The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople issued a statement on Wednesday announcing the Church’s new decision in regard to the covid-19 global coronavirus pandemic.
According to this statement, all religious ceremonies, events and rituals will be suspended in all of the Patriarchate’s regions around the globe until March 31, 2020.
These include parts of Greece as well, such as Macedonia, Thrace, and many of the Greek islands.
After the Ecumanical Patriarch’s announcement, a letter sent by Archbishop Elpidophoros of America to parishes clarifies that services in the USA may continue behind closed doors and without any parishioners present in the church.
Elpidophoros writes: “Having discussed the situation with the Sacred Center of Orthodoxy, at length, and having inquired specifically about the United States, I received His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s reply, namely, that we should allow for the divine services, including Divine Liturgies, to be celebrated in our Holy Churches behind closed doors, as is the case with the Monasteries.
“In this way we may be able to keep our liturgical tradition alive, even in this minimal way, but also that we may broadcast through streaming and other means the aforementioned services for the spiritual benefit of our faithful.”
Additionally, personal prayer will still be allowed in all churches which will remain open.
The Patriarchate is expected to revisit this ruling and make further decisions according to the latest developments as time goes on.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate also urged all people to reduce their movements and stay at home, following the guidelines of their home countries.
Watch the Ecumenical Patriarch’s full message here:
Full text of the Patriarch’s speech:
“Brother hierarchs and beloved children in the Lord,
“From the Phanar, from the heart of the Queen of Cities, from the City of the Great Church and of Haghia Sophia, we are communicating with each and every one of you – women, men, and children – because of the unprecedented conditions and tribulation that we are facing as a human race as a result of the global threat posed by the pandemic of the new coronavirus, called Covid-19.
“The voice of the Church, of the Mother Church, cannot be silent in such times. Our words, then, take the form we have learned through the ages: through the liturgy and through instruction, with encouragement and consolation.
“We sincerely thank all those who struggle with self-sacrifice, even neglecting themselves and their families, including:
– Medical and nursing professionals at the front lines, beside our brothers and sisters who are suffering,
– Researchers and scientists searching for proper medication and vaccination to deliver us from this virus, but also
– All those actively working hard to address this pandemic.
“Your contribution is invaluable. It is an offering to all of society. It is a sacrifice that deserves every honor and gratitude. All of us thank you and applaud you, not only from the windows of our homes, but everywhere and at all times. Our thoughts and our prayers are with you.
“In this struggle, our appointed states, governments and appropriate health authorities have the primary responsibility for planning, confronting and overcoming this crisis. We might describe them as Commanders on the battlefield against an invisible, but now well-known, enemy. An enemy that has turned against humanity.
“The burden of the responsibility, that they bear on their shoulders, by necessity demands the cooperation of us all. Now is the time of personal and social responsibility.
“Therefore, our dear children, we entreat you as your spiritual father to respond faithfully and patiently to all the difficult but necessary measures proposed by our health authorities and nations. Everything is being done for our protection, for our common good, in order to contain the spread of this virus. Our liberation from this distress depends entirely on our own cooperation.
“Perhaps some of you have felt that these drastic measures undermine or harm our faith.
“However, that which is at stake
is not our faith – it is the faithful.
It is not Christ – it is our Christians.
It is not the divine-man – but human beings.
“Our faith is firmly established in the roots of our culture. Our faith is a living faith, and there is no exceptional circumstance that can limit or suppress it. What must be limited and suppressed in these extraordinary circumstances are gatherings and large congregations of people. Let us remain in our homes. Let us be careful and protect those around us. And there, from our homes, strengthened by the power of our spiritual unity, let each and every one of us pray for all humankind.
“We will pass through this period like a journey through the desert to reach the Promised Land, where science, by the grace of God, will overcome this virus.
“We are certain that, through our prayers as well, science will indeed prevail. So it is good for us to remain united in spirit, as we continue the struggle of repentance and holiness.
“We see our neighbors suffering from the consequences of the virus, while others have already fallen and departed from among us. Our Church hopes and prays for the healing of the sick, for the souls of the departed, and for courage and strength to the families of the afflicted.
“This trial, too, shall pass. The clouds will clear, and the Sun of Righteousness will eliminate the deadly effect of the virus. But our lives will have changed forever. This trial is an opportunity for us to change for the better. In the direction of establishing love and solidarity.
“Beloved children in the Lord, may the blessing of the Lord, through the intercessions of the All-Holy Mother of God, accompany us in our journey, transform our voluntary isolation into genuine communion, and become our prayer and destination to appreciate the meaning of this, so that we may return to that which is true, to that which is pleasing to God!
“Have courage! And may God be with us!”