This is more of a personal “blog” than a hashed out argument, its composition motivated by being up all night with a sick kid. Anyway, during holy week, my wife and I brought our son to as many services we can go to. Generally, during weekday services we go to the geographically closer parish and during weekends we go to another, larger city parish not much farther away*–but with a kid, sometimes every minute and mile counts, especially during evening weekday services!
The parish we go to during weekends is liturgically conservative and has only modest covid-related measures. We are blessed by the Bishop to venerate icons in the traditional manner (with a kiss), we kiss the chalice, we use a common spoon, etcetera. It is required that parishioners wear masks. Even the choir director and deacon wear a mask during their chants/songs and in all honesty I don’t hear a difference (and I have bad hearing).
The parish we have been going to during weekdays has liturgically liberal covid-related measures. The Bishop has a letter hanging where one walks in forbidding the kissing of icons, they use disposable spoons for communion, and the chalice is not allowed to be venerated. These “controls” are not without some irony, as the choir sings without masks, and individuals who are vaccinated (even though both the Orthodox Theological Society’s bioethics statement as well as every government-related health authority caution against this) do not wear masks. This is something that both scientifically and statistically does not make sense to me: to compromise liturgical customs, but have people not wear masks if they have a vaccine. This is because in strictly-controlled empirical studies, the vaccine has about 95 percent effectiveness of preventing symptomatic infection. In the real world, where the administration of vaccines may not be under ideal conditions, vaccines slightly decrease in effectiveness. This means, even the unmasked vaccinated are at least as likely to contract and spread covid-19 as 20 unmasked people being that they have a 5 percent chance of systematic infection–presuming masks do anything to prevent communicable spread, which I presume they do. On top of this, it is unknown to what degree vaccinated people, though asymptomatic, could in fact become infected and spread the disease. And so, its a strange set of compromises which appear to cancel each other out.
By the grace of God, our boy does not only communes as is customary for all Orthodox children, but he enthusiastically venerates the icons, kisses the chalice, yells the words “cross,” “God,” “[let us] attend,” and “candle”–well, he does everything enthusiastically, God bless him. And so, we went the whole winter doing all these things without getting sick. He otherwise is an only child and we are very strict with hygiene and he has zero exposure to germs (or other people) other than when we go to church. He enters nowhere else that is public, other than walking outside, where it is exceptionally rare to catch covid or really any contagious common-cold like disease.
In any event, I was at the “weekday parish” and a cute little baby there had a runny nose. Of course, try as we may, my wife and I try to keep the social distance (as the bishop’s letter requires) and we immediately noticed the other kid’s runny nose. Our son is at a more social stage, so it is borderline impossible without a scene to stop him from approaching other children (or lit candles, or the iconostasis, or the icon, etcetera) at all possible times. And so, our boy might have touched the other child once or twice (he was more hands on with his brother). We always washed or sanitized his hands afterwards and gave him a bath when he got home. What else can we do?
Lo and behold, our boy gets sick with the exact same runny nose. To emphasize, this was at the less busy church, where no one is permitted to kiss the icons (though my boy “sneaks” kisses in), communes with the common spoon, or kiss the chalice. I will emphasize that this did not occur at the far busier inner-city parish where everyone shares the spoon, is permitted to venerate the icons, and kiss the chalice. Being that my son was near no other sick people in no other contexts, it is extremely unlikely (though not impossible) for there to be any other cause.
So, what’s the moral of the story? Well, despite what all of the liturgical liberals think, the chalice and the holy icons have evidently not spread any disease–you know, God’s grace and stuff. And, despite what those same liberals accuse “reactionaries” of believing, yes, you can (likely) still get sick in a church building (though if you want to be technical, our boy encountered the other boy outside the sanctuary–which has been opened up to increase social distance since covid). Lastly, the church has always prayed for the ill that cannot attend worship on a given day, at least at every liturgy I have ever been to. This seems to imply that people with the cold, flu, or whatever who skip church in non-life threatening situations are blessed in doing so. Is this so they can simply heal up, not infect others, or both? I don’t know, I did not pen the prayer.
So, be responsible, keep the faith, and accept the consequences of both.
*Being that I have my fair degree of critics, yes we are blessed to go to parishes for convenience sake from our spiritual father.