The Serbian True Orthodox Church
Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas
March 2/15 2020
Statement to the Public
concerning the current emergency situation in the world and in Serbia
due to the Corona virus epidemic
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Due to the escalating panic caused by the appearance of the Corona virus epidemic, we wish to inform you that the usual order of the liturgical life of our community will not change. As celebrators of the holy mysteries, we are carefully following the events connected to the spread of this new virus. The godless and ill-willed might interpret and condemn our stance as a light-minded attitude towards a dangerous epidemic. We state in advance that we do not attribute any significance to these kinds of attacks, for we are not declaring a personal opinion on this matter, but rather we base our statement on the centuries-old tradition and experience of the Orthodox Church, which during Her two-millennium-long history has faced the spreading of much more dangerous plagues.
Often it was our Church, through Her holy mysteries, that was one of the main actors in the suppression of deadly infectious diseases. In historical chronicles and the lives of the saints, we can find many examples of how in times of epidemics, the servants of God would double their liturgical labors, serve all-night vigils, molebens and processions with holy relics, miracle working icons, crosses, etc, through the cities and areas that were infected.
In those difficult times of epidemics, the Church never introduced overly-cautious measures such as those which are now being mentioned by some more liberal bishops in the official Orthodox churches: the suspension of gatherings for holy services, avoiding venerating icons, avoiding taking the priest’s blessing, not giving communion of the Holy Life-giving Mysteries to everyone from the same chalice with the same spoon, and so forth.
As far as the suggestions, or even insistence, of the worldly powers on introducing these measures into church life, we can see them either as proof of simple ignorance of the supernatural, miraculous nature of the Church of Christ, or as proof of a malicious, anti-ecclesiastical attack by those who wish to mock all things holy.
Let us bring up one of many examples from the miraculous work of the Church during a dangerous epidemic. In the sixth century, when a terrible plague was ravaging the population of Rome, St Gregory the Dialogist, Pope of Rome, organized a great procession through the streets of suffering Rome with an icon of Our Most Pure Lady, which miraculously, instantly stopped the plague. To this day, this icon is venerated as the protector of Rome, and is known as Our Lady “Savior of the Roman People” (Salus Populi Romani).
In earlier times, deadly epidemics were considered to be a punishment from God for a people’s sins. The Church, rulers, and people, instead of reacting with panic about preserving their bodily health, rather united in national repentance, heartfelt prayers, extra fasts, and labors to change their lives to conform to the Gospel. In other words, the people en masse came back to their senses and to God, and directed most of their energy not just to technical measures to suppress the infection, but on efforts to recover their spiritual health.
We are by no means against sanitary precautions and preventive epidemiological measures, but we cannot mix these things with the Church as a mystical, miraculous body. Even if She is on earth, She is not of this earth.
We believe and confess that prayerful gatherings of the believers who gather in the Lord’s churches, with the aim of prayerfully addressing God, receiving the Holy Mysteries and the blessing of God through the clergy, not only will not hurt us by spreading viruses, but on the contrary, they are the only dependable defense, the only effective, all-powerful medicine.
In our times, when some dangerous epidemic runs rampant, everyone is in panic and fear for their life and health. This fear is nothing new. It is as old as the fall of our first parents. But it is wrong for a Christian to succumb to these kinds of fears, because he should know that the power of God is greater and stronger than any evil, attack, illness, and death itself.
The main goal and meaning of man’s life is not the preservation of life on this earth - which is impossible - but rather, participation in Christ’s triumph over death, in His Resurrection, and in the life of the age to come.
What we really need, due to our sinful decadence as a people, is not panic about bodily illness or death, but rather, fear of God which will spur us to zeal to become faithful servants of our Living God and remain so until the end.
While this danger of virus and corresponding state of emergency lasts, we enjoin our clergymen to serve a moleben to Our Most Holy Theotokos every Sunday after the Holy Liturgy.
Whether the panic which is being raised by mass communication is justified, and whether this new Corona virus is truly so dangerous to the global population, are questions which we cannot address with certainty at this time.
One thing is sure: we believe in Our Savior Jesus Christ and we offer our prayers to Him to deliver us from the hidden traps of the antichrist, and every wrath, misfortune, need and danger, poisonous winds, fatal illnesses and every evil, and to have mercy on us and save us as good and the lover of mankind. Amen!
The Office of the Hierarchical Council of the STOC