Last week, St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov announced a ban on going to church during this week, though the Legal Department of the Russian Church responded that the constitution does not provide him with such authority.
His Grace Bishop Nazary of Kronstadt, the abbot of the St. Alexander Nevsky Lavra in St. Petersburg, stated that the monastery will not shut its doors to the faithful, though emphasizing that the monastery will faithfully follow the directives of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Now the Patriarchate, through its primate, is calling on the faithful not to attend Church services in the coming days.
In his homily following the Divine Liturgy in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral on the 4th Sunday of Great Lent yesterday, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia called upon the faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church to refrain from attending Church services due to the coronavirus.
“I call upon you, my dear ones, to refrain from going to church in the coming days, until there is a special Patriarchal blessing,” the Patriarch said, though clergy will continue to celebrate the services.
The full text of his homily (in Russian) is available on the official site of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sopyanin had previously urged people not to go to church, though he stopped short of imposing an official ban, and President Vladimir Putin declared March 30-April 3 a non-working week for the entire country. Sopyanin subsequently imposed a city-wide quarantine as cases of the coronavirus exceeded 1,000 in Moscow over the weekend.
After commenting upon the ascetic heights described in St. John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent and exemplified in the life of St. Mary of Egypt, Pat. Kirill turned to the theme of the coronavirus, noting that he had received a letter from an Orthodox woman in Italy that made a great impression upon him as she described how, like residents of Russia today, residents of Italy also did not think the virus was a serious threat just a few weeks ago and they continued to live as usual. Now, however, as is well known, the situation has become very serious in Italy.
“The Church calls today, before there are victims in our families, to commit ourselves to strictly following all the regulations coming from the sanitary authorities in Russia,” His Holiness continued.
As have many hierarchs throughout the Orthodox world, the Patriarch then pointed to the life of St. Mary of Egypt as an example that salvation is possible even without going to church, calling upon his flock to turn their homes into a desert.
“Let us take upon ourselves the task of not leaving our homes, as Mary of Egypt took upon herself the task of not leaving the desert. And she was probably hungry and thirsty, too!” Pat. Kirill preached, “Although in modern cities it is possible to get both food and drink without leaving their desert.”
“This is how we should live now,” the Patriarch continued, calling on the flock to ignore any priests who say otherwise. “Listen to what the Patriarch has told you today.”
It is no coincidence that this time of quarantine coincides with the upcoming celebrations of St. Mary of Egypt, Pat. Kirill believes. “Nothing is accidental with God,” he said.
“Mary fought the devil, who afflicted human souls, and today we must fight the forces of evil that afflict our physical bodies, and through this, our souls,” the Russian primate preached.
“Therefore, I call upon you, my dear ones, to refrain from going to church in the coming days, until there is a special Patriarchal blessing, and if someone tells you something, remind them of the example of Mary of Egypt,” Pat. Kirill said, continuing:
We have no other answer, because we love our churches. For 51 years I have been preaching from the pulpits, encouraging people to come to church and overcome the inclination of their own evil will and external circumstances. I have dedicated my entire life to this call! I hope you understand how difficult it is for me to say today: Refrain from going to church; and I probably would never have said this if it weren’t for the amazing, saving example of St. Mary of Egypt, who during this very week is being glorified by the Church as a great ascetic, who even during her earthly life received the angelic nature.
“Through her prayers, may the Lord protect us all from infections and diseases… We believe that even today the Lord calls us to follow her path even in modern metropolises,” the Patriarch concluded.