Dear in the Lord fathers, brothers, and sisters!
I sincerely greet you with the very warmest well-wishes for the blessings of God, good health, spiritual calm, and the patience so needed in this trying time! I especially greet the doctors, nurses, and all who work in the hospitals, sincerely wishing them increased strength and Heavenly aid! I wish for those who are sick - and for their friends and relatives - comfort in the hope of God’s will, which always directs man toward the good. Our prayers are with all of you.
As a result of measures being taken to halt the spread of the Coronavirus infection, which have been instituted by the governments of countries in which our Church maintains a presence, many of us have been deprived of the divine services and of communal worship in the temples. In some parishes, following the strict recommendations of local authorities, no services are held at all; in others, it is possible to serve, but this must be done with closed doors and in the presence of an extremely limited number of people, who themselves observe the required distance from one another. In many parishes, the service is performed by a single priest, sung by a single chanter. For these parishioners, it is a comfort to know that prayer is still being offered up in the churches, that the living and the dead are being commemorated. And where the divine services are being broadcast over the Internet via live-stream, many unite and join in this prayer, creating a prayerful atmosphere in their own homes. I have even heard of instances where some among the faithful light candles and lamps and, standing in their prayer corners, follow along with the service and pray. I think that such church “attendance” has the virtue for them of actual attendance, and inclines to them God’s mercy. It is a joy to hear how some priests, using modern technology, support their parishioners by holding talks on various spiritual, moral, catechetical, and others useful subjects. I am sure that such a creative approach strengthens the unity among people who together endure these difficult circumstances, and will bring good fruit in the future. In general, any positive examples in such complicated situations, when new methods of preaching and pastoral nourishment are discovered, are always inspiring and instructive.
Unfortunately, we also hear of sorrowful instances of insubordination not only to local authorities, but also to the ruling bishops. Such behavior on the part of the clergy and lay parish officers is completely irresponsible and involves risk not only to the physical health of our neighbors, but also to our relationships with these communities and to parish property. Tempting God and man, their actions can result in insurmountable fines and other measures from law enforcement. In so doing, they irreparably damage their relationships with those around them, sowing in them doubts toward Christ’s Church, whose members must serve as an example. As a result of their disobedience and so-called “zeal not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2), there can even develop divisions and conflicts within the parish communities themselves.
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God,” writes the Apostle Peter, “That He may exalt you in due time; casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you” (I Peter 5:6-7). I call on the clergy and faithful of our churches, as law-abiding citizens of their countries, to follow all precautionary measures implemented by the local authorities, as well as adhering to the instructions issued by your Hierarchy, and to use the present conditions of quarantine to redouble your prayer, fasting, reading, and salvific contemplation, strengthening relations with family and friends. Perhaps before we did not sufficiently treasure the opportunity to pray in church, missing the divine services through our laziness and carelessness, or were so swallowed up by our affairs that we practically never saw our families, never prayed, never read anything of spiritual value, never prepared for the feasts, and never observed the fasts. General quarantine is a gift from God, which drives man into the depths of himself, forcing him to reexamine his attitude toward life, to think and to care about what is most important. Let every one of us make use of this blessed opportunity, at midnight on the Glorious Pascha night, to say to our own heart: “Christ is Risen,” and to hear from it that sweetest reply: “Indeed He is Risen.”
Asking your holy prayers, I remain with love in the Lord,
Metropolitan of Eastern America & New York
First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.