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A letter to Melkite Clergy, the virus COVID-19 is real 2020.

Updated: Nov 3, 2022

You can read the Arabic version here


(Pope St John XXIII)

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, our Sure and Certain Hope,

Peace be with you.

The first thing that must be said, and said without equivocation, is that the biological cause of the present pandemic, a virus codenamed COVID-19, is real. This virus is as real as any other microbiological pathogen that has assailed humanity throughout the millennia. If it were not so dangerous, whatever is touted by the conspiracy theorists and “anti-vaxxers” would be neither here nor there. I repeat, the COVID-19 virus is an existent, present microbiological entity. To claim otherwise is to prove nothing except one’s ignorance.

Although first carefully studied in the late 1800’s, indications of viral and bacterial infections have been found by medical anthropologists across the archaeological record. Viral infections have been with us throughout the history of humankind.

Viruses, and bacteria, are no respecters of persons or places. We do well to recall the words of our Byzantine funeral service when speaking of death - “Kings and beggars go down to the grave together.” We might add that believers and unbelievers are equally vulnerable to COVID-19 infection.

There is no conspiracy to harm the Faithful, to target places of worship, church nursing homes of aged care facilities; or whatever nonsense is peddled by self-appointed “experts” – and who mostly operate in the anonymity of fringe social media. The antidote to the disease of COVID-19 conspiracy theory is to be informed, and then only from reliable sources. “The simple believe anything, but the prudent give thought to their steps.” (Prov.14:15) “Do not spread false reports, and do not join hands with the malicious.” (Ex 23:1)

It has to be said that there is a thin line between pious practice and superstition. To sprinkle our houses with blessed water as a “sign” of our trust in Divine Providence is one thing; to do so, claiming that infection cannot get past a sort of spiritual cordon sanitaire of holy water is bordering on magic. A commendable pious act has then become a superstitious practice unworthy of those who follow Jesus Christ. Our use of holy signs – icons, holy water, blessed oil – is primarily a statement of our trust in God’s Philanthropy, His Loving Care for His People and all humanity.

Does prayer and does devotional practice have a role to play in this present pandemic? Most definitely, and without any doubt. Each of us has a part to play in the worldwide battle. Few of us are bio-scientists working towards a vaccine, few are doctors, nurses or healthcare workers at the frontline. All of us, however, are called to prayer; and for there to be prayer, there needs to be “pray-ers” – that’s us. Nations have been rescued from disaster, invading armies turned back, powerful enemies converted, and all because the People of God prayed.

Time spent in conspiracy theorising, gossip and idle chatter, is time wasted. Time spent in prayer and fasting is time that brings ever nearer to the victory.

At the top of this message are the words, OBEDIENTIA ET PAX – Obedience and Peace. This is the motto chosen by Pope St John XXIII (born in 1881) for his pontificate, 1958-1963. It must be stressed that the only way through the present crisis is to obey the legitimate directions of the civil authority, while still discerning the Voice of God. To do otherwise is to tempt Providence and to court disaster. To obey, even when difficult, is to move ever closer to that day when we will raise to Heaven “our hymns of thanksgiving, our songs of victory.” (Akathistos Hymn)

As we continue our journey to that most desired day, under the protection of the Holy Theotokos, Help of Christians, I remain, as always, your fellow pilgrim.

With my paternal blessing and with prayers assured,

Robert Rabbat, DD

Bishop of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Australia and New Zealand

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