite secure excepting from man-in-the-middle physical hacks. However even if you have a real landline now it is likely (anyone know?) the signal spends time on an IP network within the telcoms. Of course, does any of this really matter since 9/11 and the now ubiquitous surveillance?

      In any case, I am not at all sure that a priest is really burdened with anything beyond common sensical and basic steps to "protect privacy". Beyond shame/embarrassment, what really would be the consequence of a "hacked" confession in the vast majority of cases?

      Just thoughts...

    2. Ask yourself this: what does it matter if the state hears your confession? God knows everything and if some secret sin is brought out maliciously down the road it is an opportunity to further repent.

  5. 3rd paragraph correction: “At this juncture. If a priest”

  6. Bishops: Let's try to preserve lives even if it means we need to take extreme measures for an extraordinary event

    Random internet user: Bishops have abandoned us.

    1. Bishops: Let's follow the secular authorities...even if they give a religious exemption...and lock the faithful out of their Churches and deprive them of the Holy Mysteries during the Great Fast and Pascha because we are afraid of the Chinese flu.

      Random internet user: The Bishops have abandoned us.

  7. So is Unction powerless? If Unction is not for the sick in a time of the corona virus, then what good is it? Do we only believe in the good times?