New York.- (GreekNewsOnline)
Responding to the Coronavirus crisis, the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate decided on Wednesday, March 18, to instruct all its churches to suspend services, events and rites until the end of March, except for the personal prayers of Christians, while keeping churches open. It also instructed the patriarchal monasteries to continue their services but without admitting the public. It said the restrictions will be reviewed depending on the progress of the coronavirus pandemic.
Following the Synod’s decision, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew made a video appeal in both Greek and English, responding to those that “have felt that these drastic measures undermine or harm our faith.”
“However, His All Holiness said, that which is at stake is not our faith – it is the faithful. It is not Christ – it is our Christians. It is not the divine-man – but human beings.”
The decision of the Holy and Sacred Synod was posted on the web page of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. But, few hours letter, Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco in message posted on his Metropolis web site informed his parishes of a letter he received from Archbishop Elpidophoros, concerning “Guidelines for Liturgical Services”.
“I received the message below from His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America which I am sharing with you for further clarification regarding Liturgical services, as directed by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Holy and Sacred Synod. We must remain fervent in our prayers to the Lord that during this time of great need, He may grant His strength and peace to our suffering world. With Love in Christ, +Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco”.
The letter – never posted on the official web site of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese – is as follows:
Letter from Archbishop Elpidophoros Conveying Liturgical Guidelines of the Ecumenical Patriarchate During the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic
It is with brotherly joy but also with much agony that I communicate with Your Eminence in these critical and unsettling times, when all of humanity is in turmoil over this this sudden pandemic of COVID-19. As Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, I am informing you of the just-issued decision of the Holy and Sacred Synod concerning the pastoral measures which must be taken for the protection of the flock of the Mother Church throughout the world.
Having discussed the situation with the Sacred Center of Orthodoxy, at length, and having inquired specifically about the United States, I received His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s reply, namely, that we should allow for the divine services, including Divine Liturgies, to be celebrated in our Holy Churches behind closed doors, as is the case with the Monasteries. In this way we may be able to keep our liturgical tradition alive, even in this minimal way, but also that we may broadcast through streaming and other means the aforementioned services for the spiritual benefit of our faithful.
Having duly conveyed the above to Your Eminence, I pray for continued strength and resolve as we face this unprecedented and disconcerting situation.
With undiminished love in the Lord, and esteem,
New York, March 18, 2020
+Archbishop Elpidophoros of America”.
The response of each Metropolis regarding the Patriarchal official directions and the explanatory letter of the Archbishop of America varies. Metropolitan Nathaniel of Chicago retain his decision (since March 13) to suspend all services.
In a message sent on March 18, Nathaniel said:
“The decision to temporarily suspend parish worship was the most difficult decision I’ve made as Metropolitan, and it brings me great heartache to know that one of my decisions brings understandable pain to clergy and laypeople of our Metropolis. At the same time, in accordance with the Holy Eparchial Synod, and in light of recommendations I continue to receive from physicians and infectious disease experts, I believe this decision is still indispensable for the care and preservation of the members of our Metropolis and of our neighbors at large.”
Archbishop Elpidophoros was on Friday at the parish of St. Constantine and Helen in Jackson Heights, New York, for the third stance of the Salutations and on Saturday he ordained a deacon at Kimisis Church in Brooklyn. In both services – broadcasted on the web – attendance was around the ten people limit.
Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh, in a pastoral letter on March 17, announced the cancelation of his visits and he gave the following directions regarding church services:
“Church services may continue as scheduled within our parishes, but the parishioners are directed to participate via the internet. A minimum compliment should be present at the parish (no more than 5 persons including the priest, all of whom should be physically healthy and at low risk for the disease, who will participate at the invitation of the priest).”
Metropolitan Methodios of Boston, with a letter on March 17, directed “all parishes in the Metropolis of Boston to cancel services until further notice. The faithful stewards of our faith should be encouraged to view our liturgical services on the internet and various multimedia sources.”
Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta in a letter on March 17, announced that “all non-liturgical activities are to be suspended until further notice.”
On Saturday, March 21, the Metropolis of Atlanta held its annual Presidents Meeting at the Cathedral, with approximately 10 people at the room and the rest participating via videoconference. The meeting lasted from 10 am till noo.
As this Coronavirus crisis continues to spread and intensify on a global scale, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is monitoring the situation with an urgent sense of responsibility towards its faithful and all people without exception, and, following the Communiqué of 11 March 2020, upon deliberation of its Hierarchs in the City, announces the following:
1) The Ecumenical Patriarchate emphatically reiterates its appeal to everyone to limit their outings and travels to what is necessary, remaining in their homes for their own safety and the protection of the general public.
2) It commends the spirit of self-sacrifice demonstrated by those working in the field of healthcare and expresses its gratitude for their extraordinary and exhaustive efforts to assist those in need, as well as for the danger they knowingly risk by coming in contact with those infected by Covid-19.
3) It underlines the need for everyone to follow the decisions and instructions of the responsible health authorities for the sake of the common good.
4) In light of decisions already taken by some eparchies of the Ecumenical Throne, today we universally declare our ecclesiastical resolution and mandate to cease all divine services, events, and rites, with the exception of private prayer in churches that will remain open, until the end of March. This restriction will be later reassessed, in accordance with the development of the pandemic caused by the virus.
5) All Patriarchal and Stavropegial Monasteries will continue to hold regular divine services for their monastic communities, but outside pilgrims and visitors will not be permitted entry.
6) In the same framework, the Patriarchal Offices at the Phanar will remain closed until further notice, while the Ecumenical Patriarch and clergy of the Patriarchal Court will perform the prescribed divine services and pray for the whole world and for its speedy relief from this trial.
From the Chief Secretariat of the Holy and Sacred Synod
Phanar, 18 March 2020
MESSAGE OF ECUMENICAL
Brother hierarchs and beloved children in the Lord,
From the Phanar, from the heart of the Queen of Cities, from the City of the Great Church and of Haghia Sophia, we are communicating with each and every one of you – women, men, and children – because of the unprecedented conditions and tribulation that we are facing as a human race as a result of the global threat posed by the pandemic of the new coronavirus, called Covid-19.
The voice of the Church, of the Mother Church, cannot be silent in such times. Our words, then, take the form we have learned through the ages: through the liturgy and through instruction, with encouragement and consolation.
We sincerely thank all those who struggle with self-sacrifice, even neglecting themselves and their families, including:
Medical and nursing professionals at the front lines, beside our brothers and sisters who are suffering,
Researchers and scientists searching for proper medication and vaccination to deliver us from this virus, but also
All those actively working hard to address this pandemic.
Your contribution is invaluable. It is an offering to all of society. It is a sacrifice that deserves every honor and gratitude. All of us thank you and applaud you, not only from the windows of our homes, but everywhere and at all times. Our thoughts and our prayers are with you.
In this struggle, our appointed states, governments and appropriate health authorities have the primary responsibility for planning, confronting and overcoming this crisis. We might describe them as Commanders on the battlefield against an invisible, but now well-known, enemy. An enemy that has turned against humanity.
The burden of the responsibility, that they bear on their shoulders, by necessity demands the cooperation of us all. Now is the time of personal and social responsibility.
Therefore, our dear children, we entreat you as your spiritual father to respond faithfully and patiently to all the difficult but necessary measures proposed by our health authorities and nations. Everything is being done for our protection, for our common good, in order to contain the spread of this virus. Our liberation from this distress depends entirely on our own cooperation.
Perhaps some of you have felt that these drastic measures undermine or harm our faith.
However, that which is at stake
is not our faith – it is the faithful.
It is not Christ – it is our Christians.
It is not the divine-man – but human beings.
Our faith is firmly established in the roots of our culture. Our faith is a living faith, and there is no exceptional circumstance that can limit or suppress it. What must be limited and suppressed in these extraordinary circumstances are gatherings and large congregations of people. Let us remain in our homes. Let us be careful and protect those around us. And there, from our homes, strengthened by the power of our spiritual unity, let each and every one of us pray for all humankind.
We will pass through this period like a journey through the desert to reach the Promised Land, where science, by the grace of God, will overcome this virus.
We are certain that, through our prayers as well, science will indeed prevail. So it is good for us to remain united in spirit, as we continue the struggle of repentance and holiness.
We see our neighbors suffering from the consequences of the virus, while others have already fallen and departed from among us. Our Church hopes and prays for the healing of the sick, for the souls of the departed, and for courage and strength to the families of the afflicted.
This trial, too, shall pass. The clouds will clear, and the Sun of Righteousness will eliminate the deadly effect of the virus. But our lives will have changed forever. This trial is an opportunity for us to change for the better. In the direction of establishing love and solidarity.
Beloved children in the Lord, may the blessing of the Lord, through the intercessions of the All-Holy Mother of God, accompany us in our journey, transform our voluntary isolation into genuine communion, and become our prayer and destination to appreciate the meaning of this, so that we may return to that which is true, to that which is pleasing to God!
Have courage! And may God be with us!