This year, despite the pandemic, Easter is celebrated.
The decisions adopted by the government of Abkhazia are aimed at protecting the population from coronavirus infection, but their effectiveness in some ways depends on the work of church organizations on these holidays. There are two Abkhazian church organizations and one of them – the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia refused to hold services in the New Athos monastery in the presence of the flock, its clergy broadcast services online.
Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar), Chairman of the Council of HMA, substantiated the decision and urged everyone to show love for each other and mercy in a pandemic and to prevent gathering of believers in churches during Holy Week and Easter.
Elena Zavodskaya: Father Dorotheos, how is the problem of holding Easter services in a pandemic being solved in the Christian world now?
Archimandrite Dorotheos: Now is the eve of Easter and Holy Week, a lot of divine services are held and Orthodox Christians should certainly take part in them. Positions of the Orthodox churches are quite different. Greek-speaking churches, including the Greek Orthodox Church, whose flock is 10 million people, closed the doors of churches. All of these services during Holy Week and Easter will be performed only by clergy and a very small number of necessary people, for example, singers and these services will be broadcast.
We also chose this way: the New Athos Monastery during Holy Week and Easter, as a matter of fact, we have been doing this for a month, since 18 March, we broadcast church services online and urge our parishioners to pray with us sitting at home. I don’t want to blame anyone, but I don’t see another way now.
E.Z.: Now one can often hear the argument that all of us are mortal, we will die all the same, we mustn’t be afraid of anything, we mustn’t be afraid of death. How do you think this is the correct attitude to the current problem and situation?
In relation to people, in the first place always should be love for them and the most important thing is compassion for people. From this point of view, of course, sometimes what we hear is nonsense.
A.D.: This is one of these questions that often arises, it is related to the argument that “we are Christians, we should not be afraid of death, and it’s okay if we go and be infected” and so on. I would like to remind you: two days ago on Lazarus Saturday we read a passage from the Gospel when the Savior comes to Bethany and he is told that Lazarus is dead. He loved Lazarus, his sisters Mary and Martha, and the Gospel tells us that this news shocked him, when he arrived in this city, he wept. You see, this is the Savior – God, who became a man. In his place, most priests of our time would say: “Well, what’s wrong with that – Lazarus is dead, nothing special, we all will die.” But the Savior wept. This means that from the point of view of Christianity, love for humans and compassion are the main things. There are no problems regarding yourself, you can do all you want with your life, but regarding others, love and compassion for people should always be in the first place. From this point of view, of course, sometimes what we hear is nonsense.
E.Z.: Many people say that a believer cannot pray outside the church. They say: “If we get scared of a coronavirus infection and don’t go to the church, we will betray God.” What would you say to people who think so?
A.D.: Christianity includes the inner freedom of man. Nowadays in most cases, unfortunately, many Christians do not have this freedom, therefore they depend on this idea. They are afraid of committing a sin if they don’t go to church. Today I have read the following expression: the Lord said: “Come to me all poor and you will get comfort.” Did Christ ask to go to the Jerusalem church or to any other Christian church when he was saying that? And the Lord says: “I am in your heart.” Therefore, people need to look deeper here. When this question is raised, I always give this argument.
We must understand that now we are not talking about the problems of faith or persecution of the Church, now we are talking about the fact that we are experiencing a terrible epidemic.
Tell me, you are believers, it doesn’t matter, you are simple Christians or priests, have you never got sick? When you are sick, don’t you go to doctors? Do we not use medicine or surgery? How many priests are among us who are also doctors?! For example, father John (Svinukhov), is a famous neurosurgeon in Abkhazia. And why don’t we trust in our faith when we get sick? We don’t say: “I won’t go to the hospital, I don’t need any doctors, I am a believer, I trust in God and he will save me.” We must understand that now we are not talking about the problems of faith or persecution of the Church, now we are talking about the fact that we are experiencing a terrible epidemic. There have been many such epidemics in history and during these epidemics millions of people died, among them thousands of believers, priests, bishops, mullahs, it does not matter what religion they belonged to. A believer can get sick or die like any other people and we should remember this.
E.Z.: Father Dorotheos, there are publications on the tragic experience of some church organizations and clergy, tell about them please.
A.D.: In the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Metropolitan has already died from coronavirus. In the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, where people were told: “Come to the monastery, come with children, do not be afraid of anything, pray!” The person who told this, Metropolitan Pavel is in the hospital now, he got infected with coronavirus. According to the data that this monastery posted yesterday, one archimandrite and one deacon died, more than sixty people got infected with coronavirus. They were believers, weren’t they? The second thing. Currently in Moscow, a lot of clergymen got infected with coronavirus. I can give a lot of examples.
Greece didn’t get the tragic experience of Spain and Italy only because it followed the advice of one person! This is a professor of biology and he is a believer, has got seven children, sings in an Orthodox church in Athens. When the pandemic started, this man came to the hierarchs and said: “I beg you, don’t take half measures, don’t say to people: We will not ask anyone, it is the right of people to go to church or not”. He told them: “Close the doors of all churches!” He also came to the Prime Minister of Greece and told him this. And people, realizing that he is a scientist on the one hand and a deeply religious person on the other hand, listened to him and took all necessary measures. And fortunately they didn’t get a tragic experience. The Lord is testing us and we must show Him not heroism, but that we are intelligent beings and are able to take reasonable decisions.
I am against these debates on the Internet, which we see every day now. Even if someone has a different opinion, in order to convince him, it is necessary to do it with love and respect without offensive words or threats. Now our main task is to convince people that during Holy Week and Easter attending churches in the current conditions is dangerous. The Lord is testing us and we must show Him not heroism, but that we are intelligent beings and we are able to take reasonable decisions.
Unfortunately, I do not see any other way out in this situation.
14 April 2020.
Elena Zavodskaya, Echo of the Caucasus © 2020 RFE/RL, Inc.