Face covering is against our Orthodox Christian religious beliefs. In Scripture, hiding one’s face always means, shame, distrust, unfavorable position, division and separation. Our Loving God has invited us to the feast, and if we come to the Lord's Supper with fear that He will infect us with any kind of disease, and we demonstrate it by wearing a mask, we will insult Him in front of everyone.
Long ago, Arabs discovered that forcing people to cover their noses and mouths broke their wills and individuality, and depersonalized them. It made them submissive. Modern psychology explains it: without a face we don’t exist as independent beings. The mask is the beginning of deleting individuality.
Many of our spiritual shepherds – the bishops, have blindly followed the unconstitutional orders of the State authorities and closed churches to the believers. Shame on them! They will not escape the righteous wrath of God . . .
Dear Brothers and Sisters, my beloved flock in Christ,
We are witnessing unprecedented events in our country and around the world. The novel virus COVID-19 struck fear into the millions of people worldwide. In a response to the health crisis many countries have introduced various measures in order to control the spread of COVID-19. Many of those measures, however, are so irrational and tyrannical that they violate both man’s law and our inalienable God-given rights.
Some of these Draconian measures restrict the freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, freedom to go to and worship in church, and freedom to have businesses opened, and in several countries children that “show symptoms of COVID-19” are taken away from their parents into quarantine without their parental permission. In other words – the medicine became deadlier than the disease itself.
It is obvious that there are many powerful people in the world who are exploiting this crisis in order establish absolute and complete global control of human population by destroying the world economy, erasing history, and resetting all aspects of human life to a “new normal”, which, of course will not be to the benefit of humanity, but only to their personal gain.
Unfortunately, the very real health crisis is being politicized, especially in this country, in anticipation of the presidential elections in November. We have been subjected to relentless bombardment with horrifying information about death rates every day, 24/7. It seems like death and mortality did not exist before COVID-19! Nobody is reporting about survival rates or recovery rate which is 99.96%. This systematic fear mongering by the militant socialist movement (MSM) could be easily classified as psychological terrorism! No wonder the whole nation is consumed by the COVID hysteria.
There are many contradictory statements and recommendations given by various health professionals, which only add to the confusion and further divisions. One of the greatest controversies is wearing of a face masks in public places. This topic is a subject of a great debate by health professionals and legal counselors. As many of you already know, on August 13th the City Council and Mayor of Omaha (Nebraska) passed an Emergency Ordinance (a “Face mask mandate”) for all public places, including places of worship. The Ordinance provides numerous exceptions to wearing a mask such as in a bar or restaurant, but a mask is required in a church unless one is socially distanced 6 feet from others (except those in one’s “household”). The Ordinance’s use of "household" is nonsensical. For example, an adult child who no longer lives with her parents, even if they rode to church together, must either sit six feet away from mom and dad OR wear a mask.
I am not a scientist, and I will not bring out scientific pros and cons on this topic. I will leave that discussion to those who are much more knowledgeable. However, as an Orthodox Priest, a Spiritual Father of my flock, and lastly, as a freedom loving and law abiding citizen, it is my duty to provide you with guidance on this issue from an Orthodox Christian perspective.
Despite the Omaha Emergency Ordinance being nonsensical and irrational, according to Nebraska Governor Pete Rickets and Nebraska’s Attorney General, it is beyond the authority of the City of Omaha under its Charter to issue. Both the United States and Nebraska Constitutions protect the free exercise of religion. At the epicenter of this is the freedom of worship in our churches. In my opinion under both God’s law, and the United States and Nebraska Constitutions, any regulation whatsoever by the civil authorities—whether federal, state, or local, in any way regulating or limiting worship in our churches is illegal and nonbinding. More importantly, face covering is against our Orthodox Christian religious beliefs.
Imagine yourself throwing the fanciest Thanksgiving party for your relatives and friends, where everyone is served with the best food, using your most expensive utensils and silverware. However, one guest brought his own plate, silverware and napkin out of fear that you did not provide him with clean utensils. That demonstration of doubt in front of other guests would certainly offend you and embarrass you, and you probably would not invite that person into your house again.
When we come to church to attend the Divine Liturgy, we come to the House of God, to participate in the Lord’s Supper that He so graciously provides for us every time. And the Greek word "Eucharist" literally means "thanksgiving". Once we cross the threshold of the church, we exit the world of the profane and enter into another reality - into the world of sanctity. Once we hear the words “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit….” we are no longer in Omaha, Chicago, or New York, but we are in the Heavenly Jerusalem – in the presence of the Living God, at the Supper of His Only-begotten Son, and in the Communion of the Holy Spirit. Our Loving God has invited us to the feast, and if we come to His Supper with fear that He will infect us with any kind of disease, and we demonstrate it by wearing a mask (like robbers do), we will insult Him in front of everyone, like that germophobic guest insulted you in front of your relatives and friends on Thanksgiving dinner.
When we come to church, we are called to stand before God face to face, like “the Lord spoke to Moses face to face” (Genesis 33:11). After Moses spoke to God, his face started glowing, and it was not easy for the people to look at its radiance. That is why Moses wore a veil over his face when he would speak with people. “But when Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he took the veil off, until he came out” (Gen 33:34).
This phrase “face to face” is used very often in the Holy Scriptures and it always signified openness, sincerity, trust and acceptance. Even today when we speak about an important, decisive meeting we say: “We will meet face to face.”
On the contrary, in Scripture, hiding one’s face always means, shame, distrust, unfavorable position, division and separation. That is why Prophet David in Psalms cries to God not to hide His face from him:
“When You said: ‘Seek my face’, my heart said to You, ‘Your face O Lord, I will seek’. Do not hide your face from me; Do not turn your servant away in anger.” (Psalm 27:9)
“Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come to You. Do not hide Your face from me in the day of trouble” (Psalm 102:1-2).
When Prophet Isaiah exhorts Israel for its wickedness he says, "Your iniquities have separated between you and God, and your sins have hid His face from you" (Isaiah 59:2).
The emphasis on a face in the Scripture is always an emphasis on a personhood. Our face is the most important feature of our person – of who we are. We are recognized by our face before God and before people. We are created in the image of God, and that image must stay unaltered for us to be who we are. When we cover our face, we are just one of the crowd (from the submissive heard) and we lose our personhood, which is in direct contradiction to God’s image in which we were created.
Wearing of a face mask severely impairs our ability to communicate with other people. Psychology says that our words account to only 7% of the overall message in our face-to-face communication, tone of the voice 33%, while facial expressions and body language account for a whopping 55%.
In this day and age through excessive use of “smartphones “we are already robbed of quality relationships with our loved ones, and now with no handshakes, no touching and face coverings (which rightly bears the sinister name of “social distancing”), we will turn into walking zombies, devoid of our humanity. It will inevitably have severely negative consequences on our mental health and it will not help restore bridges in our divided society.
That is why the author Charles Burris is right in his observation that people who succumb to this new COVID religion see a threat in other people — especially those who are healthy looking (asymptomatic), avoid people, and those who refuse to be dehumanized and wear the western style burka on their face are seen as dangerous heretics who have to be removed from the society or “burned at stake”.
COVID-19 and its “omni-presence” has in many ways replaced God and has turned our society into a Secular Sharia. This connection between Islam and secular mask mandates has been thusly explained:
“2300 years ago, long before Islam, Arabs discovered that forcing people to cover their noses and mouths, broke their wills and individuality, and depersonalized them. It made them submissive. That’s why they imposed on every woman the mandatory use of a fabric over her face. Then Islam turned it into the woman’s symbol of submission to Allah, the man owner of the Harem, and the King. Modern psychology explains it: without a face we don’t exist as independent beings. The child looks in the mirror between the ages of two and three and is discovered as an independent being. The mask is the beginning of deleting individuality. He who does not know his history is condemned to repeat it.”
Dear Brother and Sisters, we just recently celebrated the Transfiguration of our Lord, which teaches us that a man can be the communicant and recipient of the uncreated Divine energies. A priest is a weak man, prone to falls and failures like any other human being. However, the priest during Divine Liturgy, or any other sacramental rite, is clothed in the grace of the priesthood and he becomes the communicant of uncreated Divine energies and he transmits them through the priesthood, not through his own sanctity. St. Vladika Nicholai says, “electricity transmits even through the rusty wire”.
Of course, if the priest is of a holy life, he has double the grace. However, when we kiss the hand of a priest, we become communicants of uncreated Divine energies and we receive the Divine grace in the measure of our piety and faith. Saint Paisius the Athonite used to say that the serving priest during the Divine Liturgy “doesn’t have his own hands”. So, if we believe that the priest can pass a disease to us, then we deny the grace of the priesthood, and deny the Divine grace that is upon him.
When we reject the uncreated Divine energies through our actions of doubt (wearing a mask in church) then we deny God and we create another – a false god. The same applies to the temple of God (the church). If we doubt there is Divine grace in church, then we downgrade it to a mere auditorium or community center.
All this brings us to an ultimate question – Do we believe in God? If we do, what kind of God is He? Is He a God created by our mind to whom we recognize as much power as our mind determines? We probably do not even realize that by not understanding this problem (unwillingly) we blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. We are infected by heretical thought, while we formally confess our Orthodoxy. We blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, and I am afraid that if we persist in this, it will not be forgiven to us according to the words of Christ: ”But he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” (Mark 3:29).
When we are afraid to venerate the holy icons, to venerate the hand of a priest, or worst of all – to receive Holy Communion from the same spoon, we reject the salvific and sanctifying power of the grace of the Holy Spirit. We believe that the Holy Spirit is able to, somehow, transmit to us something bad or unclean, which is the greatest blasphemy.
Our Lord Jesus Christ reassured us that Our Heavenly Father has everything under His control and that nothing can happen to us without His will or knowledge:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But very hairs of your head are numbered. Do not fear, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31).
Almost every litany in the Orthodox Church ends with petition: “Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us O God, by Thy grace”. If we still fear we can get infected at church after saying this, then we outright deny it. I always asked myself, why did our Savior say those words: But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Matthew 18:8). But now I see that it is not an exaggeration at all. Millions of Christians have surrendered to the “new normal” without any fight and they demonstrate their spiritual desolation and allegiance to the new COVID religion by their behavior.
Most sadly, many of our spiritual shepherds – the bishops, have idly watched how our religious freedoms are being taken away from us without saying a word, while some blindly followed the unconstitutional orders of the State authorities and closed churches to the believers, thus pretending that going to church and participating in the Holy Sacraments is “non-essential”. Shame on them! They will not escape the righteous wrath of God.
The Church’s teachings are clear. We are not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb. 10:25). Orthodox canon (church) law says we may not miss more than three Sunday liturgies without a good reason (like severe illness), and I as a priest am obligated to regularly serve liturgy and provide the sacraments to the faithful in good standing.
I know many Orthodox parishes here and abroad bowed to COVID-19 directed health measures and quarantines of the civil authorities, but a few did not. During COVID-19 some parishes closed entirely, some only had virtual “live stream” services, or required masks, social distancing, gloves, banned the kissing of icons, crosses, and the like. Those who did so, improperly obeyed man’s law when it conflicted with God’s law (Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29). Even worse are those parishes which imposed these measures in excess of those of the civil authorities. In the 2000 year history of the Orthodox Church we may have had our worship curtailed or shut down by the civil authorities, but we have never done it to ourselves even during times of plague.
“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 10: 32-33)
In my opinion, by faithfully attending church and not submitting to masks and other COVID-19 directed health measures, we are confessing Christ, but in staying away from church without good reason or wearing masks in church we are denying the sovereignty of God.
Saint Paul warns that in the latter days there will be those who “hold the form of religion but deny the power of it” (2 Tim. 3:5), and place above Christ “science so called” (1 Tim. 6:20). While Christ cautioned we should not take unnecessary risks by needlessly tempting God (Matt. 4:7), faithfully attending church without masks is not tempting God (like drag racing your car on a busy public street). Rather, it is witnessing to the Providence of God by following His Commandments and leaving our individual fates in His loving hands. Then we will confidentially look forward to our Lord one day saying to us, “well done, good and faithful servant.” Matt. 25:23.
Let us confess by our actions that which we confess with our mouth, and let us believe that Divine Grace exists in our churches, in our icons and on our priests. Our participation in that grace depends upon our faith. How much we believe, that’s how much we receive. However, the existence of that grace is not dependent upon our faith. God “Who is, Who will be, and Who is coming” will exist, even if we do not believe in Him. Let us meet Him FACE TO FACE every time we come to church.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Very Rev. Fr. Saša Petrović
Saint Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church,
Omaha, Nebraska USA
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