Source: The Orthodox World
By Elias Damianakis, Hagiographos, Archon Maestor
“God’s grace is as evident in the healing power of medicine and its practitioners as it is in miraculous cures.” -St. Basil of Caesarea
Hindsight is 20/20 and 2020 in hindsight, is the tale of two Patriarchates.
Seemingly simple, the requested initial reflection was basic: what are the realities between the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in Constantinople and Moscow? So, I developed a timeline, a list of quotes of church leadership and news articles. The results are dramatic, shocking, and sad.
Considering the human crisis over the past few months, extracting inferences of leadership may seem to be partisan, but it appears the comparison speaks for itself.
The Ecumenical Patriarch’s voice is clarion: “Perhaps some of you have felt that these drastic measures undermine or harm our faith.
However, that which is at stake
is not our faith – it is the faithful.
It is not Christ – it is our Christians.
It is not the divine-man – but human beings.”
His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros said: “This does not mean that we alter, as the Lord says: ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία – ‘not an iota, not a dot,’ of our Holy Orthodox Faith. We maintain without pause or interruption the teaching of the Church, and as our Mother Church counsels us, we remain “firm in the Orthodox teaching regarding the Holy Eucharist.”
On the other hand, one can see stark differences in the handling of the crisis in the local Russian Church. The Moscow Patriarchal church in Ukraine says, “The overcoming of infection with the ringing of the bells;” (orthchristian.com) “the suspension of the Liturgy… around the world… is much more terrifying than any epidemic;” (Archpriest Riabko) and “God did not allow the Easter service to become a source of contagion.” (UoOJ).
Not one to miss an opportunity, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations continued, seemingly uninterrupted, by the pandemic in his undeterred creation of conflict. Throughout the pandemic crisis, in the weeks following the Muscovite initiated Hashemite Synaxis in Amman, Jordan, he has intensified his crusade to dismantle Orthodox unity. He’s manifested many dividing efforts on many fronts: in Southeast Asia, with the uncanonical Exarchate in Singapore, in Ukraine, “the discussion on Ukraine is not over,” and undeterred in his attacks on the Mother Church of Constantinople offering interviews disseminating false information and promoting an agenda of discourse. His unworthy actions and conduct during these perilous times are worth a review on their own.
A Russian Archpriest says, “We have only to be sensitive to this experience, to not remember evil, not nurture resentments, and not be quick to judge.” Obviously, the Moscow-based church is not heeding his advice. Hence the many voices within Moscow Patriarchate shouting “Russian Papism.”
Nevertheless, let’s review and make up your own mind.
“Medicine is an example of what God allows men to do when they work in harmony with Him and with one another.” -St. Gregory of Nyssa
January 12: The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that a novel coronavirus was the cause of a respiratory illness in a cluster of people in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China
January 31: two Coronavirus cases confirmed in Russia
February 25-27: the Hashemite Orthodox Gathering in Jordan, Amman
February 25: Metropolises of the New Lands under the Ecumenical Patriarchate — closure of churches at any given moment in the fight against COVID-19
February 28: Metropolis of Hong Kong (EP) — “Will remain closed until further notice.”
March 6: Archbishop Elpidophoros of America and the Eparchial Synod issue Guidelines on COVID-19
March 11: Synods meet respectively in Constantinople and Moscow drawing diametrically different conclusions:
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
“The Church encourages all the faithful to adhere to the official directives of both the World Health Organization and the pertinent pronouncements and legal regulations issued by the civil authorities of their respective countries.”
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow
“By God’s grace, there is no epidemic or pandemic but only some isolated cases.”
March 14: Metropolis of Chicago (EP) — all liturgical services in parishes are suspended effective immediately.
Patriarchate of Constantinople
Communiqué (published online 18th): Ecumenical Patriarchate announced suspension of all ecclesiastical rites within its territories around the world.
Patriarchate of Moscow
According to the Russian Patriarchal Press Service the Holy Synod approved in view of the risk of the spreading coronavirus infection:
- The Holy Mysteries of Christ should be offered, and the spoon should be wiped after each partaker with a handkerchief impregnated with spirits The following chemicals are recommended for sanitation (of spoon):
- Chemicals made on the basis of tertiary amides, such as Eveline-4d
- 3 hydrogen peroxide, 70 isopropyl alcohol, such as Septolit antiseptic
- 75 ethyl alcohol, Chlorinated chemicals for cleaning
- Partakers should refrain from kissing the Cup.
- Instead of offering the cross for kissing after the Divine Liturgy and other services, it is recommended to place the cross on the heads of parishioners.
- In the cases when the anointment is administered, a disposable brush (such as a wadding stick) should be used for each parishioner separately to be utilized later. In other cases, the Gospel or the festive icon (the Cross) should be kissed after the polyeleos with offering the minister’s benediction and with the wiping of the Gospel and the icon (the Cross) after each kiss with the use of a disinfectant solution.
- Parish special services, monasteries and their town churches, if possible, should help elderly parishioners
- To ensure the frequent ventilation of churches as well as parish and monastery facilities open to public by establishing an obligatory ventilation schedule.
His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew records video appeal in multiple languages addressing church closure throughout the Ecumenical Provinces.
Videos circulate of Russian priests utilizing novel innovations distributing communion… ridicule of tactics runs rampant online.
March 19: Moscow Patriarchate Synod affirms: “The church should be constantly open so that the faithful can visit… pastors should zealously lift up their prayers, fervently celebrating in the churches all the appointed Divine services and molebens.”
April 3: Patriarch Kirill message: “I call upon the hierarchs, clergy, monastics and laypeople to intensify your prayer to the Lord for the deliverance of people from the harmful epidemic, and I call upon to continue to zealously celebrate divine services and especially the Holy Eucharist.” “Patriarch Kirill himself set the standards when he on the 3rd of April brought his icon of Virgin Mary of Tenderness with him on a car ride around Moscow.”
April 6: “Metropolitan Kornily of Arkhangelsk borrows jet from local business tycoon in an anti-corona flight across his diocese.” Photo: press service of Arkhangelsk diocese www.thebarentsobserver.com
April 13: the Russian Orthodox Church’s St. Petersburg diocese orders the city’s cathedrals to close Holy Week and Easter services to the public and broadcast services online, though many local churches remain open to the public.
April 21: the rector of Moscow’s Yelokhovo Cathedral, Archpriest Alexander Ageykin, reportedly dies from coronavirus.
April 28: a priest at the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius monastery in Sergiev Posad dies from COVID-19
April 30: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America creation of the “Greek Orthodox Archdiocese COVID-19 Relief Fund”
Not until May 3rd does the local bishop of Moscow, Patriarch Kirill make an official “appeal” on the website of the Moscow Patriarchate: “It’s with great grief that I had to make the decision to appeal to you not to come to church for a while.”
QUOTES PRIOR TO MARCH 20TH
Constantinople Patriarchate bishops and leaders:
Archbishop Elpidophoros of America: “Science and faith, they are not contradictory. They exist in parallel, and thus they are never in conflict.”
Metropolitan Emmanuel of France: As we are saved from danger, we must now recover and recover from the intoxication of pride, vanity, stupidity and indifference. I sincerely believe that this is a period of repentance in the full sense of the word.
Metropolitan Athenagoras of Belgium: “In the days of this trial for all humankind, it is our duty as Christians to pray to our Lord to give the desirable solution to all of us… may our omnipotent Lord give us strength in our spiritual struggle.”
Metropolitan Nathaniel of Chicago: “We are each other’s keepers; this is an opportunity not to retreat, but to exhibit the best of who we are through our love and care of each other.”
Elder Zacharias of Essex: “This reminds us of an old tradition that the Fathers had… to live a more hesychastic life, with more prayer, which will however make up for the lack of the Divine Liturgy.”
Moscow Patriarchate bishops and leaders:
Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev: “The most important thing is not even sanitary standards, but prayer and repentance…”
Metropolitan Philaret Lviv, Head of the Synodical Department for Health Pastoral Care: “All services in the Lviv diocese will be held according to the schedule without changes.”
Metropolitan Pavel of Vyshgorod and Chernobyl: “The Metropolitan called on believers to go to church, receive communion, and pray.”
Metropolitan Hilarion of Donetsk and Mariupol: “Our fight against the coronavirus will be our joint fervent prayer. Both in church and in our home.”
Metropolitan of Svyatogorsk Arseniy: “People are talking in the media about the spreading epidemic; they tell us how we must avoid it. It’s right, what they’re saying; but we, as believers, need to think higher and deeper… God forbid that anyone turn away from Him, with our misunderstanding of the great sacrifice.”
Bishop of Kamensk Mefodij: complained about the “low influx of the faithful in the churches left open throughout the diocese.”
Protopresbyter John Whiteford: “It is not the black death… It’s not how the church handles it… that’s insane”
About Constantinople’s response:
March 19: The Ecumenical Patriarch “appealed to everyone to limit their outings and travels to what is necessary, remaining in their homes for their own safety and the protection of the general public.”
March 23: “Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople expresses his solidarity for the Italian people hit by the pandemic.”
April 16: “In this crisis, we have discovered that our homes and families are called to become a “small church.”
April 27: “The leadership of the Greek Orthodox Church largely echoed the calls of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for followers to adhere to the medical advice.”
About Moscow’s response:
April 9: “The Moscow Patriarchate last month said the coronavirus had been caused by human sin and could be fought with hugs, prayers and fasting.”
April 13: “The Church has refused to close its doors despite Russian officials’ recommendations to do so.”
April 18: “Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Amid Crackdown On Rogue Priests and Congregants.”
April 20: “In the main Russian monastery, the Lavra of the Most Holy Trinity of St. Sergius 70 km from Moscow, the live stream on Instagram revealed the presence of a large number of faithful. Indeed, there was no absolute directive on the closure of churches on Easter night, either by the patriarchate or the government.”
April 29: Orthodox Motorcade in Moscow Wards Off Virus with Holy Icon and Prayers
May 7: “Russia’s monasteries have emerged as coronavirus hotspots after they ignored nationwide stay-at-home orders” When several hundred men, women and children packed into the main cathedral of the Diveyevo Convent on Palm Sunday last month there was not a single face mask in sight. The monastery had chosen to ignore a nationwide stay-at-home orders. Less than two weeks later 76 nuns tested positive for COVID-19 and two died, prompting officials to seal off the whole area.”
A final evaluation must include the Paschal messages of the two patriarchs. The Patriarch of Constantinople addresses the entirety of humanity, Orthodox Christians and beyond. Proclaiming the Truth of Christ’s glorious resurrection:
“Having arrived at Holy Pascha and becoming partakers of the joy of the Resurrection, we praise the Lord of glory, who trampled down death by death and resurrected with Him the entire race of Adam, opening for us all the gates of paradise…
Faith in the Resurrection of Christ and in our own co-resurrection does not deny the painful presence of death, pain and the cross in the life of the world. We do not suppress the harsh reality or secure for ourselves, through faith, a psychological assurance before death. However, we know that the present life is not life in its entirety, that here we are “sojourners,” that we belong to Christ and that we are journeying to His eternal Kingdom…
The present pandemic of the novel coronavirus has demonstrated how fragile we are as human beings, how easily we are dominated by fear and despondency, how frail our knowledge and self-confidence appear, how antiquated the notion is that death comprises an event at the end of life and that forgetting or suppressing death is the proper way of dealing with it. Limit situations prove that we are incapable of handling our existence resolutely, when we believe that death is an invincible reality and insurmountable boundary. It is difficult to remain human without the hope of eternity. This hope lives in the hearts of all doctors, nurses, volunteers, donors and all those generously supporting their suffering brothers and sisters in a spirit of sacrifice, offering and love. In this indescribable crisis, they radiate resurrection and hope. They are the “Good Samaritans” that, at the risk of their own lives, pour oil and wine on wounds; they are the modern-day “Cyrenaeans” on the Golgotha of those lying in illness…”
Whereas the leader of the Moscow Patriarchate who intentionally excludes the Ecumenical Patriarch from his paschal greeting in a prejudiced and cantankerous performance addresses his self-created scandal:
“At our time overshadowed by the spread of the dangerous disease, acquiring particular importance are the joint efforts aimed at strengthening the unity of Orthodoxy, overcoming the schism and tribulations and developing fraternal dialogue and cooperation with the view of maintaining spiritual and physical health of our contemporaries.”
One can draw their own conclusions.
I conclude with the words of His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America 5/9/20:
“We are anxious to re-open our churches, and we will do so with wisdom and prudence. But what should be opened as wide or wider are our minds and hearts so that our Faith is a witness to love, and not an excuse for any triumphalism.”
“Someone who bears a grudge while he prays is like a person who sows in the sea and expects to reap a harvest.” -St. Isaac The Syrian