top of page

Are Orthodox Christian Bishops Afraid of COVID, the Government, or Both?

President Trump, after recovering from COVID, was due to leave Walter Reed hospital when he Tweeted this message, “Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.”

As an obese 74 year-old with a famously poor diet and a high-stress job, Trump has very publicly beaten the virus and in a short period of time. President Trump is also the man whose campaign has organized events across the country which gathered together tens of thousands of his most fervent supporters.

Through Trump’s actions we can confirm two very important things. First, COVID-19 is obviously not as deadly as the media and government scientists first led us to believe. President Trump is one of the most briefed men on the planet. He has the best medical experts in the world on speed dial. He is not interested in dying. And he wants to be re-elected president with all his heart. That would not occur if his campaign events were threatening his life and the lives of his voters. So, just like anyone else who has been paying attention, it is clear that President Trump is aware that COVID may be highly infectious, but for the vast majority of the American population, it is not a major life threat. The survival rates published by the CDC confirm an expected 99.98% survival rate for patients under 49, and even at 70 plus years of age a patient has a 94.6% chance of pulling through. Worldwide numbers indicate that COVID mortality is within the range of the seasonal flu. The other thing Trump’s message of COVID defiance and his rallies without limits prove is that President Trump is certainly not an Orthodox Bishop in the United States. If he were, he’d be way more timid.

Successors to the Apostles just finished gathering, virtually of course, for the 10th annual meeting of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the USA. Among other things, the bishops drafted A Message of Hope from the Assembly of Bishops. You can read the entire message at the link. The portions we would like to focus on are quoted below:

In our present circumstances, trying to hold a sensible middle ground between opposing forces of faithless reason on the one hand and spiritualized folly on the other is the greatest challenge of our time…. Certainly, our present physical separation from one another and spiritual isolation from the divine services have complicated our ability to navigate these troubled waters. It is not fitting for us, as Orthodox Christians, to add to the burdens of our brothers and sisters either by condemning them or by appeasing them with insincere flattery. Rather, we ought to honestly fulfill the law of God by bearing one another’s burdens, as the Holy Apostle Paul reminds us (cf. Gal. 6:2).

On the one hand, we suppose, it was good that the Orthodox bishops in this country finally, as a group, acknowledged that we have a few problems here. On the other hand, after reading through this multiple times, we kept asking ourselves, “Where’s the hope here again, other than in the title?”

President Trump is a secular leader, and one that is not noted for his deep and abiding faith in God. But even he was able to call upon us to cast off fear and live our lives. The Orthodox Bishops did not. Trump was bold and inspirational in a time of crisis, the Bishops are trying to hold a tepid “middle ground.” From the beginning of this crisis, Orthodox Christians have asked the bishops to evaluate the data on the virus for themselves and make wise, independent, transparent decisions. The choice has not been between “faithless reason” and “spiritualized folly.” Those words are deployed to merely cover the Bishops’ own fear of action.

Rather, as is even more abundantly clear today than ever, the choice has been between politically useful hysteria and protecting the well-being of our most vulnerable in society. Even WHO officials have now realized that lockdowns are doing the most harm to those who can least afford it. Dr. David Nabarro of the WHO has urged world leaders to stop using lockdowns as a primary virus control method, “Look what’s happened to smallholder farmers all over the world. … Look what’s happening to poverty levels. It seems that we may well have a doubling of world poverty by next year. We may well have at least a doubling of child malnutrition.”

Shouldn’t the Shepherds of Christ’s Church on Earth have something to say about a public health strategy that is doubling the rate of poverty and doubling child malnutrition? Opposing this doesn’t seem like “spiritualized folly” to us. And supporting such policies doesn’t appear to us to be any kind of reason, “faithless” or otherwise. But there is even more evidence emerging that continuing to destroy economies and human lives over a virus with a close to 100% survival rate for those under 70 is a horrible idea. Over 6,000 scientists signed a petition calling for end of coronavirus lockdowns:

Over 6,000 scientists signed their names to a petition calling for an end to coronavirus lockdowns, citing the “irreparable damage” they have caused. “As infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists we have grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies, and recommend an approach we call Focused Protection,” states the petition, which was signed by over 2,800 medical and public health scientists, over 3,700 medical practitioners, and over 60,000 private citizens, according to Newsweek. “Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health.” The petition continues: “Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.” “The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk,” the petition reads. “We call this Focused Protection.”

When the lockdowns began, many bishops and priests published letters saying that destroying jobs and closing churches was to help “the least of these” (Matthew 25:31). Those of us complaining about the lockdowns and the church closures were often accused of not caring about the vulnerable. We were told, in no uncertain terms, that we were putting money above human lives. Well, that was then and this is now. And now that 15 days to flatten the curve has turned into 7 months, it has become abundantly clear that the lockdowns and social isolation are hurting and even killing the most vulnerable in our society. And it needs to stop. So why did the bishops not stand up for the least of these among us? Why can politicians and scientists speak out, but the men burdened with leading the Faithful simply keep quiet? Are they that afraid of a virus or the government, or both?

The bishops also noted, “our present physical separation from one another and spiritual isolation from the divine services.” Churches in many states, such as California, are still closed or severely constrained. Lawsuits are popping up all over on Constitutional grounds, and many churches are resisting the restrictions in a myriad of ways. This message was a perfect time for the Bishops to condemn restrictions on religious liberty, and declare once and for all that the Church is “essential.” They, of course, did no such thing which is how most of the Bishops have behaved since the beginning of this crisis. Not only will the Bishops not fight for California, they won’t stand up for Christian freedom of worship in even the mildest of language. Thanks be to God that we have leaders in the Orthodox Church such as Abbot Tryphon who are willing to stand for the Church. Abbot Tryphon wrote the following in a recent article entitled The Church is THE Essential Institution:

Given the communal nature of the Church, it is particularly alarming our City, State, and Federal governments are using this Covid-19 pandemic to bar people from gathering in their temples for common worship. The importance of social interaction in the central square, as seen in traditional villages where the cafe life, together with the communal nature of the Church, were the primary source of fraternal interaction, demonstrate the danger facing a society that has ordered her people to remain apart, sequestered in their homes. A nation that forbids her people from participating in corporate worship, is a nation that is doomed. Isolated from others, the communal nature that is an important element in what it means to be human, is lost. As humans, we are meant to be together, for it is in our lives together that we grow in mind and spirit. It is in community that we learn to love God, and it is within the corporate gathering together for the Divine Liturgy, that we collectively hear the Word of God, and receive the Life-giving Body and Blood of Our Saviour. It is high time we clearly let those who’ve decided that liquor stores, pot shops, and drug stores are by far less essential to the maintenance of our souls, then the Church. A nation that forbids her people from participating in corporate worship, is a nation that is doomed. It is clear that we have need for access to the food we need for physical sustenance, but the spiritual food needed for a healthy soul and body, makes the Ch