The Coronavirus: Why?
What is the Orthodox response to such distressing events?
We have sinned and we have transgressed, and therefore Thy righteous anger has visited us, O Lord, our God, and the darkness of death has encompassed us and we have drawn nigh unto the gates of Hades. But, with compunction, we cry out unto Thee, our God, in our infirmities. Spare, O spare Thy people, and destroy us not utterly, humbly we pray Thee, hearken and have mercy.
This is a petition from the Orthodox service used in time of devastating epidemic. This is the same service that contains the Canon which I published in my last post. The above petition should remind us of the three Hebrew youths in Babylon who were thrown into the fiery furnace. The sacred city of Jerusalem had been overrun and many Jews were taken into captivity. The three youths were among those captured, and because of their refusal to worship an idol in Babylon they were thrown into the fiery furnace. How did they react to all this? They prayed as follows:
Blessed art Thou, O Lord, the God of our Fathers, and praised and glorified is Thy Name unto the ages. For righteous art Thou in all which Thou hast done for us; and all Thy works are true, and upright are Thy ways, and all Thy judgments are true. And judgments of truth hast Thou performed in all things which Thou hast brought upon us, and upon the holy city of our fathers, Jerusalem; for in truth and judgment hast Thou brought all these things upon us for our sins. For we have sinned and have transgressed in departing from Thee, and all things wherein we have greatly sinned; and Thy commandments we have not heard, nor have we given heed, nor done as Thou hast enjoined us, that it might go well with us. And all that Thou hast done to us, and all that Thou hast brought upon us, in judgment that is true hast Thou done them.
So, after a foreign invasion, the destruction of their holy city and Temple, their captivity and having been thrown into the fiery furnace because of their fidelity to the God of their fathers, they responded as we have just seen. Let us proceed by examining how they continued in prayer:
“In a contrite soul and spirit of humility may we be accepted…Yea, now we follow Thee with our whole heart and we fear Thee, and we seek Thy face; O put us not to shame.”
What took place with this response of theirs? An Angel of the Lord descended into the fiery furnace with them and made it like a whistling wind that bore dew. With thanksgiving in the midst of tribulation, a humble confession of sin, and resolve to change a great miracle took place. How might this relate to our present dilemma? Why has this happened and what should we be doing?
“The sin of Adam is becoming full”—These words were spoken to me almost 20 years ago in a conversation with the Romanian Hieromonk Raphael who was then a monastic of the monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex. In the Prophet Isaiah it is written: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (5:20) We have certainly reached a state of sin where it seems as though sin itself is thought to be virtue and virtue sin. But what is the recompense for this? The Apostle Paul writes to the Romans: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” (Rom. 1:18) We must fear this and the curse written in the Pentateuch. We find a number of sins are listed there, some of which are commonplace and acceptable today. It is written: “The land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.” (Lev. 18:25) Is this what we are experiencing? Will the pandemic be more severe in places where sin abounds?
What, then, is needed? Very simple, repentance is needed. We Orthodox need both a personal and universal repentance. Although we sin we should be continually struggling against sin. We should not only live a life of repentance for ourselves but we would do well to also pray for those who are darkened in their understanding and live in sin. I will end by offering an example of the latter for consideration:
O Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Who in the beginning in the Old Covenant didst reveal our divine nobility when Thou hast said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”. O Almighty Lord, we have distorted this image to the uttermost and have not gone after Thy likeness, but rather we follow the inclinations of our human nature in its fallen state. We multiply sin and wickedness in every generation and Thine impending wrath lieth upon us. Yet do Thou the same Lord Who hast fashioned us, turn our hearts unto Thee, restore us to our former state, inspire us to run after Thy likeness to the uttermost bounds of our mortal strength. We pray Thee hearken and have mercy.