Not So Bold Leadership from Archbishop Michael of NY and NJ

A few days ago we published an article calling for bold leadership from Orthodox Bishops in the face of lingering “pandemic” restrictions / mandates. As we documented at the time, even many of the most committed COVIDians are increasingly tired of the “new normal.” The Omicron variant is continuing to prove itself remarkably tame. While “cases” are surging, most infections are mild with many people having no symptoms at all. Omicron has so far not been responsible for a single, confirmed death in the United States. Hospitals in most areas are far from overwhelmed. Despite that, however, many public health and political figures have been in full-scale panic mode. New mask mandates and lockdowns are popping up around the globe, and the advice to “get boosted” is everywhere.

Only very few people are buying the panic.

Dr. Scott Atlas, former advisor to President Trump, went on Tucker Carlson Tonight to explain that the Omicron variant actually signifies the end of the pandemic – not some scary new phase of it:

“This is an extension of everything I wrote about in my book, and that is a complete lack of critical thinking. A shocking lack of critical thinking,” the former Trump coronavirus adviser observed. “The Omicron — there is a disconnect between the cases and serious illness or death. That’s good.”

 

Citing cases in South Africa, he said for the most part the Omicron variant has been mild.

 

“This is good news. In fact, this is how pandemics end,” Atlas said. “What’s stunning is that there is no word of this expected good thing happening at the end of a pandemic from Dr. Fauci.”

 

He said Fauci and other public health leaders continue to push the same mitigation policies that were implemented across the country that “failed to stop the infection.”

 

“They also failed to stop people from dying as they were implemented throughout the entire country in 2020,” Atlas said. “They don’t admit it, but they even worse destroyed millions of people. What we are seeing is a repeat of everything before. A lack of logic and denial of science.”

 

Carlson asked Atlas to further explain his end of the pandemic remark.

 

“Everyone who’s a competent doctor knows that as a pandemic evolves, the viruses mutates. The mutation allows the viruses, or the ones that keep being contagious, are the ones that survive but they’re less lethal,” he explained. “As we get to a stage that’s called endemic, where there is a relatively constant or little ebb and flows of infection, but very few deaths, that’s when there is no more pandemic.”

 

“The pandemic is not about infections that are not harmful. The pandemic only matters if the diseases are very serious or cause death,” he continued. “If you don’t have death and you just have a lot of people getting a mild infection, that shouldn’t panic anyone. That’s in fact showing that there’s either a very, very mild virus which is not a big problem, or that there’s enough immunity and protection against the severe consequences. So that’s how the pandemic ends — the destruction of the pandemic. If it’s not lethal and not causing serious illness really should make people feel good. It shouldn’t be a cause for panic. It’s the opposite.”

Omicron is a good thing. As we have been making the case (here and here), the pandemic is over. Smart money is that shortly everyone will be getting off the COVID train, if for no other reason than to preserve some shreds of credibility. Those who keep pushing the COVID narrative past the sell-by date are likely to have none. At this point, anyone fomenting panic over Omicron will fall under suspicion of being either neurotic or having ulterior motives. Which is why we implored Orthodox Bishops to embrace the end of the pandemic and start to pick up the pieces of our broken society.

Unfortunately, the day after our article ran we were forwarded a directive from Archbishop Michael of New York and New Jersey (OCA) that demonstrates the complete opposite of bold, Apostolic leadership. The excerpts below are from His Eminence, with our commentary.

Beloved Members of our Diocesan Family:
Christ is in our midst! – He is and ever shall be!

 

As we approach the great feasts of Our Lord’s Birth and His Baptism, amidst the beauty and joy of the coming season, we face also the grim news of staggering figures throughout the counties of New York State:

 

• There has been a 58% increase in COVID-19 cases in New York State since Thanksgiving.
• We have seen a 92% increase in hospitalizations in New York State since last month.
• The uncertainty as to the effect of vaccines against the Omicron variant, and the speed of spread and the severity of the Omicron variant, remain unknown.

Right out of the gate, the directive begins with scare statistics. This approach of “Be Afraid!” firmly aligns the Archbishop with the Biden Administration and some other government / public health / media types who are trying to convince everyone that we are still in a crisis. This is not an association that the Archbishop should be happy about. It smacks of politics and corruption.

Remember – according to Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association and discoverer of the Omicron variant, expected symptoms of Omicron are a couple of days of fatigue and malaise. Why would a Successor to the Apostles be reacting like this to what amounts to a cold?

This is a weak, seasonal, endemic virus. Yet, here we are, almost two years in, facing new episcopal restrictions on the conduct of Orthodox worship. If the Archbishop will support this transparent fraud, what won’t he support as long it comes from “official” sources?

Even among his own parishes, which are in deep, deep Blue States, it is likely that most people are not buying the Omicron narrative. Even diehard Democrats are showing they have had enough of COVID. If the Archbishop wants to convince his people to tune him out going forward, this is a good way to do it.

The Archbishop said even more troubling things next.

In our Diocese, we have not mandated that all parishioners must be vaccinated. We respect the privacy of all; and we have not asked anyone whether or not they have received the vaccine.

 

It is my sincerest desire that our faithful will come to Church Services during the Nativity and Theophany season, and feel as safe as possible. It is my goal to minimize, to the greatest extent possible, the risk that anyone coming to the services will contract the virus, become hospitalized … or worse.

Whoa – hang on. The Archbishop has not mandated vaccination? Does he think he could, if he wanted to? The wording implies the Archbishop believes his power extends to making “vaccination” required to attend his parishes. We have been worried about that possibility for some time. This could be just a carelessly written sentence. We hope so. Regardless, we beg all Orthodox Bishops to be very clear that “vaccination” will never be required to attend services in an Orthodox Church. Please leave no doubt that this is impossible.

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Further, there is nothing you can do to minimize the risk of contracting this virus. Double-vaxxed, triple-vaxxed, mask wearing paragons of pure virtue (even Democratic senators) are testing “positive” in record numbers. Social media is full of people bewailing how they have “done everything right,” but still got the virus anyway.

Masking is not a moral issue. Masking is not even a practical issue. There is simply nothing (masking, distancing, whatever) people can do to stop this virus. The scientific studies tell us this. The only two sizeable studies evaluating masks in the context of COVID-19 failed to demonstrate statistically significant reductions in confirmed viral transmission either for surgical masks (one study) or for cloth masks (the other). The science is so against masking, that the CDC was caught relying on a faulty study to push masking in schools. The real-world results also tell us explicitly that mitigations such as masking and vaccine passports do not work. 

How can an Archbishop of the Church not know this? Compare the tone of the Archbishop’s directive to what Bishop George of Canberra Auxiliary Bishop Australia-New Zealand Diocese Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia said in an epistle, “We should remember that whether we get sick from the virus or not is up to God, and when and how we die is up to God, not determined by a virus.” 

That is Apostolic boldness!

So, here comes the mask mandate in Archbishop Michael’s letter:

Therefore, I am urging all parishioners in our New York State parishes, whether or not they have been vaccinated, to wear masks in church during the weeks ahead, unless age or the advice of your medical provider precludes the wearing of a mask, until the numbers of COVID cases and hospitalizations come down. I ask for your understanding that I have made this decision in the midst of a most difficult environment. Everyone is tired of COVID restrictions; everyone wants to go back to a “normal” lifestyle. No matter what decision is made, someone is sure to be unhappy.

As Dr. Atlas and many others have pointed out, “cases” are a meaningless metric. The change in “cases” is being used as justification for all manner of evil mandates and corporate cronyism. This is despite the fact that the rate of “cases” has decoupled from the rate of hospitalizations and deaths. Even many local politicians have had enough of this charade. More than a dozen counties in New York have already said they will not enforce the unelected governor’s mask mandate.

Yet, somehow, this same set of facts motivates Archbishop Michael to this action? It is difficult to see how Archbishop Michael will ever go back to a “normal lifestyle.”

The Archbishop also uses the word “temporary” to describe the “sacrifice” he is asking his parishioners to make. The use of that word is bitterly ironic. We are now 19 months into “15 days to slow the spread” and many powerful people want this all to continue indefinitely. How can the Archbishop not recognize that using this phrase is a giant, offensive red flag?

I realize that masks alone will not bring an end to the pandemic. However, I would rather we wear them, and learn that we didn’t need to … than not wear them, and learn that someone became ill, or had to be admitted to the hospital, or worse, because we did not make a temporary sacrifice for the sake of the health and safety of our brothers and sisters.

As we noted, virtuous people who “did everything right” are still getting Omicron, though they are doing just fine with it.  Statements like that make people wonder – what is driving the Archbishop to write this way? Is it hubris, neuroticism, lack of discernment, fear, timidity or a commitment to a corrupt agenda that drives an Archbishop of the Church to treat wearing cloth masks as a necessary act of virtue? By now, almost everyone else seems to have gotten the message – masks don’t work. 

The Archbishop does say some very accurate things about the Orthodox Church as a hospital and that vaccination status should not be a source of division.

Again, as your father in Christ, I sincerely beg you to recognize that the “vaccinated” or “unvaccinated” status of anyone, or the views of any individual or group regarding these COVID Guidelines, are not, and are not to become, a source of division, criticism, or indiscriminate discussion in the Church. The Church is a hospital, where health and healing are valued goals for everyone. Respect, love, and support are essential tools of Christian service in furthering those goals for every member of the parish family. Any questions or concerns regarding these Directives should be conveyed to the Office of the Archbishop.

 

Asking the prayers of all for everyone in our Diocesan Family,

+ M I C H A E L

 

Archbishop of New York and the Diocese of New York and New Jersey

However, it is really difficult to understand how, in December 2021, Archbishop Michael cannot foresee how divisive this new mandate will be. In a mask optional environment, those who are worried can wear masks at liturgy. Those who realize that masks are ineffective and a virus is simply going to virus – can choose to expose their joyous Christmas smiles for all to see. To force a mask mandate at this point, is to publicly embrace the worst parts of COVID craziness and corruption.

An Archbishop can do nothing about the spread of a mild, cold-like virus. That is up to God. But his boldly, unapologetically preaching the Gospel can do something about maladies afflicting our society that are much more serious than a cold. Suicides are up. Fentanyl overdoses are now the leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 18 and 45. Drug addiction is nothing more than slow-motion suicide. At least 12 major U.S. cities have broken annual homicide records in 2021. Anxiety, depression, inflation, and desperation are all rampant.

Our world needs the Orthodox Faith. We need the Incarnate Son of God. We need hope and faith and joy and love. We need Orthodox Bishops who loudly proclaim the Faith Once Delivered to the Apostles. We don’t need masks and fear in our liturgies. The Enemy is pushing enough of that already.

Nicholas – member of the Western Rite Vicariate, a part of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese in America

The entire directive is available in PDF form here.

 

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Not So Bold Leadership from Archbishop Michael of NY and NJ