Russia tries to overcome the virus, the Orthodox Church mired in tragedy
by Vladimir Rozanskij

Churches and monasteries are among the most affected by the pandemic. Series of deaths at Lavra di St. Sergius, Novospasskij and Donskoj in Moscow, and at the patriarchal one of St. Daniel. Among the clergy and monks there are "denialists" ("it is not possible to get infected inside churches"). Many churches and monasteries remained open so as not to miss the indispensable offerings of the faithful. Patriarchate seeks new measures to support priests in economic difficulties. Support for widows of priests who have died of the virus.


Moscow (AsiaNews) - While the country shyly begins to hope for a weakening of the epidemic, the Orthodox Church continues to count its victims, especially in monasteries. The community most affected continues to be that of Lavra di St. Sergius, where other deaths have occurred in the last few days: on May 15 the 61-year-old Igumen Ferapont (Apollonov, photo 2) died, one of the superiors of the monastic community, which followed the death of the 46-year-old Hieromonk Modest (Panchenko) (photo 1) and the Hierodiacon Kallist (Kosulin), as well as some simple brothers of the monastery.

Monk Simon (Bajko), 68 years old, of the Novospassky monastery in Moscow, also affected by the pandemic, died this week. Fortunately, Metropolitan Dionisij (Porubaj) was cured of the coronavirus in the same monastery; other monasteries in which almost all the monks are infected are the large complex of the Donskoy of Moscow, and the patriarchal complex of St. Daniel. In the Ukrainian diocese of Vinnitsa, 49-year-old protoierey Aleksij Irodov, who served in the patriarchate of Moscow, died. The choir director, 60-year-old Mikhail Gareev, died in the Trinity church in Chelyabinsk in the Ural region. One of the oldest serving priests of the diocese of Moscow, 87-year-old protoierej Nikolai Djatlov, also died.

Many wonder why Orthodox priests are so exposed to infection, so much so as to spark debates on social media and the national press. Even a Swedish newspaper, the Dagens Nyether, has investigated the matter, noting the uncertainties of Patriarch Kirill (Gundjaev) and the conflict that has arisen with the orthodox virus "denialist" fundamentalists, who maintain "it is not possible to get infected inside churches."  Another reason is the difficulty of sustaining the churches and monasteries, which have remained open so as not to miss the indispensable offerings of the faithful.

Several observers have highlighted the low confidence of the Russians in civil and ecclesiastical authorities. According to Andrej Zubov, interviewed by the Swedes, “you in Europe are used to choosing the rulers, we in Russia are not. This is why people here think that the rules are made to get around."

In particular, the rules imposed on church attendance have sparked many protests in various locations. The pandemic crisis further widened the dissent between the Ukrainian "national" Orthodox faithful, who chose the online liturgies (photo 4), and the "Muscovite" ones who went to the church demonstratively, with the result that the Ukrainian monasteries of the Patriarchate of Moscow are among the most affected by the virus.

The spiritual father of the Sredneuralsky monastery near Yekaterinburg, the Igumen with the skhima Sergij (Romanov, photo 3), is one of the leaders of the "denialists". The Orthodox authorities had forbidden him to preach and speak in public after he cursed all those who speak of the closure of churches due to the "pseudopandemic", with heavy allusions to Patriarch Kirill himself.  On May 14, however, he released a short video on Znak.com, in which the starets congratulates the faithful for the feast of the icon of "sudden joy", with the words: "The sun, the air and the water are our dear friends. My dear, we are alive and well, what I wish for you too". In these days the nuns of his monastery have broadcast a video of patriotic songs and dances in the woods, also to support the optimism of their spiritual director.

The patriarchate, meanwhile, is looking for new measures to support priests in economic difficulties, creating lists of the neediest, blocking the layoffs of parish employees and supporting in particular the widows of priests who have died of the virus. Other initiatives are aimed at supporting the clinics, hospitals and care centers more closely linked to the Orthodox Church, and most active in the care of Covid-19 patients.

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