Lessons of a Pandemic

Bishop Pitirim (Tvorogov) of Zvenigorod, Rector of the Moscow Theological Academy in Sergiev Posad, became infected with the new coronavirus in church, despite the strict observance of hygienic norms throughout the academy. We present here a translation of Vladyka’s story taken from his blog and Facebook page about the spread of infection within the walls of the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra and the Academy.

Bishop Pitirim (Tvorogov). Photo: mpda.ru Bishop Pitirim (Tvorogov). Photo: mpda.ru     

April 17

Rumors are circulating about me. In order to stop the spread of false information, I am informing you that my sister and I have a lighter form of the coronavirus and today was a turning point in the course of the illness—our sense of smell has returned. What can be said about this infection, based upon my personal experience? It is very tricky and you can never know whether it will spare you or kill you. The worse thing is the psychological tension from waiting.

It is very easy to get infected. I was infected in church at the services—although in the Academy, we strictly observed the hygienic norms. I was infected by airborne droplets. Here is my answer to all those who insist that it is impossible to get infected in a church. You sure can! At the first slight signs of the illness—to which in others times I would not have paid any attention—I took a test, which turned out positive. And although the Academy was already under quarantine, I went into very strict self-isolation.

Since Tuesday, I and my sister have been reading the Lenten Services according to the texts published on the Patriarchal website. We remembered our youth! And now we are continuing to conduct the services in reclusion. Enormous thanks to those who thought to put the whole, prepared services online! Well, and most important: take care of yourself and others, and don’t leave your homes. There are many more people infected than we know about officially. Eventually practically everyone will get sick, but the main thing is for us not to all get sick at the same time. And may God grant that we would all get lucky and the illness would pass in its lighter form. I wish you all good health! And greet you with Great and Holy Saturday—the time of silence!

April 24

We can now draw our first conclusions from the coronavirus that has hit us. The main thing is the role that our hierarchy has in crisis situations. During cataclysmic times, the Lord gives wisdom to people through their rulers and authorities. No priests, elders and eldresses, even the most grace-filled, clairvoyant, etc., can know completely how we should act in moments of social disaster and turmoil. The first to determine the right action is His Holiness the Patriarch, and after him, the bishops. Secular authorities can also be given good reasoning from God about what we need to do in one or another dead-end situation. And when people stop listening to spiritual and secular authorities, even if they are guided by the best intentions, the road to hell is opened. The punishment itself has come due to a deep-rooted habit of decrying authorities. And it won’t go away if we continue to criticize our leaders even for their mistakes, which are unavoidable in such circumstances.

We have to have understanding, patience, and humility. Well, and most importantly, repentance. We, my friends, have become very spoiled lately; we have forgotten about the living God, replacing Him with frequent Communion, feasts and pleasant fasts, rites, cross processions, and pilgrimages. This is all of course very good, but what is the aim? The aim is our salvation. So now the Lord has turned us back to that one and only aim toward which we should be striving.

April 25

The second and most important pandemic lesson. I was greatly criticized for coming out with a call to not go to the churches during the pandemic. My critics even demanded “ironclad proof” that I was infected precisely in church, and not in some other place.

At the present moment, the history of the infection has been exactly established, and we’ll try to trace its origin. According to my custom, I served all the Liturgies during Great Lent. Serving with me in the final weeks of the fast were Hierodeacon Innocent and newly-tonsured Monk Mikhei—the most zealous monks. Fr. Innocent got sick first, and after him I did, and then Mikhei.

The first COVID sick person in the Academy was a graduate student who sang in the Lavra choir. The largest number of students were infected there in the choir loft, where there are ideal conditions for the spread of infection.

Priests have placed and are placing themselves at great risk by hearing confessions. At greatest risk are those who don’t avoid the people, those who humbly offer themselves as a sacrifice to the sickness in feeble hopes that the sick parishioners will stay home. But their hopes were not justified.

Great Monday. Morning. The gates of the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra are closed. Standing before them is an angry crowd, demanding that the Lavra be opened. The protesters behave themselves very aggressively, cursing and swearing. Vladyka Paramon opens the Lavra for all of Holy Week and Pascha.

The pestilence began on Great Friday. Our best clergymen got sick, some seriously. Vladyka Paramon [the abbot of the Lavra] also got sick; I got sick, as well as the Lavra elders and one of ours in the Academy. On Great Friday, appropriately, we were all nailed to the cross. And below the cross, also appropriately, was a crowd demanding a miracle. The miracle didn’t happen.

We have been criticized for abandoning the people. This is not true. We could only answer in one way—by getting sick ourselves, so that seeing our suffering, people would have pity on those who are still healthy; on their bishops, priests, and cantors.

Lying in the ICU, dying from pain and suffocation (today I saw such critically ill patients, moaning from pain and shortness of breath), we are silently asking our parishioners: “Have pity on us, and on those who are still alive, still healthy. Have pity on the doctors and medical personnel—they are dying on duty, not sparing themselves. Have pity on them!

Who will guide you spiritually, who will give you Communion, who will treat you in your illness, who will delight you with beautiful church singing if a portion of us dies, and another portion becomes invalids with lungs damaged by fibrosis?! I had a lighter form of the disease, but today the CAT scan showed partial fibrosis of the lungs. And what will happen to those who were critically ill? We—the clergy and church servants—get sick more often than anyone. Have pity on us! After all, the Lord has said to us all: “I will have mercy and not sacrifice!”


To our great sorrow, during Great Lent and Bright Week we have heard about the deaths of a number of well-known clergy and servants of the Russian Orthodox Church due to complications from COVID-19. One of the first was a deacon of the ROCOR, Deacon Alexander Gusev from Nevada. In Russia a number of those known to us have fallen victim to the virus:

On Sunday, April 26, His Grace Bishop Benjamin of Zheleznogorsk and Lgov, 55, reposed in the Lord.

We also lost Archpriest Alexander Ageikin and Archdeacon Evgeny Trofimov of the Elokhov Cathedral of the Theophany in Moscow. Fr. Alexander died at age 49 on Bright Tuesday, and Fr. Evgeny at age 61, on Bright Saturday.

On April 29, Mitred Archpriest Giorgiy Breyev, Rector of the Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos in Kryaltsky region, Moscow, reposed at age 83. Fr. Giorgiy was a highly respected spiritual father, and confessor to the clergy of the Northeastern region of Moscow. He began his service to the Church at an early age, and restored two churches in Moscow: first, the Church of the Life-Giving Spring in Tsarytsino, and second, his church of the Nativity of the Theotokos in Krylatsky. First in Tsarytsyno and then in Krylatsky, Fr. Giorgiy cultivated a whole battalion of new priests who would go on to serve in newly built churches across those heavily populated regions.

In the Minsk diocese, Priest Gennady Butko of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, reposed on April 29 at the age of 57, after a serious illness caused by the coronavirus. He leaves behind four children: Oksana, Valery, Anna, and Konstantin.

A graduate of the Sretensky Seminary, Mikhail Petrukhno, died on Padonitsa, April 28. His mother said that his temperature rose just five days before, and he literally burned out like a candle.

We don’t have a precise number of those who have come down with COVID-19 in the Holy Trinity St. Sergius Lavra, the Academy, the Kiev-Caves Lavra, the Pochaev Lavra, Diveyevo Convent, the St. Elizabeth Convent in Minsk, and other monasteries and parishes on the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church, but there are very many sick. Glory be to God, most of the St. Sergius Lavra monks have recovered, as well as has His Eminence Archbishop Jonah of Obukhov of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, abbot of Holy Trinity-St. Jonas Monastery in Kiev and head of the Synodal Department for Youth Affairs.

Bishop Paramon (Golubka), abbot of the St. Sergius Lavra, is hospitalized with double pneumonia in stable condition.

Also hospitalized with COVID-19 on April 24 is Metropolitan Dionysiy (Porubai), the abbot of NovoSpassky (New Savior) Monastery in Moscow. Met. Dionysiy is also the chairman of the patriarchal working group, and first vicar of Patriarch Kirill. According to the patriarchal website, he is in stable condition. Several other monks of that monastery are also sick with the coronavirus.

Bishop Foma (Mosolov) of Pavlovo-Posadsk, who was appointed to the Elokhov Cathedral of the Theophany in place of the reposed Fr. Alexander Ageikin, was likewise hospitalized and is reportedly in stable condition.

On of our respected authors, Archpriest Alexander (Shargunov), age 79, is in ICU in critical condition, with a very high probability of coronavirus infection. Fr. Alexander is a well-known Moscow priest, and rector of the Church of St. Nicholas in Pyzhi. Also ill are his deacon and two altar attendants. His son, Deputy of the State Duma Sergei Shargunov, has publicly asked people to pray for Fr. Alexander. Fr. Alexander is doubly at risk—by virtue of age, and having battled with cancer. People close to him have commented unofficially that his parishioners begged him to serve on Pascha, and he did so against his own heavy feelings and intuition.

We ask our readers to pray for the repose of those who have died, for the speedy recovery of those who are still suffering from the effects of coronavirus infection, and for the health of all the clergy and choirs!

sherlock_holmes5/20/2020 6:13 am
" What we're living now is the beginning of the World War, it's a biological war. And especially it's a war of fear. If you can scare the people, you can do whatever you want. Not just vaccines... " Metropolitan of Morfou Neofytos ! Post Script:If they impose mandatory vaccination and continue persecuting the Church, it will hasten the outbreak of the kinetic World War. If not by the end of the year, then in a year...my guess !
A Greek of Constantinople.5/10/2020 10:16 pm
I do not believe it will be wise to lift any restrictions until a vaccine or proven cure is found. Even though I think it will take some time for that.. and yes Christmas may yet pass until then. Especially when "we scientists and doctors", people "with out a proper medical background" lecture a hospitalized bishop, making an online diagnosis, and claim that ".. COVID-19 actually near the middle of the spectrum, bubonic plague at the extreme end and common flu or cold at the opposite end." Even a student can tell you the bubonic plague (meaning the non pulmonary type) is caused by a gram negative bacterium, and not a positive single stranded RNA virus like SARS-CoV-2. But I am not responding to that post, in the comments. Death for God's sake, is what I am replying to and you will find that the majority of the comments have to do with that. If you are all such people of faith and are not afraid to die for God's sake.. Why then do you not make your way to Tehran or Mecca, and proclaim Christ to non-believers? Surely you share in the laurels and be crowned with a martyrs death. Yet I do not believe any of you who expect the Orthodox child, grandmother, and grandfather, the deacon, the priest, and me to "to have courage when facing death" or "aren't afraid of death,for God's sake!", don't have the courage yourselves to face the martyrs death you so much desire.. Because you would have already done it! If a crusade was proclaimed today, how many of you "hardcore" would go an fight for Christ to liberate our Christian homelands in Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and all of North Africa?! Not even one. Because you would have already done it and joined the fighting to help the Orthodox in Bosnia, Kosovo, the Donbass and Syria already. So please spear me the theatrics and brave words to show off your "zeal". You expect others to be willing to die for Christ, yet none of you have done the same even though God provided you with plenty of chances to do so. I even bet that all of you "hardcore" commentators sat home during Easter yourselves. So please, have some respect for the people whose lives you are putting in danger, humble and heal your selves first before you try to heal the supposed cowardice and spiritual decadence of others.
sherlock_holmes5/10/2020 1:36 pm
Motto:" Some glory in chariots,some in horses,But in the name of the Lord our God we shall be magnified.".............As soon as restrictions will be lifted,the same people, faithful laity and hierarchy, the same virus (without vaccination or cure), churches will reopen,jobs...I'm curious how the speeches will change then, who the zealots will be ? Or all of a sudden ,like a miracle,nothing will happen until or close to Christmas ?! Post Script:Good thing there are still people who aren't afraid of death,for God's sake !
A Greek of Constantinople.5/9/2020 11:07 am
This is "A Greek of Constantinople". Firstly, let us put our differences aside so that I may offer my deepest condolences for the losses the Russian Church and its clergy who have been decimated from Covid-19 and my thoughts on the people of Moscow who are hard hit by the epidemic. Now, I have read the article, including the comments and shook my head in disappointment (again). This is exactly why I am against zealots in the Church and why I utterly oppose them. I agree completely with Nun Cornelia, as this is the right mindset in these times and I may add it is the most Christian like approach as well. Unfortunately as we see from the events, not many people possess common sense.. and such people are dangerous for the public in times like this. While some other commentators exhibit pharisaic traits, and one attempts to out compete the other in showing us how more of a hardcore Orthodox and a "true" follower of Christ he is. By protesting the closure of Churches and demanding to have his Easter, the same pharisee also exhibits his selfishness and all those traits Jesus criticized in them. Meanwhile not caring about the people around them they infect and their families whose lives they put in danger. These people know next to nothing about virology and epidemiology. However they do know how to put their selves first, as one put it.. Who will give him communion before HE dies. Who will hear HIS confession, and finally who will bury HIM properly. I assure you, God listens to your prayers even when you are not physically present in Church. God would not refuse to hear your (sincere) confessions, as you weep over the pillow of your own bed. Finally, God would accept you in his Kingdom if you truly merit it, even if your corpse was dumped in an unmarked grave or lost at sea. How selfish and arrogant some parishioners are? I remember just before Easter when the same individuals attacked the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Church of Greece for closing his Churches on this very site for shutting the flock out, and allowing very small services for online streaming. Now do you understand why? Not because they are "antichrist, freemason, eccumenist, sellouts", as some put it. But because we anticipated the scenario the Russian Church and Moscow is currently going through, and we unanimously accepted to humble ourselves and stay home for the greater good. Missing one Easter in order to lessen the burden on our hospitals and especially to prevent certain spread and unnecessary death. Look at Greece today.. Low number of infections and deaths. The Church, both clergy and laity intact. I genuinely believe Christ is more touched by being considerate and thinking about the well being of your neighbor, than angry protests to open services and long prostrations by the very same profanity swinging flock in a packed Church during the peak of a pandemic. It seems some people should open and examine the scriptures and perhaps learn something from Christ. Also wonder, if so much unnecessary death among the ranks of the clergy and laity was justified. Perhaps this rational of yours, and I am talking to the usual "hardcore" Orthodox commentators, will seem worthy in the eyes of God.
Maximos5/6/2020 3:03 pm
I will not insist more. It is not about refusing sanitary measures and authorities' recommendations but about the closing of Churches and putting the preservation of bodies above all things. Most doctors do not feel compelled but are forced to "save" lives and I know it directly from doctors that work on the frontline of treating this disease. I am not denying that the virus exists (and of course some measures should be taken), but the crisis is an entirely different problem and a huge lie. Lies have invaded the entire world. There is too much evidence of it. Many doctors have started to speak about it. Many families that have recently buried closed ones tell that they are forced or offered money to declare covid as their cause of death. Although I am not russian, I live in an Orthodox country and my child has grown up with stories of russian saints and their miracles in healing people's sickness, with childrens's stories of wonderworking icons... even with russian animated movies about miraculous redemption from disease. All of them are based on the life of our saints. What would you tell a child like her? To have... common sense? The common sense of this world? > "A church that is deemed useless in a time of crisis like this is also useless in normal times." From a great article about the present crisis that you've published also at https://orthochristian.com/130850.html > St. Nikolai Velimirovich on the world economic crisis: "Previously the Europeans, when some trouble befell them, used the word “judgment” instead of the word “crisis”. These days the word “judgment” is replaced with the word “crisis”, a clear word with one less clear. A drought would come and people would say – “God’s judgment!” Flood – “God’s judgment!” A war or epidemic would start – “God’s judgment!” Earthquakes, locust, other trials, always the same – “God’s judgment!” Therefore, crisis is because of the drought, because of the flood, of the wars and epidemics. And people see the present financial, economic catastrophe as God’s judgment, but they call it “crisis” rather than “judgment”. So that the trouble would increase from lack of reason! Because when the clear word “judgment” was said, the reason that led to the trouble was clear, and the Judge who allowed the trouble was known, and so was the purpose for which the trouble was allowed. But after replacing the word “judgment” with the word “crisis”, which is unclear for the most, no one can explain why it is, from whom, and for what. And this is the only thing in which this crisis differs from the crisis that happens from drought and flood, war or epidemic, locust or other tribulation. [...] How long will the crisis last? Until the proud culprits acknowledge the victory of the All-Powerful. Until the people would realize that they have to translate the unclear word “crisis” into their native language and would exclaim with the repentant sigh, “God’s judgment!” Therefore you, honest Father, should also call “crisis” “God’s judgment”, and you will understand everything. Greetings to you and the Lord’s peace!"
Nun Cornelia5/5/2020 9:57 pm
Maximos: Seems to me that people are really confusing things. I think that the hierarchy's directions to refrain from going to church during a pandemic simply cannot be compared to complying with heretical teachings. Truly, this is a problem that simply has to have some intervention from civil authorities. Of course we know that it could all be used against us afterward the epidemic has passed, but shouldn't we really be concentrating on saving lives for now, and deal with the rest when it happens? Shouldn't we really be trusting in God, that He will show us what to do, including through our Church hierarchy? I don't think it takes much spiritual discernment to see that safety measures have to be taken during crises of this kind. I have read quite a few saints' Lives, and have never seen anything that would point to some supposed heroism in refusing to comply with civil authorities during a serious epidemic, with regards to large gatherings and hygienic measures. And yes, there have always been epidemics. But there are many things we know now about epidemics that we didn't know in earlier times. You might even say that there is more compassion in medical spheres towards massive illness now than there has been in earlier times. Nowadays the doctors feel compelled to save everyone. That hasn't always been the case. We need some plain old common sense here.
Maximos5/5/2020 5:52 pm
Nun Cornelia, please, with all due respect, understand that my words come from sadness caused by the current situation. I partially agree with you and I partially don't, I cannot. Obedience is also essential for saving ourselves. And we have obeyed, we've obeyed ecumenism, friendship with the pope, common prayers with them and other heretic church rulers, acceptance of schism (in some countries) and many more. And we obey now… It is of course due to our sins that God has allowed such rulers for the Orthodox Church, new Athenagoras. And we must obey and endure this I believe but also repent from our sins. And this is how I know that the love and compassion that are preached now are politically correct concepts used for controlling: I know it because almost no one speaks about repentance, clearly, publicly, trying to lead the Church back into the right direction at this last hour. I was not trying to suggest the convocation of a council, I simply brought up synodality based on Tradition because this separates us from heretics too, to show that our life in the Church is based on different relations. I am not denying the existence of this virus. But I am not that afraid of it as I am afraid of what our Church will look like in its aftermath. And of how I am standing before God if these are my final days. Have I confessed, have I rightfully taken the Holy Communion, how will I be buried if I die? Christianity has met sickness, pestilences, invasions before, far worse than what we are facing now, many many times. Please read the lives of our Saints, please go to the source of our Holy Tradition. According to the above article, one can draw the conclusion that Saints of our Church have also been mean, lacking compassion and love and disobedient too. If our compassion and love are above our love of God and His Church then it is false love, it is a lie. May God give us strength to see our sins, our lack of faith and courage!
nun Cornelia5/5/2020 2:14 pm
Maximos: To me, the saddest thing is all the theoretical discussion about the nature of the virus, and little or no sympathy for the sick, dead, and dying. It is really too early to talk about irrefutable scientific findings. But we do know, very sadly, that in Russia, and especially in Moscow, there has been an enormous rise in infections and deaths, all just after Pascha. As you know, the Patriarch asked people to refrain from going to church until the epidemic is over. But many people went anyway, and a number of monasteries and churches opened up to people--some under pressure by the parishioners, others at their own volition. Now there are very many infected, and Russia has lost a number of respected clergymen. A member of the Sretensky choir has died, and we don't know who will be next. To me it is quite clear that the Patriarch was right. In Orthodoxy, we do have obedience. There is no time in an epidemic to call a council and decide in a conciliar way. I simply don't understand why this is such an issue with people. Perhaps the situation in the U.S. is different, but here in Russia, people really need to stay home. Otherwise we will see an Italy scenario, with hospitals overfull, and frightening numbers of doctors dying.
Maximos5/5/2020 10:55 am
It is utterly saddening that the emphasis put on science in the discussion below draws us far away from the center of the problem. Also it was a painful reading to me, this article, I am so sad to say it. One affirmation stood out to me: "No priests, elders and eldresses, even the most grace-filled, clairvoyant, etc., can know completely how we should act in moments of social disaster and turmoil. The first to determine the right action is His Holiness the Patriarch, and after him, the bishops. Secular authorities can also be given good reasoning from God about what we need to do in one or another dead-end situation." But we are not catholics, the orthodox way of decision making is synodality, first and foremost. Not the organisational structure that is characteristic of papacy. Accordingly, believers and all ranks of the clergy are an integral part of the body of the Church, they are not voiceless sheep. They have the right to speak in Church matters and even in Councils, as history tells us, as long as they preach from the Holy Tradition. Synodality and Tradition have always saved Orthodoxy from the decisions of its unfaithful rulers. We're not to be ruled by little popes that decide the fate of the Church according to their vision at a given moment in time. And believers are right if they act according to the Holy Fathers and our Holy Tradition. And what does Tradition and our Holy Fathers tell us about similar disasters? It is the opposite of what the present article is preaching! Please, orthodox believers… where is our faith? And the knowledge about or faith from our Holy Elders? And if we are to endure this unjust situation, why is God allowing this penitence? If we are to be saved from disaster it is not through "social distancing", it is through repentance. For carnal sins, for shallow faith, for ecumenism (the heresy of all heresies), for schism… and many more. Please read the letter of Elder Evthymios of the Kelli of the Resurrection in Kapsala on Mt. Athos here https://orthodoxethos.com/post/the-coronavirus-crisis-letter-from-the-holy-mountain It mentions the Tradition of our Church in such times. The lives of our Saints are abundant in examples for our crisis. I also recommend the podcast of Fr. Peter Heers (a contributor here, on orthochristian.com) specifically on the issue of the crisis we are facing presently. There are more episodes in which he discusses, based on the Holy Tradition, the problems we are facing today and how to confront them correctly. Start here maybe https://youtu.be/x3CHp1g7fyI We are recommended nowadays to be "new Christians" but is it a new Christian a true Christian? May God have pity on us!
Elena5/4/2020 6:04 pm
Truth must be spoken without fear or biased opinions or feeding theological issues with the ideology of the present. And if you are talking science are you sure the science that you invoke is the RIGHT ONE, @Joshua? LA Times showing a case of infection in a group of presbyterians, honestly? There is more reasonable data available for the specific scientific viewpoint you are preaching. However, science is and always has been debatable. It is nothing new that during these times of pandemic doctors and researchers have great disagreements. And while the World Health Organization's medical agenda is pushed aggressively throughout the world (with some exceptions) then WHY doctors and scientists that are calling out their false narrative are SUPRESSED? Why doctors around everywhere are ignored by the vast majority of the press and politicians? Dr. Dan Erickson and dr. Massihi with their team at Accelerated Urgent Care (California) - https://youtu.be/vJprwe_rWeM Or dr. Didier Raoult in France. Or dr. Stefano Montanaro in Italy, expert nanopathologist. Or dr. Rashid Buttar. Or dr. Andrew Kaufman. These are also scientists and doctors: experts in microbiology, in nanopathology, surgeons, emergency doctors etc. And there are many more like them. Why are many of them deleted or ignored or mocked at by the media, youtube, facebook. In some cases their wikipedia profile pages have been modified in order to take down their credibility. Personally, I know doctors (pediatrician and lab researcher) that are appalled at the way different states around the world have reacted to this pandemic. Isn’t that what science is about? Open enquiry, testing and proving theories to find out what is actually true or more appropriate for a specific context? It's not like the WHO agenda is infallible, they contradict themselves way too often and there are also too many scientists to criticize it actually. Does WHO and state officials have the truth that we have to bow to? No one in science has a monopoly on truth, science is the rejection of the idea of this monopoly. It's the endless search for what we can prove. @Joshua you are simply introducing one viewpoint, it's the official one at the moment, maybe it's the ideology of tomorrow but it's not the only scientific viewpoint. For sure. And if you want to argue about science I would recommend that you do it without bias and taking into consideration all scientific viewpoints, not just those that are in fashion.
Edward5/3/2020 6:45 pm
Greetings on the Feast of the Myrrh Bearing Women! Joshua, MC: I agree with you to some extent, but it seems you are attacking Thomas and Philip because they disagree with the official position. I do not read their comments as disrespectfully criticizing the bishop at all. Thomas seems to be saying that it is scientifically impossible, right now, to determine where COVID-19 could be contracted unless traced to a specific case, and Philip offers a scientific reference to support this. Joshua: You seem to confuse asymptomatic "infection" with asymptomatic "transmission" and also confuse asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 with asymptomatic COVID-19, and your LA Times refutation and citation is not scientific. Thus far, we have seen some LIMITED asymptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2 but NOT COVID-19, partly because the former (can) develops into the latter, as evidenced by symptoms. Hence, Thomas is correct, scientifically speaking. If you still doubt this, see the Lancet, one of the leading medical scientific journals (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30236-X/fulltext). Furthermore, nearly 200 medical scientists in Cyprus recently petitioned the government and the Church leadership there to reopen Churches and relax measures, partly because, to their knowledge, transmission of COVID-19 through Church worship is much less likely than transmission by most other venues of contact--partly because the above facts. Cyprus has a slightly lower density of COVID-19 cases per 1 million people than Russia. Furthermore, Joshua, my read of Thomas's statement is entirely different. He says, "Your Eminence, there is no such indication as a "lighter form" of coronavirus, at least not one that could be construed as COVID-19" and I understand this as saying, "COVID-19 is not a lighter form of coronavirus, but a more severe kind. A lighter form is a cold or flu. Hence, if (the bishop) had a lighter form of coronavirus, it was not COVID-19". This is really a fact of science and logic, not Thomas's medical knowledge. And, MC: I believe Thomas's addressing the bishop as "His Eminence" and his tone suggests he is not intending to attack the bishop but alert him to possibly being misled. After all, the bishop is not a COVID-19 expert, but Thomas might be. But here is my point: We are not Catholics! You cannot tell Thomas or Philip to shut up and agree with the hierarchs or they lack piety. They have every right to disagree with a bishop or hierarch IF they believe the latter's viewpoint is out of line with tradition, practice or the canons. This right is protected canonically. Moreover, if this ability to criticize viewpoints was not possible, most of us would feel uncomfortable criticizing the views of the now defrocked, bishop Philaret in Ukraine or the Ecumenical Patriarch for supporting him and other heretics. Nonetheless, when Philip and Thomas disagree with the bishop's argument that his illness is insufficient to justify cessation of Services and condemnation of faithful who still want to attend, you claim they are "impious", "prideful" and "lacking in medical knowledge," which smells of Groupthink. I support their right to criticize this position, not on my own account, but because it departs from that of several other bishops in Russia, Cyprus, Romania, Montenegro, Greece, Athos, etc. Doesn't St Matrona, in fact, reminds us that even a peasant, non-clergy and non-monastic can be more holy, pious and more "correct" than many of the clergy of their time? I submit that while it is pleasing to see such discourse on OrthoChristian, we remember not to judge and condemn others, simply because they disagree.
Joshua5/2/2020 10:40 pm
Thomas's medical claims about there not being a "lighter form of coronavirus" are incorrect. What Bishop Pitirim states is a reasonable layman's description of the expression of the disease. There is a very wide range of symptoms from SARS-CoV-2 infection, ranging from those who shed SARS-CoV-2 in their mucus and saliva but are not apparently ill to those who are killed by the virus. This has been borne out in country after country--generally the young can be infected but are hardly hurt, while the elderly generally get hit very hard, and the middle-aged fall in between. (Please note that "generally" means I am speaking of probabilities.) Thomas says, "The fact, however, is that even if your choir director was sick, it is not possible he exhibited full-blown symptoms of COVID-19 and could chant or even walk...Indeed, rumors of the virus being asymptomatic are not at all proven." Each of these statements is false. It is perfectly reasonable that a person could be multiplying and shedding viruses and not even feel bad. One of the reasons SARS-CoV-2 is so infectious is that one starts spreading viruses before becoming symptomatic and we know there are people who NEVER become symptomatic. Stating that this claim is rumor that has not been proven is false, bordering on wicked deceit. A good refutation of Thomas's medical understanding and ex post facto immunological forensics can be found here: https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-03-29/coronavirus-choir-outbreak The person who has no "proper medical background" and has been grievously misled, and is misleading others, is Thomas. I leave it to the reader to consider whether Thomas's mistaken confidence in his own reasoning extends to his comments about historical behavior during epidemics and his lecturing our clergy about their obligations.
MC5/2/2020 10:28 pm
Phillip: Forgive me, but hard to share your joy that "the claims of COVID-19 being possibly asymptomatic were based upon falsified data" when people you know are sick or dying from COVID. I live in Russia, and I am seeing that people who are not staying home, thinking for some reason that they won't get sick and won't infect their families, that they are somehow divinely immune, are now sick after Pascha. This is empirical evidence that you can go to church and get sick. It's your own choice if you would rather get sick and possibly infect your family than miss services. But no one should be deciding the same for other people. It's common courtesy with any infectious illness to do whatever you can to avoid infecting others, especially people at risk. But we are talking about a pandemic here. I repeat: that is not piety.
Philip5/2/2020 7:07 pm
I'm sorry, I agree with Thomas and (to some extent) Mikhail on this and I am surprised at the rude comments by MC and Stephen. No where does it seem Thomas is suggesting parishioners who are sick with COVID-19 should attend Church Services and priests should attend to them, as MC asserts. Rather, I think he is saying the disease cannot be asymptomatic, in the first place, so someone fully sick with COVID-19 could not remain in a service and, in the second place, priests are no more expose to such people in Church than anywhere else. I did not know this, so after I looked it up, I found that scientists have definitely shown that the claims of COVID-19 being possibly asymptomatic were based upon falsified data (https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/02/paper-non-symptomatic-patient-transmitting-coronavirus-wrong). Understandably, this changes the story "experts" have probably told the bishop, and Thomas seems to be doing us all a favor by pointing this out. Furthermore, what I personally find disturbing is the assumption (by MC, Stephen and others) that people attending Church are somehow wrong, selfish or criminal for doing so. If they are sick, they cannot attend. If they are not sick, why can they not attend? As Thomas points out, both clergy and doctors are public servants and take oaths to put themselves at risk for the people they serve. Yes, priests agree to expose themselves to spiritual and not necessarily physical risks, but again, their exposure to COVID-19 in Church is no worse than anywhere else. Here in New York, for example, people are getting sick everywhere and there are no Orthodox Churches open at all (and few to begin with, given the population). Thus, if clergy want to avoid any risk of contracting the disease, they should not attend services nor leave their homes, to be consistent, but also not prevent clergy and laity who choose to take that risk from doing so. In other words, if pharmacies and grocery stores are essential for physical healing and survival, Churches should be deemed essential (by our hierarchs, at least) as essential for spiritual healing and survival, which most faithful would agree is more important. Rdr Moran, I do not see the point of your comment. Does that mean we should be afraid? I imagine that since the event you mention occurred in the 7th Century, all of those monks would have died by now anyway, in some way shape or form. At least they died after having received the blessing of a saint and (most likely) the Mysteries. In any case, why did the saint not die? And Stephen, who exactly made you the judge of those whom you believe are judging? I am actually quite pleased that "Dr Thomas" (?) shared his knowledge and the point about the disease being asymptomatic, which is far more valuable than your Protestant-like reference to the Old Testament. Clearly, you seem to be attacking him and Mikhail out of your own fears and insecurities. Hence, perhaps you, like the rest of us, need to attend the services for healing.
Stephen5/2/2020 4:53 am
When did the average Orthodox layman become an elder with discernment? Good thing the writer of Ecclesiastes didn't run his book by Mikhail -- he'd insist that he thought he read a book by Sartre. And Thomas -- I guess you just roll your eyes on Holy Saturday when we read about Jonah. Have either one of you had an icon painted of yourself yet?
MC5/1/2020 10:56 pm
Thomas: Although I appreciate your professionalism (I assume you are a doctor, since you used the word "we"), I am taken aback at your coldness toward sick people. "It seems He only expects both to have courage when facing death." I would assume that God expects us all to have courage when facing death, but we have to be ready for death. Death is not something to be taken lightly. And it seems to me, you are confusing a doctor's obligation to treat people with infectious diseases and a priest's obligation to confess, commune, give Unction, or serve the canon for the departure of the soul from the body for people with infectious diseases, with the simple fact of opening a monastery to people during a pandemic. There is a very big difference. A sick person needs the sacraments, but not necessarily church attendance. Would you encourage a person with an infectious disease to go to a crowded church, knowing that he very well might infect the other worshippers? The medical professionals are now asking us to behave as though we are all infected, partly for the very reason you cited--the tests are not accurate. Certain priests definitely are going to visit the sick, and even those who are not sick, in their homes to give them Communion. But I come away with an impression that those like you who are expecting all priests to simply allow themselves to be infected are just plain selfish. For heaven's sake, even the medical system is not forcing doctors in risk groups to see patients. In the U.S., doctors are practicing medicine by Skype in many places, even if they are not at risk. And Bishop Pitirim did not call the monks martyrs for getting sick--where did you see such a thing? But really, have some compassion on people. I don't see any piety whatsoever in your expectations. Piety is in humility, and putting other people's needs above your own.
Mikhail5/1/2020 5:44 pm
If I did not know that a bishop wrote this article...I would have guessed that it was penned by an atheist.
Rdr Andreas Moran5/1/2020 12:14 pm
In the present situation, we may recall the devastation of the Plague of Justinian of around 542AD. It is thought that at its peak, some 5,000 people died daily in Constantinople alone, and funerals were not done such was the death toll. Doubtless many clergy of all ranks perished. It must have seemed like the end of the age to the peoples of that time. In England, we learn from St Bede’s “History” (Bk. III, Ch. XXIII) that the great missionary Bishop of the East Saxons (modern Essex), St Cedd, died from the ‘mortality’ (as plague was sometimes called) in his monastery at Lastingham in North Yorkshire, and that when thirty monks arrived to venerate him, the entire brethren of the monastery died of the plague (“pestilentiae”). Only a boy survived by the prayers of his father as St Bede relates.
Thomas5/1/2020 11:12 am
Your Eminence, there is no such indication as a "lighter form" of coronavirus, at least not one that could be construed as COVID-19. Coronavirus is a general name for a large class of viruses, with COVID-19 actually near the middle of the spectrum, bubonic plague at the extreme end and common flu or cold at the opposite end. Hence, the only "lighter form of coronavirus" is a common cold. Indeed, while I sympathize with your suffering, your symptoms do not indicate, by description, anything more than perhaps a more severe cold or flu strand. In almost all cases one would lose some sense of smell, experience heavy breathing, fatigue and bodily aches and pains. No simple test, however, could determine you had COVID-19 versus another, more common strand. Indeed, this is an issue we scientists and doctors have in the US currently, as COVID-19 is very difficult to actually diagnose and distinguish accurately without extended observation. Unfortunately, the media has spread many false rumours about the virus, perhaps also by inadvertently passing on speculative comments by scientists and non-experts. Furthermore, I am unaware of people doubting your claims; however, given what I have just said about our ignorance concerning the virus, it is reasonable for them to suggest that you nor anyone could determine the precise point of contraction, unless you never left, say, your room, for months. Contracting it from Church services is thus no more likely than contracting it anywhere else--especially with the reduced attendance at services and with the monastery observing careful measures. Presumably, for example, you live in seminary quarters and occasionally go to the grocery store or have other casual contact with people outside services. Thus, contracting a virus near the Church is only one possibility of many. The fact, however, is that even if your choir director was sick, it is not possible he exhibited full-blown symptoms of COVID-19 and could chant or even walk. In any case, I also presume he and others would have refrained from close contact with you if they felt ill. Indeed, rumors of the virus being asymptomatic are not at all proven. I'm afraid someone without a proper medical background has misled you in your diagnosis. Nonetheless, this brings me to address some of your other statements. While it is wonderful when priests and clergy have the courage to fulfil their duties amidst an aggressive viral period and when others, less faithful, panic, priests and clergy are not martyrs simply because they come in contact with possibly sick people. The same can be said for doctors. For both professions, this is our duty. Physicians take an oath that we will enter the houses of the sick and treat them--even when they are sick spiritually and, therefore, beyond our healing powers. We do so without prejudice and without concern for our own wellbeing, only for theirs. Presumably, priests and bishops take an even higher, similar oath (to God) in agreeing to administer the spiritually ill, even when the ill are also physically sick and beyond your abilities to heal them. Thus, to me your plea for people to "have pity on you" (by not attending services) or your suggestion that you are "dying" in serving, with all due respect, is nonsense. People have died of illness and we see death every day. Priests are no more or less immune to death; however, our very Orthodox faith is for the purpose of preparing us for death--so clergy and monastics should be more prepared than most. Nonetheless, speaking more practically, even in the worst cases of highly contagious illness (such as smallpox, which is much more deadly and contagious than COVID-19) we have never witnessed such a situation. Evidently, in such cases, God ensures there are always enough priests, bishops and doctors who survive. It seems He only expects both to have courage when facing death.
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