Governments around the world turned Pascha 2020 into a livestream event. As unsettling as that was, most Orthodox bishops put the best spin possible on the situation. It was temporary, we were assured by our Shepherds in Christ. This was a “crisis.” Our governments had only our safety in mind. Everything would eventually go back to “normal.” Only “fanatics” would oppose reasonable policies to save lives from a deadly virus. Even as the last year wore on and restrictions continued, we were counseled to have patience. Now that a second Pascha in the Age of Covid has passed, we can clearly see that for millions of Orthodox Christians, “normal” is nowhere in sight.
In Greece, the bishops agreed to begin the Paschal services at 9 p.m. on Saturday to comply with a curfew. Celebrating the Resurrection of Christ on the 2nd Day is absolutely uncanonical. As should be no surprise, not all Greek priests were willing to go along. So far, we know about six priests from Thessaloniki who dared to hold Paschal services at the appointed time in violation of the curfew. These heroic priests are now facing charges:
Six priests from Thessaloniki began the Easter service according to the tradition of the Church – at midnight from Holy Saturday to Resurrection. Now they will stand trial. The Greek authorities have opened a case of violation of quarantine measures against six priests from Thessaloniki, who refused to serve the Paschal Matins and Liturgy at 21.00, according to the publication Vima Orthodox . According to the publication, the case was brought against the priests, who, according to the tradition of the Church, began Easter Matins at midnight from Holy Saturday to Resurrection.
At the same time, in connection with the current measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, the Greek authorities, together with the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, decided that Easter services should begin at 21.00 on Holy Saturday.
We must pray for them as they face this persecution. In Cyprus, the government demanded the Church limit attendance to only 50 faithful, all of whom had to provide proof of vaccination. Otherwise you had to be in the courtyard. Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphou issued a stinging rebuke of this mandate.
Vaccines were not required only in Cyprus. Admittance to the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem was restricted to only the fully vaccinated:
The faithful gathered at The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, waiting for clergymen to emerge with the Holy Fire from the Edicule, a chamber built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was buried and rose from the dead after being crucified.
Only a few people in the church wore masks, and there was no distancing. Entry was restricted to those who were fully vaccinated.
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee has ordered churches to segregate congregations into vaccinated and non-vaccinated sections. George M. Cantonis, President of Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, announced in an email that all students, faculty, and staff will be required to be fully vaccinated by August 17, 2021. No word on what will happen to those who have a moral or practical objection to experimental vaccines which make use of aborted fetal cells. One would assume either distance learning, or a transfer to a more Orthodox seminary would be required.
While all of this is happening, in Canada churches are being closed, services interrupted, and pastors being arrested for “inciting people to go to church.”
15 days to slow the spread has turned into forever, and the persecution of those who refuse to go along is only beginning. As we go forward into an unknown future, all Christians, Orthodox and otherwise, need to keep some essential things in mind for the good of our own souls.
Praying for the Government Doesn’t Mean Accepting Tyranny
Orthodox Christians pray for their government leaders and strive to follow laws as good citizens. Our obedience, however, is not absolute. Orthodox Christians are not required to surrender the practice of our faith simply because the government demands it. Quite the opposite, in fact:
In everything that concerns the exclusively earthly order of things, the Orthodox Christian is obliged to obey the law, regardless of how far it is imperfect and unfortunate. However, when compliance with legal requirements threatens his eternal salvation and involves an apostasy or commitment of another doubtless sin before God and his neighbor, the Christian is called to perform the feat of confession for the sake of God’s truth and the salvation of his soul for eternal life. He must speak out lawfully against an indisputable violation committed by society or state against the statutes and commandments of God. If this lawful action is impossible or ineffective, he must take up the position of civil disobedience
Christians have allowed governments to close our churches, limit our attendance at divine services, dictate our liturgical practices, change the day of Pascha, and even arrest our priests for following the canons as they were taught. Where the line is between “apostasy” and “doubtless sin” can be debated, but our current compliance is surely one or the other or both. Orthodox Christians may bear all things for Christ, but we are not called to passively accept attacks on our Faith. As Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphou said of the situations in Greece and Cyprus:
One who lives The Resurrection may also Protest! The people of the New World Order are scared of this. As it seems these people want the Orthodox to celebrate Pascha not on the 3rd Day, the Day it should be, on the Sunday.
For most of her history, the Orthodox Church ministered to the faithful under various monarchies. Monarchy is a system of government that has little to do with our modern concepts of freedom and human rights. Even under practically absolutist monarchies, however, the Holy Fathers distinguished between real monarchy and tyranny. St. Gregory was an opponent of Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate. Gregory called Julian a “universal enemy.” Gregory explicitly denied that Julian’s power was from God and thus worthy of obedience:
“What demon instilled this thought in you? If every authority were acknowledged as sacred by the very fact of its existence, Christ the Savior would not have called Herod ‘that fox’. The Church would not hitherto have denounced ungodly rulers who defended heresies and persecuted Orthodoxy. Of course, if one judges an authority on the basis of its outward power, and not on its inner, moral worthiness, one may easily bow down to the beast, i.e. the Antichrist, ‘whose coming will be with all power and lying wonders’ (II Thessalonians 2.9), to whom ‘power was given… over all kindred, and tongues, and nations. And all that dwelt upon the earth shall worship him, whose names were not written in the book of life of the Lamb’ (Revelation 13.7-8).”
“Pandemic” or not, the Church cannot continue to bow down to, and cooperate with, tyranny without serious consequences. One of which could be our eventual submission to the Antichrist. We cannot hide behind “obedience to the law” and pretend that our cowardice is some kind of virtue.
Bishops Can’t Just Do Whatever They Want
In an article titled The Broken Covenant, an anonymous group of OCA clergy makes it very clear that the office of the bishop is not all-powerful. Bishops are obliged to preserve the Faith as it was given to them. They are not empowered to add to, or subtract from, the Orthodox Faith. The obedience of the clergy and the Faithful to the bishops is conditioned on their adherence to Holy Tradition:
We have been hearing about personal obedience to the bishop. We priests and have always been servants of Christ and the Church. Now we are servants to the bishops? Priests have been told that they were not to think only to obey. The implication is that the bishop will think for the priest. Every Liturgy we pray being endowed with the grace of the priesthood. We ask God to cleanse our soul of an evil conscience. The pure witness of our priestly conscience has been replaced with the bishop’s conscience alone. Freewill is replaced with tyranny of a temporal magisterium that can change from day to day. This is the definition of a cult and not the Holy Church. We did not swear obedience to a bishop for anything outside the Holy Tradition. The bishop has no authority in the parish or the life of a priest where he departs from it.
For priests who have faithfully served for years to suddenly be labeled unfaithful because they are presiding over Liturgical worship “in accordance with the Tradition and norms of the Church” is alarming. Saving people from temporal death is not our job! Everyone in the history of the world has thus far died. The Church has one job and only one! And that is to offer the antidote for death which was entrusted to the apostles. The same is given to every priest, as well as to the Bishop. The antidote is not a vaccine. It is Christ.
Recognizing the limits on the authority of bishops is Orthodoxy, not Protestantism. The bishops cannot make vaccination a criterion to attend Divine Liturgy or to seek ordination. It is outside the scope of their power. Doing so, even under the guise of “the law,” is an abuse of their authority as bishops. Governments do not have the right to change the practice of the Orthodox Faith. Neither do the bishops.
The Russian Orthodox Church and other foreign hierarchs have denounced “vaccine passports.” Unfortunately, in North America, we are only aware of Archbishop Mark of Philadelphia and Eastern America (Orthodox Church in America) taking a stand that vaccination cannot become a prerequisite for participation in Church life:
The past year has truly been a rollercoaster ride for all of us and we need to be mindful and considerate of those suffering from isolation, fear, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and loneliness, as well as those who have lost loved ones. Additionally, divisions occurred as people lost the ability to discuss differing opinions on a variety of matters. Hopefully, we are encouraged by the drastic decrease in the number of hospitalizations and deaths attributed to COVID 19 since mid-January, even before significant numbers were administered the experimental COVID 19.
As your Bishop, I insist each of you respect the conscience and privacy of your brothers and sisters in Christ. No one is to be asked if he or she has or has not received the injections. No one is to be denied full participation in the Divine Services or parish life regardless of his or her decision. No one should be judged or criticized one way or the other.
We Must Overcome Moral Blackmail
We need to be very, very clear. We are not in a scientific debate. There is no “science” supporting lockdowns, mask mandates, mandatory vaccines, closing schools, curfews, and closing churches. Here is a link to 27 studies that prove lockdowns do not work to save lives. This is a link to an article from an MD and former editor of a medical journal in which he states, “Based on extensive review and analysis, there is no question in my mind that healthy people should not be wearing surgical or cloth masks. Nor should we be recommending universal masking of all members of the population.” He is just one of thousands of researchers and physicians who oppose mandatory masking of healthy individuals. MIT researchers recently found that, “The risk of being exposed to Covid-19 indoors can be as great at 60 feet as it is at 6 feet in a room where the air is mixed.” There is no science behind the magic “six-foot” rule or the “three-foot” rule. It was all made up.
As for vaccines, their potential side effects and lack of benefit make them of little use, except perhaps for those at advanced age and substantially elevated risk. Dr. Michael Yeadon, Pfizer’s former Vice President and Chief Scientist for Allergy & Respiratory, spent 32 years in the industry leading new medicines research. Dr. Yeadon has publicly rejected the ongoing mass vaccination campaign:
In the U.K., it’s abundantly clear that the authorities are bent on a course which will result in administering ‘vaccines’ to as many of the population as they can. This is madness, because even if these agents were legitimate, protection is needed only by those at notably elevated risk of death from the virus. In those people, there might even be an argument that the risks are worth bearing. And there definitely are risks which are what I call ‘mechanistic’: inbuilt in the way they work.
There has been no logical cost / benefit analysis of any of these measures, including the vaccines. After over a year, we have massive empirical data which is being followed in places like Florida and Texas, while being ignored elsewhere. For anyone paying attention, there appears to be a concerted effort by powerful political and commercial interests to subvert reality for power and profit.
If this were a scientific debate on the merits, then we would have already closed the door on Covid and moved on with our lives.
While the facts are against them, the pro-Covid forces have a powerful weapon. Christians are particularly vulnerable to “moral blackmail.” Instead of fighting Christianity, the powers-that-be have learned to co-opt and weaponize Christian concepts such as self-sacrifice, unselfishness, protecting the least among us, etc. We have many examples of this from all over the Orthodox world, but one recent attack on a Roman Catholic priest by a left-wing Christian group is very illuminating:
The new Faithful America petition states in part, “As Christians who follow a healing savior, we are called to care for the sick and respect the God-given laws of nature. Right now, that means supporting vaccines, masks and social distancing, just like Pope Francis. Fr. Altman is endangering not only his own parishioners but every essential worker they meet, and should be removed from St. James the Less Catholic Church before he can risk even one more life.”
If you rely on science to question the narrative, you are endangering people. You are selfish. You are risking people’s lives. You are, in fact, a bad person. Christians lacking proper spiritual discernment, and this includes many bishops, fall for this moral blackmail, repeat it, and justify it. “If it saves one life…” so we hear, time and again. But we never hear about the vaccine injuries and deaths, the broken lives, the suicides, the economic devastation, the health risks of masks, and the spiritual harm. Those things are simply ignored as our moral leaders embrace a faith which is not Christian, but rather something entirely new – a globalist, syncretistic faith that uses Christian language to disguise something wholly Satanic.
It is not selfish to “follow the science” for real, as opposed to the fake science which is little more than “follow the leader.” It is not selfish to live and worship as God intended, free of the fear of death. It is not selfish to forego experimental vaccines out of concern for one’s own, God-given health. It is not selfish or anti-social to protect our children from the impacts of masks and the threat of long-term effects from unproven vaccines they do not need.
As Orthodox Christians, we need Apostolic leadership in the face of increasing persecution. Unfortunately, in too many places such leadership has been in short supply. Nevertheless, we must continue to pray for the illumination of our bishops. As we do, we must tell the truth and live our lives openly, without fear, trusting that God will care for us and supply us with the leaders we need. Despite all that is around us, in this Paschal period, we can triumphantly shout, “O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen.”
Keep the faith, and do not despair, for as Psalm 91 proclaims:
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
Nicholas – member of the Western Rite Vicariate, a part of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese in America, a COVID refugee from the Greek Archdiocese