IMPORTANT! Please distribute immediately
TO: ARCHDIOCESE OF PGH AND W PA (OCA) CLERGY / LAITY
FROM: ARCHPRIEST WILLIAM J. EVANSKY, CHANCELLOR
SUBJECT: CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE UPDATE
Glory to Jesus Christ!
This COVID-19 update is a follow-up to the last email I sent on March 13th concerning this developing national health emergency. MUCH has changed since that email that has required re-assessment of our situation. First, please note the attached March 17, 2020, letter from the Holy Synod - including our own ruling hierarch. Also, please note the critical points below issued to all clergy/ members/ parishes of the Archdiocese of PGH and W PA (OCA) by His Eminence, Archbishop MELCHISEDEK.
1. Effective with this official email dated 3/17/2020, ALL parishes of this Archdiocese are to immediately cease all services, activities, social gatherings, etc. with the exception of two items noted below. This closure is to continue until the end of March 2020 at which time further directives will be issued by the Chancellor on behalf of the ruling hierarch. (This is a directive of the bishop, NOT an option for the parishes.)
2. There are two exceptions to this total closure to note:
A. Special services (i.e. funerals, baptisms, etc.) may be held IF this is discussed with the Chancellor before they are scheduled - attendance is limited only to immediate family members.
B. Each parish priest may open his church on the coming two Saturday afternoons (March 21 / March 28) for two to three hours of his choosing for the faithful to come and offer a private prayer and light candles. While we are not encouraging people to do this in light of the governmental guidelines, it is realized some people will gain much strength from this visit. It is imperative that people in high-risk categories (i.e. - senior citizens / individuals with on-going health problems / people not feeling well currently) not consider this act. Individuals are reminded to maintain “social distancing” during this visit and avoid interacting with large numbers of people. Any priest NOT comfortable doing this should contact the Chancellor.
3. Also attached to this email is a Prayer Service that can be prayed by the faithful of the Archdiocese regularly in front of their prayer corners concerning this virus - we hope they do so! (Our thanks to Archbishop MICHAEL for providing us this service.) Please look for additional services from me in future emails which we will provide for the faithful to use this weekend and the following weekend to come.
4. Except for so-called “death-bed confessions,” confessions are suspended until this period of time has concluded. (This, of course, does not preclude informal spiritual discussions between our priests and our parish penitents via the phone and emails. Parish priests are asked to contact the Chancellor if you have questions about this.)
5. Our clergy, following proper personal safety protocols, should remain available to the faithful to respond to emergency situations requiring immediate pastoral attention. Parish priests, however, are not expected to make routine pastoral visitation calls to shut-ins during this health emergency period.
6. All parish facilities should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected during this period of parish closure.
7. His Eminence’s March Sunday Archpastoral visitations are cancelled now - the Chancellor will contact those parishes concerning make-up dates in the future. April visitations will be decided upon at the end of this month based on the situation at that point in time.
8. The Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Ellwood City, while closed to visitors during this period as per Holy Synod directives concerning all OCA monasteries, will probably continue to live-stream the monastery’s services; their web address for more info is: www.orthodoxmonasteryellwoodcity.org.
9. Parishes are urged to reach out to their parish members who may need assistance in obtaining the basic “staples of life” during this period since they cannot visit the grocery stores - please stay alert at the parish level to assist each other.
10. Any parish priest diagnosed with COVID-19 (or self-quarantined as a precaution) is asked to confidentially inform the Chancellor so that proper personal assistance can be rendered and coverage for the parish arranged with the local dean. Our deacons are encouraged to do likewise.
11. These are difficult economic times for everyone - - including the church! The faithful of the Archdiocese who are able to do so are reminded to continue their stewardship efforts during this closure period - the expenses of our parishes continue even though we cannot gather as God’s people.
Much care was used in issuing this email. Despite that effort, I am sure this complicated situation will still cause questions to arise due to my inadequate efforts - as well intended as they are. As I always say, as Chancellor I welcome your inquiries via this email address or at my Ambridge parish office - 724-266-5009 - as we together work through these stress-filled days. Let us persevere through prayer!
Finally - - please know that these “radical” decisions were only decided upon by His Eminence after much prayer, dialogue with the other members of the Holy Synod, consultation with medical professionals, and conversations at length with his Chancellor. These were NOT decided upon “lightly,” but in the end seemed absolutely necessary. We must work together as a people to stop the rapid transmission of this unprecedented health threat; we must eliminate the spread NOW to avoid a massive - and deadly -spread later. His Eminence also stated that out of “something bad, perhaps something good can come about” - - this period of limited interaction “opens the window of opportunity” to individually “plunge” into the quiet depths of Holy Lent by increased personal prayer, Bible study, and time with the myriad of “good” Orthodox materials available through the internet and our Orthodox bookstores. Let us use self-discipline to make this occur throughout the Archdiocese!
A wonderful verse from 2 Timothy 1:7 reads: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
“Amen” - - “Let it be so!”
With love and concern in Christ,
Archpriest William J. Evansky
Archdiocese of PGH and W PA (OCA)