Thursday, May 14, 2020

Easing Out of the Quarantine

The Parish Council met on May 6, 2020. At that meeting we discussed the quarantine thus far, and how we might be able to start to gather again at St. Vladimir’s as the State of Michigan begins to slowly lift the quarantine.

1. Thank you to everyone who has been so supportive and understanding of our parish’s strict approach to the pandemic: we have done everything we can to not be a place of death, even as death pervades the society around us. That is, we will take every reasonable precaution to keep our parishioners safe during the outbreak and for the parish church to be a source of life-giving, not of life-taking. Many parishes have struggled in this regard. We have done very well at following the guidance from the diocese and the goverment. And we are very thankful to all for doing their part to keep the disease at bay by not gathering in person – even during the holiest days of the year.

2. It is very important that if you are struggling spiritually, psychologically, materially, or in any other way, that you reach out to me or Fr. Moses. Although we are being asked to visit parishioners only in an emergency, the definition of “emergency” has been largely left up to the clergy. So if you need us – rest assured that we will be there. You can find our contact information here:

ST. VLADIMIR CLERGY

3. We are actively working on plans to welcome parishioners back to St. Vladimir’s as the Michigan quarantine is lifted. We will be following CDC guidelines throughout the entire time of the pandemic, so when we first come back it will not be the same as it was before the onset of the virus. And we will probably not fully return to that “normal” baseline until there is wide-spread immunity in the population.

  • There will likely be limits on how many people can attend any one service (we will provide sign up sheets and serve as many liturgies as possible on the weekends to allow everyone to participate in the Divine Services in person to the greatest extent possible)
  • Parish Council member families and clergy families will do our best to attend Divine Services during the week so that the weekends will be maximally available to the rest of the parish family to participate
  • There will be physical distancing requirements
  • Masks/face coverings will certainly be required in the beginning (except for those less than 2 years old and those who cannot mask for specific medical reasons)
  • It is imperative that St. Vladimirians acquire a cloth mask or other face covering that covers the mouth and nose to wear at church. If you have any trouble in this regard please contact me. We have a limited number of masks to give away for those who cannot afford one or who cannot otherwise acquire one
  • There will be a contest for the best cloth mask/face covering on the first weekend the parish opens (details to come)
Over time we hope that our continued efforts will make it possible for more people to gather at one time and for this pandemic to come to an end as quickly as possible. We are also looking into whether we might be able to hold one of the Sunday Liturgies (probably the late one) outside – if that allows us to gather more people in a safe manner.

4. Bottom line: we want to bring our parish family back together in corporate worship – but we are only going to do this in ways that are safe and that follow experts’ guidance. We are not experts in Epidemiology or Infectious Disease, so we are going to follow the advice of state and federal experts in these fields, striving to keep our parish death rate as low as possible while providing the most robust parish life we can to our parishioners. As of today Michigan is presently at step 3 of 6 of the 6-step reopening plan. Step 4 allows for the beginning of small gatherings. It is likely that we will have our first public worship when we reach step 4. God willing that will be in the next few weeks.

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Let us Beware of Covidolatry – Observations from the Michigan Deanery

As Dean of the Michigan Deanery of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia I no doubt will have to answer – at least on some level – for the parishioners of our Deanery. Not in the way that Archbishop Peter would as our ruling hierarch (he answers for every soul in the diocese), or the way in which I will unquestionably answer for the parishioners of the parish where I am the Rector in Ann Arbor. But to imagine there is NO repercussion for my work as the Dean is probably a fantasy, so I think it is important, and hopefully an aid to my salvation, to make a few observations about the state of our state from a spiritual point of view, and to raise some questions that hopefully will cause some soul-profiting soul searching for the faithful in our deanery.

READ THE WHOLE POST ON THE MICHIGAN DEANERY WEB SITE

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

How We Will Meet Pascha in the Quarantine

Yesterday Archbishop Peter published this advice on the upcoming Paschal Services:

Archbishop Peter Guidance: Holy Week & Pascha

Vladyka’s instructions to us are not surprising, although of course we wish that we could invite everyone to the church for the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord. The Lord will rise! Pascha will happen! It will just not be the same this year. We sincerely hope that we can all gather for the last day of Pascha, May 14/27, 2020. More information on that will be forthcoming.

In the mean time, in the light of Archbishop Peter’s guidance, we will do the following at our St. Vladimir parish:

1. Services at St. Vladimir’s will continue to be closed to the public until further notice.

2. All Divine Services will be served with a skeleton crew that allows for a priest, a deacon, a small choir, and an altar server.

3. All Divine Services will be broadcast on our Facebook Live Stream and our Audio Stream. Links to the live streams are here – we strongly encourage you to participate in these services:

St. Vladimir Social Media

4. The Icon of Jesus Christ in the Tomb (the Plashchenitsa) can be venerated in the church according to the following schedule – you MUST reserve your place. No walk ins are allowed:

Venerate the Plashchinitsa - Sign Up

5. Pascha baskets will be blessed on Holy Saturday from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. and on Pascha itself from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. using the following method – it is not possible to combine a Pascha basket blessing and venerating the Plashchenitsa:

A. Drive into the new driveway and go all the way to the end. Turn left into the large paved parking lot. Turn left again to drive down the old driveway. Stop at the entrance to the church. DO NOT GET OUT OF YOUR CAR UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. Roll down the back window of your car. The priest in charge will sing Paschal hymns and bless your basket. You will be given the opportunity to make a donation to St. Vladimir’s. Please note that volunteers will not be able to make change. See more information about material support of the parish during the pandemic here. Holy Week and Pascha provide a significant portion of our yearly income. We thank you kindly for remembering the parish at this time, and remind you that there is a match on your donations – $1 for every dollar you give until the last day of Pascha (14/27 May, 2020).

B. We strongly suggest that those in cars be masked. All St. Vladimir’s volunteers will be masked as well. You should wash or sanitize your hands after this interaction. St. Vladimir’s volunteers will sanitize their hands between all interactions and wash their hands regularly during the time of their volunteer work.

C. Your interaction with the volunteers should be brief. If you have concerns or questions about anything please reach out to me for a longer conversation.

Now that we know how we will meet Pascha the rest is up to us. Many times in the history of the Church it was not possible for Christians to gather to celebrate Pascha. During persecutions, for instance. Or during other pandemics. For US this is very strange, but the Church has experienced this many times. Have Christians in the past become despondent at this? Have they demonstrated in the streets? Or shown panic? Of course the answer is no. We must strive for peace, as Christians always have in the face of those things they cannot change. As Vladyka wrote in his letter:

“May the cry of “Christ is Risen!” resound throughout our diocese from temple to temple and house to house! And may the Lord’s will in this matter, too deep for us to fully fathom, at least be accepted by us with trust in His wisdom and magnanimous love for mankind.”

We cannot add to these wise words of our Archpastor. May we all heed them and act upon them with all our hearts!

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory

Monday, April 6, 2020

The Virus as a Spiritual Magnifying Glass

We have all observed this if we have been paying attention. Either paying attention to ourselves, which is optimal, or paying attention to others, which is less so. Both in ourselves and in others we can observe that with the onset of the pandemic (or maybe it is the quarantine itself) our temptations have been magnified greatly, and if we haven’t been very attentive to this, perhaps our sins have been multiplied accordingly because we have not cut off these temptations. If we use the metaphor of the Spiritual Hospital for the Holy Church, which the fathers of the Church often do and which I think is very helpful for us in our days (not that what I think matters), then Great Lent is the intensive care unit. Everything is more intense (as one might expect in INTENSIVE care) during Great Lent. We often see ourselves, at least to some extent, as we really are. Warts and all. And we don’t like it. Because we think we are pretty OK as a rule. Maybe not great, but certainly not worse than average. When one is far from the light it seems one looks pretty good. But the nearer one comes to the light the easier it is to see the blemishes – the defects. That is true of our clothing when we put it on in the dark in the morning. We might not realize we have a blue and a black sock on until we get to work and look at ourselves in the full light. And that is true of our souls as well. When we are far from God we are in darkness or semi-darkness. Certainly we are not in the full Light of the Divinity. But during Great Lent, if we expend even a small amount of effort, we begin to draw nearer to the Divine Light, and we begin to see ourselves for who we really are. This is why all the saints confessed themselves to be great sinners, although abjectly it was “obvious” to those observing them that they were extremely virtuous. As they were transformed into the children of God they drew nearer and nearer to Him, and the light of Mount Tabor illumined them to such an extent that even the smallest spiritual blemish was starkly obvious. That happens to all of us just a bit during the usual Great Lent.

But this year the effect has been magnified to a significant extent – this is not a “usual” Great Lent by any means. The pandemic/quarantine has acted as a magnifying glass for all of us (myself very much included), and the temptations have multiplied greatly. This in fact could be something welcome if we are watchful and ready to learn from what we are being taught by the Lord. We are not shown our sins so that we can take theoretical note of them. We are being shown our sins so that we can act against them. St. Anthony the Great said that “...if you know yourself you know everything...”. That is, if you know your spiritual proclivities you can use the brain the Lord gave you to avoid them, or at least be on your guard so that you can fight them valiantly. Great Lent usually pulls back the curtain on this spiritual reality for us at least a little bit each year, as long as we try at least a little bit. But this year the curtain has been essentially torn down and the effect has been greatly magnified.

So let us take this opportunity to learn, according to the instruction of St. Anthony. Most of us are being shown our spiritual reality like never before in our lifetimes. That does not mean we should fall to these temptations to a greater extent than we ever have! It means we should learn to a greater extent – and struggle against these sins to a greater extent. But who is showing us this reality as never before? Is it us with our great ascetic exploits? Of course not! It is the merciful Lord! So if He is showing us we can be sure that He will not curate this exhibition of our sins only to abandon us to fall into despair for having witnessed them. On the contrary, He will not flee in the least, but rather He will stand by us and fight along side us if we only will struggle to overcome these temptations that He is so mercifully and starkly showing us.

In the spiritual life we work in synergy with God. It is our effort and His Grace that allows us to make progress. This cooperative effort with God is the only path towards victory. We can struggle alone and make some progress, but pride will eventually cast us down. We can wait for God to act while we are theoretically taking note of our sins without expending any effort ourselves or asking God’s help, but our waiting for God to act without our effort will surely be in vain. No – we must work diligently, asking the Lord’s help in our efforts and His Grace to crown our struggle. We work WITH God, and knowing what we are working against (the vices) makes this effort much more fruitful. Due to the situation we find ourselves in this year during Great Lent (and if anyone thinks that it is a matter of happenstance that the virus invaded our lives just as Great Lent began I would strongly beg to differ), where we are being shown our sins to a greater extent than perhaps ever before in our lifetimes, I think we can be confident that the Lord, to a greater extent than perhaps ever before in our lifetimes, is with us. Struggling alongside us. Strengthening us in the fight. Blessing our effort.

Let us thank the Lord for His mercy. We have been given a great gift even as we are suffering a great tribulation of the pandemic which besets us now. And this is always true of us Orthodox Christians. We see the glass as half full rather than half empty. We see and strive to see the silver lining in the cloud. We understand that there is a blessing in every difficulty. And that is true during this time of the coronavirus. There is always some good in any bad. And it seems that the potential good we are being given is this magnification of our temptations. Let us strive to make this good indeed. Let us strive to make this a blessing. Let us strive to thank God actively by fighting actively against the sins and temptations that are so clear to us (or would be so clear to us if we were paying attention) now. Let us be attentive to our spiritual lives! And if we make even a small effort – if we only take one tentative step towards enjoining the fight – we can have great hope that the Lord will be there with us: to help us, to bless us, and to guide us to the eventual victory. Perhaps this Great Lent is just the first in a series of battles against the sins that we are seeing clearly now for the first time. With God’s help we will win these battles. When we forget to ask God’s help, or when we pridefully get in God’s way as He tries to help us, we might lose a few battles. But if we entreat the Lord’s help zealously we WILL win the war. And the prize of that victory is great. It is the pearl of great price. It is salvation. May the Lord grant us the will to fight, the wisdom to entreat His aid in the battle, and the victory!

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory

P.S. To help us in our struggle to obtain peace in this crisis the Patriarch and our Metropolitan have published instructional material for us. We include this here for your edification. Please take a few minutes to read these now.

PATRIARCH KYILL INSTRUCTIONS

METROPOLITAN HILARION INSTRUCTIONS

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Bear Ye One Another’s Burdens… or: No Vacations During Wartime

Yesterday we received an email from the Rector of our cathedral in Washington, DC, Fr. Victor Potapov. Due to the increased restrictions on social distancing in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia it essentially became impossible for the cathedral to continue to hold Divine Services. This was sad on many levels, but Fr. Victor used these words from St. Paul to encourage his parishioners to understand that their absence from church was to help the weak, the infirm, the elderly, and those who are likely to suffer from the COVID-19 pandemic:

Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

Whose burdens are we bearing when we absent ourselves from the Divine Services? The weak, the infirm, the elderly, and all those who would otherwise die if those who have the disease were exposed to the weak, the infirm, etc. Certainly I can hear some saying “Let the old fogies stay home and we’ll all go to church!” Yes – that is possible. But it doesn’t really work that way. If we have church one asymptomatic young person could give the disease to another young person who will be asymptomatic who could give it to another younger person who will be asymptomatic who could give it to his grandmother who lives with him: and she dies. That is how it works. And that is why we are social distancing. Because we are Pro Life. We cannot just be against killing children in the womb. We have to be against killing old people too. And sick people. And people with underlying conditions. And if we infect the person who infects the person who infects his grandmother that dies everyone in that chain killed her. It is not a question of ignorance anymore. It is a question of hubris. “It can’t happen to me.” “It can’t happen here.” “I’m young and strong.” Fill in the blank with your prideful statement. Yes – if we were ignorant this would be different. If we didn’t understand how the disease was spreading and we infected someone out of blissful ignorance then of course – we would not be responsible. But we KNOW.

The problem is: there is a subset of the population that thinks they know better than the experts, the scientists, the physicians. Does the government always tell us the truth? Of course not! But do they always lie? Of course not! Why would they lie? Is this a big experiment to see if they can keep us from going to church by scaring us? Is this the first step in the reign of the Antichrist? Is this a test to see how stupid we are in the face of reality? Maybe any or all of those are true, or fill in the blank with your favorite conspiracy theory. Will those who hate God use the pandemic to try to hurt the Church? Of course. Is the disease man-made? Who cares. Are the media still obsessed with whatever it is that elites obsess about? Of course. None of that matters. The virus is real. People are dying in droves from this disease. Your hubris, conspiracy, or delusion do not change that.

In Michigan we have a HUGE wave of disease coming. They are not turning Cobo Center (or whatever it is called now) into a massive hospital ward for grins and chuckles. Beaumont and Henry Ford are not putting out propaganda – they are full of people with COVID. UM Hospital is empty. They have evacuated everyone who absolutely does not need to be there so they are not drowned by the wave when it hits. Detroit is slammed – but thank God that the disease is hot in some places and not in others. That allows us to get material and personnel relief from other states to stem our wave and it allows us to help other states when our wave subsides. Just because Detroit is on fire with this virus and your city in Michigan is not does not mean that it is not coming. There are cases in Houghton County for goodness sake! That is in the deepest, darkest, wildest part of the Upper Peninsula! If it has reached there it will reach everywhere. The Nile is a river in Egypt. Denial is delusion. If we aren’t fighting this scourge we should be praying for those who are. If we are fighting this scourge we should know that others are praying for us. THIS IS A SPIRITUAL OBLIGATION! No one is blessed to be on vacation now. Yes – we are all watching too much TV and too many movies at home now. That is understood (although we should also be spending serious time on acquiring good spiritual habits during our time in the desert). But that does not mean that we should not be praying for those who are working on the front lines (medical personnel, first responders, and others working in essential jobs), participating in the Divine Services via the broadcast, and otherwise working hard on our spiritual lives so that our entreaties for those who are dying, those who are suffering, and those who are serving are as powerful and efficacious as possible. NO VACATION. War is work. We are at war. Embrace that paradigm. There is no other paradigm that gets us to the mindset that we need here: we are fighting for our lives and the lives of others. For most of us that fight will be fought at home in the greatest isolation we can manage so that we do not spread the virus, but for some: on the front lines.

With God’s help we will continue to serve the Divine Services as often as possible. All services will be broadcast. If we do not turn to God now when will we? Now is the time. Now is OUR time – the Orthodox Christian time. Time to put aside all worldly pretensions. Time to pick up our spiritual swords of prayer and fasting. Time to NOT be on vacation. Time to work. When America went to war in World War II everyone did their part: on the front lines, in the reserve, and at home. Everyone worked to build one bomber per hour at Willow Run here in Michigan. ONE PER HOUR! We built bombers faster than the Germans could shoot them down. That is the sort of effort we need here! But we aren’t being asked to build bombers now. We are being asked to stay home. To pray for those who are fighting and to work on our spiritual lives. Probably staying home is harder than building bombers. We want to DO something. But prayer IS SOMETHING! We have to do away with the evil paradigm of the world that prayer is nothing. Prayer is work! Prayer is effort! Prayer is the path to victory. Especially when we add our entreaties to God, to the miracle of modern medicine that He has given us. God’s love for man allows us to understand how this virus works. And our entreaty to God in addition to not acting stupidly in the face of the knowledge He has given us get us to victory faster, better, and with fewer causalities. THIS is how we show the world that we are really Pro Life. This is how we show the world that faith and wisdom go together, not faith and ignorance (or hubris, or pride, or whatever you want to call it). The world is looking for answers. The world is looking for the reason that we are here. The world is looking, whether it knows it or not, for Christ. We have Christ dwelling within us and amongst us. This is the reality of being part of the Church that Christ established for our salvation. But if our face to the world is pride, hubris, stupidity in the face of the reality that the Lord has shown us about the virus, how many people will we attract to Christ? The answer is few, and they will be fanatics, unstable, and/or mentally ill. Not that those people don’t deserve to attain salvation – of course they do. And they are welcome in the Church! But we don’t want the parishes to be populated ONLY with those folks. Orthodox Christianity is NOT fanatical. It is sober. It is peaceful. It is the calm after the storm in which the Prophet Elijah found God. It is strong faith combined with wisdom adn struggle. This combination will attract the largest part of our American people to Christ. And I’m pretty sure that is why the Lord put us here – to bring the most people we can to believe in Him and attain the Heavenly Kingdom and spend eternity with Him sharing His love.

Fr. Victor’s decision to close his cathedral was wise. It was unfortunate, but it was wise. It was faithful, even if it was what he absolutely did not want to do. The Lord arranged things in such a way that this was the only path. We should learn from this. Sometimes there is wiggle room. If so – we can and should wiggle. But when there is not, when we have no control over a situation, we should give this situation and our life to God, knowing that He desires our salvation even more than we do. To be at peace. To know that when we lose control the Lord will reign, if we do not oppose Him.

So let us not oppose Him. The Patriarch has blessed the faithful in Russia to stay home until further notice. Metropolitan Onuphry has blessed that the faithful gather in groups of 10 or less. And Archbishop Peter has blessed us to serve the Divine Services with the fewest people possible, while the faithful show love to their neighbors and bear one another’s burdens, by staying home. Cabin fever is setting in or will soon. We are sick of all this mandated time with our families. :) We always said we wanted to spend more time with our families, but now that we have it, we see that marriage and child rearing is hard work! We need to entreat the Lord to strengthen us in that work, to strengthen our family bonds, and to work together against the virus. By staying home. By isolating. By acting indeed, but acting through prayer and tending and harvesting the spiritual fruit can can be found in our desert. Just as the farmer sows with faith and labors in hope of a crop that will appear only in the future, so too do we sow the seeds of prayer in our desert, trusting in the spiritual fruit that will flower and mature in time.

May the Lord strengthen us all to be obedient, prayerful, and peaceful in this blessed time of Great Lent! To be thankful for the desert the Lord has given us and to work it diligently and with hope as a spiritual “farmer”! And to be good children of the Church in this extraordinary time when we are being asked to labor with zeal by staying at home!

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Time to Consider Communion at Home – or How to Transform in the Desert?

We are just about a week into our new coronavirus reality in Michigan and really in our whole diocese and country. Most of us are off from work and home. Not all – but most. And we have been participating in the Divine Services via broadcast - and that is good. It is all novel and thus rather engaging. For a while. But the novelty will wear off soon and we need to be ready for that. We need to plan. We need to look forward. How do we live a spiritual life in quarantine? How can we be transformed in isolation?

Whether in isolation or in community one big part of our ongoing transformation into the sons and daughters of God is Repentance (Confession) and partaking of Holy Communion. It is OK to go a few weeks without partaking of the Holy Mysteries. But we have for years encouraged people to commune often. Because that is a very good spiritual practice. It forces us to confront our sins, to fight them, and to ideally hate them so they will be literally repulsed by those sins. That does not mean we commune every day as a rule or even every week, but we should not be going months without the Mysteries either. The communications from the diocese make it clear that the laity, except for those who are in church to execute the services, should commune at home. It also makes it clear that the laity should be patient with the priests – this will be a significant burden on them, especially as a wave of severe COVID cases hit in various areas. There will be people dying in the hospital and the priests will have to try (I say try because right now we are banned from the University Hospital and St. Joseph for infectious disease reasons) to care for these people as they step into the next life. But there is still time to bring communion to those who are healthy and at home. Fr. Moses is still working some, so we will try to do this mostly via me, but you are always welcome to reach out to Fr. Moses and see if it would work for him. For me, you can use open times you find on my Calendly application for one hour blocks only. I will open up some more mornings for the next few weeks as well. A few important guidelines:

1. Read the pre-Communion prayers as usual. If you don’t have those they can be found at our PARISH PRAYER KIT

2. Fast from Midnight if you will commune early in the day. If you will commune much later in the day follow the rule before evening Presanctified Liturgy (light breakfast – nothing after that).

3. Participate (do not just watch or listen – participate actively) in the Divine Services of the day you will commune if those are available on the LIVE STREAM. If not – one of the recent cycles of Divine Services found on our Facebook page. Just pan down – you will find them. They should be in “videos” too.

4. Forgive everyone and have noth
ing against anyone (as usual before Communion)

5. Write out your confession if you can write. Give that to the priest that visits. He will read it and have a short conversation with you about it. SHORT is the key word here. We are trying to minimize the opportunity for infection and the infection spreads by droplets – and talking makes droplets.

6. Follow this protocol, which was created with the consultation of three Orthodox Christians physicians to minimize the spread of the coronavirus:

  • The faithful will confess in written form. 
  • When considering to visit a sick person at home for confession and communion, a priest is to first ascertain if the illness manifests as respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms. 
  • If a person is sick with the above-mentioned symptoms, the priest should abstain from visiting this person but strongly encourage that person to seek medical attention immediately. If the symptoms are different, e.g. those of worsening chronic disease, a priest is to follow precautions recommended by CDC in the current situation.  
  • Contact should be between the priest and the penitent only without any family members which would allow for distance of 6 feet. The room should be well-ventilated.
  • After the prayer of absolution both the priest and the pertinent should wash their hands, or use towelettes or waterless hand sanitizer if hand washing is not practical or possible.
  • A mask should be worn by the sick person. The priest may wear a mask if he desires.

It is important that as we are quarantined on any level we do not quarantine our faith. We have been given the blessing to be in our desert during this Great Lent – isolated from most of the rest of the parish. That has good aspects and bad – but most certainly it is a struggle and and opportunity to draw nearer to the Lord. Just as the monastics in Palestine used to wander through the desert for the 40 days of Great Lent and grew spiritually from that struggle. We will read the life of St. Mary of Egypt this week on Wednesday evening. Please listen carefully to the benefits she, and St. Zosimas, received in the desert. You could argue – and I would submit that this is true – that St. Mary was transformed in the desert. We can too – but we have to struggle to acquire these benefits – to be transformed. You cannot read the life of St. Mary of Egypt and take from it that struggle is NOT necessary. May the Lord strengthen you! Please let me or Fr. Moses know if you have any questions.

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Are we Telling You to Go Away and Never Return?

In the course of this pandemic I have had the obedience to do research on past pandemics and the Russian Church’s reaction to them in my capacity as Secretary of the Diocesan Council. You might be surprised to know that we are NOT in any sort of virgin territory here. Finding ourselves unable to attend the Divine Services because the ruling hierarch of the diocese has closed the churches has happened in the past. The most notable was during the outbreak of the plague in Moscow around 1771. It is notable mostly because the Archbishop of Moscow, Ambrose, was literally torn to bits by the raging people who were apoplectic following his decision. The perpetrators of the murder were later hanged for their inappropriate response. I don’t think any of us would react in this way, but both the murder and the reaction of the government are instructive here. Leaders have to lead – not follow. Sometimes (in fact almost always) it is a question of two bad options, rather than “right” and “wrong”. In our situation the two bad options are:

1. Keep the churches open and allow people to be infected by the present plague and deal with the subsequent deaths

2. Close the churches to public worship

If we are honest we are a little “spoiled” by our easy access to the church, to the sacraments, to the clergy, etc. I am not suggesting that what we have had these last few decades is bad. In fact it is almost the ideal! Almost. But that is not the point of this post. The point is this: in the history of the Church there have been times – sometimes short and sometimes very long – when it was not easy to access the Church and the sacraments. Sometimes that was because of persecution. Sometimes that was because of plague. In either case the Church is not instructing the faithful to “go away”. The Church, as a loving mother, wants the best for her children. First and foremost – salvation. Nothing is more important. The real crux of the thing then, is this: is it more valuable for our salvation to attend church and die because of that or is it better to stay away, stay alive, and continue to struggle for our salvation? As Orthodox Christians we care about what has come before. How the Church has lived in past circumstances like we are experiencing now. As I noted above – it is not unheard of to close the temples to public worship during time of pandemic. It is also not unheard of to call the faithful to gather all the more into the temples to pray for God’s mercy. If either of these is possible then why did Archbishop Peter choose to close to public worship rather than encourage the faithful to gather all the more? The miracle – and it is a miracle that the Lord has given us – of modern medicine. The Lord has allowed us to use the talents He has given us to learn. To ignore this would be essentially taking God’s gift to man and tossing it in the garbage. You probably wouldn’t like it if people took the gifts you gave them and threw them away. Why would the Lord be pleased if we take the gifts He gives us and toss them aside, and in place of His gifts put our own pride? It is important to know that clergymen are not experts on every topic, no matter what the clergymen think. :) Archbishop Peter knows that he is not an epidemiologist. He knows that he does not have a Ph.D. in Public Health. And so he consulted Orthodox physicians and scientists in order to make the best decision for the most people. This is how we got to this point: the bishop had to choose from two decisions he did not want to make – and he decided that the best of the bad decisions was to close the temples to public worship.

This is instructive to us. Why? Because most of us don’t really understand the part the bishop plays in the Church. We see him once or twice per year, but we essentially associate the bishop with long Liturgies and a purple cape. :) But the bishop is the overseer. He answers for every soul in the diocese. I answer for the souls of those who are in our St. Vladimir parish. The bishop answers for all. And it is his job to protect the faith. To teach the truth of our Orthodox Faith. And to correct when there are things not right in the diocese (whether that be on a parish by parish level, or the diocese as a whole). The bishop cannot change the faith – his job is to uphold the faith and the dogmas of the Church. But the present pandemic question is not a dogmatic question. It is not a question of faith. In these non-dogmatic questions the bishop leads and we follow. Of course, we hope he will consult experts to make the best decisions, as he did in this case, but the call is his. The faithful and clergy are called to follow the bishop in such questions, and understand that our part is to be obedient. If the bishop is wrong about a non-dogmatic question, and we follow what he says, WE do not answer for that – HE does. Thus, we can be at peace. Our salvation depends not on the correctness of the bishop’s decision here, but on seeking peace and being obedient (these two things sort of depend on each other – if we are obedient it brings us peace if we ask God’s help to find that peace).

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me or Fr. Moses with questions. Our jobs now are to stay home and stay away from others. We have two options for social distancing as the picture above shows. Let’s choose the one that is not 6 feet under! If we are examples to our society in this instance more will come to Christ. In such a thing as a pandemic people are looking for answers – looking for meaning – looking to understand why we are even here. The Church provides them those answers. And we, serving God and man with Christian love, can and will attract those who are seeking to Him. Work on your good habits! Increase your prayer life! Read more spiritual books! With your effort and God’s help you will come through this pandemic safe, and spiritually stronger than when it began. And your good example will bring more to Christ!

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory