Friday 20 November 2020

Coronavirus and Conspiracy Theories

This article is based on our Sunday School lessons on the coronavirus pandemic which in turn were based on Protocols 3022 and 3026 issued by our Synod of Bishops. At the end of the article we have included a FAQ section which we hope to expand in the near future to take into account our Synod’s latest encyclical.

There is no doubt that this novel coronavirus exists. Our bishops have confirmed its existence, as have scientists across the world and the medical professionals in our own congregation who are working with COVID patients every day.

Our bishops have said that we should avoid any hysterical overreaction to this pandemic. This hysteria takes two forms: fear of the virus and fear of the measures that governments have introduced.

Many non-Orthodox people seem to live in abject fear of the virus. A non-Orthodox neighbour asked one nurse in congregation if she was scared about going to work. The nurse’s reply was that she prayed and trusted that God’s will be done. This is exactly the attitude that we should follow. Hysterical fear of the virus demonstrates a lack of faith in God.
The second form of hysteria is the belief that this pandemic is a trick to lead us into worshipping the Antichrist; this form of hysteria can lead to complete spiritual deception. One victim actually said: ‘I don’t care what the bishops say, I prayed to God and I received the answer.’

This hysteria is fuelled by Internet conspiracy theories promoted by people who hold beliefs that are completely anti-Orthodox. Immersing ourselves in these theories is a sin. Promoting them to others is a more serious sin because we are drawing people away from Orthodox truth by spreading lies. At this time, we should be redoubling our efforts to show love to our neighbour by comforting them through our quiet example of Christian faith and strength of soul and spirit.

To date, conspiracy theories have concentrated on two main areas: masks and vaccines. We will deal with both briefly.

Every successful conspiracy theory contains an element of truth twisted into a falsehood. It’s true that masks can’t protect us against coronavirus because the virus can be breathed in through a mask.  The aim of wearing a mask is to protect others. Wearing a mask reduces the spread of aerosol (the droplets of moisture that we emit when we cough or sneeze). This is why surgeons wear masks during operations. They're trying to protect the patient’s open wound from their aerosol – they’re not trying to protect themselves from the patient!

Scientists are still not exactly sure how effective masks are in slowing the spreading of coronavirus, but from an Orthodox point of view, there is no objection to wearing a mask in shops or on public transport. They are not ‘muzzles of the Antichrist’. If they were, then every mask wearer in history has unknowingly been a servant of the Antichrist including Orthodox surgeons, firefighters, paint-sprayers and monks who make incense! No one in the Orthodox world, to our knowledge, has ever raised a religious objection to wearing masks before 2020.

The vaccine conspiracy theory is somewhat older than the mask theory.  Opposition to vaccination is as old as vaccination itself but has reemerged due to Social Media. Nearly all medical treatments have a risk attached to them. With vaccination though, we have to consider the risk to others as well as ourselves. The Orthodox Church does not object to vaccination – She never has done.

Most anti-vaccination theories have something to do with microchips and Bill Gates. Some also include anti-Semitic elements. These theories contradict the Orthodox teaching concerning the acceptance of the Antichrist. Do we really believe in an all-merciful God who would let us be tricked into accepting the Antichrist through a medical treatment? No. This is a dangerous idea indeed. No wonder that believers in conspiracy theories often spiral into depression and loss of faith. The world becomes confusing and frightening because they can no longer trust God.

No Orthodox Christian should ever knowingly have a readable microchip injected. However, even if we were secretly or forcibly injected with one, it would not mean that we had accepted the Antichrist. Microchips are injected under the skin and are easily removed. Accepting the mark of the beast is a permanent spiritual mark that we acquire ourselves because we have conformed ourselves completely to the Antichrist rather than conforming ourselves to God.

The Bill Gates microchip conspiracy theory is obviously nonsense because there are so many different vaccines. The UK is considering approving five vaccines; Russia and China both claim to have a working vaccine. Does Bill Gates control all these governments and drug companies? Do all the vaccines contain microchips ­ or only some of them? How are we to know?

To get around this problem, conspiracy theorists assert that Bill Gates is only part of a secret group of people who, with the help of the world's scientists and medical professionals, control all the world’s governments. ‘They want to vaccinate us so that they can control us’ is a common theme. Who exactly ‘they’ are is never explained. Instead, conspiracy theorists advise people to ‘trust no one and question everything’. This is very dangerous advice. Even in our everyday life we trust people. We trust chefs, bus drivers and pilots without questioning them as to their competence. The idea that we have the knowledge to question everyone on everything is sheer conceit.
Doing ‘research’ on the Internet into these theories is time wasted. The only ‘they’ we need to be concerned about are the demons who unashamedly desire our destruction. We can identify their working in us by increasing our prayer and spiritual reading. Wasting time researching conspiracy theories is a victory for the demons because we’re not doing saving spiritual work.

These theories are nonsense, but this rush for vaccines is concerning from a safety point of view. The sheer size of the medical trials of these vaccines is unprecedented, but there is some concern that the trials have been too short to uncover long-term side effects. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to distinguish our legitimate safety concerns from conspiracy theories. Some are convinced that mandatory coronavirus vaccination is a sign of the Antichrist coming, but other vaccines have been mandatory in European countries such as France and Italy for some years.
This leads us to our last point. As Christians we are commanded to obey the government as long as their laws are not contrary to the Orthodox Faith. As we’ve already said, the Orthodox Church has never objected to hand washing, mask wearing or vaccination. 

Lockdowns, however, are different because they affect the life of the Church here on earth by stopping the faithful from worshipping freely. In the UK, the lockdown has been quite relaxed, with little police involvement. In other countries, however, the police have been much more aggressive particularly in regard to Orthodox Christian worship.

Many of us are deeply concerned about the whole idea of lockdowns. Even the scientists advising the government cannot agree about them. Some view them as a solution to stopping the spread, but others point out that lockdowns lead to more deaths from other health conditions.  We must not, however, seek solace or reassurance in lockdown conspiracy theories.  We must first place our trust in God and those He has appointed to shepherd us – our bishops.

It’s important to remember that each bishop speaks only to the people in his diocese. He is responding to the situation in his particular country. Some of our bishops might be more ‘anti-lockdown’ than others because of the situation in their diocese. This is why it’s so important to read and act on the encyclicals that all our bishops have signed together. These give us general guidance more country-specific guidance will come from our own bishop.

In the UK, at the moment, the government is not persecuting the Orthodox Church it is banning gatherings of people in pubs, gyms, shops and football stadia as well as in places of worship. Complying with the regulations in this country is not anti-Orthodox. We don’t enjoy complying, but we do it as our duty. Our everyday life might have changed, but one thing we will never change is our faith and worship. Our bishops have said: ‘the Church alone, and no one else is responsible for determining the rules for Her worship and good order.’

Our bishops have stated that what is happening today is probably the prelude to greater tribulations. We cannot prepare for persecution by researching conspiracy theories – persecution is not a childish game. We need to prepare ourselves for whatever God permits us to suffer by strengthening our faith, living a life of repentance and praying for God’s mercy.

 Frequently Asked Questions 

Taken from Protocols 3022 and 3026. Additional quotes from The Orthodox Church and Eschatological Frenzy by Bishop Cyprian of Oreoi.

Does coronavirus exist?

Yes. Our bishops say that coronavirus can kill people despite being ‘infinitesimal and invisible’. ‘Faithful who belong to at-risk groups, and especially those of advanced age and those with serious illnesses should avoid exposing themselves to the virus.’

How scared should we be of coronavirus?

‘Fear and panic have no place among our faithful, clergy and laity alike. What is needed is strengthening of faith, repentance, sobriety, responsibility and prayer.’

Should we wear face masks in shops and on public transport?

Yes, if the law says we should. Our bishops say: ‘If, as true Christians, we have love and concern for others, let us display it by refraining from behaving heedlessly, tiresomely, or even dangerously towards them.’

Does the wearing of a face mask prepare us to accept the Antichrist?

No. ‘This activity of the Devil that prepares the way for the Antichrist has always been going on. Satan, who labours methodically to make men antichrists, has no need of perceptible and visible signs to achieve domination. He quietly introduces worship of himself so as to find them instructed beforehand in his ways, and to recognise himself as already formed in them.' (Bishop Cyprian of Oreoi)

Isn’t ‘controlling the spread of the virus’ really only an excuse for governments to control the people?

No. Our bishops are aware of the ‘critical nature of the situation and the looming peril, on account of our sins, from the further spread of coronavirus. Hence, we cannot ignore the good and anguished efforts of all those responsible agencies that are striving to avert this evil and to safeguard public health’.

I’m protected by God. I don’t need to follow government rules.

‘When the human factor of imperfection or indifference intrudes, there the Grace of God does not automatically act to restrain or alleviate it. It abides and acts only where the conditions are suitable, where people diligently do what is expected of them, and especially when their hearts are pure.’

What if the government takes advantage of its new powers?

‘Our Risen Lord is the Judge also of the rulers of this earth, and the rulers and authorities of this world will give an account before Him of how they handled the authority He gave them.’

How does that answer help us here and now?

‘We should take comfort in the fact that [Governments] cannot do anything against us except what the Lord permits, and also in how every evil that occurs by God’s leave  eventu- ally proves to be for the good, since we are tested in order that we may become worthy of eternal glory.’

What about those who say that our Synod’s position is too ‘pro-government’?

‘The Church of Christ is not influenced by the modus operandi and practices of extra-ecclesiastical schismatic circles or heretical groups.’

Are our bishops recommending that we refuse a coronavirus vaccine?

No. Our bishops also say that the ‘assiduous, exhaustive efforts’ of coronavirus scientists are ‘praiseworthy’.

Are microchips something to do with the mark of the Beast?

‘Pious Orthodox Christians are not influenced by various newfangled theories concerning “marks” or “preliminary marks”. All fear and anguish either about a “mark” imposed through the use of identity cards and other technological systems, or in general about some visible “mark” on the human body, are a trick of the devil to deflect our attention and are wholly unfounded.’ (Bishop Cyprian of Oreoi)

What if they inject us secretly with a microchip when they inject the vaccine?

‘The mark cannot be understood as a mechanical procedure of imposing or receiving an outward sign, which turns us into Antichrists automatically and regardless of our spiritual condition.’ (Bishop Cyprian of Oreoi)

How can we avoid being deceived into accepting the mark ?

We must live a life of true faith in God and repentance: ’The mark of the Beast betokens an inward procedure and relationship, which means: to belong to, partake of, receive, be conformed to, and assimilated to Satan. (Bishop Cyprian of Oreoi)

Can you catch coronavirus from taking Holy Communion?

No. ‘Divine Communion is indeed intrinsically insusceptible to defilement.’

Do we have to accept everything the medical experts say?

No. ‘[The Church] does not await the suggestions of people outside Her, even of ‘experts’ who, if not under the sway of a hostile and anti-Christian spirit, are at best unqualified to offer proposals for her functioning, for the celebration of Her worship. The Church – She alone, and no one else – is responsible for determining the rules for Her worship and good order.’

Are things going to get worse?

‘All that is happening is probably the prelude to greater tribulations. Yet we emphasise that nothing should deprive us of the invincible joy of the Resurrection and the sure hope of victory.’

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