Many people wonder about what His Holiness Patriarch Kirill said during his sermon at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior on March 29, 2020. This concerns the call to the laity for staying home during quarantine, for not visiting churches.
One should not judge. It’s just a temptation amid this coronavirus. So many judgements of each other from different sides, between Orthodox Christians! Some Orthodox Christians begin to say: “The Patriarch said…, but they still went to the church, they despise the words of the Patriarch …” and stuff like that. It is not worthy for a Christian to say such things, and all the more to judge. Therefore, to judge those who come to church for services is absolutely wrong. Judging those who do not come is also wrong. Every day in the prayer of Ephrem the Syrian we say: “Grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brother”. And this is right. The Patriarch is now in very difficult conditions, incomparable with anything that we all had before. In history, of course, there were epidemics and pandemics, but if we talk about what we all have experienced, we all are having this for the first time.
Moreover, we somehow focused on all this fight against coronavirus, on all these activities, which cause some inconvenience, pose some challenges for us. And the question faded: Why did the Lord bring all this into our lives? This is not the first epidemic, not the first pandemic that has occurred during the entire existence of the Orthodox Church. And our ancestors lived in much more difficult times than now. For example, plague – 95% of deaths, pulmonary plague – almost 100% of deaths. People did not understand what was happening, why and how it was transmitted. There was no treatment at all. And where some kind of treatment was offered, it was rather a mockery of a person, than a treatment, actual torture. People were doomed; they could do nothing. We are now in much better conditions than that time. St. Basil the Great said: “Nation-wide sins are treated by nation-wide punishment”. In particular, one of such nation-wide punishments is the spread of epidemics. Our ancestors in such cases said: “This happened for our sins”. And accordingly, spiritual counteraction to this is repentance. It is most important. It is no coincidence that the book of the prophet Jonah shows an example for us. This is what can make difference from the spiritual side. From the material side, doctors and scientists are trying to act, but so far it is not very successful.
It is not surprising that the fake spread that it is urgently needed to draw a cross on the doors with oil (recent fake urging Orthodox Christians to make crosses on the doors of olive oil to be saved from virus – supposedly these instructions were given by the monks on mount Athos). Because people now want something simple and quick, which can give the illusion that it will become better now, that there will be some kind of protection. This is not what the Lord seeks. In this situation, repentance is needed, improvement of our lives is needed. I understand that in our time words about repentance are not popular. But I doubt that someone can say: “We have nothing to repent of, everything is fine with us, we are moral and virtuous.” Of course, for our sins we deserve not just the coronavirus. What is happening now is still the mercy of God. But He expects our repentance. It is within this framework that I comprehend where everything is going to. The patriarch has to yield to the pressure that is exerted on the church. Other local churches have already yielded and churches are closed there.
If we look in antiquity, then this is actually an interdict. Interdict is a word that comes from Latin. This is such a measure of church punishment, which was imposed on the whole masses of the people (on a city, region or country). The punishment was that churches were closed and all services were ceased. This appeared in the West, but at that time when the Western Church was still part of the Orthodox Church. The last person to implement the interdict was the Holy Martyr Andronicus Nikolsky. He was a bishop in Perm, in 1918 he realized this as a measure against the atheistic authorities.
And the fact that today life itself, contrary to the will of the Patriarch and our will, pushes us to find ourselves in an interdict conditions, is a wake-up call for us to start to think. After all, it’s not like “Oh, we are so good, but some bad people have deprived us of our rights.” But this is cause to reflect on the fact that the Lord is punishing us for sins and is awaiting our repentance and improvement. Of course, improving your life is much more difficult than drawing a cross with olive oil on the door. But that is exactly what the Lord is expecting of us. And without improvement of your life, even if you draw a thousand crosses, this is not what the Lord will accept from you.