Quarantine: A Scriptural View

Several months ago, not long after Pascha, which the vast majority of Christians celebrated at home due to the pandemic, Fr. Oleg Stenyaev spoke in detail during one of his talks about how Holy Scripture relates to quarantine and how an Orthodox Christian should conduct himself during such epidemics. In these November days, the elderly are again forced to remain in their homes, and their church attendance is once again limited. Therefore Fr. Oleg’s talk on the problem of quarantine is quite timely even now.

Artist: Gebhard Fugel. Artist: Gebhard Fugel.     

We have lived to such times, that we had to greet Pascha in very pressing circumstances, somewhat reminiscent of soviet times when by far not all who wanted to get into a church were able to do so.

But what finally happened? After all, the Lord never allows any evil that He does not intend to turn into good. It turned out that the faithful celebrated Pascha in their homes. When people gather in churches to celebrate Pascha, such a spread of Pascha doesn’t happen. But on this Pascha people lit their candles, placed them on their windowsills, prayed, and our homes turned into churches.

The devil has always tried to stop Church services on our planet, and especially Divine Liturgy. Why does he try to do that? The holy fathers say that the Bloodless Sacrifice—Divine Liturgy—stops idol worship and restrains the devil. Of course, he didn’t manage to stop divine services because the priests served the Liturgy and offered the Bloodless Sacrifice. But the doctors and the influencers of this world insisted that people stay home all that time in quarantine. It’s hard to argue with these circumstances.

Now the whole planet is in a terror and panic. Everyone is afraid of the epidemic. Something similar happened in the Middle Ages, when the Black Death—the Bubonic Plague—was spreading, and in some lands up to two thirds of the population perished. Because nowadays people move around very quickly, flying in airplanes, people infected each other on a planetary scale. And this of course is a disaster. It is entirely possible that someone is using this disaster to his own aims—political, social, or economical. Some people may have their own nefarious plans.

But we Christians know how to conduct ourselves in the case of an epidemic. We should react to everything that is happening from the point of view of Holy Scripture. The Bible is the Lord’s instruction guide. What do we see in Holy Scripture having to do with such situations?

First of all, we know that the Bible is the first book on the planet to specify such a concept as quarantine. From ancient times, people with infectious diseases and even those under suspicion were put under quarantine without fail. The Book of Leviticus, part of the Pentateuch, tells us about this. The Pentateuch is the Law of God; and the Lord said, “I came not to break the law but to fulfill it” (cf. Mt. 5:17).

So, the Law of God establishes for us that if there is suspicion of infectious disease, a person is isolated. In ancient times, priests were also knowledgeable medics. A priest looked over a person and if he saw some suspicious signs, he sent him into quarantine for a week. The sick man was supposed to wash all his clothes and not meet with anyone. After a week the priest looked him over again and pronounced his decision: whether he was healthy, or needed to be quarantined for another week—and so on for up to three weeks. If the sick person was not recovering after three weeks, and it was obvious that this was an infectious disease, he received the status of “unclean” and was obligated to wear black clothing with little bells, so that his approach would be made known even in the dark. Whenever he entered an inhabited area he was supposed to start shouting from a distance, “Unclean, unclean!”

Christians accepted this Mosaic law about quarantine. In the Gospel of Mark it is told how Christ healed the leper and said to him, “Go and show yourself to the priests” (cf. Lk. 17:14). What does this mean? Based on Leviticus chapter 13, the priest could cancel a quarantine. Or he could not cancel it. And when Christ sent the leper to the priests, He was acting according to the Law.

The Law forbade those who had come into contact with something unclean—with the dead, for example—from celebrating the Passover. In such cases there was suspicion that the person could become infected by the corpse. And even more so were those in quarantine forbidden from celebrating the Passover. For these people, the Passover was postponed for a month or two. The Passover was likewise postponed for those who were on the road, located somewhere amongst pagans. There they could not fully celebrate the Passover as they should.

The commandments are given not for death but for life. Well, on television we saw some fanatics who licked the grates on coffins in Iran during quarantine. These are real fanatics; they showed the fanaticism of their faith. Later all those who licked the grates got sick, and several of them died.

In Israel, religious Jews defied the quarantine and gathered in bunches—there the majority of them were infected, and they risk losing all their honored elders, because the latter are of advanced age and would die first of all.

But we know that we mustn’t temp the Lord. When the devil tempted Christ, he placed Him on the pinnacle of temple. Why on the pinnacle of the temple? The temple is a holy place, and it should enjoy God’s special protection.

“Jump down,” said the devil, “You shall not dash Your foot against a stone.” Again, the stone at the foundation of the temple is also a holy place.

How did Christ answer to this? He said, It is written, thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God (Mt. 4:7).

Therefore, we are guided not by the fanaticism of some unwell people, and not even by the recommendations offered us by secular people—they are also suffering from some observable psychosis, and they may have their own aims in connection with this epidemic. We are guided by Holy Scripture, and it teaches that we have to agree to the quarantine, we have to refrain from contact with people. This is God’s Law, and we will uphold it.

Incidentally, Christianity is not a religion of the temple. Judaism is a religion of the temple. The Jews now have no temple—they can only have a temple on Mount Moriah, and now they cannot offer sacrifices or perform the censing.

That’s not how it is in Christianity. In the first four centuries, Christians lived without any churches at all. Only in the fourth century did the first basilicas appear. But in certain areas there were no churches until the eighth century. Christianity arose as a religion without temples. But we can serve all the sacraments without temples. That is why we are not restrained in the least. The most ancient Christian churches were house churches. Read the epistle of the apostle Paul where he writes, I greet the house church of so-and-so, or such-and-such. The very word “church” has never meant a temple or edifice. The Greek word for “church” is “ecclesia”, which means “assembly”.

We know that in the last days, Christians will lose their churches. Just as the Church began in the catacombs, it will end it the same situation. This will be because in the days of the antichrist, there will be no possibility to openly serve the services; and we will return to the experience of the early Church.

And we mustn’t forget that God turns every evil into good. Otherwise He wouldn’t have allowed this to happen to us.

Archpriest Oleg Stenyayev
Written down by Elena Deshko
Translation by Nun Cornelia (Rees)



Caleb11/20/2020 1:01 am
Thank you for posting this. While I have quite a few thoughts on it, as an Orthodox Christian working in public health, primarily assigned to COVID response, my time is very limited at the moment! I’ll have to content myself to saying this was good encouragement for my soul, and I appreciate this kind of reasonable and faithful content. The denialist comments are a bit depressing, but sadly par for the course when it comes to any outbreak of disease in human history, so it’s understandable to see them. Stay safe and keep up the good work!
Herman11/14/2020 5:38 pm
To damjan: I didn't say "non-existent" did I? I do know two people (a husband and wife) who got coronavirus - the husband worked at a hospital. It was very bad for them. But I do not think that the statistics justify the use of the word "pandemic" - and I do not agree, in the slightest, with the totalitarian methods used by the world authorities in order to purportedly fight the virus. These are the same world authorities that never hesitate to poison and bomb people, spread endless war, utilize economic terrorism, support schisms, and force LGBT agendas on the people of the world, etc. I find their claims that they need to fight a virus to save the world laughable, at best. To m. Cornelia: thank you for your thoughts and comment, I agree with you. I do not believe that the gates of hell will prevail against the Church. But I also think that this is not just a temporary inconvenience. If this had only gone on for a few months, well, OK. But you surely are aware that there are plans to limit public participation in numerous events, entrance to a variety of public places, and employment, and travel unless one can present an Immunity Passport, or proof of vaccination. Our fears are that these restrictions are NOT temporary, but permanent. I don't think this is an unreasonable concern. Our bishops haven't really drawn a line in the sand - they just keep telling us to obey the directives. But the directives continue to increase and become more and more absurd - such as the California injunction against singing in church. This is insanity. It is entirely possible that church attendance could be restricted in the future - if you have not received your vaccine, you can enter, according to State regulations. Will this be another directive we are told to follow, or will the bishops begin to understand then that this is more serious than a temporary inconvenience?
Gary11/14/2020 3:47 pm
Can we catch a disease during Liturgy? Is God testing us? Let me ask something please. It's not uncommon for Orthodox Churches around the world to have guards at the door to prevent a wacko from coming in with a gun and shooting and killing Orthodox Christians. If someone comes in and instead of spewing out bullets he spews out germs, how come I can be hurt by a bullet but not a germ? We trust in God! When I drive my car onto the street I look first to see if traffic is coming in my direction. That doesn't mean I don't trust God. Everything is ultimately in God's hands but I think he wants us to be observant while placing our trust in HIM! Maybe this is a test to see how we treat each other.
m. Cornelia11/14/2020 1:31 pm
Anthony, you've hit on something I've been contemplating. It seems to me that the people most negatively effected by the churches closing, masks in church, distancing, etc. are people who have converted to Orthodoxy. They have not had the experience of going to church all their lives, their ancestors Orthodox, and knowing that a temporary inconvenience will not mean the end of the Orthodox Church. We have to have faith that that Orthodoxy will go on, the gates of hell will not prevail against it--Christ promised us that. Please talk to your priest, ask him what to do, see if you can receive Holy Communion some way. If not in your own parish, perhaps in another. Don't despond, it will end. This pandemic is really happening and people are really dying, or their health is suffering long term. Pray at home, read the services on this website: https://orthodoxaustin.org/liturgical-texts/. I really think the Lord is watching us to see how hard we'll try.
Anthony Wilder11/14/2020 5:20 am
I am a new convert to Orthodoxy and the pandemic hit just a few months after being received into the Church. I believed that when this first started the Churches would remain open and when it closed I was deeply disappointed. I am doing my best to trust our clergy and hierarchs but I have so many thoughts and questions. If we are to lay aside all earthly cares does this include covid? Where is the balance between spiritual and physical well being? Are parishioners non-essential to Divine Liturgy? I feel like John the savage from brave new world when he said "I want the right to be unhappy" except I want the right to get sick if thats what it takes to commune with the Church and I am not the only one.
George11/14/2020 2:13 am
I m afraid priests need to open churches again. This is ungodly fear and laymen like myself are now banned from church..forced to wear a mask in God's church ! Banned from venerating icons ! Kept 2 metres apart at all times . Wooden communion spoons ! Sin ! This is sinful fear ..where are the men ! Nearly a year now of this cowardly nonsense ...will the church stop living in fear ! Fast losing hope here and wondering if we re in those prophesied times when there will be few genuine priests left ! Lord have mercy
Herodotus11/14/2020 12:00 am
Apples and oranges. Leprosy (Hansen's disease) can be transmitted by airborne droplets, but it is difficult to contract by any means of contact. Perhaps 5% of those exposed by airborne droplets will contract the disease. The COVID "test" has so high a false positive rate that it's developer (yes, I know he was a strange bird in several respects) said it was worthless as a diagnostic tool. Allowing for that and a couple of other things, we know that mask-wearing may reduce your chance of contracting disease by about 2% and that 85% of people diagnosed with COVID report wearing masks. We have never quarantined the healthy before, much less shut down life. Mandatory "one-size fits all" measures are another assault on the human person, created by God with free will and in Him capable of discernment. Let those who fear going to church not go to church. Let those who fear going to work not go to work. Let those who fear going to restaurants not go to restaurants.
damjan11/13/2020 11:51 pm
Herman.......I will pray for you and those you love, that they stay healthy and alive. I will also pray for those who were infected by this "non existent" virus and have died. There are thousands of them and many are doctors and nurses. Good luck!
James11/13/2020 8:56 am
Herman: I am sure that the author, a man in the risk group, is very thankful to those who are wearing masks in public and doing what they can to contain the epidemic. Do you know anyone who had it? It's mostly described as horrible. And the verdict is still out on what permanent damage it does to the organism. When you are lying in a hospital barely able to breathe, what does it matter who started the whole thing and why? When a war starts and an aggressor nation is attacking your homeland, do you scream and rant about how evil they are, or do you fight off the attack however you can? Let's be reasonable. The Lord has not abandoned us, and that's the main thing.
Herman11/13/2020 7:06 am
These attempts at justifying government lockdowns, quarantines, mandatory wearing of face masks, and closure of churches are bewildering and absurd. Did everyone in the kingdom of Israel have to submit to lockdowns and quarantines because of leprosy? No, they did not. Only those that were sick had to isolate themselves. Were synagogues and the Temple shut down to stave off the spread of leprosy? No. Were the Israelites forced to wear face masks in public places? No, of course not. Were these procedures by the priests to treat leprosy in individuals handed down to them by their tradition and common sense, or, were they dictated to them by an international cabal of NGOs, banks, and think tanks? No. To attempt to make the argument that our current situation is "biblical" is insanity. COVID is not leprosy - we're told it's a "pandemic" but the numbers don't justify this terminology. It's an obvious power grab and a major push towards a global totalitarian state. Isn't this clear? The current situation has absolutely nothing to do with Levitical medical procedures to deal with leprosy. To hear from a priest of the Russian Church that the mandates of the World Health Organization, John Hopkins University, Pfizer, Glaxo-Smith-Kline, Gamelaya Institute, CDC, International Monetary Fund, and numerous secular Christ-hating national governments are or even slightly resemble "God's Law" is troubling and concerning, to say the least. It seems as if this priest gave this sermon 6-7 months ago. I wonder if he has changed his view since then, or if he has asked himself - what is causing the people of the world more trouble and pain: this "pandemic" or the (manufactured) reaction to it by the global powers? Does he believe that this is all really, truly for the good of the people - and when the virus has come to an end, that the world powers will suddenly relinquish their newly established controls over us?
Gary11/11/2020 9:57 pm
WOW! Leviticus chapter 13, verses 45 & 46 we see masking, social distancing and quarantining. All for the airborne disease of leprosy. Modern medicine is just now catching up.
Here you can leave your comment on the present article, not exceeding 4000 characters. All comments will be read by the editors of OrthoChristian.Com.
Enter through FaceBook
Your name:
Your e-mail:
Enter the digits, seen on picture:

Characters remaining: 4000

to our mailing list

* indicates required