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.
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!
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.
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!