Glory be to Jesus Christ!
Yes, I am acutely aware of the increase in cases of the current variant of the virus in our immediate area.
Yes, I am aware that large public indoor gatherings allow the perfect environment for a virus to do what viruses do - and that the inside of our Church building is not exempt from the condition for viral transmission.
In response to these circumstances, we have had available since May the opportunity to be vaccinated in an emergency response to the virus. Those who wish to be vaccinated have had and still do have the opportunity to do so. We are not, however, limiting participation of clergy or laity due to vaccination status.
Attendance at services does not require wearing a mask, but everyone should be aware that during this week we saw daily new cases approach the level of daily new cases reached between January 1 and March 1 of 2021 in Chesterfield and Powhatan Counties. During that time, masks were required. What has changed? Well, it appears that the higher percentage of vaccinated persons in our area has helped the daily number of hospitalizations due to COVOD-19, and also death caused by COVID-19, to remain very low. This is not the case in every county or every state because the percentage of vaccinated persons is critically low in some areas, and they are showing much higher response of hospitalization and death in relation to the increase in transmission. Voluntarily wearing a mask under these circumstances is certainly understood and permitted, and should not be scorned.
So, this is not an admonition to be vaccinated, although I have received both Moderna injections, but it is a reminder that we should be careful if we are in any of the higher risk categories. We should not judge or ridicule those who wear masks or not, as well as those who are vaccinated or not. An alarming echo of marginalization and negative characterization is sounding forth in our society. This needs to stop at our doors. If proof of vaccination is required, I will burn my record and exist without what vaccination affords, joining those who have burnt other items in my lifetime. This is not an attempt at humor.
I am hearing a common refrain among those specializing in the science of virology that this virus or variant will, most likely, infect everyone, regardless of vaccination or the best of masks. If this is a given, there will still be a level of grief to be endured as hospitalization and death does eventually come close to our circle of friends or loved ones. It is difficult to comfort or deflect with statistics when the sting of grief becomes very personal. This is the reality of living in the time of a serious pandemic. So, we need to practice love and empathy. We need to be mindful of the reality in which we live. As I have attempted to encourage, don't be afraid, be prepared - and that means be prepared for what may come at any time for any one of us, whether by this virus or any other circumstance or pathogen; our last breath and last opportunity to join the thief on the cross in repentance.
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
Dean, Appalachian Deanery, Diocese of the South, Orthodox Church in America
V. Rev. David F. Arnold
Rector, St. Cyprian of Carthage Church, Midlothian, VA