Life-Giving Spring of the Mother of God Russian Orthodox Church

Urgent message about COVID-19

Update March 26th, 2020

From Fr. Cassian:

Due to shelter in place orders, and public safety concerns, and in an effort to follow both the letter and spirit of Archbishop Peter's recent instructions for serving the Divine Liturgy in a manner that takes public safety concerns seriously (given the small size of our parish temple), we will no longer be serving public liturgies at the Life-Giving Spring. Services will be conducted by myself, the Reader James Cavin, and Matushka Olympia until the restrictions are lifted. Parishioners should contact me individually to discuss when and how they may recieve the Holy Mysteries and make confession.

Please obey the authorities - including, of course, the authority of your diocesan Archbishop - at the current time, and protect your own safety and that of others. You will each be commemorated at every liturgy, and additional reserved Mysteries will be prepared to ensure that everyone can continue to commune.

Forgive me for my own waffling and confusion in the face of these difficult circumstances and dire situation. It can take a while to see an issue through to the end and discover what the small, still voice of conscience is trying to whisper in one's ear. I love you all, and want you both to be safe, and to do no harm to others, while ensuring that you have access to the medicine of salvation. This is, it seems to me, the solution that best promotes these worthy objectives.

May God bless you all+

Bryan shelter in place order

Original Message

From Father Cassian, March 19th 2020

Dear Parishioners and friends of the Life-Giving Spring of the Mother of God Russian Orthodox Church:

May God save us all in these difficult times!

I am sure that many of you have been curious to know how we shall address the current Covid-19 pandemic at our parish. In what follows, I will seek to provide a little clarity about our schedule, and advice about how we, as Russian Orthodox Christians, dual citizens of both heaven and our nation, should behave during this crisis. Please understand that what follows is a work in progress, and will be subject, at any time, to subsequent directions from our Archbishop, or from national, state, or local authorities. It is also open to discussion amongst the members of our parish — and should it need to be updated or modified it shall, being posted in the same places and venues as this has been.

1. Liturgical services will continue at the Life-Giving Spring of the Mother of God. This is not, and has never been, negotiable. The Holy Oblation, offered "for all, and on behalf of all" shall not cease. To this purpose, we will need, in addition to the two clergymen already entailed (Fr. Cassian and the Reader James Cavin) at least one member of the choir to commit to attending these services. We will seek to provide for a rotating schedule of such obligations. As my wife, Matushka Olympia will be "isolating in place" with me, she will, health and circumstances permitting, be able to sing the services — but in the event of illness or schedule conflict, it may be necessary for another to stand in as either a reader or as a singer — and I would like volunteers who are willing to assume these roles as needed.

2. Services will be limited to a maximum of 10 attendees total, and in order to limit the possible vectors of this disease, these ten should, on a regular basis, be limited to as small a number of families as possible for each service. I will be posting a schedule, and families who wish to attend services are strongly urged to sign up for the particular service they plan to attend, and to let Matushka or I know if they must cancel. I will then arrange with single members of the parish to fill in the empty spaces up to the requisite 10. If I must, I will ask some in attendance to go home (as in the case of visitors or accidental confusion). Nothing personal will be intended or should be inferred from this. We simply intend to abide by the recommendations of our local legal authorities.

3. The Holy Mysteries are the right of every properly prepared Orthodox Christian in right standing to receive, whether or not they may attend the Divine Liturgy, which will be served at 9 a.m. Sundays effective immediately. To that end, from the hours of 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays the Church will be open to receive parishioners, one family at a time, to receive the holy mysteries, and to make confession before receiving if need be. If this, in practice, ends up needing to be more carefully organized, then I will post a sign-up sheet. But given the park next door, one imagines that this can be handled on an ad hoc basis and may very well be an opportunity for some members of the community to greet one another, (adhering to social distancing guidelines) without having to share an enclosed space.

5. Vespers will be suspended, but the Church house will be open between 6 and 8 p.m. Saturday evening for parishioners to drop by and light a candle or make confession.

6. All community meals shall be suspended for the duration of the crisis.

7. Special instructions will be given with respect to the services of Holy Weeks, Holy Unction, Pascha, Paschal Vespers, and the Parish Feast Day on the Friday of Bright Week. These instructions will be consistent, however, with the guidelines provided by Archbishop Peter and the various secular authorities to which we are subject. But the large number of services during those weeks should make it easier for all members of the parish to attend one or more of these services. We shall simply have to work out an adequate system of rotation for them.

8. If the weather is fine, we shall conduct an outdoor Paschal Vespers service in the park next door to our parish and have a community picnic, practicing reasonable social distancing, and consuming food brought from home by each family, or cooked on the Church grill under hygienic conditions.

9. For the duration, social niceties and polite reverencing, along with all expressions of affection that involve hugging, hand-shaking, kissing, and the like, will be abandoned. Those communing will not kiss the chalice nor have their mouth wiped with the common cloth, and the cross, the icons, and the hand of the priest will not be kissed. Those with a particular reverence for an icon or for relics may continue to venerated these if they choose, but they must be responsible for cleaning them with materials provided, both before and after such veneration. Antidoron will be provided, but there will be no common cup of wine and hot water after communion. There will be disposable cups available for holy water.

10. Those who are themselves in high risk categories, or who are looking after those who are, should feel no compunction about avoiding services entirely, and arranging to receive communion sporadically and privately with their parish priest. This also, of course, applies to those who contract the disease itself, and/or who are in periods of mandatory isolation.

Please note, that in all of this, the goal is two-fold — to be good citizens, by helping flatten the curve of this disease so that it does not overwhelm our society's healthcare system, and being good Christians by maintaining our duty to worship God while seeking to avoid harming others.

To these ends, then, may I make a few other suggestions. I encourage you to make use of other media alternatives for communication with one another during this time. We are not in this on our own — we are in solidarity with one another. We are a parish, and it may well be that sooner or later one or more of us will need assistance during this epidemic. Do this, if possible, rather than turning to an ersatz internet Orthodoxy that seems increasingly to devolve into a hideout for flat-earthers, conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, extremists and fanatics of almost every persuasion. If you have your own pet conspiracy theories about Covid-19, the Government, the CDC, or the Church, keep them to yourselves. They serve no purpose at the current time but to stir up the passions, and to make it less likely that people will behave in a sober and prudent manner. Again, please try to remember that we are all in this together, and be kind to, and supportive of, one another. Please remember, also, those of our parishioners in prison, keeping them in your prayers and communicating with them by whatever mean are available to you.

The disease itself is serious, and in more severe cases, can be extremely painful and potentially deadly. Please remember that, however you may regard your own odds with respect to the disease, there are many in our communities who are older or immuno-compromised. Do nothing that adds to their risk. Recognize that many of the apparently healthy young people around you may have HIV, may work with the elderly, or may have parents at home who are particularly at risk. Remember that doctors, nurses, and clergymen must stay healthy to fulfill their responsibilities to such people and do nothing that makes it harder for them to remain healthy. If you have any doubts about your own status, or concerns about your own possible infection, stay at home and self-isolate until such concerns abate.

I am priest. More importantly, I am your priest. You are my flock, and we are going to go through this time together, and at peace with one another and with our neighbors, being in every way possible forces for good in these trying times. If you see an opportunity for us, as a community, to do something to benefit anyone, please let me know. We are, during this time, to be anchorites and family monasteries, praying for one another and all the world, and seeking to do good for those less well situated than ourselves. We are not to be alienated curmudgeons, hiding behind a religious fortress, armed with fear, hostility, and bitterness.

That being said, people deal differently with stressful conditions, and we should not judge others for their reactions. Some people will feel the need to isolate entirely, for one reason or another, while others will feel the need to press upon the barriers to sociality set forth here out of loneliness, gregariousness, or simple community feeling. It is not ours to criticize or to impute motives. It is our responsibility only to be kind, to be good, to do our duty as Christians, and to wait upon God's mercy.

I love you all, and have been thinking of you fondly, and praying for you during my recent illness, from which, God be praised, I seem to have finally started to recover. Matushka Olympia has been my constant companion, and these current guidelines have developed out of several days of conversations between us, and with reference to the overarching guidelines provided up by Archbishop Peter, which may be found here: https://www.chicagodiocese.org/news_200317_1. I suggest that everyone in my parish read His Eminence's comments and recommendations carefully.

May God bless you all, and may He, in His great providence and care for all of us, have mercy, and save!

Fr. Cassian Sibley

Last updated Mar 19, 2020 by Megan Kossa