The Monastery of the All-Merciful Savior is located in Washington State, which was one of the first epicenters of the coronavirus epidemic, then of the mass protests that have swept throughout most of the country. The head of this monastery, Abbot Tryphon (Parsons), a licensed psychologist before his tonsure, has for many years replaced his clients and patients with spiritual children.
He not only discussed how to rid ourselves of the pandemic and what consequences we might face. The priest, who in his youth was a radical socialist, shared his thoughts on how faith can help overcome tribulations, and also compared today’s events in the USA with the pre-Revolutionary situation in Russia in 1917.
It is most difficult today for the elderly and youth
—It came from the heart. I love Russian culture, Russian music, the Liturgical music of the Russian Church, her traditions. When I began to seek my path to Orthodox Christianity, it was natural for me to join the Russian Church.
—You live in the State of Washington, which became one of the epicenters of the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. What do you think of this situation?
—I view it as a terrible social tragedy. Many people have already died, people are left without work, many companies are closing, some of them will never reopen. I also worry about the multitude of Orthodox Christians who over the course of several months and some even to this day cannot attend Liturgy. I pray to God that they return to church, when the epidemiological situation allows for it. Especially the young people—will they ever return?
—What do your spiritual children come to you about now, what problems are they seeking guidance with?
—I operate a daily blog, and from Monday to Friday I post a podcast, and so every day I am in contact with over 50,000 people. Even during the pandemic, hundreds of people call me, write to me, sharing their fears and burdens. Of course, I can’t meet with them in person now, but I try to the best of my abilities to provide spiritual support.
I think that it is most difficult for the elderly, who are shut in at home and cannot meet with their children and grandchildren, they cannot embrace them. So these people are more in need of support than anyone. The same applies to young people, children, who can’t meet with their friends, attend school or college. I am very worried about young people who need such contact with friends, the children who are shut in with their parents, it is very stressful for everyone. It is alarming that as a result, family conflicts arise, violence against children—that is, such things that don’t happen under normal circumstances.
—What spiritual advice to you give your parishioners during the pandemic?
—During such times I think it most important to make your morning and evening prayers, and set aside time for spiritual reading—not only the daily Gospel readings but the writings of the Holy Fathers, the Lives of Saints. I think this is very important.
Also, I suggest to people to light lampadas before their icons, to maintain the flame throughout the day. This serves to remind us that independent of everything happening in the world, most important is what is happening in our hearts.
I also remind people about the time of the Soviet Union, when churches were closed, believers were persecuted, and spiritual life was led in the home, which became house chapels.
The quarantine allows you to immerse yourself in spiritual life
—Has the fact that people could not attend church over the course of several months caused them psychological or other problems?
—For some, yes. But I also know many who take this as God’s will, since the situation today forced them to work on themselves and spend time in silence before the Lord. People were forced to pay attention to their internal, spiritual life. Many even before the pandemic began only lived the life of the Church on weekends, only came to Liturgy on Sundays, or Saturday vigil. But during the week they were far from the faith, and today the quarantine forced them to look inside of themselves more closely, at their family. Now these people are introducing Orthodox Christianity into their lives, and for them the quarantine definitely played a positive role.
—Why in your opinion are some people bothered by the quarantine and others aren’t?
—I think that some attended Liturgy because it was part of their culture, or because it’s what their family does, but didn't take it seriously. Many of these now are looking to Orthodoxy more seriously. Others, from weakness or even from the laziness caused by the quarantine separate from the Church and from God. I think that it is more difficult psychologically for these people.
—What lessons are we Orthodox Christians to glean from this situation?
—I think that we must understand how important it is to lead a spiritual life. This doesn’t only mean Sunday services, but our thoughts, our daily actions, every hour of the day. Now I see that this is beginning in the lives of many people—they are strengthened in the Orthodox faith, they lead a spiritual struggle and feel good from a psychological point of view.
—What can you as a priest and a professional psychologist advise to relieve stress during the pandemic, the quarantine, and as we emerge from them?
—I recommend to my parishioners to go outside, to take walks in the park or near their homes for at least 30 minutes a day. Take along prayer ropes and read the Jesus Prayer. Combining this prayer and physical activity is a good form of exercise, it helps stabilize one’s psychological state. Also, it helps families come closer, and children to bolster their faith. Of course, in big cities this is more difficult, but you can also find a park where you can maintain social distancing.
The USA now looks like Russia before the overthrow of the Tsar
—Is the wave of violent protests rolling through the USA recently worsened by the pandemic and quarantine?
—In my opinion the threat of the pandemic served as a cause for many fears. I think that the death statistics connected with the coronavirus are exaggerated, and some people who die of other causes are labeled COVID deaths. It is possible that they had the virus but they did not die of it but of some other cause, like a heart attack.
It is certain that the protests became so serious partly as a result of people losing their jobs.
I think that people who are behind the protesters on the streets are trying to spark a revolution. I see in what is happening in the US now many signs similar to what took place in Russia before the overthrow of the Tsar. Many of the first revolutionaries who aimed to force Nicholas II to abdicate later found themselves in the gulags, since Marxists came to power. They simply exploited these people for their own goals. Now in the USA I see a similar situation which very much reminds me of the early stages of the revolution in Russia, and I’m alarmed. Particularly that Christianity is excluded from social life, and believers are subjected to persecution. This especially applies to Orthodox clergymen.
—Do you have proof, or is this your personal sense?
—I have an idea of what’s going on, since in the 1970’s, before my tonsure to monasticism, I was a Trotskyite and a member of the Central Committee of the Socialist Workers’ Party of the USA (CCSWP). So you see I have something to repent for. Many things happening today with young activists mirror that which I and my fellow Trotskyites did four decades ago, and this disturbs me.
Today in American society the anti-Russian sentiments are strong, which in my opinion stems from an ignorance of history. I think that all these protests are being guided by people who are fundamentally Marxists and don’t simply want to overthrow the American government but the shake the very core of the nation. In my opinion, the demonstrators simply don’t understand that if they succeed, what happened in Russia when Stalin took power will happen in the USA. These people will be thrown in prison.
—That is, you think that the US is now entering a pre-revolutionary period? How do we escape this?
—The US was never so divided as today—only during the Civil War of 1861-1865. But then there was a clear border between the North and the South, while today’s divisions cross state borders. This is in the area of consciousness and ways of thinking. Unfortunately, society today ignores Christianity’s position, most of all Orthodox Christianity, which really scares me. I know many clergymen who express fear at the direction this country is taking.
Maybe if I were not an old person and if I spoke Russian, I would move to Russia so as not to witness what is happening here. But I am staying in the US, I am 74, and I don’t speak Russian. I feel that God’s Providence leaves me here so that I can try to help those who are suffering from today’s events.
—Do you see the development of any psychological problems in the period after the end of the quarantine, or later on?
—Many so-called “medical officials” warn that this pandemic will last a very long time, maybe for several years. This could completely destroy the economy and the social structure of the nation, which opens the path to revolution. This also worries me. Also, I fear for our youth, because the educational system in the US is achieving what the Soviets strove to do—destroy all the positive symbols which existed in the Orthodox Church and Tsarist Russia. All this was part of a plan with the aim of taking control of the souls and hearts of people. I think the same is happening in America today. I also think that most people have no idea who really runs our country. It is an oligarchy which has enormous resources at its disposal and does not seek publicity. They want to remain in the shadows, to force civilization to satisfy its needs. I understand that this sounds conspiratorial, but I was a Trotskyite and I know how this all works.
It is important to immerse yourself in the life of prayer
—What is the spiritual advice you would offer—what are we Orthodox Christians to do to prevent this and come out of this situation properly?
—The most important thing for us now is to immerse ourselves deeply into prayer and the spiritual life. It is important to read religious books and partake of Holy Communion as often as possible. Also, to understand and not condemn clergymen who were forced to close churches to parishioners at the order of civil authorities. When people begin to point fingers and their pastors, then the devil achieves his desired division among the faithful. We must pray for our bishops, for our priests and for each other. We must also concentrate on supporting spiritual sobriety in this difficult time. This demands prayer, fasting, spiritual reading and love—for our neighbors, children, families and everyone who needs help.