These are stressful times for us. We are in the process of cautiously re-opening our churches. When I issued my May 5th directives along with those of the Holy Synod, I said we were going at 10mph. Now that number has gone up to 20-25 mph – a faster speed but still not at the speed limit of many roads (30 mph or more). I have blessed more churches to up their attendance from 20 to 30+ attendees based on stats on the virus in their local areas or modifications in state directives. But with these increasing numbers, I have also directed that masks be worn at services, and I have offered different variations of how communion is be to given with the spoon. This has caused some concern among some parents, so I want to explain my motivations to you in my weekly note. I begin with St. Paul and Romans Chapter 15:
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves; let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him. (Romans 15:1-2)
Nothing has been done on my part that has been motivated by fear or lack of faith. Fr. Paul Lazor of blessed memory would often tell seminarians at our common meals during Great Lent: “we set our table for our weaker brother.” So in directing that we wear masks at services (especially as our numbers increase to over 20), I am motivated by two factors.
One is the knowledge I have gained from reading and advice received from various sources that tell me the most effective way of minimizing any risk of the virus spreading in our churches is through a combination of wearing masks and social distancing. Second, my motivation for directing that masks be worn is motivated by my love for all of you. I don’t want us doing anything as a fallen people seeking salvation that would bring harm to our brothers and sisters.
So when you are speaking to your children about wearing masks (especially to those over 7 years old), tell them we are doing this because of love, not fear. When people go to hospitals now to visit the sick, everyone is told to wear a mask so that we reduce the risk of spreading something to patients that might cause them to get sicker. The challenge the Covid virus still presents is that people can be feeling fine and have no symptoms to report, but be infected with the virus and pass it on from person to person. Plus, the longer we are together in church, the less effective social distancing is. Thus, we wear the facemask out of love for others as an added precaution to cause no harm to others. I don’t want people to get used to wearing masks, because I believe there will be a time in the near future when we will not need to do so.
In regards to the way we receive communion in our churches, I have the following thoughts to share. Some believe strongly that we should not change the practice we have been following for the last 800 years. That is certainly a powerful argument. However, I have heard from others that while they believe they can’t get sick from the Eucharist itself, they worry that they might get the disease from the communion spoon. This has caused anxiety on their part to approach the cup. They are still people of faith, but they are perhaps like the Father who cried out to Jesus in Mark 9:24, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” So I temporarily required either sanitizing communion spoons with alcohol, or using a different, clean spoon for each communicant. Recently, I have also blessed using just one spoon and allowing the Eucharist to be given in wide-open mouth without touching one’s mouth to the spoon. All of this has been done to mitigate the anxiety people of faith may have to enable them to come to the cup. All of the Bishops on the Holy Synod are of one mind to eventually return to the practice of one spoon as was done prior to the outbreak of Covid 19.
I want to end by relating a story from the TV show “The Love Boat.” A man (played by Louis Nye) came aboard the cruise ship wearing a life jacket, and he wouldn’t take it off for fear of the water. Many tried to convince him to take off the life jacket, but he became more adamant and refused out of fear. Eventually, all the other passengers on the cruise ship started wearing life jackets to express their love for this fearful man and to stand with him. He was so grateful for people showing this expression of love and understanding towards him. The story ends with him taking off his life jacket of his own free will and joyfully jumping into the pool.
It is with this attitude in mind that I ask you to approach these issues we are addressing for the short term. The blessing of the Lord be upon you.
With love in Christ,
The unworthy Archbishop Paul