THEOLOGICAL ESSAY CHALLENGE ANNOUNCEMENT
HOW TO RESPOND TO CORONAVISUS FAITHFULLY?
The Orthodox Research Group of St. John Chrysostom is privileged to announce the Theological Essay Challenge to support each other through the coronavirus emergency.
The topic of the essay is “How to respond to coronavirus faithfully?”
Can it be an act of God’s providence that the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe coincides with the beginning of Lent? This is the time when the faithful are the most vigilant and dressed in their full spiritual armour.
For the majority of Christians, coronavirus is not something one would be scared about. From the perspective of eternity where everything is seen through the light of Christ, present everywhere, shining to us even through sufferings, the coronavirus outbreak is such a minuscule event that even to mention it seems inappropriate.
However, the pandemic has already become a spiritual happening. Coronavirus didn’t enter this world alone. The entourage of the impure spirits accompanied his entrance: the spirits of helplessness, fear, self-preservation, the anxiety of being left to drown, excessive self-concern to save one’s bacon, the attitudes of fear and panic, the illusion that everything depends on the doctors, on those who are struggling to find a new vaccine, on the politicians. In the spiritual onslaught caused, many have already been trapped by fear, weakened by anxiety and become spiritually paralysed.
The proper Christian stance in this situation would be to stand firm in Christ, turning one’s back to the coronavirus panic, which steers into direct conflict with the lenten endeavour. But would it also be a proper Christian stance to stand firm, turning one’s back to the neighbour who is scared or spiritually paralysed? The posture of turning one’s head to Christ and one’s back to those who are in need is a theological oxymoron (cf. Matt 25:40-45).
The Church is now concerned about how to preserve holy communion, which is crucial for us as the body of Christ. But to be the body of Christ is not just to receive communion, but also to constitute the presence of Christ within the world, to voice the Word of Christ to the world, to transfigure the world by his Word. To be the body of Christ is to share the “great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1). To be the body of Christ is to be his letter to the world (2 Cor 3:3) ‒ the world in which Coronavirus and those in his retinue, have started to usurp the crown of the one to whom it rightfully belongs (Col 1:16-17; Ps 27:1).
It is a time to be extra vigilant, but not only against the virus. It is not death, including the death form coronavirus, the faithful are scared of (1 Cor 15:55-57), but of the “darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”: they are scared to be found in the clothes of indifference when invited by Christ to the wedding banquet (Matt 22:13).
When thousands of people are suffering: those who are in quarantine, in hospitals or facing the danger of losing the family members, scared we might fall into unfaithful decisions and attitudes.
If our spiritual choice is to take all the necessary precautions and to stand firm in the luminous presence of Christ, shall we not share this attitude with the brothers who have become spiritually paralysed, speaking peace over the situation? (cf. 2 Tim 1:7)
One must note that the efforts of the authorities during the last two months against the virus outbreak are tremendous and praiseworthy! The flights are cancelled, the factories have stopped working, schools are closed, events are postponed. The measures for protection against the disease, which strikes predominantly those over eighty-five with underlying health issues, tell a lot, not only about our life expectancy, but also about our expectations from life.
It is praiseworthy that it has remained inconceivable to argue for natural selection, the survival of the fittest, or overpopulation, through which the Christian mindset is clearly shining.
Are the measures of protection against the outbreak of the disease an act of excessive self-concern? One can argue that for the majority, especially for those in their full health, these measures of protection are not an act of defence, but the generous, self-sacrificial act of self-restraint to protect those who might not be able to survive the outbreak.
Can cooperation of the countries against the outbreak of the virus provide a beautiful example of collaboration against the spiritual consequences of its attack?
For example would it not be an act of love to shift the discussion from the question of whether or not the holy gifts can spread the virus (which is intrinsically about self-preservation) to the concern about how to support those who might not be able to attend the services? Maybe one could send the holy bread and holy water and letters with encouraging words to those who are in quarantine, who are scared, who do not have enough faith?
When a paralysed man was brought to Christ and was not able to get inside through the door, people broke the roof to take him in. It was not the standard way to enter a house, but Christ accepted and healed him (Mark 2:1-12).
If one can’t come to Christ through the door, can we not make an opening in the roof?
If holy communion itself “cannot be a cause of disease transmission”, as the Holy Synod has recently stated,  we know that one can get the virus by staying with an infected person in the same room. Holy Synod has beautifully argued that “to receive the holy communion, even in the midst of a pandemic, is both a practical affirmation of self-surrender to the Living God and a potent manifestation of love.” Still, we can’t expect the congregation to be holier than the apostle Peter (Luke 22:54-62), which would exceed even the expectations of Christ (Luke 22:33-34). The truth is that people won’t be able to attend services. People will refrain from going to church not only because they are scared to become infected themselves, but also because they are afraid of spreading the infection to those more vulnerable than they are.
God has promised us: “to give us “words and wisdom” (Luke 21:15).
Let us share some helpful thoughts and attitudes, to help ourselves rise up from the struggle for self-preservation which has paralysed our spiritual forces.
The essay should be 1000-5000 words and must be submitted by at your early convenience to email@example.com.
We hope you’ll join us!
That will help us to stand firm in the Lord, who will guide us to the path of peace (Luke 1:79) so that the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus (cf. Phil 4:7).
Dr. Olga Sevastyanova
St. John Chrysostom Orthodox Research Group