This call from His Beatitude Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine reflects the measures of both the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Moscow Patriarchate, with some specifics applicable to Ukraine. All the hierarchs are calling upon the faithful to be disciplined in this time of pandemic. However, the churches are not being closed, and Holy Communion is being made available to all.
I greet you from the heart, dear listeners, and I wish God’s blessings for everyone!
We are now undergoing a difficult time, we are experiencing woes; there is a contagious disease spreading around the world which is called the Coronavirus.
Sin is like a pill coated with shallow pleasure on the one side, and bitterness on the other. And when a person commits sin, he consumes this pill, and fills himself with bitterness. This is the bitterness of our common societal sin, and not that of one person, but of the whole world.
As in all cases of life, we can find a lesson for us in the Scriptures. There was such a page in human history when Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon arose. He conquered Egypt, defeated Pharaoh, and put an end to the Egyptian empire. And a new empire began—the Babylonian.
The Lord allowed Nebuchadnezzar to punish Israel because the Jews began to misbehave, to offend God, and commit sins. And so, the Lord sent Nebuchadnezzar unto them, who first came to Jerusalem, and took certain vessels from the Temple, then took many young men, and carried them away captive. And the Lord explained to the Jewish people through Jeremiah the Prophet, “I sent Nebuchadnezzar to you, because you have sinned a great deal; you must suffer for your sins. And then I will set you free.”
But the Jews did not want to do this. When Nebuchadnezzar came for the first time, and took the vessels and youths, after this they rebelled against him. Then Nebuchadnezzar for the second time came to Jerusalem, and inflicted more losses. He robbed the Temple, and took even more people, resettling them in Babylon. The Jews suffered a little, and again rebelled against him. Then finally, Nebuchadnezzar sent his military commander who sacked and ravaged Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and took almost all the Jews captive, and those powerful leaders who rebelled against him he brought to Babylon, and executed them there.
Nebuchadnezzar for us today is the Coronavirus. We must tolerate and suffer through it and correct our lives. We must, first of all, pray to God, and repent of our sins, because they are the reason that this spiritual Nebuchadnezzar is taking us prisoner.
We must not rebel against the [safety] regime which the coronavirus brings with it—technical and sanitary standards that must be followed to prevent the spread of this virus. We must comply with them, do not neglect this.
There are certain sanitary standards which do not necessarily destroy the coronavirus, but they stop it, do not allow it to spread. But the coronavirus is destroyed by the power of God, which comes to us through doctors and medicines. Therefore, I call upon you, as aforetime spoke the Prophet Jeremiah: be patient, repent and pray! And do what doctors tell you today, those who understand the safety precautions for this disease. Do it, but trust in God and try to correct your life. Because our sins are the cause of what happened to us.
Our Church has joined the campaign to isolate this virus. The first thing we do is pray in all churches and monasteries, that God will have mercy on us, and forgive us all our sins. We, Orthodox Christians of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, pray for all people, all Ukrainians—to forgive us all, because we all, to a certain extent, are to blame for what happens to us.
We ring the bells many times, because ringing them [with our prayers] destroys all kinds of infections and sicknesses.
We especially pray for the doctors who are at the forefront of this confrontation with coronavirus today. We try to provide not only prayerful help—we receive doctors in the monasteries, provide them with food, help them get to and from work. And in our monasteries, premises are being prepared to be used as last resort as field hospitals for the sick. And monasteries will not only provide these premises, but also serve people.
We make masks, and we buy and distribute hygiene products among the people for free.
We are developing a volunteer movement to deliver medicines, food and everything necessary for life, to older people who cannot do it on their own.
There are people who have already contracted coronavirus—what should we do with them? I appeal again to the Scriptures. The Bible says a lot about an infectious disease that was once called leprosy. According to God’s law, leprosy patients were isolated from communication with other people. And only when they were cured, they came to the priest (the priest was both a spiritual doctor and physical doctor), he examined the person and gave a conclusion and permission as to whether or not he was ready to enter into fellowship with others.
Today it follows the same pattern. Perhaps coronavirus is not equivalent to leprosy; this disease is milder, but it is still infectious. And people who contract this disease—as has happened, we wish them health—but they must pray at home, so that their presence in the church does not jeopardize those who are still healthy. Because it will not be for love, it will be for other reasons. God wants us to love one another. Love always asks: what can I sacrifice for the sake of my neighbor? Sacrifice for the sake of one's neighbor is called love. Where we are—in the hospital or in the apartment—there we must pray. Start praying there, take a prayer book, a Psalter, take the Gospel, another spiritual book and read, pray. Or just read “Our Father”, “Theotokos and Virgin rejoice”, the Jesus Prayer—and this will be unity with the body of the Church. Because it is not space that unites us, not physical distance. We unite around God with prayer and good deeds—this unites us with God. The church does not turn away from such people. Such a person can call a priest to himself, the priest will come and give confession, and commune them with the Mysteries of Christ.
Churches during this pandemic are the places where people are at peace and find comfort for themselves. Therefore, the churches will not close. But we must adhere to the sanitary standards that exist today, and bring into the church not as before, hundreds of people, but start with just two. It is better to pre-arrange with the priest over the phone that we wish to take communion, and the priest will set the time, people will be able to come, to quietly confess, and partake in the healing of the soul and body.
May God help us to be disciplined. Because self-discipline is always needed, especially when in dangerous times
We are ready to help people who don’t have the means to survive during the coronavirus pandemic as much as we can. Whoever is in need—contact the Church. We will help however we can.
More than anything, turn to God, with God everything is possible. He will send as much as you need— for both bodily and spiritual life.