Orthodox Churches moving to outdoor services to combat coronavirus

Bucharest, March 19, 2020

An earlier outdoor service celebrated by His Eminence Metropolitan Sergei of Ternopil An earlier outdoor service celebrated by His Eminence Metropolitan Sergei of Ternopil     

As the coronavirus epidemic continues to spread, the Synods and hierarchs of the various Local Orthodox Churches throughout the world have issued a wide variety of resolutions and guidelines for the parishes and monasteries within their respective jurisdictions.

Some have called for all services to be put on hold, while others have ruled that services will continue with only the priest and a small number of servers and chanters and possibly a small number of parishioners, and others have said that all services will continue as usual. In many places, the Synods and hierarchs have had to act in concert with guidelines coming down from their respective states.

Others, such as the Romanian Patriarchate, have moved to holding all services outdoors, where the faithful have more room to spread out and hopefully not come into contact with any parishioners who may be carrying the virus.

The updated guidelines published by the Chancellery of the Romanian Holy Synod yesterday call on “All parishes and monasteries to respect the measures ordered by the public authorities and cooperate with them, while also ensuring the religious freedom of the believers to participate in the liturgical life of the Church and to receive spiritual assistance.”

To continue the liturgical life of the Church, the guidelines also state that “religious services will be officiated only outdoors, usually near the place of worship (outdoor altar or porch), with the participation of maximum 100 people, keeping a distance of at least one meter between participants.”

The Romanian Patriarchate includes the Metropolia of Bessarabia in Moldova. Likewise, the Metropolis of Chișinău and All Moldova of the Moscow Patriarchate recently announced that Liturgies on the upcoming 3rd and 4th Sundays of Great Lent should be served outdoors on specially erected temporary altars.

Additionally, the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church issued an address to its flock yesterday, also calling for clergy to celebrate the services throughout the day and outdoors depending on how many parishioners are present.

The statement reads:

Taking into account the restrictions set by the state on the number of persons who can be present during the Divine service (as of today it is 10 people), it is considered permissible, if necessary, to conduct the Sacraments of Confession and Communion throughout the day. In this case, the church should be constantly open so that the faithful can visit it in small groups. If there is a larger number of believers in the church than is allowed, the service can be held in the churchyard under the open sky. At the same time, those present will be able to be located at such a distance from each other, as stipulated by the current sanitary and epidemiological standards.

The Synod also calls on its flock not to panic, which is a manifestation of little faith. Rather, the faithful should ask God for forgiveness of sins through prayer and fasting.

“According to the historical examples of our Church, its pastors should zealously lift up their prayers, fervently celebrating in the churches all the appointed Divine services and molebens with the blessing of water for health and the overcoming of infection with the ringing of the bells and the sprinkling of the cities and villages with holy water,” the statement continues.

The Synod has also issued special prayers to be offered against the virus during the Divine services.

“Thanks to such sincere Church prayers, the Lord has repeatedly sent His gracious help and stopped deadly epidemics in the history of our people. We believe that the current epidemic will be overcome by joint and intensified prayers and labors,” the Synod affirms.

The hierarchs also call on the clergy and faithful to observe heightened standards of hygiene, including frequently disinfecting icons and drinking zapivka wine from separate disposable cups.

“Therefore, in faith and love, as true Christians, we will meet all the trials alowed by God and with sincere prayer to our Heavenly intercessor, the Most Holy Theotokos, and all the saints, we will give ourselves and each other, and our entire life to Christ God!” the Synod concludes.

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