Thursday, June 11, 2020

On OCA Chancellor & General Counsel's corona response

(OCA) - With the blessing of His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon, the Chancellor, Archpriest Alexander Rentel, and the General Counsel to the Orthodox Church in America, Judge E.R. Lanier, made the following statement:

While it is not the practice of the Office of the Chancellor to comment on every rumor or baseless charge published on the internet that cause scandal and aggrieved the faithful of the Orthodox Church in America, we have seen fit to make this comment now. The situation in society and the Church has improved because of the steps that were taken in response to the present pandemic, and so it seems fitting to take a moment a reflect on what has transpired in and for our Church. We offer this statement in order to testify to the faithful of the Orthodox Church in America that our Church has faced well the challenges posed by novel SARS CoV-2 and COVID-19 in a hierarchical and conciliar manner. The Church acted, in other words, in a manner totally and completely consistent with its high calling.

From the beginning of this pandemic, His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon and the Holy Synod of Bishops have met regularly to formulate policy and draft accompanying pastoral messages of encouragement to the faithful. Their work has drawn on and was informed by the immense talent found within our Church. Pastors, theologians, medical doctors, healthcare workers, lawyers, and insurance professionals meeting in small groups, or together, or even with the Holy Synod have, in fact, assisted the Holy Synod in their work. Out of love for their beloved children in the Lord, in consultation with experts who are faithful members of our Church, the Holy Synod reasonably decided to comply with the directions of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, as well as the further guidance and orders provided by different levels of civil government in the United States, Mexico, and Canada.

An informed decision to comply with civil directives was also made by the Metropolitan Council, which has also met during this pandemic under the presidency of His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon. In fact, the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council issued a joint statement regarding the response of the Orthodox Church in America to the coronavirus.

The diocesan bishops each took steps to engage different constituencies within their dioceses – diocesan councils, clergy meetings, parish councils – in order to carefully navigate the challenges posed by this virus. His Eminence Archbishop Mark and the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania even created a survey and called for all members of this diocese to reflect and respond to it. The results of this survey help guide His Eminence and his diocesan response.

Additionally, the steps that our Church has taken have been in accord with the Catholic nature of the Church. His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon has consulted with the heads of other, local Orthodox Churches where he has had the chance to discuss the precautionary measures these Churches have taken to prevent the spread of the virus. His Beatitude has also regularly joined meetings of the Executive Committee of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America, where similar discussions have been held.

Almost simultaneously to the day when state governments began to issue their first regulations designed to thwart the spread of the coronavirus throughout the United States, lawyers from the Orthodox Church in America contributed to the work of an ad hoc Task Force of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. This pan-Orthodox Task Force, headed by His Eminence Metropolitan Gregory of Nyssa and composed of lawyers from different Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States, took immediate action to establish and serve as a source of information and as an immediate counterweight to regulatory provisions which even remotely touch upon any aspect of the beliefs and practices of our Orthodox Faith. Consisting largely of experts in the fields of public health and legal affairs, that Task Force has labored long and hard to track the evolution of state regulatory measures where these bear on Orthodox praxis even tangentially.

Although the labors of the Task Force have largely been at the level of almost mind-boggling detail and backbreaking minutia, at least two fundamental lessons learned by the members of the Task Force in their contact with state authorities have made themselves apparent: (1) the regulatory environment established by the states is kaleidoscopic in nature and changes on an almost daily, sometimes hourly, basis, a fact which mandates constant, unceasing surveillance and monitoring; and (2) state administrative regulators are well-intentioned and hard-working civil servants burdened with an almost insurmountable task, but who are largely unfamiliar with the tenets and practices of the Orthodox Faith. The ongoing interactions of the Task Force with these state-level regulators has most often taken on the hue of an educational exercise.

Laboring in informal tandem with a significant number of other organizations and individuals committed to the protection and preservation of American constitutional religious liberties, the Task Force has recently witnessed substantial progress in relations with state officials charged with the onerous task ensuring the health, safety, and welfare of the American public. These advances have been real. A state along the East Coast, to take an example, originally stipulated in its administrative regulations that Holy Communion “administered person-to-person” ... “is not permitted at this time.” That state has revoked this objectionable language which has now been replaced by a provision allowing “person-to-person” administration of the Holy Sacrament, requiring now only that the clergy must use hand sanitizers only when “he or she believes incidental [physical] contact has been made with the communicant.” States which had initially stipulated a one-hour limitation on religious services have now deleted that obnoxious and unnecessary restriction. In other instances, states have backed off of other religious restrictions and have reduced these to voluntary, hortatory recommendations. The Task Force is confident that, with the abatement of the current pandemic, all such regulatory provisions in each of the states will be abandoned and that state intervention in the religious life of all American faith communities will become nothing more than a footnote in history.


  1. So according to this, an army of bureaucrats has saved the day, why do I not feel any better? Lawyers and Insurance agents seem to have directed the OCA more than theology or tradition.

    It’s been a difficult situation to be sure, but this seems to be a declaration that all the right decisions were made, how dare you question that, and the status quo will remain as is.

    So when the government enacts the 2nd Wave Lockdown I can assume there will be no questioning that or standing up for religious freedom coming from the OCA.

    Once again left wondering where the line in the sand is, how long are they willing to give up church, and under what circumstances they’ll be willing to resume traditional practices, if all ever.

    “such regulatory provisions in each of the states will be abandoned and that state intervention in the religious life of all American faith communities will become nothing more than a footnote in history.“

    Very wishful thinking no matter how you slice it. The foot in the door rarely leaves when it’s been unopposed, politicians don’t give up power willingly and now the precedent has been set that the 1st Amendment doesn’t apply when people are sick, see you next flu season.

    1. Before any medical or surgical procedure, we sign informed consent saying we have been told all risks of a procedure and have been offered all other options explained to us for our condition (abortion clinics do NOT do that actually) and that we choose to accept the risks. I have never understood why the Orthodox Church insurance agents did not suggest the hierarchs do this. Masks and/or social distancing would have been protective of those present if all did not believe in the Divine Energies present (as I do). Then we would have had the option to choose to stay home, choose to reverence/kiss or bow before icons, choose to go up for Holy Communion and kiss the Chalice and Cross after or any permutation or choose not to go up, etc. God respect our autonomy and also wants us to help our weaker (in faith and body) brothers and sisters, so then all could choose freely in Church as He allows us to do. Our hierarchs did not give us those choices, we who believe in the Divine Energies present in the Holy Divine Services, Communion, Unction, Icons. Others who do not believe could have participated as fully as their belief allowed them. Instead the hierarchs behaved very differently from God and the Saints and seek to reify their behavior. Where is the humility and sorrow that loving priests express rather than the self-congratulatory words above? Again, I just don’t recognize this sort of corporation board room communication as being from the Holy Fathers or Saints or caring Metropolitans, Patriarchs, etc. And that makes me very sad.

    2. Help Help, I'm being repressed!

  2. "... will become nothing more than a footnote in history."

    If that. It deserves no more notice than the sprinkler heads and standard "Exit" signs in your church...

  3. Just keep it up Byztex. Bishop Alexander will sic his Archimandrite on you next, you'll see.

  4. Testy-- Now that is really over the top.

  5. A footnote? I think not. In fear, they locked people out of the Church. In fear, they vandalized their Temples with tape markers. In fear, they installed disinfectant stations all over the Church. In fear, they they abandon the common spoon (or dip it alcohol) and mandate a change in the way Communion is received (with the mouth wide open). In fear, they force people to wear masks like a costume party. In fear, they forbid the kissing of Icons (like Iconoclasts).

    This will not be remembered as a mere footnote. The people will not forget. This will be remembered as a horrific act of cowardice and betrayal. They seem to fear everything, except God. May He have mercy on their souls.

    1. A small note on "mouth wide open". This was standard practice in many places long before the coronavirus showed up -- for example throughout my former jurisdiction (ACROD). It took me a while to realize that there were people, including clergy, with strong opinions about the "right" way to receive off the spoon (Obviously there still are). Even within my current jurisdiction (OCA) the usual practice can vary from church to church and from priest to priest.

  6. "(with the mouth wide open)"

    I don't understand this comment. Is there any other way of receiving from the spoon than with one's mouth "wide open?"

    1. W Tighe: One method is for the communicant to tilt his head back a bit with mouth open, so that the priest/deacon can "dump" the Gifts off the spoon into the mouth. *Theoretically* the spoon doesn't touch the communicant.
      Another method is for the the communicant to close the mouth on the spoon, as if eating a spoonful of jam.
      If you seek them out, you can find some very strong opinions about this.

  7. It is my understanding that some jurisdictions began to change the practice of mouth around the spoon by having the head tilted back and staring at the ceiling due to the AIDS scare decades ago.

    Behold this has touched my lips.

  8. Only in the OCA will the General Counsel be making statements about the practices of the Church.