Why Won’t Orthodox Bishops Fight for California?

Our bishops have caved to a godless government that says it is perfectly fine to riot and kill, but not to attend Divine Liturgy. The bishops give sermons about the Martyrs of our faith who refused to give even a pinch of incense as offering to pagan emperors. Yet they allow churches to be closed indefinitely without so much as a press release in opposition . . .

Originally appeared at: Orthodox Reflections

Father Josiah Trenham posted a wonderful reflection called The Mother of God Destroys Secularism and Feminism online on the Eve of the Dormition. At the beginning of the video, Father Josiah gave an update on the status of churches in California. They are closed for in-door worship, but Father Josiah went through a list of Protestant pastors that are defying these orders and who are suing to protect the Constitutional and natural-rights of their parishioners to worship God.

No Orthodox jurisdiction or parish was mentioned by Father Josiah among the churches fighting for the right to worship God as He has commanded. In fact, the Orthodox appear perfectly content to live stream worship services from empty churches. Here is an example announcement from the Website of the Greek Archdiocese Annunciation Cathedral in San Francisco:

Scanning the rest of the site’s front page you can see articles on the need to support families in Beirut, an announcement for the program of a canceled Greek Festival entitled Physically Distant; Spiritually Connected, and an article about Hagia Sophia reverting to a Mosque.

The church is closed until further notice. As in, they have absolutely no idea when will  they be open again. If ever. No baptisms. No weddings. No funerals. No Holy Eucharist. Cradle Orthodox children growing up with no Christian services or fellowship. And yet, not even one peep of protest. The most the church can manage is a tepid announcement at the top of the cathedral Website?

Churches in California are on indefinite lock down to combat a virus with a 99.96% survival rate that has killed, officially, 11,523 people with an average age of almost 82 in a state with an estimated population just shy of 40 million.  And that is assuming the number of deaths really reflects deaths from Covid, as opposed to with Covid, which we all know is an ongoing debate.  Ironically, the closure of churches has been ordered by a government that has openly welcomed riotous demonstrations of tens of thousands on the streets.

If you visit the Greek Archdiocese’s Website, you will find nothing about California’s suppression of the right of Christians to gather and worship God. Same on the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops, though you will, of course, find articles about the Beirut explosion and Hagia Sophia becoming a mosque. Evidently, nothing of  sufficient importance is occurring in the United States to warrant a mention by the successors to the Apostles.

Archbishop Elpidophoros of the Greek Archdiocese even had the chance to pray in front of the entire Democratic Party, including the Governor of California responsible for padlocking his own churches. One would think that it would be a perfect opportunity to pray for a return of religious freedom, or an end to the “epidemic” so that we could get back to normal, or even just a prayer asking God to comfort those whose lives and businesses have been devastated by hysterical government overreaction to the equivalent of a bad flu year.

No such luck. The Archbishop essentially endorsed Joe Biden for president and then prayed, “As we face the future as one American nation, bring us to our best selves, and inspire our better angels in peace, in fairness, and in generosity, that we may fight against injustice, inequality, and hatred, that we may achieve a common good, a greater good, in the name of the Holy Trinity we pray. Amen.”

California closing churches? Tens of millions of unemployed? Portland is on fire nightly? Commentators on all sides of the political spectrum are openly discussing the possibility of civil war? Evidently, none of that is important enough to pray about.

The modern Democratic Party is dedicated to destroying the family, killing babies, fostering transgender madness, attacking Syria and other foreign nations with substantial Orthodox populations, defunding our police, erasing American borders, furloughing murderers, and promoting pedophiles / pedophilia along with other aberrant forms of sexuality. (Not a complete list of perversions associated with the modern Democratic Party, by the way.) The only possible reason to offer a prayer over such a Satanic gathering would be to use the opportunity to speak prophetically. There was no justification for His Eminence to ignore religious suppression by Democratic officials, among a whole host of other evils, in order to pray that God, “would shine the light of Your countenance upon the delegates of this convention, and upon Vice President Joe Biden for the highest office in the land.”

We fully realize what we just said was harsh. But the world we live in is on the fast track to Hell, and the Orthodox Hierarchy, especially the Greeks, are pretending that everything is just politics as usual. Politics as usual does not close churches indefinitely in the largest state in the Union. The Orthodox Hierarchy is implicitly accepting that Orthodox Church sacraments and services are non-essential and can be closed on the order of any executive who cares to justify the decision of the basis of “public health.”

The Very Rev. Fr. Tryphon, Abbot of All-Merciful Saviour Monastery on Vashon Island in the Puget Sound near Seattle, Washington, recently posted this on Facebook:

Is the Church truly less essential than a laundromat?
Live streaming the services does not impart God’s grace in the same way the Mystical Supper imparts God’s grace. Christ’s Church is an essential institution far beyond a drug store or gas station, yet we continue to allow the government to tell us this is not so. How can the Church ever reclaim her position as the grace-imparting institution founded by Christ Himself, while allowing the government to declare us a non-essential service?

Is the forced shutdown of our public services really about a virus, or is it something more? Looking at the actual deaths directly related to the coronavirus is not any different than a serious flu epidemic, yet certain elements within our society would have us believe it is indeed a direct threat to the whole of our society, and even the world. Not even the communist revolution was able to declare the Church as a non-essential institution.

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

Orthodox worship is less essential than laundromats. Than casinos. Than liquor stores. Than marijuana dispensaries. Than box stores. Walmart is open. You can buy a TV in California, but you can’t drink from the Fountain of Immortality. According to the Abbot’s estimation, America has managed to suppress the Church more effectively than even the Communists.

The Orthodox Church is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. In her traditions and dogma (including the Bible she gave the world), she preserves the fullness of the Faith once delivered to the Apostles. The Church is perfect. Part of her perfection is the office of bishop, which is essential to the functioning of the Church.

The problem is not with this God-ordained office. The problem is with the men who are occupying the office. They are actually standing by while petty politicians have declared that the Church is non-essential. We, the concerned faithful Orthodox Christians, are not even asking the bishops to go to jail or be martyred for the faith. At this point, they can take action from the comfort of their own offices.

Among those fighting California’s ban on worship is the American Center for Law and Justice, one of the nonprofit law firms representing churches in various lawsuits against the state. Jordan Sekulow is the executive director who said, “This ban is clearly targeted at religion. It is clearly a violation of the First Amendment and a direct violation of religious liberty.” There is no reason Orthodox Bishops couldn’t join a lawsuit, start their own, or at least speak out in favor of the ones ongoing.

Instead, apparently, they are doing nothing but bowing down to authority.

Such passivity in the face of gross injustice is not the Orthodox Faith. Many times in history, Orthodox Christians have met, often in secret, to worship God in defiance of government edicts. Even our brethren in Muslim and communist nations still gathered to worship, despite the dangers they faced. As one priest wrote, “The truth is, however, it has never been safe to be a Christian. In the catacombs around Rome rest the remains of more martyrs for Christ than live in my home city – over half a million martyrs. Being a Christian and going to church was always a risk for them – and so it will be for every generation of Christian, unto ages of ages.”

“They thought that by closing the churches they would stop the virus…Lord have mercy! Is this the first outbreak of a virus? From what I know, during epidemics the churches are open day and night and the Liturgy is offered nonstop. Some have attempted to create doubt about Holy Communion, that it can impart infection. Do you know what is the Divine Liturgy? The Body and Blood of the Resurrected Christ. Do you know of a God who defeats death but transmits sicknesses? And there are Hierarchs who tell you to change the lavida (spoon) and to dip it in disinfectant. . . God forbid!”
                  -Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphou

Unfortunately, it appears in North America our bishops do not understand their own flocks. Even if the threat of Coronavirus were 100 times what it really is, many of us would rather risk our health at Divine Liturgy than to risk our souls by keeping our churches closed or hampered by severe restrictions. Did not Our Lord and Savior say“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

We do not want to sacrifice our Orthodoxy for the appearance of safety. We would rather be in Church, in the fullness of the faith, than cowering at home watching live streams and keeping “safe.”

Our bishops have caved to a godless government that says it is perfectly fine to riot and kill, but not to attend Divine Liturgy. The bishops give sermons about the Martyrs of our faith who refused to give even a pinch of incense as offering to pagan emperors. Yet they allow churches to be closed indefinitely without so much as a press release in opposition.

Our bishops need to understand that we have established a precedent now that can be abused more and more going forward. This is not the end, but only the beginning. There will be more “public safety” crises in the future, even if the current “crisis” is allowed to pass. Churches can now be singled out for closure on essentially any pretext, even if other public gatherings are allowed to proceed. God, you see, is uniquely dangerous to those who wield power.

A future crisis could very well be much worse. And since the bishops did not rally the Orthodox to stand for the faith now in the face of relatively mild persecution, why have we reason to expect better in the face of real danger? The powers of this world may tire of simple acquiescence from our bishops. The demands can easily escalate. Having taught the Faithful to value their own health and safety above the Faith, what will happen if the powers that govern this world demand the bishops’ outright apostasy? Will the Faithful, conditioned to obedience of governmental authority above all else, stand with the Bishops in face of an actual grave threat? Or will the Faithful simply watch the bishops humiliated and, perhaps, even marched to the gallows on live stream from the comfort and safety of their homes?

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