Dear Beloved in Christ,
During this time of the pandemic, numerous Church leaders and wise monastics have offered their insight into the present situation. Among those is the abbot of St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai, Archbishop Damianos. His consoling and spiritually astute words are offered below. I have made a few footnotes within the message, to draw out certain important points.
A MESSAGE FROM ARCHBISHOP DAMIANOS, ABBOT OF ST. CATHERINE’S MONASTERY ON MOUNT SINAI, DELIVERED ON THE SUNDAY OF SAINT JOHN CLIMACUS
Great and international is the temptation1 visited upon the world by the deadly epidemic of the coronavirus. As Abbot of the Holy Monastery of St. Catherine on the God-trodden Mountain of Sinai, and as a Hierarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, many ask me why God allowed this great trial which has deprived us of church attendance and the reception of Holy Communion.
I humbly think that the All-Good God wants to sound the alarm of danger, because unfortunately we have all forgotten the divine benefactions and commandments that lead to the earthly happiness and heavenly blessedness to which He destined us – and for which He was crucified. Unfortunately, we chose another path to happiness for ourselves; one based in material goods, and which separated us from spiritual ones, together with the virtues.2
God allows such tribulations in order to show us that, no matter how greatly humanity progresses in science and technology, it is impossible for us to be saved if God Himself does not bless our works and ideas. This would explain why various forms of globalization, undertaken without recourse to His help, have descended into failure, perhaps even calamity.3
In addition, many Christian confessions have veered from the core message of the Gospel which was correctly interpreted by minds enlightened by the Holy Spirit, the highly lettered and spiritually proven Fathers of the Orthodox Church.
Despite the tribulation which the entire world is undergoing today, the love of God does not cease to visit the creatures He fashioned according to His own image. The Orthodox Church thus holds out every hope that with our patience this heavy trial, having passed, will leave behind immense spiritual profit.4 The world will awaken from the material lethargy from whose consequences it has suffered globally, and it will show forth love in action reflective of its primal worth, mutual support, and authentic peace between peoples. This begins with the inner peace that stems from the reconciliation of the person with God, and by extension, with his neighbor and the natural environment in which God Himself placed him. This is where God gave him the command to love and work. Through sin, however, the human altered and finally turned this environment against himself; only through love will he pacify it.
May God grant this by the prayers of all the Saints, especially the fathers and mothers of the God-trodden Mount Sinai who sacrificed themselves in the desert, through prayer and fasting, for the enlightenment and salvation of the entire world. Because the fervent supplication of one who prays with sacrifice has the power of nuclear energy to change its destiny.
Saint John Climacus of Sinai, whose memory is honored every year on the fourth Sunday of Great Lent, elucidated the path to such sanctity in his Ladder of Divine Ascent, the famed work which is considered second in spiritual value only to Holy Scripture. Having self-isolated for forty years in a cave deep in the Sinai desert, Saint John devoted himself to God through prayer and ascetic deprivation, and with the Grace of the Holy Spirit, he studied the depths of the human soul and the spiritual medicines for its healing toward the benefit of all humanity.
We, however, being sinners in repentance, are now called—by need, not voluntarily like Saint John—to close ourselves in our own rooms and raise our hands toward the All-Good God to deliver us.
May our own humble prayers in the mystical chamber of our hearts to the Holy Trinitarian God “who sees in secret” be rewarded according to our requests “in the open” by the spiritual and bodily health of all people, and at the present juncture, by our deliverance from this invisible enemy, the terrible coronavirus epidemic. 5
With many prayers and much love in Christ, I wish everyone the blessings of the remainder of Great Lent while awaiting, with discernment, humility and great longing, the arrival of Blessed and Holy Pascha.
†Archbishop of Sinai, Damianos
1 Notice how the archbishop astutely describes the pandemic first and foremost as a temptation! While the virus causes very serious physical pain and even death, the more serious danger is the harm to the soul caused by the temptation to doubt God or question His providential loving action.
2 He explains that the reason God allows for calamity and hardship in the world is that, in His unfailing love, He desires to bring about our repentance—our turning toward God and away from sin.
3 It is not the fact of technological advances or economic progress that is sinful; it is when these are done in the absence of reference to God, with presumption instead of thanksgiving, with pride instead of the humility of recognizing that every good gift (even those that we “create”) is from God.
4 There is hope! The perspective of the true Christian, no matter how great the struggle, is always one of hope—taking confidence that “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28). And more than hope, it is the belief that even evil will result in good, that the present pandemic will produce spiritual fruit resulting in the salvation of many.
5 Even though we accept this pandemic as a means of repentance and sanctification, we also pray fervently for its end, so that the harm and evil it produces may be diminished, and that many lives may be saved through our prayers.