I go to an Oriental Orthodox Church. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic there has been an uprise of arguments going on in my church relating to the disagreement of wearing masks inside the church. My church requires all members to wear a mask when entering the building and our priests and deacons are also wearing masks. With that being said, many people are angry that our priest is wearing a mask at the altar in the presence of the Holiness. Members say that if one has true faith in God, He will protect us in His house. In addition, they mention that when the sick visit the church, this is their remedy, not a place to be fearful of a virus. I have been saddened by this situation because it seems as if everyone is going against each other and I do not know how to feel about this coming from an Orthodox perspective or even biblical. What does God want us to do in this case? Is it wrong for a priest to wear a mask inside the altar while preparing the Holy Communion in fear of a virus?
A guiding principle for us as Christians is that obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). Read and meditate on St. Peter's message in 1 Peter 2:13-25 and St. Paul's instructions in Romans 13:1-5, as they both guide us in respecting authorities and those who govern us. As public authorities are respecting the orders of the medical community, we must also be lawful citizens. Joshua the Son of Sirach, Chapter 38, also explains to us how to heed to the advice of physicians: "Honor the physician because of necessity, and because the Most High created him... The Most High has created medicines from the earth, and a prudent man will not abhor them...." We must not allow division and heartache to attack our congregations and accomplish what this virus fails to do. Each of our churches in the Diocese of the Southern United States are instructed to follow the guidelines of the Center of Disease Control and their specific state and county guidelines, so long as it does not interfere with any of our Holy Mysteries. Praying with or without a mask does not interfere with the priesthood or with Communion. If a priest cannot see well, should he not wear glasses? Should he not wear hearing aids if he has a hearing impairment? The mask does not hinder his ability to pray, but is a tool (like glasses or hearing aids) to protect him and others from this dangerous pestilence that could cause infection by airborne transmission. The mask also does not impede on how the Eucharist is dispensed and this Holy Mystery can be administered according to the same manner as our Church Fathers taught us.