Orthodox Christians that have made a conscientious objection to receiving the vaccine have been warned that not receiving the vaccine is a sin for which they will spend their lifetime repenting, or even worse that they may be condemned a murderer if they cause death by infecting others. However, these warnings are not a true reflection of the teaching of the Orthodox Church, and have misrepresented the commentary of Saint Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain on ‘The Rudder’.
Saint Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain in his Commentary on ‘The Rudder’ states “that anyone is condemned as a murderer that in time of a plague or pestilence goes to houses or towns and infects others when he well knows that he himself is infected and thus becomes the cause of many deaths.” This statement raises four fundamental questions:
- Is there a plague or pestilence?
- Does the person have knowledge that they are infected?
- Does the person, with this knowledge, continue to go to houses or towns?
- Does the person infect others and occasion the death of another?
Here, the element of actual knowledge must be satisfied in order for a person to be condemned a murderer. Where a person does not knowingly infect others with the disease, because he or she did not have actual knowledge that they themselves where infected (such as in asymptomatic cases or where no positive test result has been received) that person is not condemned a murderer. For this reason, it is not a reasonable position to argue that vaccination status determines whether one is condemned a murderer in the context of a plague. Rather, what determines whether a person (vaccinated or unvaccinated) is condemned a murderer is if a person knows that he or she is infected, yet visits and infects others, causing death.
Another interesting characterization would be to consider how the vaccine provides a person with the false assurance that they are less likely to catch and transmit the virus, and in this way promotes connections between people that could ‘cause many deaths’. For example, in some instances healthcare workers who are fully vaccinated are not required to conduct routine testing to determine if they are positive for COVID-19 before starting their shift. This failure to conduct routine testing under the false pretense that the vaccines reduce the likelihood of catching and transmitting the virus, has caused outbreaks in hospital settings, where patients in hospital wards have become infected, and died as a result. This lack of routine testing continues to occur even though the medical literature states that the viral load in vaccinated and unvaccinated positive cases is identical. Thus, a vaccinated person can still be a cause of infection and death, demonstrating how the suggestion that receiving the vaccine somehow absolves canonical liability for murder is both nonsensical and absurd.
Revealingly, the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos either willingly or unknowingly also precluded Saint Nikodemos’ preceding exposition of the Nomicon of Photios. More specifically, Title IX, Chapter 25 of the Nomicon states: ‘anyone that prepares a poison on for the purpose of killing a human being, and anyone that sells it, and anyone that keeps it are involved as accomplices in murder; for there is no difference between one who kills a man, and one who affords a cause of killing a man’.
In most legal systems, a vaccine falls under the category of a ‘poison’ as a generic legal term. The clinical trials being conducted by Pfizer, which are sponsored by BioNTech SE, have a completion date set for the 02/05/2023. This is the date where the final examination of the last participant in the clinical trial would take place. Because this date is in the future, the vaccines have only been provisionally approved for emergency use, as there is no long term data about adverse reactions to participants in the clinical trial. This means that even if the vaccines do not cause immediate harm, injury or death to a person who receives them, there is nothing to suggest that harm, injury or death will not eventuate in the future.
The relevant question should then turn to whether promoting the cause of vaccination, even though there is actual knowledge and awareness of numerous deaths reported from adverse reactions to the vaccine, makes one guilty of affording a cause of killing a man? If a Hierarch or Presbyter supports the cause of vaccination, and encourages a person to receive the vaccine, and that person then suffers an adverse reaction to the vaccine that caused his or her death, will that Hierarch or Presbyter be guilty of murder? To the extent that the death of the person would not have happened but for the Hierarch or Presbyter affording a cause (vaccination) that lead to death?
Moreover, a conscientious objection to receiving the vaccine is not a cause for a person spending the rest of their lifetime repenting, as Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk suggests. This is especially the case where an Orthodox Christian is presented with the ethical dilemma of receiving a vaccine that has been derived from the use of HEK293 cell lines of aborted embryos in either the research or manufacturing phase of the vaccine. In this situation, making an ethical decision not to receive the vaccine to prevent complicity in the sin of abortion, should be advocated. Elder Ephraim of Arizona of Blessed Memory in his homily ‘Abortion: The Finishing Blow’ states that ‘each embryo is a complete human being, especially in relation to the soul’, and that ‘the innocent blood cries out to God that they were killed unjustly’. Believing this to be true, it is receiving a vaccine derived from HEK293 cell lines that becomes a reason by which a person must repent, because he or she has become complicit in the sin of abortion.
The need for repentance is likely to be aggravated when one believes the vaccine should be taken, regardless of its origin, because it serves the greater good of humanity, as Metropolitan Tikhon of Pskov and Porkhov suggests. What good can come from evil? If Saint Theodore of Tyro warned the Orthodox Christians not to eat the food which was sprinkled with the blood offered to idols, how can any thinking person justify receiving a vaccine that is stained with the blood of an aborted embryo?
So where does that leave an Orthodox Christian in terms of his or her response to COVID-19, and reliable information we can rely on to make informed decision about the vaccine?
First, the Holy Orthodox Church has a special Mystery known as Unction. This Mystery is usually performed by seven priests, but can be performed by a single priest if the need arises. The purpose of the Mystery is two-fold: 1) it encourages the faithful to repent, and confess their sins prior to being anointed with the Holy Oil, and 2) The body is anointed with the Holy Oil and the grace of God heals the physical and spiritual infirmities that a person is suffering from. Surprisingly, this is a Mystery that has largely been ignored during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though it was established in the early Church, and first mentioned in the Epistle of Saint James 5:14. The importance of the Epistle is that it demonstrates how the Elders of the Church were required to visit the sick, pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. It was the ‘prayer of faith’ that raised the sick person from their bed of illness. Recently, Schema-Archimandrite Elijah contracted coronavirus, and the Orthodox faithful around the world united in prayer for his healing. A video emerged of Schema-Archimandrite Elijah receiving Holy Unction. In this video, he and the priest performing the Mystery are not wearing a mask. Schema-Archimandrite Elijah thankfully passed the trial of coronavirus, was healed, and continues to minister to the faithful in Russia today. Therefore, this serves as an example of the special grace in the mystery of Unction.
Second, it is important not to overcomplicate a simple bioethical question, but rather approach it with prayer and discernment. The Lozier Institute has created a table of vaccines that have been derived from the use of HEK293 cell lines in the research and/or manufacturing phase based on clinical data from laboratory testing they have conducted. While the Orthodox Church has regrettably advocated the use of the Pfizer vaccine, this is based on misinformation that Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine has no connection to HEK293 cell lines. However, HEK293 cell lines were used for ‘proof of concept’ early in the development of mRNA vaccine technology. Some argue that the origin of HEK293 cell lines are not necessarily an aborted fetus - that it could come from a miscarried infant. However, this is highly unlikely as scientific literature states that molecular biologist Alex van der Eg was given access to an 18 week old infant that was aborted in 1985. He himself commented on the state of the aborted infant, saying it was near impossible for it to have been miscarried, because the organs were warm, and looked alive, when it was presented to him. For this reason, the answer to whether an Orthodox Christian should receive the vaccine is sufficiently clear. To receive the vaccine is to be complicit in the sin of abortion, which extends not only to the woman who procures, but to anyone who directly or indirectly participates in that process.
Third, it is rewarding to listen to the sermons and read the homilies and epistles of Orthodox Hierarchs and clergymen that approach the issue with an Orthodox mindset. Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphou has discussed the topic at length with reference to the teachings of Saint Paisos, Blessed Father Athanasios Mitilinaios and Blessed Father Savvas Achilleos. Hieromonk Savvas has sermons where he discusses the physical and spiritual harm the vaccines have caused based on the experience of Orthodox clergyman and laity. Father Peter Heers through Orthodox Ethos also provides access to Epistles and Letters that have been written by spiritual fathers on Mount Athos who are known for their gift of prayer and prescience such as Geronda Efthymios of Kapsala, Geronda Parthenios of Saint Paul, and Geronda Philotheos of Karakallou. Recent miracles by Saint Nektarious of Aegina, Saint Ephraim of Nea Makri, Saint Nikephoros the Leper and Blessed Elder Ephraim also advise against wearing masks in the Church, and receiving the vaccine as they are poisonous to our bodies.
In essence, the purpose of this article was to demonstrate how the current approach to the topic of COVID-19 and vaccination has largely been limited in scope. The Orthodox faithful have been misled into thinking that not receiving a vaccine is a serious sin, for which they will spend their lifetime repenting. If Saint Paisos the Hagiorite warned us that they are preparing a vaccine, and whosever receives it will be stamped, it implies that harm and injury to our physical health and spiritual life is occurring, and all this under the pretence of protecting public health.