“Christians to lions”: who and how makes enemy out of Church under epidemic
In the context of coronavirus, the Church, as in many cases before, is made guilty of everything. Why this happens and how the believers should respond.
During its centuries-long history, mankind has experienced a lot of problems – from terrible and destructive wars to deadly epidemics and natural disasters destroying almost all the living. In the past 20 years alone, we have seen many fires and floods, witnessed several wars with a huge death toll among civilians, refugees and migrants. And now we are wrestling with coronavirus, the consequences of which are still vague, as is the number of casualties.
Naturally, man tries to find the cause of his troubles in nearly all cases, to provide some rationale for them. What is curious about it is that very often a person blames another person or a community of people for a mishap. Almost all without exception can become guilty: nations, religions, other confessions, ordinary people. History knows how Jews, Kurds, Armenians, Lutherans, women with birthmarks were at fault. But the heaviest blow was frequently dealt to Christians ...
Culprits of all troubles
The reasons for the negative attitude of the people towards Christians were beautifully described by Vasily Bolotov in “Lectures on the History of the Ancient Church”. Below we cite the main ones.
- Formality of the so-called “folk faith” and “folk piety”: “The commoners have most preserved the remnants of the former faith, even enhanced and elevated it, which was slightly different from superstition. Theoretical questions of whether there is a God or whether those state-honored gods deserve veneration lie outside the people's horizons. Only one thing was clear to the people: there was something sending good and evil, more often evil; therefore, this something had to be appeased by traditional means – by performing certain ceremonies. Due to the emergence of Christianity, which impeded the observance of these ceremonies, it became clear to the common people that the gods, therefore, were angry and would punish not only Christians but the whole empire. Thus, Christianity was a great danger, with which it was necessary to fight with ‘right and wrong methods’.”
- Vagueness of Christianity to others, “fanaticism” of Christians: “The fact that Christians were dangerous was undoubtedly true for the commoners, firstly, because they were accused of atheism (aqeoths), not in a legal sense, but in a literal, primitive sense – in the sense that they were unbelievers who did not recognize pagan gods. This accusation stems from the fact that Christians did not revere gods and did not have pagan temples.”
- Misunderstanding of the meaning and essence of the Christian Sacraments and especially the Sacrament of the Eucharist: “It was reported that Christians feed on some kind of blood, therefore, they slaughter infants. If they talk about some bread, it only means that they sprinkle babies with flour to kill them with a bolder hand.” Therefore, Bolotov concludes, “suspected of such crimes (godlessness, hatred and debauchery - Ed.), Christians were in the eyes of the common people hateful to the gods and therefore guilty of all social disasters. In Africa, there was even a proverb: ‘If God does send rain, we should attack Christians for that’ or ‘whether the Tiber swells up to the city walls – Christians to the lions’. The question was: can one expect anything good from such a caste? Shouldn’t they be subject to extermination?”
It is for this reason that Christians were accused of setting fire to Rome (Nero burned it but let the citizens tear Christians to pieces), droughts, famines, earthquakes, floods, and other natural calamities.
Later, when Christianity acquired the status of state religion, some Christians blamed others for their troubles. For example, in the 7th-8th centuries, after a series of crushing military defeats of the Byzantine Empire from the Arab conquerors, Sovereign Leo III considered "that the crux of all troubles was the growing veneration of icons, which could be identified with idolatry in its outward manifestations."
A similar situation repeated in 811 after the catastrophic defeat of the Byzantine army from the Bulgarians, in which the icon worshipers were again accused.
- Well, finally, the fourth reason why Christians (and not only they) suffered very often is the so-called “safety valve”: “Sometimes an ‘image of the enemy’ is created specifically to unite society, to which the attention of all members of society is focused that acts as a safety valve, directing discontent and aggressiveness of the masses to an external enemy."
Coronavirus and the fight against the Church
Unfortunately, today, in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic in Ukraine, we can observe the first hints that the enemies and ill-wishers of the Church can accuse Orthodox Christians of spreading the disease. Moreover, we have all the above reasons indicated by Bolotov.
“Folk piety” views the Church only as a structure called to meet “religious needs”. A person who comes to church to ‘bless’ an Easter cake at Passover, to plunge into an ice hole at Theophany and to sing carols at Chritmas, does not need the Church or God. He needs to make sure that in his “spiritual life” everything is good and right.
In this perspective, he perceives Orthodox Christians who honor the Church of Christ and sincerely believe in God as fanatics who do not want to compromise with the "requirements of the time." Faith for such a “pious” person is necessarily “blind,” while Christians themselves are “ignorant obscurantists”. The Sacrament of the Eucharist, in which this person never believed, now appears as a source of infection for him, a means of spreading the disease.
When driven into despair and fear, a person is usually prompted exactly where to look for the “root of all evils,” i.e. in the Church. Well, and if it is necessary to lower the steam, the Church can also be used as a "safety valve". You will say we are exaggerating? Not at all.
“Sometimes an ‘image of the enemy’ is created, especially for the sake of the unity of society, to which the attention of all members of society is focused that acts as a safety valve, directing discontent and aggressiveness of the masses to an external enemy."
Pay attention to the amount of Ukrainian news connected by the chain "coronavirus – temple – Church".
For example, the Gordon publication writes that a clergyman of the UGCC, who is now ill with coronavirus, contacted 500 people: “He was hospitalized on March 19 and now is in the intensive care unit of the Ternopol City Hospital. We counted in the police that over a week period he had contact with nearly 500 people. He performed church services, a funeral rite, and now we are looking for these touch-base people,” said Anton Gerashchenko, deputy interior minister.
Ukrainian Pravda and others constantly emphasize that a female pensioner from Zhytomyr, who died from the coronavirus, had visited the temple.
True though, this news is about the UGCC and the OCU. But, as you know, only the UOC is a “whipping boy” for the authorities in Ukraine, so gradually the “coronavirus shift” targeted our Church. The “Left Bank” publication and then most of the Ukrainian media write that “four Moldovans who visited the Pochaev Lavra developed COVID-19.”
Here is the heading of RBC-Ukraina: “Coronavirus in Ukraine: the UOC-MP was urged to ignore quarantine.”
Doctor and popular blogger Yevgeny Komarovsky accuses Metropolitan Varsonofy of Vinnitsa of organizing an “anti-coronavirus” religious procession on March 8 despite the fact that at that time there was no emergency or quarantine in Ukraine, and the procession was not positioned as anti-coronavirus. In fact, it was reported by Vladyka in his persoanl address to Komarovsky.
“Depo” outlet, praising the OCU and the UGCC for their measures against the epidemic and accusing the UOC of non-compliance with quarantine standards, writes, “the only church figure who came into resonance with the statements of Moscow priests is the former Primate of Ukrainian Orthodoxy Filaret, who is now is in a voluntary split. On one of the television channels, he said that the coronavirus pandemic has arisen and is spreading through same-sex marriage. According to Filaret, the coronavirus pandemic on earth is intended to purify the planet, "likewise God burned Sodom and Gomorrah." According to the publication, “the leaders of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine (the main Muslim shrines of Mecca and Medina were closed for the first time in the history of the virus), the Jewish communities of Kiev, the Dnieper, and Protestant churches urged to observe quarantine measures and pray at home. And only the Moscow Church has its own position. It is wrong, because the development of the epidemic showed that everyone is equal before it – presidents, policy-makers, and clergy."
Politicians continue to heat up the situation. Deputies of the Ternopil Regional Council demand that the Ukrainian authorities, due to the threat of the coronavirus, stop worship at the Pochaev Lavra and declare a state of emergency, although there is not a single patient in the Lavra, while the above mentioned women from Moldova could have caught a bug in any other place in our country. If we follow the logic of the deputies, one had better close the Verkhovna Rada and declare the state of emergency there.
In a word, it is not difficult to notice that the situation around the UOC is artificially and purposefully escalated. The “image of the enemy” was attached to the canonical Church long ago, with the coronavirus epidemic being just an excuse to make this image look even more dreadful.
Church and Her fight against the coronavirus
Enemies of the Church seek to turn a blind eye at the measures taken by the UOC hierarchy to prevent the spread of the disease.
First of all, the UOC has been offering fervent prayers against the spread of the epidemic, because prayer is our key weapon.
But there are other actions taken as well.
- The Holy Synod of UOC called on the clergy to reduce the number of believers in the church to ten people, and if this is not possible, to serve outdoors.
- Mandatory disinfection of shrines, icons, cross, temple space was introduced.
- The Vinnitsa Eparchy appointed those responsible for the number of parishioners at divine services, while the Kiev Metropolis, hierarchs of the UOC verify the quarantine observance in churches.
- The clergy of the UOC agree with the National Police and the Kiev Coordination Center to jointly combat the spread of the virus.
- In the Zaporizhia, Odessa, Khmelnitsky and other dioceses, believers sew masks, make antiseptics, raise funds to fight against coronavirus (as in the Ivano-Frankivsk diocese), and supply Ukrainian regions with coronavirus tests.
- The UOC announced a fundraiser to help physicians; the monasteries of the UOC are ready to provide accommodation for patients, while His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry personally delivered medical equipment to Chernivtsi.
And all this is only a fraction of what the Church has done and been doing in the context of confronting the epidemic. Does anyone do more than the UOC, except for the state, of course? But the enemies of the UOC just shut their eye to all these numerous charitable acts.
What should the children of our Church do in this situation?
Firstly, “And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about” (2 Cor. 11-12). Well, you don’t need to somehow sport your faith. True, most of us fear God more than the coronavirus. And this is the way it should be. But do not accentuate it when there is no good reason. Moreover, it may happen that one can be affected by the disease for their vanity and pride.
A relevant case study can be found in the Lives of the Fathers. The elder and his disciple were running from the snake. The disciple asked the elder why he had chosen to run away from it if the Gospel says that Christians will take snakes into their hands. The elder replied, "I did not run away from the snake but from my vanity." So, let us run away from vanity and by no means boast of our faith.
Secondly, it is necessary to observe the quarantine norms that are prescribed by the state and not to contradict the fundamental principles of our faith. This applies to the required number of people in the temple (10), distance, and disinfectants.
Thirdly, one shouldn't condemn those who are scared, judge those who cannot overcome their fear to come to the temple or temple courtyard for prayer. Do not judge them, because we will not only lose them as believers of our Church but also ruin ourselves.
Finally – let us always remember that the source of all blessings for a human is the Lord. Everything that happens to us happens according to His good Providence and for the purpose of saving our immortal soul. Without the will of God, even the hair from our heads will not fall. If we bear this in mind, we will not only be able to defeat the coronavirus but also to overcome our biggest enemy – our own sins.