Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol on the Coronavirus Pandemic

Below is a translation of a transcript and, in places, of the audio itself, of some thoughts recently shared by Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol, who hosts a call-in radio program where the faithful can ask questions.

I found his approach to current events to be calm, sound, and well-oriented. He had received both praise and scorn in the earlier days of the coronavirus pandemic response, as the churches of his diocese remained open, while most others were closing. However, his diocese also eventually took the same measures as everyone else.

Text in italics indicates content found in the audio, but not included in the original transcript.


Response to a question concerning whether current events are signs of the Antichrist and the result of dark forces and conspiracies at play:

Christ is the Lord of the world and of history, and that he is victorious is the only truth. All the things written by the prophets have in mind the victory of Christ over the powers of darkness. Whatever those powers of darkness might try to do, they will not be able to defeat Christ. We have our hope in our Lord Jesus Christ and we do not fear—let us remain faithful, united with our Christ and with his holy Church, and all other things will be defeated and shall pass away.

But, this is an extraordinary necessity right now. Things aren’t going to stay this way. This difficulty will pass. The whole world can’t be paralyzed. At some point, it will pass. 

Also, of course, the state has as its first responsibility to look after the people and to see what it will do for their needs.

Let each of us be alert, and let’s have a spirit of charity because there will be a great need for charity now, for us all to support one another, and all of us together our weaker brothers and sisters, so that this terrible storm that has come to our area—and to the whole world—will pass by. Let us be prepared and wait a little while, to see how things go.

[Being concerned about] Freemasonry and other such things [i.e. conspiracies, dark forces, etc.] does very little to help us. What helps more is for us to know Christ in our life, to read the Holy Gospel. If you look in the Holy Gospel, it says very little about the Antichrist; it is written about Christ!

Our interest should be turned towards Christ, to the saints—the lives of our saints, to see how they lived, how they thought, how they responded to afflictions and difficulties in their lives. Of course, all this doesn’t mean that we don’t believe that the Antichrist will come. Christ said it, of course we believe it. But our heart? Our attention? Let them be turned to our Lord Jesus Christ.


Response to a question as to whether the current pandemic is caused by God:

Christ examines everything. He does not bless everything. In other words, he knows everything, he permits everything, but he does not bless everything. He knows all the evil things we will do in our life, and he permits them to happen. Perhaps, then, he blesses these things? God forbid! Christ does not bless our crimes, he does not bless our mistakes, he does not bless our sins, and he does not bless things that God does not want.

Since he does not bless them, we cannot then ask “why does he let these things happen?” It is because of the existence of human freedom, which, unfortunately, a person can use to do things that God does not bless. For this reason, there are many things that happen in our life that God does not bless and does not not want, but, on account of our freedom and our poor use of it, he allows them to happen. A human is free to do things that he wants, but that God does not want. It is the greatness and the tragedy and the blessing of human freedom, which God gave us.


Response to a question, lamenting that we would not be able to be in church for Pascha, about how the faithful could participate somehow. After assuring his caller that he himself does not even want to think about the idea of Pascha not being celebrated in church, on account of how painful it is, the Metropolitan responds:

On the other hand, we experience a great pain every night of the Resurrection: in the evening as soon as we would say “Christ is risen!” we would see thousands of people who would all leave as soon as they heard “Christ is risen!” They were leaving, leaving, leaving! “Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered…”1 and our own Christian faithful were leaving and scattering, and were going to their homes to eat their soup, and to say “Chronia polla!” to their family members—and how many remained in church? Very few.

Perhaps we should all take this as a penance from God and say “serves us right,” since we did not value and honor that which we had?

In other words, which would be more painful: this Pascha, which we are, on account of higher powers, of a necessity observing in our homes, on TV? Or that other Pascha, where we were free, but we left and left and left, and gave no importance to remaining in church, to commune, to hear the Divine Liturgy—but it was in our minds to say “Christ is risen!” and to leave. So, then, which is more pleasing to God?

I think the one we will experience this year is the more pleasing to God, instead of the former. The former was our choice, and we chose to leave. This one? We won’t decide to leave; painfully, we will stay at our homes. […] And since I stand on the platform where we say “Christ is risen!” facing the people, and I see them…what can I say? There is no more painful image than that departure of the people. And since they were holding their candles, it looked like a procession of lit candles leaving. Leaving, leaving! They’re leaving, and we’re chanting, “Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered, and let those who hate him flee from before his face!” and our Christian brethren were fulfilling this prophecy and going far away from God.

This is what we need to repent for, and if we are going to stay home for Pascha, I think it is a lesser evil than what we have done for so many years. It is for this reason we are in need of repentance. 

And perhaps I don’t leave because I’m the bishop and a clergyman, but I also share responsibility for my brothers and sisters, the children of the Church, leaving. If I were a good clergyman and a good bishop I would help the people to not leave. But both my own carelessness and inattention, and my own inability, and my own inadequacy brought this ignorance to the world, and we sinned, leaving to be far from God at the time of the Resurrection. For this reason, let’s take it as an educational penance. 2

I hope, however, that this does not happen, and that we repent voluntarily, out of desire, not from involuntary prodding. Let our repentance be voluntary. Much prayer is needed, and may we in all places and at all times call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, for our local area, our country, our city, the whole world to be sanctified, and for this evil to flee, and for us to live in repentance. 

In this way we seek peace from God—but how do we make the most of this peace we seek? This is a great question! 


Response to a question about whether clergy can really get sick, and whether there is a concern disease is spread through Holy Communion:

Surely we also can contract this virus—not from Holy Communion, but from those around us, from our coming and going, from running our errands, from the people around us that have the virus. There is no reason that we, the people of the Church, and our priests and bishops, would not acquire this disease, this virus. Already, a metropolitan in Serbia has died from this virus. But, we certainly will not contract this virus from Holy Communion and from the Holy Mysteries. Yet, as being human and living in the world, we make our rounds and move amongst many different levels of daily social life, and, just like the rest of the world, we are at risk.

And that’s how it should be: what goes for all goes for us. Let’s not have any difference with our brothers.

Now, from the other side, the Church has “yielded” a bit in order to show she is applying economy in this matter. Just for a time, just for a time. The Divine Liturgy in our sacred churches is restricted to our priests, praying for the whole world, to see how this small period of time that the state has sought from the Church to apply this economy might assist in this situation in a human way. But certainly, this will only be for a time, just a short interval, so that we can act in cooperation with the human data.

Later, if we see that things are not becoming better by human effort, then the shepherds of our Church, our bishops, and the Synod of the holy bishops will give us direction.

Let’s be obedient to the Church and not be anxious. Obedience to the Church is the sure path of salvation. 


Regarding maintaining a prayerful presence in the home, particularly when services are being broadcast:

At this time, when we’re not going to Church, what can we do? That time we dedicate to church where, again, we go to be dedicated to our prayer, likewise at that hour when we would have been in church, we should listen to the Divine Liturgy (since there are broadcast media these days), we should pray, we should be dedicated to our Christ, and at that time we should not do other chores, but dedicate that time to prayer and spiritual study…

And be assured, when we say “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” our Christ, the All-good One, our Father, our Friend, our Brother always hears us. If someone says something to us, who are simply human, and we always hear them—whether wanting to, or out of politeness or sensitivity—how much more, then, will our good God, who is our Father and who has overwhelming love for us, hear us and grant his grace and presence in our hearts?

Let’s not complain about God, because before God gave us this penance, we did these things ourselves. Of our own accord, we turned our backs on God and fled far from the Divine Eucharist on the night of the Resurrection. In light of this, let’s repent for our mistake, and let’s appreciate what we had before, which we are missing now.

My brothers and sisters, may God shelter us all.

Rejoice in the Lord, always.

Source.

Notes

  1. Psalm 67(68):1, one of the psalm verses intercalated in the chanting of “Christ is risen”.
  2. The Metropolitan does not mean to say that this is the sole reason for the coronavirus pandemic. He is talking specifically about one of the aspects of this happening during the holy days of Pascha.