Archpriest Sergey Uspensky talks about faith, unbelief, God's Providence, growing panic around coronavirus and the fate of all deacons.
More recently, the Orthodox of our country has been subjected to social persecution. The flow of slander and satanic malice, even if it is not so intense, still continues to pour out on our Mother Church. But it is no longer significant. Those who wanted to fall away have already fallen away, and the faith of those who have remained will not be shaken at all.
Now it is time to test our faith on the other side. The common ground for this test is the church service and the coronavirus. Some people say that it is better to "pray at home at the TV" because "protecting yourself is more important than attending the temple", someone suggests "less frequent communion".
I will express my personal point of view without insisting that it is the only true one.
As you know the Holy Fathers considered such disasters as floods, earthquakes, epidemics, etc. attributed to the manifestation of the Providence of God, which has a hidden meaning and spiritual significance. The post-Christian civilization, imbued with egocentrism and forgetting God, will be more and more exposed to all kinds of shocks. When a person dies, the intensive care can be very harsh, but there is no other way to bring the patient back to life, alas, there is no other way. Judging by the last book of the New Testament, God will do the same to humanity.
What danger can a person face in the temple during an epidemic? Let's look at the reasons.
Communion from the common Cup
I won't even consider this reason as a possibility of infection transmission because I firmly believe that the Body and Blood of Christ cannot be a source of transmission of any deadly infection. And the reason for this is not only my faith but also my practical life experience of many years of ministry.
If infections were transmitted through the Communion, then our deacons, who take the Holy Sacraments after each divine service, if not die, would very often get sick with the flu, SARS and other diseases. But this is not true. Sometimes I think that this group of clergymen is for some reason healthier than anyone else.
Possibility of infection transmission in the temple from person to person or through kissing icons
With the same probability (if not more) we can catch the virus from touching the handles of a shopping cart in a supermarket, banknotes, lift or ATM buttons, handrails in transport, shaking hands, to name but a few. Of course, this is not an argument in favour of going to the temple in order to put yourself at risk of infection there, too. I agree with that. So, the possibility of being infected with the coronavirus in the church is as real as it is everywhere else. So, let's talk about it in more detail.
1. First, let's consider the motives for which we still going to church. I am sure that everyone, despite the risk, will still go to the shop to buy some food because hunger pangs. The believer should have a much greater need for spiritual food – the Communion of the Body and the Blood of Christ – during the deadly epidemic than in the peaceful life course. Just because death will breathe down his neck every day, and if he has a fever of over forty, then he is most likely not to have time to take communion. Therefore, it is necessary to take care of it in advance.
The temple is neither a market nor a fair nor a drinking place. This is what connects the earth with heaven, and in it we collectively ask God for mercy, including the cessation of epidemics.
2. Let’s remember history. We know that the first Christians without fail received Communion every Sunday. As an echo of that time, we still have (regretfully forgotten by many) canonical rules, which say that if during the three Sundays someone did not take communion, he/she is no longer a Christian (Canon 80 of the VI Ecumenical Council). And there are also such rules that excommunicate those who come to the Liturgy and do not receive communion (9th Apostolic Canon).
Very often, over the course of centuries, when coming to the divine service on Sunday, a Christian risked "getting" not the coronavirus but the lion's teeth and claws, cutting-off with a sword, crucifixion, torture, and the like consequences of his/her faith in God. Going to worship was literally a deadly practice. But despite this, ALL Christians went to the Communion, though they were well aware of the risks.
We can cite similar examples from recent history, when new martyrs, performing divine service in prisons, camps, and exiles risked being inevitably shot if they were found, which eventually happened to some of them.
Coronavirus and death
We will all die – this thesis does not need to be discussed. And the date of death, like the date of our birth, does not depend on us, but on Him who rules our life. And if someone thinks that dying from a virus is harder than, for example, dying from cancer, then they're probably wrong.
There is an anathema read throughout the Sunday of Orthodoxy to those who believe that our life is governed not by God’ will but by chance. Each time during the service, the Church calls on us to “give ourselves, each other, and our whole life to Christ God”.
Of course, faith in God does not imply carelessness and disregard for traffic or safety regulations. We must always be careful not to harm our health. But there are situations in life when you need to take risks if that is God’s will. Moreover, there may be situations when preserving an earthly life and preserving God's commandments may come into conflict with one another. Then you will need to choose one thing.
The opposite could also happen. “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25). So, he who is ready to give life for Christ and the Gospel will keep it. Moreover, not only in the spiritual but also in the physical sense. Because the Body and Blood of Christ, we take not only "for the forgiveness of sins and having eternal life", but also "for healing our soul and body”. And this is also the object of our faith.
Elder Kirill Pavlov remembered how during the Great Patriotic War those soldiers, who, being afraid of hunger, dried rusks and carried them in sacks behind their shoulders, and those who took care of themselves and kept their heads down, somehow died faster than the soldiers, who were ready to be the first to rush into attack without thinking about the future.
Once, during another Turkish invasion of Athos, a monk wondered what to do: to flee or stay and accept martyrdom? Wouldn't the latter be arrogance and the former cowardice? The Mother of God appeared to him and said that everyone is free to do as his heart tells him to do. He who decides to accept death for Christ will be crowned with a martyr's crown. He who feels that he has no such faith, let him hide, he will not be condemned for it.
It seems to me that in the case of an epidemic, the clergy, as servants of God, have no choice. Indeed, it is impossible to stop serving God, whatever it is. The priest makes a bloodless sacrifice in the temple for the whole world, for all people, alive and dead, and it is his duty.
In the Life of St. Barsanuphius, the Bishop of Tver (whose memory we celebrated last Sunday), it is said that all the priests passed away at his monastery during the epidemic. St. Barsanuphius himself confessed them personally, communed and buried them. And all of them were blessed with heavenly glory. Christians of Alexandria also aspired to the same glory, when during the epidemic of pestilence in the third century helped not only their fellow believers but also pagans, while infecting and dying from the same disease. In this way, they fulfilled God's commandment for love, receiving immortal crowns.
As for attending temples by laypeople during the epidemic of coronavirus, let everyone decide for themselves, relying on faith and on God’s mercy. But in any case, even when coming to the temple, you shouldn’t neglect the rules of hygiene and put yourself and others at risk.
God bless us all!