May 24, 2020 - The path of peace in a pandemic

May 24, 2020

Prayer during pandemic illness
(of the new Coronavirus that has fallen upon us)

(Translated into 12 languages)

The path of peace in a pandemic

The French Algerian city of Oran has been overtaken by a plague. [1] Its population has become paralyzed in light of the probability of death. Tarrou, who came to visit the city but remains trapped there due to the sickness, becomes friends with Dr. Rieux, the chief physician of the city’s hospital. At the plague’s tragic climax, with everyone in dismay, Tarrou, a social activist, has a long discussion with Rieux. He tells him that he has come to the realization that everyone, in some way or other,  has some type of plague that can inflict others; that everyone has to be vigilant so as not to wound or contaminate someone else, thus becoming a murderer.  He confesses to Rieux that he has lost his peace and desires to find it. “After a short silence the doctor raised himself a little in his chair and asked if Tarrou had an idea of the path to follow for attaining peace. “Yes,” he replied. ‘The path of sympathy’.”[2]

One could criticize Tarrou’s path to finding peace as being anthropocentric; that it discards finding peace in God’s grace and mercy. Truly, he prides himself as a social activist, becoming his own moral sentry so as not to bring harm to the world. Yet at the same time, sensing his inadequacies in the light of the uncontrollable plague, he believes he has to be constantly vigilant so as not to bring harm to others., but this creates in him a constant fear that overshadows his life. In all his efforts as an activist, he feels alone. He tells Rieux that he wants to be a saint, but he does not believe in God. He then concludes: “Can one be a saint without God? —that’s the problem, in fact the only problem, I’m up against today.”[3]

Yet, there is some truth in Tarrou’s approach, that one can attain peace through sympathy. In granting peace to the apostles, Christ speaks to them of their responsibility to unite all in His name by way of forgiveness.  Yes, to gain peace, one must embrace Christ and follow Him in His love, showing sympathy - becoming a co-sufferer  in Mankind’s trails and in Christ’s crucifixion  – so that the Father’s love can be revealed to all the world. In exhorting the Thessalonians, Paul tells them to be at peace amongst themselves, admonishing the idlers, encouraging the faint hearted, helping the weak, being patient with all of them, not to  repay evil for evil, and to  always seek to do good to one another and to all.[4]  For the Christian, neither the of gaining peace nor ministering to others is an end in itself. The beginning and the end for all things is to come “to know” Christ and for all to be united in God’s love. Tarrou’s problem was that he tried to become a saint without God. The problem in Orthodoxy today is that many attempt to attain sainthood without co-suffering with and becoming united with their fellowman.

As the plague that struck the city of Oran, the Covid-19 Pandemic has bought to surface our powerlessness as human beings; the progress and shortcomings of modern scientific research; the positive and negative aspects of our  self and our interpersonal relationships; the question of one’s faith in God’s love and providence, together with that of one’s belief in life after death. The tensions that come to surface in dealing with these inadequacies and ambivalences are unavoidable, tensions that can contribute to one’s psychological and spiritual growth.  The pandemic has granted us the possibility to re-evaluate our relationships and become reunited as brothers and sisters in an essential way, sharing in each other’s difficulties and joys within Gods resurrecting love.  If we take hold of this possibility, what will reign will not be the pandemic but God’s providence and eternal love for Mankind.

+SK


[1] Camus, Albert. The Plague (Vintage International), Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid p. 254.

[3] Ibid.

[4] 1 Thess. 5:13-15