Virologist turned bishop: Quarantine may divide us but prayers unite us
Petr Mansurov, Orthodox bishop of Kalachinsk, graduated in biology in Moscow. He calls on the faithful to accept isolation measures during Orthodox Easter. He cites past examples, like the blessed Admiral Fyodor Ushakov, who fought the plague in Crimea; and Patriarch Pimen, who acted to curb a cholera epidemic in southern USSR. For the prelate, "Nobody is attacking our faith"; the current lockdown of churches is not like church closing during the Soviet era.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – Before becoming a priest, the Russian Orthodox bishop of Kalachinsk, Petr (Mansurov), graduated in biology from the University of Moscow, and worked for a few years at the Omsk Scientific Research Institute of Natural Focal Infections (Siberia), where he obtained a doctorate in virology.
The Orthodox magazine Foma (Фома) talked to him to get his views, especially to encourage many reluctant believers to accept isolation measures during Orthodox Easter. In the interview, Bishop Petr said that even in the past, during the epidemics, it was necessary to close churches to fight plague, cholera and smallpox epidemics.
“Now they talk a lot about the feat of Filaret of Moscow, who in the 19th century gathered the faithful to pray against cholera,” said the prelate. It was precisely this that led “to the death of another metropolitan by the same name who wanted to imitate him, Filaret of Chernihiv (Chernigov) who became infected praying and died of cholera in 1866.”
According to the virologist turned bishop, “the main podvig (heroic act) of priests during an epidemic is to visit hospitals full of patients,” facing great risks like doctors and nurses, distributing communion under sterile protection.
The faithful should not act differently from other citizens. “Let us remember the words of the apostles on obedience to the authorities”. For Petr, contrary to what many Orthodox may say today, the current lockdown is not comparable to church closing during the Soviet period, “quarantine measures are not a persecution of the Church”.
The bishop cited a famous historical case, that of Admiral Fyodor Ushakov, who headed the Russian fleet and built the port of Sevastopol. The admiral won 43 naval battles defending the homeland and ended his days dedicating himself to prayer and charity. He was canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church in 2001, and his figure is very popular among the faithful.
The blessed admiral saved the imperial fleet from the plague, and more. He organised the quarantine of the city of Kherson in Crimea, and forbade anyone from going to church, sending the military to check that no one left home. Once the outbreak over, the admiral was awarded the Order of Saint Vladimir.
Even one of the more recent patriarchs of Moscow, Pimen (Izvekov), who led the Church from 1971 to 1990, before his election to the patriarchal throne, had to act during a cholera epidemic in the southern regions of the Soviet Union (Caucasus, Caspian Sea, Odessa). He signed a decree prohibiting kissing icons, and communion was only allowed at home for the sick.
Looking at Orthodox history and doctrine, Bishop Petr notes that "current events force us to carefully re-read the history of Orthodoxy, precisely with regard to the topic of epidemics, and the concerns they arouse in the hearts of the faithful.”
The prelate stresses the point that “Nobody is attacking our faith. The unity of the Church is confirmed in another way: in the awareness that wherever we pray – in church during liturgies, at home, or in the monastic cell – Christ is among us. We are divided externally by the quarantine, but we can spiritually unite in prayer. We must not be afraid, because the Lord always unites us.”
As a bishop and a scientist, Petr recommends to the faithful, and to everyone, not to believe too much in what is found on the Internet, or in the various statistics and comments that are often published in a confused and contradictory way. Instead, people should trust scientists.
"An epidemic like this one had not happened in a long while; it's a new and particularly troublesome virus . . . I too have had similar experiences, having to decide on extraordinary measures, and I tell you to trust the authorities around the world."