Beloved Brothers and Sisters,
I feel the need to reach out to you these days, when everyone is going through such an unprecedented suffering, and, of course, we all share this pain.
Due to the rapid spread of the virus, as you know, the Governments, in order to protect their people from this great danger, have been forced to take harsh restrictive measures to avoid the crowding in many public places, even in places of worship of any religion.
We Orthodox believers are obliged to comply with the decisions made by the Governments, just as the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has also pointed out.
That is why I would like to inform you, though with a broken heart, about the following:
Until April 10th you will not be able to attend the Divine Liturgy and Sacred Services, which will be held in our churches only by our Clergy and their assistants. It is imperative that we perform the Divine Liturgy in order to ask our Lord to heal the sick; stop the transmission of the virus, and that scientists may find the way to eliminate it.
Our churches will be open on specific days and hours so that you and other Orthodox believers may come for individual prayer. (For non-Orthodox, admission is prohibited for precautionary reasons only).
- Everyone who enters the church is obliged to disinfect his/her hands with an antiseptic that is outside, and wear a mask before entering the church.
- We do not kiss the holy icons, but just bow before them.
- We may light our candle in the Candle Stand of the church.
- We receive the Bishop’s of Priest’s blessing without kissing his hand.
- We can take Holy Water and Antidoro from the church to consume them at our houses after our morning prayer and in an empty stomach.
- For special occasions, one can consult with the Priests how and when you may receive the Holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- We greet no one with a handshake or an embrace but only verbally and by bowing.
Therefore, since we cannot make full use of the Holy Church, every family has to turn its home into a "church in the house," as the early Christians used to do, before they acquired sacred churches. You must place your Iconostasis – if you have one- in the most beautiful part of the house with the sacred icons of Christ, Our Lady Theotokos and your protectors Saints. When praying in front of the icons, light a candle and burn incense. If you do not have an Orthodox Christian's Prayer Book, ask the priests to provide you with a copy, so that it may be used by all family members –whenever possible- during the morning and evening prayers. Also, the Holy Bible should be available in order for you to read the daily readings.
Since most of the time these days, we are obliged to be at home, it is an opportunity for more prayer and Bible study.
Since we cannot pray in our churches all together, let us establish a fixed hour every day, that all Orthodox may pray from our homes. We may pray especially for those who are sick with the coronavirus, so that their health may be restored. We may pray for those who have passed away, so that the Lord may rest their souls in His kingdom and we may pray for the protection of everyone from this danger and for the elimination of the virus as soon as possible. We, therefore, set the time at 10:00 to 10:15 pm. Thus, every night at this time, all of us, wherever we may be, we will come together in spirit and pray all together for this serious matter.
My Brothers and Sisters, for the first time in my life I have to recommend to Christians not to participate in the Divine Liturgy and you can understand my unbearable sadness about it. Nevertheless, we are obliged by the unconquerable need to contribute to the protection, by God's grace, of our fellow humans as well as ourselves and our loved ones from this great danger. To this end, it is worth every sacrifice on our part to save lives. It would be tragic for an Orthodox believer to negligently transmit this terrible virus to another person and die, and thus to become an unintentional killer. Above all things is our love for every human being, and our responsibility is great before the Lord for their protection.
We Christians never lose faith in our Almighty and All-Holy Heavenly Father. Along with the Psalmist we say: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me” (Psalm 23:4)
Hoping that the Great Physician of our souls and bodies will open the door of His mercy to accept our repentance, and that He will shorten the time of this harsh worldwide trial, I extend my wishes to all of you to complete the rest of the Holy Lent in good health and to be blessed to worship the Sacred Passions and the Resurrection of our Lord.
With all my paternal love,
+ Metropolitan Sotirios of Pisidia