Social engagement of the Russian Orthodox Church during the pandemic of coronavirus COVID-19

The spread of the COVID-19 disease in 2020 affected the lives of all the countries and people in the world, including those in Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and other places where the faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) live.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, the ROC was adapting its life in accordance with the current situation and with the needs of those, who were infected by the dangerous virus or who were by other means endangered because of virus’ rapid spread (homeless, vulnerable and elderly people, family members and relatives of those, who died from the illness etc). 

In addition to the obligatory sanitary measures prescribed by the State health-care authorities (social distancing, wearing of the masks, disinfection of the surfaces inside the churches, closing of Sunday schools etc) the Church on its own initiative introduced some other modifications aimed at protecting the faithful during their stay in the churches (the use of disposable wooden, paper or plastic cups, tissues and spoons, veneration of the icons by bowing rather than by kissing etc). 

The main role in coordination of the social activity of the ROC is played by the Sinodal Department of the Church Charity and Social Service led by the Head of the Department His eminence Panteleimon, bishop of Orekhovo-Zuyevo. 

Spiritual guidance and support of the faithful Orthodox Christians who got infected with COVID-19  remains the core element of the social activity of the Church throughout the entire period of this pandemic. The Department introduced a 24/7 phone hotline “Miloserdie” (“Mercy”) through which the faithful could talk to an Orthodox priest and, if they belonged to the vulnerable group of population and were not able to leave their homes, request a home visit or the delivery of the food, medication and items of the first necessity. A similar hotline was organised through social media. The teams of “priests on duty” were also organised to make emergency visits to the hospitals or homes to provide the COVID-19 patients with the sacraments of Confession and the Holy Communion. In average the priests have 5 to 9 visits per day now (mostly to the patients already dying in the hospitals)1. Thus the priests of the ROC provide constant pastoral care to the faithful affected by the pandemic. 

In the times when many social initiatives were frozen or stopped due to the sanitary restrictions (eg. prohibition of gatherings) the ROC remained one of the few non-governmental organisations helping people in need. In some cities shelters of the ROC for the homeless remained the only ones which continued working throughout the period of the strict confinement. In this period the biggest shelter in Russia run by the ROC “Angar spaseniya” (“Salvation hangar”) situated in Moscow registered three times more overnightings than usual. 

Through fundraising initiatives the ROC managed to accumulate considerable financial resources and donated valuable medical equipment (including oxygen machines, lung ventilators) and medication to various hospitals dealing with COVID patients. In Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, the ROC opened a field hospital for 40 beds for COVID patients with moderate symptoms who did not require intensive medical care. Medical treatment in this hospital was provided for free. In Odessa (Ukraine) the diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (ROC) donated to emergency paramedics two new rescue vehicles.

Thus the ROC has become the main center for coordinating the activity of the charity organisations in the period of pandemic. It should be noted that the number of volunteers helping in this period through the church initiatives has also increased considerably. More than 6800 people all over Russia are volunteering now in various ways to help COVID patients and their families. The faithful in Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine are also actively supporting their elredly or vulnerable parishioners. For instance, the sisters of the Pokrov women monastery in Kiev (Ukraine) sew daily 200 masks which they distribute for free.

We pray for the healing of those who got infected with coronavirus and for the repose of those who died of this dangerous disease. The Church believes in God’s mercy and His endless love towards people.