Protopriest Andrei Sommer Protopriest Andrei Sommer, Dean of the Synodal Cathedral of Our Lady “of the Sign” of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in New York was a few miles away from the Twin Towers that were destroyed in a terror attack on September 11, 2001. Some 19 years later, he is in the epicenter of another tragedy—the coronavirus pandemic, which hit New York City worse than other American cities. The extremists of 2001 killed almost 3,000 people, the virus has not taken the lives of over twice as many Americans, and the number is growing. Fr Andrei talks to the “Foma” journal about then and now.
It’s Very Hard to Perform Divine Services Behind Closed Doors
We are living in strange, even terrible, times. We observe the demands by authorities not to gather in large numbers, and so our churches are closed to parishioners. But divine services in our Synodal Cathedral continue on a daily basis, as they have since the 1950’s. We live-stream them on the internet so that people can at least pray along at home. Parishioners call us and ask to submit commemoration slips.
For me, it’s very hard to perform divine services behind closed doors. I hope that we can show the government that the Church is also a hospital, a spiritual one. Unfortunately, the non-Orthodox society cannot grasp that. Look at how many healers there are among the host of our saints, and we pray to them, ask their help, and receive it.
We must remember that church is not a place where sinners are punished for their sins. Here, people receive the grace of God, relief and healing—not just spiritual, but physical healing.
On September 11, the Enemy Was Apparent, Now We Fear the Unknown
If we compare today with September 11, 2001, our feelings are different. Then, New York was completely shut off, you couldn’t enter it. Now you still can.
But the main difference was that on September 11, the enemy was apparent, embodied in actual persons. Now we fear the unknown. We don’t know how long this will last, we don’t know if we can heal the sick. I think this uncertainty frightens people more than anything.