by Anna Stickles
Note: Since publication, the sentence in the third paragraph below beginning with “The saints stress…” has been slightly modified at the author’s request.
I just wanted to make a brief comment on the troubles we are facing with the global response to COVID-19. In the world this has become a politically and socially divisive issue, but in the Church we are called to peace and communion in the Church.
Everyone has a different idea of how much trust to put in lockdowns and masks and how much in God’s Providence over life and death, through prayer and the Holy Mysteries, etc.
The Church teaches that both man’s gift of medical knowledge and dependence on God through prayer and the sacraments are good things. The saints stress that it is right to give thanks for and use the gift of medicinal wisdom, but it is also good and necessary to recognize its limits and put more hope in prayer. St Basil urges that “Whatever requires an undue amount of thought or trouble or involves a large expenditure of effort and causes our whole life to revolve, as it were, around solicitude for the flesh must be avoided by Christians. Consequently, we must take great care to employ this medical art, if it should be necessary, not as making it wholly accountable for our state of health or illness, but as redounding to the glory of God.” 1
Obviously the secular world, having no hope in God at all, and trusting only in man’s ability to “defeat the virus” has entered into a situation where the whole of our social life has been revolving around this virus for the last year. As Christians we need to resist this mindset, and speak out wisely against it.
As Christians we recognize that just as no one is born apart from God’s will, so too no one dies apart from God’s will. As St Paisios notes, God takes each man at the best time possible according to His Good Providence. The secular man counts the number of people dying and congratulates himself that by his own knowledge and activity he has been able to prevent deaths — not understanding that this is delusional pride. It is satanic pride to think we are in charge of life and death. The atheist thinks that science can completely explain the spread of the virus. But he cannot explain why a 106-year-old man in poor health survives the virus and a 38-year-old with no health problems dies. He cannot explain why some people in a household get the virus and others living in the same house never get it. Secular science does not recognize God’s intimate interpenetration with the energies of creation, nor His ongoing Providential guidance in every movement of every electron. The secular society thinks that our liturgical prayer is useless and unnecessary and our gatherings are dangerous. They believe that trust in prayer and the sacraments is simple superstition. Some others believe in a two-story universe where God may occasionally reach down to do a miracle, but that since He is unpredictable in His help we must rely on our own strength.[ed.: see the writings of Fr Stephen Freeman for more on this topic. In both cases God’s ongoing Providential interpenetration and guidance of the energies of creation are denied. In the 19th and 20th centuries atheistic scientists mostly believed in a simple deterministic view of nature. But even though we now have scientific proof that the natural laws are indeed open to external influence, change, and variation rather than being completely deterministic (see for instance Chaos theory and quantum mechanics) scientists still deny any possibility of a God who influences nature, choosing to see the universe wholly in terms of impersonal laws and human influence.
However, while we reject the atheistic view of the world, nevertheless what each Christian individual considers on a personal level “an undue amount of trouble” is going to be different. How each one responds to what is going on is a matter of faith and conscience, and St Paul says2that in matters of faith and conscience we should not judge one another, nor despise another person’s decisions.
While the world fights over mask wearing and lockdowns, while it riots and engages in political battles, let us as Christians take what St Paul says to heart so that peace and love can reign in the Church. Let us not judge each other’s opinions or actions but rather entrust all judgment to God who indeed will judge justly. Let not the person who puts their hope in prayer and the sacraments despise medicine, which Tradition teaches is a gift from God. And let not the person who respects medical and scientific knowledge call the person who is trusting wholly in prayer and the sacraments superstitious or foolish or a danger to society. As the Apostle says, Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. 3
We are called to obedience and also to bear … one another’s burdens.4 We are called to “commit ourselves and one other and all our lives unto Christ our God.”5 So let us, beloved of the Lord, rein in our own fear and not treat other people like lepers, being afraid that they will infect us. At the same time let us not justify our dislike of mask wearing and lockdowns as some kind of faith if in reality we are simply tired and irritated at burdens we feel to be unnecessary. Let us with fear of God respect our hierarchs and not make life difficult for those who will give account to God for our souls.6 Let us not be rebellious nor fearful, not irritated, nor proud, but bear all things with patience and sympathy. Then our faith and love will be purified and grow.
In the world we see those who fear getting sick from the virus at odds with those who fear getting sick from the vaccine. Both of these come from undue concern for the flesh. St Basil says that we should recognize the limitations of medicine and not make “it wholly accountable for our state of health or illness, but as redounding to the glory of God”. If medication fails we should accept this as God’s providence and trust that God will not try us beyond what we can bear. In your patience possess ye your souls.7
So let us not get pulled into the world’s excesses or let our lives completely revolve around concern for our physical health. The world will always be the world and be filled with chaos and conflict, but in the Church “We have found the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit.” Let us live in the peace of Christ, not judging one another but instead focusing on how we can extract spiritual benefit out of every aspect of our life. This is the art of arts.
Anna Stickles is a mother of 6 children, whom she and her husband Michael partially homeschooled. She currently assists senior citizens with in-home care and non-medical help and is active in her parish. Anna and her family converted to Orthodoxy in 2008 and she graduated from The Pastoral School of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America in 2018.