February 20, 2021 ~ A dear person sent this letter to me. I asked permission of the author to post here. If any visitor to this website would like to reach out and connect to this faithful servant of Christ please do so: firstname.lastname@example.org
An open letter to the clergy and faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia
Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
For a long time, Orthodox Christians, especially those of our own jurisdiction, have prided themselves as being a bulwark against modernism. But what is modernism? Is it the “updating” of music to be more palatable to modern ears, such as we see in many Protestant and even some Roman Catholic parishes? Is it the abbreviating of the liturgy to suit modern needs (that is, wants)? Is it the changing of our moral tenets, such as the acceptance of abortion and gay “marriage” we have seen in many mainline Protestant sects? Yes, it is all these things, but more plainly, it is the church going after worldly things rather than eternal things.
So, does modernism exist in the Orthodox Church, and more specifically in our own jurisdiction? Sadly, the answer is yes. Since last spring, we have had to watch as many Orthodox priests and bishops have led the faithful straight down the pit of modernism with their actions in regards to the Covid-19 virus. A virus which by worldly standards, is only modestly destructive, but by spiritual standards, it has become one of the most destructive contagions of all time.
While this has now been going on for some time, the writing of this letter has been spurred by a recent series of events. As many are aware, a number of our brothers and sisters in Christ from St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral have been diagnosed with the Covid-19 virus. In response to this, an email was sent out by and published on the website of St John the Baptist Cathedral (it has since been removed from the website), openly criticizing the clergy and faithful of St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral for what can only be described as worshiping in faith and in accordance with Holy Tradition. While this was dismaying enough, as up to now St Alexander Nevsky parish has been a shining beacon of how we worship in troubled times (that is, we worship as we always have, with fear of God and with faith), their answer to their recent spiritual test is to go down the same wrong route as so many other parishes have done. We cannot and must not respond to spiritual tests with worldly measures.
St John the Baptist and other parishes have taken extreme and unprecedented measures to “combat” the Covid-19 virus. These include limiting the number of parishioners at a given liturgy, limiting the number of liturgies a parishioner may attend per month, forcing mask wearing on parishioners, telling parishioners where to stand in the church, banning the kissing of icons, relics, and the priest’s hand, and even using disposable spoons for communion. Some parishes have adopted all or most of these measures, some have adopted a few, others have adopted none.
First and foremost, let us be clear: these practices are all aberrations, and not at all in line with the canons and traditions of the Orthodox Church. But let us address some of these measures individually. As Orthodox Christians we believe that Holy Communion is the life-giving Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As such, we need to partake of it as frequently as possible. The only reason an Orthodox Christian should be limited on this by a priest or bishop is if they are under spiritual penance. Therefore, limiting the frequency with which the faithful can attend the liturgy is a grievous offense. This implies that avoiding a virus is more important than receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. Similarly, the disinfecting of the communion spoon or the use of disposable spoons implies that Holy Communion is nothing but mere bread and wine with no power over earthly things. On the contrary, we know as Orthodox Christians that no worldly illness can be transmitted by the Body and Blood of Christ.
The last of these items I will specifically address is the forced masking of the faithful. Firstly, this shows an ignorance of the medical reality of the efficacy of face masks. Despite what our politicians and televised medical “experts” now claim (they claimed the opposite as recently as last spring), they are not useful for the general public in preventing the spread of a virus, which after all, is nothing more than a large molecule. This is made clear by the extant peer-reviewed research. Furthermore, their use (and reuse) by those untrained in PPE protocols, and especially for extended for periods of time, may actually be detrimental to one’s physical health. While these are important points to consider for our everyday lives, they are moot in the context of the liturgy; even if they were medically useful, it would not be right or justified to require them in our parishes, for a number of reasons. In the Divine Liturgy especially, does not the church temple become a furnace of God’s Grace? Is this furnace of grace compatible with the spread of contagion? As with Holy Communion, the answer is most wholeheartedly no. To quote the Fool for Christ St Gabriel of Georgia, “If you only knew how much grace and blessing comes in the Divine Liturgy, you would even gather up the dust from the ground of the Temple and wash your faces with it.” If God’s grace cleanses even the dirt on the floor, how can it not cleanse the air and everything else in the church temple? A last word on why masks are spiritually destructive. They dehumanize us, they cover our visage, the very image of God, and reduce us all to faceless vectors of contagion. Is this how we view our brothers and sisters in Christ? Is this how we treat God’s image which exists in all of us? And for what? For fear of a worldly illness. There are far worse things, namely spiritual death. And we have all seen it this past year, in devastating numbers.
I implore you all to give up this futile and vain attempt to stifle a worldly illness. Return to the faith. Worship as your ancestors did, without fear, even during the most devastating plagues and persecutions. We have no obligation to the peculiar rules of men, particularly when they go against God and the teachings of the Church. Indeed, we have an obligation not to follow them. Note that no leniency, no economia is granted to the faithful who do not wish to follow these destructive rules by those who enforce them. Surely this is a sign they are derived from the pride of man, and from the devil, rather than from the Will of God.
I do not say these things to condemn any individuals, but rather to condemn the actions some in our Church have taken and are taking. God knows, I have enough sins of my own. As a layperson, I should not have to speak out on these things, but we live in strange, sad times. Even if I or no one else would speak up, the stones themselves would cry out. Love God. Love your brothers and sisters in Christ. Attend the divine services. Receive the sacraments. Pray. Have faith. Do these as often and as much as you can and we will overcome these tribulations and rot of godless modernism.
Sts Theodore Orthodox Church