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Letter from An Orthodox Mom

Regarding the Response of the Hierarchy and Clergy to the Coronavirus Crisis

I am an Orthodox mother. I have been Orthodox for the last 30 years and my husband is cradle Orthodox, born and raised in the OCA. We have four children here, and one in Heaven. In the last three months, I have not heard one bishop, or directive from a bishop, speak about our children. Not one. The ONLY reference to children has been that if they cannot distance themselves properly, they will need to remain home.

I am deeply grieved by this and, quite frankly, angry and I believe rightly so. My husband and I, like many other Orthodox parents, have struggled and done the hard work, week after week, year after year, for twelve years now, to take our children to church and teach them our faith. And with one virus, that we are learning is not nearly as deadly as it was reported to be, they have pulled the thread out of not only our twelve years of work but thousands of years of work combined, by all Orthodox parents, all diligently working to pass on our precious and unique faith to our children, as our parents and grandparents did to us. This is all wrong.

I took my children with me to Church throughout the nine months before they were born. I crossed my belly with the sign of the cross because they could not do it for themselves. They were with me as I stood in the choir while I sang. Through me, they heard the prayers and they partook of communion until they were born and then baptized in a Church full of the faithful, surrounded by love.

After they were born, I stopped singing in the choir to tend to them. When they were antsy or tired, I walked with them around the church as they kissed icons on the walls. The ones they could not reach, I had them kiss their hand and reach up high to put their kisses on the icons above. When they were old enough, they would toddle up to the tall icon stands, and although they could not reach the icons above, they kissed the wooden cross, at their level, the one their father built with his own hands before they were even born.

I still watch children do this because they instinctively recognize the things which represent God and they recognize them devoid of fear. In the years that followed, week after week, our family would stop what we were doing on Saturday’s to prepare for Vespers. We took them to venerate the icons every single time. We took them to communion every single time. We got up early on Sunday after Sunday after Sunday, with not one, not two, not three, but four children. We got them dressed in their church clothes, drove them to Church and persevered through the services, walking in and out of the church with them, lunging at them to stop them from running into the Altar, taking them to the potty, shushing them during the gospel, and teaching them they are not to speak when Father is speaking. Godparents held them, without fear, also taking them around to kiss the icons to give me a break. I missed hundreds of sermons walking outside with a tired toddler and I did this week after week after week.

We also took them to communion week after week, year after year. Patiently, consistently, faithfully, because THAT is how you pass our faith onto our next generation. They are learning from US. They are learning from all that they see and all that they do, more than what they hear, for years. Parents do not do this because it is easy. No parent does this for “fun” or for show. It’s too much work. It’s hard, relentless, diligent work. So, to have our bishops and priests, across so many jurisdictions, establish every contradictory protocol we can imagine is catastrophic.

They now want me to sign up to bring MY children to church, where all the adults are now wearing masks, which to a child is very scary. They are required to sanitize their hands upon arrival because they are looked upon as walking germ factories where, God forbid, they should cough or sneeze. Two of my children wear masks and two do not due to their ages. None of them are permitted to kiss the icons or get a hug from their godparents or grandparents or friends, who perhaps are so scared by all this, might even retreat if my children were to approach them. Then, I take them to communion where the priest changes spoons after they consume it, after dipping it into THE Body and Blood of Christ, which is the most purifying thing we have access to in this world. As we leave the Church, speaking to no one, I’m left wondering if this is what I have to show my children after twelve years of diligent work and teaching.

May God have mercy on all those making these devastating decisions. The damage they are doing to the faith of our children is unmeasurable. If I have “unreasonable faith” as one bishop described it to me back in March, perhaps his grandparents and parents had “unreasonable faith,” too, and perhaps that is what lead him to the priesthood and years of service in our church.

Why is having FAITH suddenly becoming so unreasonable? And why are they scolding devout Orthodox, calling us overly pious in a derogatory way, implying we have no care for our fellow parishioners if we do not embrace their new directives? If they believe this is the case, it is a flat out lie. Over the years, as a mother, I have missed countless services because my children were sick and had to remain home. Now, we who are healthy and not afraid, are being told we must forgo our practice of faith to accommodate people who ARE afraid. We are to alter our faith so they can feel “safe”. My own faith, and the faith of my children, is negotiable and dismissible. Yet I am the one scolded for being unloving. If those that fear the practice of our faith want to partake, our parishes should make accommodations for them so our priests can minister to them where they are comfortable. But they should not rewrite the faith due to a passing virus. This is not love. I don’t know what this is, but it is not love.

It’s wrong and I hope more parents and good priests and faithful will speak up and stand up for our Orthodox children and our faith and fight for what we know to be pure and true and right. We will not take our children to any church where they see adults in face masks, are not allowed to kiss icons, or see different spoons used for communion. I have no explanation for this to my children. None. This is not Orthodoxy. It is not our Faith.

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