Dear brothers and sisters,
Please take a moment to review the guidelines below. These are the requirements we have been given by our Metropolis in order to have the faithful present for Liturgy at this time.
While no one would disagree that they are onerous, we have to remember that they were developed by our Hierarch in dialogue with physicians in our Metropolis with the aim of practically caring for the health of our parishioners, and are based on protocols that are recommended by pretty much all public health agencies.
It is challenging to deal with the news every day that seems to constantly alternate between minimizing or maximizing any dangers related to the Coronavirus; but, please consider that these guidelines are based primarily in recommendations for public gatherings that have been relatively consistent from the beginning of this crisis.
Relatedly, it seems that they only become particularly burdensome if we view the guidelines themselves as a ploy intended to inculcate fear within the populace.
But here I think it would be appropriate to think of other areas of our lives where we take precautionary measures, or better yet, where precautionary measures are imposed on us.
For example, let’s ask ourselves, does anyone feel overwhelmed by anxiety when they put on a seat belt in their car, or when they buckle their children into a car seat, or, do they feel that somehow they are abandoning their faith in God by doing so? Is any driver paralyzed by fear every time he approaches an intersection because he learned that when he is turning left the oncoming traffic has the right-of-way?
Do we feel unduly afflicted and burdened by traffic signals and speed limits? (which is not to say that we don’t feel afflicted and burdened by heavy traffic!)
Now, it’s possible, and even likely, that one could drive for his entire life and never end up in a terrible car crash. There are, of course, even people who drive for a living that never suffer such a tragedy. And yet, no one has a problem buying car insurance, wearing safety belts, or having air-bags imposed on them by federal decree.
And of course one could argue that we do in fact drive for most of our lives without any major accidents precisely because there are traffic laws, appropriate speed limits, licensing, etc… All of which are restrictions on our freedom to drive in whatever manner we wish.
And as a back stop, when the rules fail and we make a mistake, or perhaps when we encounter a drunk driver that’s out of control, we trust that seat belts and air bags will minimize the damage.
All of this, for the most part, operates entirely in the background for us. We don’t even think about putting on a seat belt. Are there really some among us that would question our faith and trust in God because we wear one?
Imagine a father of six who died in a car accident. Most of his children were in the car as well and even though it rolled several times none of them were injured. He, however, was thrown from the car and died instantly because he wasn’t wearing a seat belt. His wife is now widowed and children fatherless. Now, if he was the sort that refused to wear a seat belt because he said, “I put all of my trust in God”, what are we to say to that?
Let’s not leave the rational part out of being rational sheep, nor lose the organic flexibility of Orthodox life by creating reasons to fear a lack of faith where there are none, i.e. by fearing that requiring parishioners to wear masks inculcates an atmosphere of fear, as some have tried to argue, rather than an atmosphere of care.
I hope that we can think of these temporary guidelines in this light, as prudent actions out of concern for the common good.
And more importantly, I have a feeling that if we practice them out of love for our brothers and sisters, and a sober recognition before God of the weakness of all of our flesh, any burden that they impose almost entirely falls away.
And lastly, I want to offer a brief some thoughts for consideration for those who may absent themselves from the services for too long a time out of fear of contracting the virus.
I hope that you can see below that we are doing everything within reason to allow us to attend church and avoid contracting any viruses. Since we do have all of these measures in place, one does have to ask himself if continuing to stay away from church at this point may in fact signal an unhealthy amount of fear. I can’t answer that question for you. It’s something between you and God. And again, I would absolutely acknowledge that the degree of caution that is warranted is something that is subject to change, and regrettably, is often sensationalized.
Yet I wonder if it might help for us to consider again the analogy of driving a car with a seat belt. We know there are car accidents, and we know that they can be very tragic, but we take precautions and continue to drive because the benefits outweigh the risks. If the whole aim of our life is Communion with the living God, then it must be said then any risk to draw near to Him is worth it.
We take precautions because we know our weakness, and know that if we “keep [our] body free of disease and sensual pleasure it will help [us] serve what is more noble.” (St. Maximos, First Century on Love) It will also help us to serve what is more noble for a longer time in this age.
Nevertheless, imagine the tragedy if we take so much regard to be free of disease, not with the aim of serving what is more noble, but with the sole care of freely pursuing sensual pleasure, that is, pleasure for it’s own sake, cut off from communion with God. In that case, we have only the appearance of freedom in bodily health, while actually living as slaves to appetite, to anger, and fear, following their dictates, rather than the will of God.
With regard to any unreasonable or unhealthy fear we should keep in mind that: “He who forsakes all worldly desires set himself above all worldly distress.” (St. Maximos, ibid.) This path is better, free of distress, and it is more joyful.
What it means to forsake all worldly desires, is not to abandon desire itself, but rather to orient every desire to the “one thing needful”, the One, Himself who is needful to raise us from bondage to sin and death, and bring us into immortal life, the One Who is offered as food to the faithful in the Divine Liturgy.
Let us not absent ourselves unreasonably.
With love in Christ,
What can you expect from St. George in regards to health and safety when you return to church:
- Doors and windows will be kept open to improve air circulation as much as possible
- We will not hold coffee hour, social activities or church school after service and will encourage all attendees to leave promptly after service unless they have an assigned duty which requires them to stay
- An usher/greeter will be at each service to help guide those who may be unfamiliar with these new practices
New protocols for church attendance:
- Everyone age two and older will be asked to wear a mask or face covering over nose and mouth while inside any part of the church facility. Please bring a face covering from home if possible, Perhaps a veil for young girls, and a bandana for boys, if it seems like they would be easier to manage? In the event that someone does not have a mask, a paper surgical mask will be provided upon arrival.
- Please sanitize your hands each time you enter the church building.There are some folks who would rather not use hand-sanitizer, if this is the case, we would just ask that you wash your hands prior to entering the sanctuary.
- A contact-free thermometer will be used to take everyone’s temperature prior to entering the church. If anyone’s temperature is greater than 100.4 degrees F, they will be asked to return home
- Please maintain social distancing practices and remain at least 6 feet away from all people in attendance who are not in the same household.
- It falls to parents to attend to small children and to help them abide by the expectations to the best of their ability, assisting them with masks, and helping them to sanitize their hands and to keep social distancing requirements. Even though these requirements will be challenging, we hope that with the availability of hand sanitizer at the doors, and the arrangement of the seats in the church, they won’t be overly difficult.
- Parents are asked to accompany children if they must exit the sanctuary to use the restroom or take a break.
- Please reverence the icons only by making the sign of the cross and bowing.
- It is important that we greet each other lovingly, but for the time being we will try to refrain from physical touch.
- Everyone will be guided by the usher/greeter when approaching the front of the sanctuary for Holy Communion and following service. Please look to them for direction concerning movement within the church.