SYOSSET, NY [OCA] On Monday, March 16, 2020, His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon convened a special meeting of the Holy Synod. Following a day of meetings with health-care experts, Metropolitan Tikhon led the Holy Synod in a discussion on the effects of the spreading outbreak on the parishes, clergy, and faithful of the Orthodox Church in America.
Following that meeting His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon and the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America have today issued a further statement on the Coronavirus outbreak which can be read here, and below.
At the same time, His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon has issued an Archpastoral Letter to the clergy, monastics and faithful of the Orthodox Church in America which can be read here, and below.
Please be sure to check our resource page on the Coronavirus outbreak. We are updating it regularly.
Statement of the Holy Synod of Bishops
of the Orthodox Church in America
on the Coronavirus Outbreak
March 17, 2020
The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America meeting under the presidency of His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon in a Special Session on Monday, March 16, 2020, considered further the response of the Church to the growing spread of the SARS-CoV-2, and the Coronavirus. During this special session, the Holy Synod received expert reports and were able to question professionals in the areas of concern relating to the virus, including medical doctors. After extensive deliberation on this subject, the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America with one accord has decided the following:
1. Each Diocesan Bishop is entrusted with overseeing the spiritual and pastoral care of his Clergy and Faithful and with protecting their wellbeing in whatever measures he determines appropriate. This oversight, in response to the coronavirus, is to be in keeping with the Holy Synod’s vigilant response to the present pandemic, the most recent federal, state, and municipal civil directives, and updated medical knowledge obtained from recognized experts. Therefore, Diocesan Bishops may allow for the churches within their dioceses to serve the Divine Services with limited participation on the part of the Faithful, or to designate a limited number of Churches in their dioceses to serve a limited number of services with only a few people present or to be closed altogether for the time being.
2. In light of decisions made by the officials of various government jurisdictions, we sorrowfully acknowledge that, at the direction of the Diocesan Bishop and in keeping with said government directives, parishes, missions, and chapels of the Orthodox Church in America may be required to temporarily cease offering divine services.
3. Monasteries may continue services for the sacred monastic community alone, admitting no visitors until April 1.
4. The Holy Synod will consider these directives again at the end of March.
Archpastoral Letter of His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon
March 17, 2020
To the Venerable Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America,
As is well-known, these recent days have been seemingly unprecedented in the life of the modern world. One would have to go back to the beginning of the twentieth century at the time of the Spanish Influenza pandemic, or the cholera pandemics of the nineteenth century to find something comparable. In these pandemics, millions upon millions of people died. If society has learned anything from the lessons of these pandemics, and also from recent experiences of pandemics like H1N1, MERS, or Zika, it is this: preventative measures are required to limit the effects of a pandemic. In the current crisis, the measures advocated to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus include the maintenance of social distance so as to limit our exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and thus cut down on the probability of being infected, carrying the virus, and becoming sick from it. Health care professionals speak forcefully about the positive effects that such measures would have, namely, “flattening the curve” of new infections so that our health care system does not become overwhelmed.
We hear this advice, as well as the admonishments to wash our hands frequently, cover our coughs, and keep our Churches clean. Civil authorities are issuing emergency orders to close schools and limit public gatherings. We are also advised to work from home if at all possible. The members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America have issued statements advising all members of the Church to follow the directives of the Center for Disease Control, and our own further pastoral directives. In our dioceses, we have responded with even further directives that our Churches and institutions should follow. I reiterate here: please become familiar with what the CDC directs, follow our directives, both at the Synodal and at the Diocesan level.
My beloved children in the Lord, none of the measures adopted by any part of the Church should cause scandal or anxiety. They should also not be used as the subject for mockery, vile jokes, sarcasm, or – God forbid! – division or disunity. They have been taken as our Christian response to protect our brothers and sisters. Our Lord tells us, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).” The life we “laying down” now is our normal life, because these are extraordinary times. We are making a sacrificial effort, which is in keeping with the present season of repentance and ascetical striving. Like the ascetics of old who would depart from their monasteries for the forty days of Lent in preparation for Holy Week, we should take this opportunity to prayerfully reflect on our life in Christ and increase our desire to be with Him.
No one should feel any concern about the canonical implications of being absent from the divine services. We find ourselves in extraordinary circumstances that require extraordinary, but temporary responses. The holy body and precious blood of our Lord can never be a source of disease, it is after all for the healing of soul and body, but the COVID-19 virus can still be passed through the congregation. Out of love for our neighbor, we must do everything we can to protect the vulnerable by slowing the rate of infection not only in our parishes, but in the greater community, and thereby allowing the hospitals and medical community to more adequately care for those most at risk.
I call on the faithful of the Orthodox Church in America to make good use of this time and renew their faith and hope in God through prayer and fasting, and by being of service to their brothers and sisters. The exhortation of the great Prophet Isaiah should guide us. He called out to the ancient people of Israel “If you take away from the midst of you the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,” in other words, if we stay united, relieve one another of the burdens that this virus has placed on us, “if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday (Isaiah 58.10).” In the darkness of anxiety and sickness, in the gloom of the disruption of our lives, these words of the prophet point us to the True Light, Jesus Christ, the great Physician and Healer of our souls and bodies, who gave his life for us so that we might live with Him eternally.
May our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed eternally with the Heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit preserve us in these days and grant us health and his peace.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada
Locum Tenens of the New England,
and the Albanian Archdiocese