“Do you want to be healed?” St John 5:6
To our beloved Shepherds, Brother Concelebrants, and Faithful in Christ the Lord,
With deep concern and from the urging of our conscience in Christ, we write to address the continued troubled state of our Nation and of many in the Church.
Only a few days ago, on September 9th, the President of our Country issued a disquieting executive order that has as its goal the forcing of the current COVID vaccine—a form of experimental gene therapy—on millions of American citizens. The disquiet of many of the clergy and faithful were exacerbated on September 16, by the statement of the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church of America and Archbishop Elpidophoros’ tweet stating “there is no religious exemption in the Orthodox Church for Her faithful from any vaccine, including the COVID19 vaccine.”
The civil and legal aspects of this issue are being addressed elsewhere by many and will be a matter of civil discord and debate for the foreseeable future. The intent of this epistle is not to address the troubling civil aspects of compelling people to receive an experimental and inadequately tested gene-therapy injection but, more importantly, our intent is to focus on the spiritual aspects and dangers of such a statement and the mentality surrounding it.
The “health crisis” that the world was forcefully subjected to well over a year and a half ago has been revealed as an even deeper spiritual crisis. In the name of health and protection, much that is harmful and destructive to both body and soul has been perpetuated. At current, under the new decrees of the Federal Government, millions of fellow Americans and thousands of Christians are being backed into an agonizing corner. Many, for very substantial and plausible reasons, have made an informed and free choice not to receive a novel gene therapy injection. Now in the name of safety from a virus from which more than 99% recover, their very means of livelihood are being threatened. The current willingness of some to deprive other persons of their work, livelihood, studies, and even, possibly, access to stores, hospitals, and places of religious worship reveals that the goal of mandates does not have the well-being of humanity at heart whatsoever, as it constantly claims.
No person should be deprived of their ability, in good conscience and freewill, to question and refuse a proposed medical treatment. Neither the efficacy nor the safety of the available injections has been sufficiently determined. Normal safety studies have not been done. The long-term effects on people both physically and spiritually are unknown. Many people for good reasons still have very substantial ethical, moral, and spiritual concerns about the development, ingredients, and effects of the proffered injection. But some in the Church are all too willing to trample upon the conscience of their brothers and sisters in Christ, whether out of fear or out of unquestioning faith in the honesty of government, its chosen experts, and the mainstream media. The concerns of many Christians are not due to politics or ignorance but are based firmly upon their deep faith and belief in Christ and their love for truth. A troubling new ideology is developing in which even Christians are willing to advocate the “necessity” for the “greater good” of forcing vaccination – injections – against the will and conscience of another believer, in the name of “love.” Such attempts at compulsion through manipulating and distorting the meaning of “love” are abhorrent to the Christian and a distortion of true love found within the phronema of the Church.
Modern man’s fallen state has subjected him to disease much deadlier than any virus the world is facing: self-assertive human pride. Finding himself in this state, he cannot truly love nor can he know the definition of love. We see evidence of this in everyday life as so many politicians and leaders carry out soul-destroying policies and behaviors under the banner of “love.” It is how our vice-president can approve of the most egregious abortion policies but has the audacity to tout “that the act of getting vaccinated is the very essence of what the Bible tells us when is says ‘love thy neighbor.’” What we are witnessing is a distorted version of love that can “easily turn into aversion, and even into bitter hatred,” says St. Ignatius Brianchaninov a distorted love that “has even been expressed by the dagger.”[i] This sort of love only wants what is earthly and is compelled by self-assertive pride. True love is spiritual love, which desires for that which is lofty, “it knows no unjust partiality; it is reasonable and strict, wishing for the beloved not deceptive—and often harmful—earthy treasures, but true treasures, spiritual ones.”[ii] Unfortunately, we have witnessed persons within the Church become mouthpieces for the improper and imperfect love taught by worldly people, and very seldom do we hear of true spiritual love. St. Ignatius Brianchinonov reminds the faithful that the command to “love thy neighbor” is far from the fallen human heart and it is a spiritual command that is only realized through cleansing and purification. Therefore, for this love to be realized the spiritual life must be taught—an inoculation against sin—not the abandonment of the faithful and coercion of an experimental injection. When leaders preach distorted worldly love they are nothing more than wolves in sheep’s clothing, for this perversion of love that masquerades as Christian love consumes and devours the souls of men. Such wolves would like us to believe that distorted love is “the essence of what the bible tells us” but inside it is full of rot, vanity, and preferers worldly status over spiritual ascent.
God has endowed man with the ability to act freely within boundaries and the free will of man is a characteristic of his rational soul being created in the image of God.[iii] Freedom is the greatest gift God bestowed upon man at creation, “and it was this freedom of will that defined the high dignity of man—a dignity that raised him infinitely above every other creature.”[iv] Freedom of will was bestowed on a man out of the true love God has for him, and it is true love that desires a free response—“love for love—that is in no way forced. Only this kind of love has any worth: love that flows freely from a loving heart, without any compulsion or coercion.”[v] As a faithful shepherd has recently called to mind the words of St. Irenaeus: “For there is no coercion with God, but goodwill towards us is present with Him continually. And therefore does He give good counsel to all. In man, as well as the angels, He has placed the power of choice…”[vi] This power of choice is so sacred that God Himself does not impede on it, allowing a man to choose to act freely. St Nektarios writes, “So great and valuable is this freedom of man that God himself shows respect [for it] and honors it.”[vii] The value of this freedom is witnessed by our beloved Savior’s ministry on earth to such an extent that He said to His betrayer, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” If the Lord does not constrain Judas, how do we think it is proper to constrain brothers and sisters into injections against their free will? What are the faithful to do when, instructed by the likes of St. Theophan to never act against their conscience, they are commanded to do so by politicians and unsupported in following their conscience by their hierarchs? To impede upon man’s will and to break his conscience in order to subject him to anything against his will is not true love or recognition of the dignity of humanity. In truth, it is only the devil who seeks to trample upon man’s will in order to ensnare and enslave him for evil bidding through sin. St Symeon the New Theologian writes: “The devil bred spite among people and seduced them to love it. And so they arm themselves against one another, thinking that they are fulfilling their own desires but do not understand that in this way they serve the devil and are in slavery to him. The harassing of one another, this plunder, usurpation, and all iniquity are nothing but the consequences of this slavery.”[viii] As fathers and shepherds, as icons of Christ the High Priest, it is right for the leaders of the Church to enable their reason-endowed sheep to listen to their conscience.
Moreover, the dividing of people into “vaccinated” and “unvaccinated” goes contrary to the truth of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The emerging environment of segregation, discrimination, suspicion, division, and exploitation of fear bears many signs of demonic inspiration. The Apostle warns us in no uncertain terms: “I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.”[ix] We judge such divisions and the policies that foment them to be the work of our enemy to neutralize the Church and destroy souls.
It is the devil who wants us to view our fellow man as unclean. It is the enemy who seeks to equate humans with a virus, shunning them as if they were tainted by hell itself. The demons desire that we begin to fear, not the contamination of willful sin and the passions, but rather physical illness. Motivated by this fear of bodily sickness and death, we have fallen to such a state that we are willing to brand and stigmatize even our brethren. We have never found such a mentality in the sacred Traditions of our Holy Faith. With great sobriety, we recall the turbulent history of our world over the 20th and into the 21st century. As Orthodox Christians, we remember well that it was in the name of “fraternity and the well-being” of humanity that the godless regimes of Secular Communism were instituted in Russia and throughout Eastern Europe. Under the banner of the betterment of humanity, millions of people were systematically dehumanized, discriminated against, brutalized, and slaughtered. People were divided into card-carrying Communists or not. Those who did not conform to the government agenda and propaganda were painted as “enemies of the people” who obstructed the advancement of society. Papers of government approval were necessary for basic living. We know most certainly that the spirit behind these works was intensely anti-Christian and antichrist. Numerous fabricated “humanitarian crises” were used as means to attack and deconstruct the Christian understanding of society and human interaction and moreover the Church.
Our brotherhood firmly rejects the exploitation of a person’s acceptance or rejection of a medical treatment to institute a system of discrimination and ostracization not only in the world, but, most of all, in the Church. Can we as Christians morally segregate people in Church on this basis? Can we justify in effect rewriting our Lord’s command to say, “Come unto Me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden—but only if you are vaccinated—and I will give you rest?” Can we justify before Christ making “proof of vaccination” a requirement to enter a Church and participate in worship? Are not such things totally foreign to the spirit of true Orthodoxy? The thought of such things taking place fills us with grief.
We are dedicated to ministering to all who seek Christ without any distinction between “vaccinated” and “unvaccinated.”Could we justify any other practice before God? The unequivocal answer is no.
To the faithful whose conscience is awake and pricked by the insolence of leaders and employers coercing you to partake of these novel injections or face the cost of your livelihood, freedoms, and participation in social life, we will be writing a more detailed epistle soon. Listen to your conscience, do not cave into social pressure, and join our brotherhood in our prayer rule. For now, we leave you with the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and encourage you to read his essay Live Not By Lies in full, which is easily found online and deserves careful study and application in the days ahead:
“Yes, at first it will not be fair. Someone will have to temporarily lose his job. For the young who seek to live by truth, this will at first severely complicate life, for their tests and quizzes, too, are stuffed with lies, and so choices will have to be made. But there is no loophole left for anyone who seeks to be honest: Not even for a day, not even in the safest technical occupations can he avoid even a single one of the listed choices—to be made in favor of either truth or lies, in favor of spiritual independence or spiritual servility. And as for him who lacks the courage to defend even his own soul: Let him not brag of his progressive views, boast of his status as an academician or a recognized artist, a distinguished citizen or general. Let him say to himself plainly: I am cattle, I am a coward, I seek only warmth and to eat my fill.”[x]
Your servants in Christ,
The Burning Bush Brotherhood
[iii] St John Damascene: “From the earth God formed man’s body and by His own inbreathing gave him a rational soul, which last we say is the Divine Image—for ‘according to His image’ means the nous and free will, while ‘according to His likeness’ means such likeness in virtue as is possible.”