courtesy of OMHKSEA, The Censer, May 2003
Facing the SARS Crisis

Added to the many problems that plague Southeast Asia, we are now faced with the SARS crisis. This is, indeed, a time for us to be careful in many aspects of daily life. We all read the newspapers, listen to the news and discuss matters in our regular conversations. The virus has set the rhythm and pace of life for most of us. SARS now defines where, when and how we travel. Fear has taken hold of the hearts and minds of many, as we continue to hear of the spread of the virus in Hong Kong and other cities. It is now a world issue, not just one in “our own backyard”. As Orthodox Christians, we are left with a variety of questions, as we look to life within the Church. Allow me, please, to share some thoughts with you on this matter.

SARS in Hong Kong*

# of Infected: 1543
# of Recovered: 668
# of Deaths: 133

*Figures as of 27 April 2003
as reported by the Hong Kong
Department of Health

As Orthodox Christians, we need to remember that our hope is in the Lord and to Him do we, first, turn. Perhaps, we need to humble ourselves and turn to God for assistance, rather than believing that we can find all the answers to all our problems on our own. Yes, I know that science and doctors are working to address the problem, but we also need to ask God to guide them in finding an answer. We need to ask him to enlighten their minds, so a cure will be found. We also need to ask the Lord, as our ancestors did for generations in the times of need, to deliver us from this virus. We need to pray the words we so often hear in our services “we pray for the preservation of this holy Church and deliverance from the wrath of God, pestilence, famine, etc.” We have forgotten that the Church, throughout the centuries, appealed to the Lord with special prayers and services. In the times when there seemed to be no hope, the grace and mercy of God reached out to the appeals of the people. The Prophet- King reminds of this, as we read in the 23 rd Psalm “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me”.

The Great Efhologion (a liturgical text of the Church) of the Church contains a variety of prayers, services and canons to be chanted and read during the times of drought, sickness, pestilence, etc. We hear the words of the author of one of the prayers who says: “you who rained manna from the heavens and made water to gush forth from the rock . . . show to us also your great wonders and nourish us by your blessing of your goodness, for all things are possible for you, and nothing is impossible for you”. While the team of doctors and the researchers are necessary, so is the grace of God, for we do not live by bread alone but the very word of the living God. We ask God to hear our pleas, as he heard the cries of Hezekiah the king. We ask him to answer us, just as he answered the king. (See 2 Chron 32: 24) In the times of drought, the faithful prayed and the heavens opened. In the times of sickness, the Holy Relics and the Precious Cross were venerated and countless were healed. Perhaps, if we approached matters with the same simplicity and honesty of faith and hope, we would see a miracle in our present days and times. We need only recall that Christ often said, “your faith has made you well”.

This is not to say that every time we appeal to God and ask for a miracle in our lives, he will respond and do as we want. But, we must ask for his forgiveness and help in facing the perils of life. It is for these reasons that the Emperor Theodore Ducas Lascaris composed the Great Canon to the Theotokos and appealed to her saying: “From all affliction and from all disease and harm do you deliver me; and by your  power, in your shelter preserve me unwounded, Maid; and from every peril and foes that hate and war against me do you hasten to save me, O all-hymned one.”

While we search for the cure to this illness, we also need to look to the forms of therapy that the Church offers the believer. One can speak of the Mystery of Holy Oil, which has restored many people, both in body and in spirit. While this mystery of grace may indeed heal some, to others this blessed treasure gives us the strength to face our demons and the attacks against us. The Sacramental life and the prayers of the Church have always been the means for people to be healed, especially the Body and Blood of the Lord – the source of life and immortality. Since the time of the Mystical Supper, the Eucharist has held the Church in unity. The life- giving Body and Blood of the Lord have held the faithful together, as one family. Throughout the centuries, it was Holy Communion that gave courage, strength and support to the suffering Christians. Even in the times of plague, famine and pestilence, the devout faithful turned to the Holy Mysteries. Certainly, it was because they held tightly to the admonition of the Lord, who said “Do not fear, only believe” (See Mark 5: 36). And in these times of trial and tribulation, we recall the same words, knowing that faith overcomes fear. We know that the spotless and pure Body and Blood of the Savior do not transmit any form of germ, virus or disease. If these thoughts of doubt and fear were to take hold of us, we might hear Christ speak the very words he said to his disciples – “Where is your faith?” (See Luke 8: 25). As children of the Church, we know that where assured faith, there is nothing to fear – not when we speak of the Chalice of Life.

How often we forget that at the end of the Divine Liturgy, the clergy must consume the Chalice. For almost two thousand years of following this practice, it has never been recorded that a priest became ill or suffered any consequence. There are countless examples in the lives of the Saints who went to the lepers, the diseased and the infirm to commune them. There are no examples or records of a death or a contracted illness. So, now there should be no fear in the hearts of the faithful in receiving Holy Communion. Certainly, these are days which require our attention, but they are not days to The Censer let panic govern and rule. We need to be calm and address the situation in a proper way – with reason, logic, calm, but above all with faith. Even the book of Proverbs put things into perspective, as we read: “A prudent man sees danger and hides himself” (Prov 22: 3). Faith will give us the strength, wisdom and vision to look forward beyond the crisis. All you have to do is to look into the eyes of Christ and believe. Then, you see the Resurrection.

With paternal love,


Metropolitan of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia