DECREE № 5E/2020
Read the printable version here.
To the Pious Clergy and Faithful of the Western American Diocese:
At the present time, we are witnessing the spread of the Coronavirus both in various parts of the world and also this land. We are also observing the closure of schools and many other institutions in order to limit exposure to the virus. While the medical knowledge about the etiology of the virus is not yet complete, stricter practices as to personal hygiene and hand-washing, and the sanitary wiping of commonly touched surfaces, are being encouraged in order to minimize the potential for transmission. There are increasing limitations being imposed on travel, and the mandates from the civil authorities regarding quarantines and border closings on the national and state levels are likely to increase. Today, President Trump has declared a National Emergency.
In light of the foregoing, I am cancelling the Diocesan Assembly/Pastoral Conference scheduled for March 17-18, 2020 and postponing it to a future date next year, God permitting.
With regard to Church life our Diocese, I am giving the following instructions:
Zapivka (post-Communion wine). This is to be served to the communicants from individual paper cups until the Corona virus ends. There is to be placed a paper bag next to the zapivka table for the disposal of these cups.
If you or one of your family members have respiratory symptoms -- coughing, sneezing, fever, a sore throat, or runny nose -- it is best to remain at home and not expose others to a communicable sickness. If you or someone in your family becomes seriously ill, ask one of the clergy to visit you to administer Holy Communion.
With regard to the veneration of Holy Icons and Relics, we believe that Icons, which we call Holy, are not merely earthly images but are in fact “windows into Heaven”: some are demonstrably wonder-working but all are potentially wonder-working. We venerate Holy Icons and Relics with faith precisely because they are vessels of Divine Grace. Their veneration is salutary for both soul and body and may certainly continue as is customary. Nevertheless, if someone nevertheless wishes to refrain from venerating Icons, they may freely choose to do so.
Concerning the reception of Holy Communion, the Holy Mysteries shall continue to be administered according to our standard ecclesiastical practice. All thoughts that illness can be transmitted through the Holy Mysteries must be decisively rejected. In the prayers before Holy Communion, we say: “Behold, I approach Divine fire.” All those who approach worthily and with faith receive healing and strength, and are made no less than “partakers of the Divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). One of the Communion Hymns proclaims: “Receive the Body of Christ: taste ye of the Fountain of Immortality.”
I am instructing that, during the Augmented Litany at each Divine Liturgy, and at each Liturgy of the Presanctified gifts, the following petitions from the “Molieben Sung in Time of Devastating Epidemic and Death-bearing Pestilence” be recited:
“More than all others we have sinned against Thee and we have transgressed, O Master, and if we have not acquired repentance instead of repentance accept our offering. And having set Thyself to mercy, as Thou art almighty, free Thy servants from death bearing sickness and grievous afflictions, groaning in pain we pray Thee, quickly hearken and have mercy.”
“We have sinned and we have transgressed, and therefore Thy righteous anger has visited us, O Lord, our God; and the darkness of death has encompassed us and we have drawn nigh unto the gates of Hades. But, with compunction, we cry out unto Thee, our God, in our infirmities: Spare, O spare Thy people, and destroy us not utterly, humbly we pray Thee, hearken and have mercy.”
“O Lord, Who rules by life and by death: do Thou not enclose the souls of Thy servants in death, but turn aside from wrath and forsake anger, for our days vanish like smoke, and our strength has wasted away, and we are perishing utterly because of our sins. Be Thou merciful unto Thy servants who are repenting with tears, we pray Thee, hearken and have mercy.”
The “Molieben Sung in Time of Devastating Epidemic and Death-bearing Pestilence” is to be served in each parish after the Divine Liturgy every Sunday until the passing of this epidemic. The text of this service is found in the Trebnik.
The members of the Faithful are encouraged to increase their prayers by daily reciting an Akathist to the Lord, or the Theotokos, or to our beloved St. John of Shanghai & San Francisco, or to the Saint of their choice, praying for the cessation of this pestilence. To increase the sanctification of our souls and bodies, we are all encouraged to frequently partake of Holy Communion, and also of Holy Water and Prosphora; to daily anoint ourselves with Holy Oil from the Saints; and to confess our sins and pray fervently. Our arms against this epidemic, although spiritual, will be nonetheless powerful.
Already reports are coming in that the Archangel Michael has appeared to many people promising them his powerful help. Also, the newly-glorified Saint Nikephoros the Leper has appeared in Greece to a pious Orthodox serviceman and assured him that he will intercede for all who ask his prayers to be protected and healed from the Coronavirus.
Troparion, Tone 1:
“All the angels were awestruck by the courage and fortitude of Saint Nikephoros the Leper, in ascetic deeds and contests, for like another Job he suffered pain, with patience, ever-glorifying God, who has crowned him now with glory, granting him grace to work great, wondrous miracles. Rejoice, O guide of monastics and their aid, Rejoice O shining beacon of light, Rejoice for thy relics now exude a fragrance bringing joy to all.”
Kontakion, Tone 8:
“The valiant athlete of endurance and fortitude, the steadfast diamond of great patience and long-suffering, was tried by the affliction and pains of illness, and who in this way did glorify the Most High God, let us praise and laud the leper Nikephoros, saying unto him: Rejoice, true namesake of victory."
Let us use this time to draw closer to the Lord in repentance, as once did the citizens of Ninevah. Much of mankind has fallen so very far away from God: the modern spiritual pandemic has led many of our contemporaries even to fundamentally deny the very nature with which God has imbued us. We must ask the Saints for intercessions on our behalf and all those around us who are sick. Let us also remember that it is only through earnest repentance and prayer, and not through worry and fretting, that we can influence our circumstances for the better. With the vast spiritual resources given to us, we must entreat the Lord, who has exhorted us: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Is. 41:10) Let us “seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness,” and all things that we need to get through this crisis will doubtless be provided to us. (Matt. 6:33)
KYRILL, Archbishop of San Francisco and Western America
29 February/13 March 2020
Archpriest James Baglien of Saint Martin of Tours Church in Corvallis, OR, offered the following advice to his parishioners. We include it here for our readers' reference and application:
There is much concern about the expanding coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic. These concerns raise questions about what practical measures we should put in place for our Church life. Many will have noted that we used disposable cups for zapivka after Communion on Sunday. This will be standard for our entire Diocese for the duration of the outbreak.
Part of the difficulty are the many unknowns about this new virus. The science is not yet fully understood, and this creates much uncertainty. However, there are some things that we can say definitively:
1) Is a respiratory virus. Mild to moderate cases resemble cold and flu symptoms, though usually with a drier cough: cough, sore throat, fever, and shortness of breath. In severe cases, the lungs are attacked, which can lead to death. In this, it resembles influenza, which kills between 15,000 and 30,000 Americans in a typical flu season.
2) Is highly contagious, chiefly through hand contact with infected surfaces following by facial touching, and secondarily by inhalation of droplets from coughing and sneezing. Skin to skin contact is not considered a risk factor (aside from hand to face contact), nor is ingestion though food. The virus can live on surfaces for up to 12 hours.
3) It is considerably more serious than the usual seasonal influenza. South Korea, which leads the world in wide-scale testing of its population, is reporting a fatality rate of 0.68%, which is several times higher than influenza. Other fatality estimates are much higher, but these are usually based only on tested cases. (This is significant; in this country, only about 6500 people have been tested so far, while South Korea is testing 10,000 people a day.)
4) Most cases of illness will be mild to moderate. Severe cases can affect any age group, but are concentrated in elderly individuals, especially those with underlying health conditions. In Italy, which has had the most severe outbreak in Europe, 89% of fatalities have been of individuals over age 70, most with the underlying health conditions common to this age group. However, younger people should not be complacent, as young, healthy individuals have also died from the virus; moreover, you do not wish to become a disease vector that spreads the virus to older family members and parishioners.
How can we reduce our risk of infection with the Coronavirus?
The recommendations from the Oregon Health Authority are the same as for any respiratory illness:
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces that are often touched.
- Take care of your health overall. Staying current on your vaccinations, including flu vaccine, eating well and exercising all help your body stay resilient.
These are all good, but let me focus on some key practices, and further elaborate:
1) Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands. "Washed" means 20 seconds of lathering up with soap, thoroughly treating all skin surfaces. Dry with a clean towel. Wash your hands as soon as you come home from work, school, the grocery store, etc.. Remember, contact surfaces that people have touched with unwashed hands are probably the greatest threat. If you're out and about, and need to adjust your contact lenses or scratch your nose -- use hand sanitizer first.
2) Don't forget to regularly sanitize your cell phone! If makes no sense at all to thoroughly wash your hands -- and then pick up the cell phone you were just using before you washed your hands. Hand sanitizer works well for this.
3) Avoid unnecessary contact with crowds, at sporting and cultural events, dances, bars, and clubs. Avoid elective travel by mass transportation -- airplanes, buses, etc.. If your child participates in sports involving close contact, consider taking a break from these during the next several months.
A growing list of universities have switched to online instruction for undergraduates, for the balance of winter term and all of spring term: Harvard, Stanford, the U. of Washington, Vanderbilt, UC-Berkeley, Syracuse, Rutgers, Indiana, Amherst, Columbia, Ohio State, San Jose State -- the list is long, and rapidly growing. Oregon State and the U. of Oregon have not yet taken this step, but neither have they yet had a confirmed case of COVID-19 in their communities.
Now, what does this mean for us, in Church life?
We want Church life to continue as normally as possible, and with as little risk to our parishioners as possible. After much thought and prayer, my directions are as follows:
1) If you or your children have respiratory symptoms -- coughing, sneezing, fever, a sore throat, or runny nose -- *stay home from Church*, and say your prayers at home. There is nothing 'heroic' about coming to Church when you have a communicable sickness. Out of love for your brothers and sisters, please refrain from exposing them to a potentially dangerous illness. Currently, in Corvallis, such symptoms are not likely to be COVID-19, but as time passes, the likelihood will grow that they will be.
If you become seriously ill, I shall visit you to administer Holy Communion.
2) Those who clean the church, restrooms, and hall -- take care to clean all the door handles, table surfaces, etc.. It is not necessary to use an alcohol-based sanitizer for this -- a regular surface cleaning product is adequate.
1) Should I venerate icons, take the priest's blessing, etc.?
This is a bit of a gray area. We don't (at least, adults don't) leave saliva on these surfaces, but rather, 'dry kiss.' Ingestion is not a major risk factor. If people with active illnesses stay home as they should, this risk should be limited. However, I shall not scold those who are worried enough about this to refrain from such veneration.
2) What about Holy Communion?
This is truly the lowest risk of anything we do in Church.
Why? Our Orthodox practice of Communion involves the priest dipping the spoon into the Blood of Christ between each administration. What could be more purifying than that? I might also mention that the physical element transformed into the Blood of Christ is 20% ethanol -- but that is quite besides the point.
If your faith still wavers, consider what happens with the Chalice following the service. The priest (or deacon, if one is serving) consumes the contents of the Chalice in the Altar. At a large church or cathedral, hundreds of people may have been communed from that chalice -- many with undiagnosed illnesses, including not only respiratory illnesses, but stomach viruses, etc.. An unbelieving person would expect that the priests and deacons who consume the Gifts would be more often ill due to such exposure. But in practice, we observe that priests and deacons seem to experience fewer communicable illnesses than average -- because they are, through their service each week, receiving the Source of Life. (Others, who have taken my Adult Class, may recall my personal anecdote about a life-threatening abdominal infection vanishing -- to the perplexed irritation of the surgeon -- after my reception of the Reserved Gifts.)
So let your minds be at ease in this respect.
The children of the Church have passed through many periods of pestilence in Her long history, and found solace and comfort in Her grace. Let us remain fervent in prayer, do those things which are prudent, and leave the rest in the hands of God.
with love in Christ,
PS: My thanks to internist Panteleimon (Dr. Brian) Curtis, who has reviewed the above information -- and concurs.