Brothers and Sisters beloved in the Lord,
The situation with the spread of the COVID-19 virus is getting worse worldwide as well as in our country. On Wednesday March 25, Christians around the world joined together in a prayer to our Lord for mercy and protection. Everywhere, brothers and sisters in Christ are volunteering to provide help in word and in deed to those who are suffering from the disease. Church ministers are speaking words of comfort and hope. Today, each of us can do the little that is in our power. We might be presented with an opportunity to show our Christian faith by serving among dangers, in self-denial, and some might be granted the honor of following Christ by giving their life for their neighbors.
However, now, in this particular time, our service and sacrifice is to demonstrate the chief Christian virtues: obedience and humility. We are required to obey the secular authorities and humble ourselves for the safety of our neighbors. We are not afraid of the disease. We are not afraid of death. We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28). We know that this pandemic is only a slight knock of the Lord on the door which this fallen world has slammed shut before its loving Creator by giving itself up to the bacchanal of sin. The darkness is getting thicker, but we have nothing to be afraid of. The Church of Christ is the only organization on this planet that has survived all wars, all epidemics, all world disasters, all of the most insane political regimes. If the Lord gives this earth more time, the Church will survive this pandemic as well, for the Lord Himself said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Mt. 16:18).
Now, for a short while, we need to forgo that which we value highest of all in this corrupt world – our living fellowship with each other and partaking of the Lord’s Supper together. Forgo not out of fear, but in order to serve our neighbor. The secular authorities are doing their best to prevent sickness, and that’s exactly the reason why we must support all the action taken by the government.
The Apostle Paul writes to all Christians, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1, ESV) and St. Peter says, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Pet. 2:13, ESV).
Martin Luther writes, “Since, however, a true Christian lives and labors on earth not for himself, but for his neighbor, therefore the whole spirit of his life impels him to do even that which he need not do, but which is profitable and necessary for his neighbor. . . . He serves the State as he performs all other works of love, which he himself does not need. He visits the sick, not that he may be made well; feeds no one because he himself needs food: so he also serves the State not because he needs it, but because others need it, — that they may be protected and that the wicked may not become worse. He loses nothing by this, and such service in no way harms him, and yet it is of great profit to the world. If he did not do it, he would be acting not as a Christian but contrary even to love, and would also be setting a bad example to others, who like him would not submit to authority, though they were no Christians. In this way the Gospel would be brought into disrepute, as though it taught rebellion and made self-willed people, unwilling to benefit or serve any one, when in reality it makes a Christian the servant of every one.” (M. Luther, “Secular Authority: To What Extent It Should be Obeyed.”)
Thanks be to the Lord that in this difficult situation we can keep the Fourth Commandment without breaking the Third. The Catechism says, “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.” Today, God has given us the possibility of communicating with one another and hearing God’s Word by using the modern means of communication. We believe, teach, and confess that the faithful who are not able to come to Holy Communion can and should receive the comfort of the Gospel and forgiveness of sin by reading Scripture. We must understand that the serious measures that the authorities are taking are temporary and caused by exceptional necessity. Therefore, I call all the faithful to obey the following resolution of the Bishop’s Council of March 26, 2020:
1. The senior pastors of the congregations must monitor changes in the situation and timely fulfill the orders of regional authorities to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus infection (COVID-2019). The senior pastors can receive necessary consultation and information support from the regional deans.
2. In those subjects of the Russian Federation where worship services are allowed, all other activities must be temporarily canceled or moved online. Brothers and sisters in Christ who are over 60 and those who have chronic diseases must stay at home. This applies also to those who have developed ARVI symptoms. If needed, church members can invite a minister to their home.
3. The clergy and personnel of the congregations must see to it that all necessary disinfection procedures be done in the churches and places of meeting.
4. In the regions where worship services and meetings are suspended, we recommend that worship services and Bible studies be live-streamed.
5. We call all the faithful to participate in worship as follows: watch the live streams, join in the prayers that are being said, and, if possible, sing along with the chorales.
If your congregation is unable to do live-streams, you can invite your congregants to watch the following live-streams:
Wednesdays at 19:00 — live stream of the worship service from St. Mary’s Cathedral Church in St. Petersburg. The live stream is available on the vk.com page of St. Mary’s Congregation at https://vk.com/stmariaspb
Fridays at 19.00 — live stream of the evening Bible study from the congregation in Koltushi. The live stream is available on the vk.com page of the congregation in Koltushi at https://vk.com/koltushski_prixod
Saturdays at 17.00 — The Bishop’s Hour (q&a, prayer needs). The live stream is available on the vk.com page of the Bishop’s Central Office at https://vk.com/bishopsoffice and on the Finnish-language Inkerin Kirkko Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Inkerin-kirkko-4005571700155..
Sundays at 10.00 — live stream of the worship service in Russian and Finnish from St. George’s Church in Koltushi. The live stream is available on the vk.com page of the congregation in Koltushi at https://vk.com/koltushski_prixod and on the Finnish-language Inkerin Kirkko Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Inkerin-kirkko-4005571700155..
Sundays at 12:30 — live stream of the Bible study on the Book of Revelation from St. Mary’s Cathedral Church. The live stream is available on the vk.com page of St. Mary’s Congregation at https://vk.com/stmariaspb
Sundays at 14.00 — live stream of the worship service in Russian from St. Mary’s Cathedral Church. The live stream is available on the vk.com page of St. Mary’s Congregation at https://vk.com/stmariaspb
6. We recommend that the senior pastors of the congregations make lists of church members who are in the high-risk group (lonely, elderly, seriously diseased) and build a volunteer team to deliver necessary groceries and medicines to church members who need help.
7. Every evening at 21:00 throughout the quarantine period, The Church of Ingria joins together in prayer for the end of the epidemic. I recommend for the congregations to pray the Prayer of Daniel (Dan. 9:4-19), Psalm 91, and the Lord’s Prayer.
Contact the regional deans for any consultation you might need. If you are unable to get in touch with your regional dean, email to COVID19ELCI@gmail.com or leave a message in the Lutherans in Russia – The Church of Ingria vk.com group at https://vk.com/infoinkeri
May the Lord give us His peace and wisdom in this time of visitation to bring the message of salvation to those far and near, to lovingly call the lost to repentance, to boldly proclaim the Gospel to the broken, to patiently comfort the faint-hearted. May the Lord save our country, congregations, and homes!
“O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” (Dan. 9:18-19, ESV).
Praying for the health of every one of you, dear Brothers and Sisters, and for a speedy end of the epidemic,
Ivan Laptev, Bishop of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria
Photo credits: Liliann Keskinen