Saturday, July 31, 2021

Encyclical from 1864 Shows the Orthodox Church of Greece Made Vaccination Against Smallpox Mandatory for All Believers


The smallpox vaccine, introduced by Edward Jenner in 1796, was the first successful vaccine to be developed. When smallpox devastated Greece in 1864, rulers were trying to find a way to fight it, and the Greek Orthodox Church through an encyclical of the Holy Synod had addressed the local hierarchs and consequently the Body of the Church, promoting the vaccine.

With harsh expressions for the time, the Holy Synod in its encyclical characterizes non-vaccination as a deadly sin, going one step further, calling those who refuse to be vaccinated that may die from the disease as suicides.

It proves that the Church has the maturity and the tools to motivate the faithful to be vaccinated and, above all, to isolate the divergent views within it.

This flashback refutes all those who try to accuse the Church of challenging science, despite the clear statements in favor of vaccinating both by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Hieronymos of Athens and All Greece, among many other Hierarchs throughout the world.

The encyclical of 1864 characteristically states: Vaccination and its repetition at various times "has been so far proven by the experience of medical science that it is the only antidote medicine and the safest way to its recession among a suffering society, to prevent the transmission and bring complete eradication of this devastating disease."

Encyclical of the Sacred Synod of the Church of Greece

Kingdom of Greece

June 1864

No. Prot. 2997

On the Vaccination and Revaccination of the Disease of Smallpox

To the revered Hierarchs in our territories:

Because the destructive disease of smallpox has already invaded almost the whole State, and gradually this disease is gaining ground today, destroying public health, and because, unfortunately, as the Synod is already officially informed, most Christians have preconceptions that are catastrophic and thickish, who consider vaccination and revaccination as unnecessary, and avoid it altogether, but also have a bad habit of secretly inoculating themselves with a natural smallpox, which is harmful rather than beneficial; it has been so far proven by the experience of medical science that it is the only antidote medicine and the safest way to its recession among a suffering society, to prevent the transmission and bring complete eradication of this devastating disease.

Because such a paradox of indifference and refusal to be vaccinated among Christians is not only severely punished by the law, but also imposes the heaviest ecclesiastical chastisements in itself, not only those who refuse vaccination for themselves but also for their families, it will cause them to bear the weight of having committed a mortal sin, they become as those who have committed suicide, or crippled their body and destroyed themselves by their own hands, and thus becoming responsible before God and men, they bring upon themselves divine wrath, enter into the custody of eternal hell and are punishable both in the current age and in the future. The Synod, taking care paternally in its sacred duty of the salvation of the souls of such Christians and the recovery from such a dangerous disease, desires the prevention of such preconceptions regarding the negligence towards vaccination, which could kill the body and the soul, bringing catastrophic consequences. We invite you all the clergy and the competent preachers of the State, as through the divine teaching and the right speech demonstrating to the people the unpleasant consequences of this denial and of the secret natural smallpox act of inoculation, urging them in the church and at all times and places, instructing and persuading each one, for the rapid elimination and release of this epidemic among human beings, to hasten without negligence and willingly to the Royal Government entrusted with the duty of public health by medical scientists, to be vaccinated in time, in order to avoid any awful effect of this disease.

These things the Synod unhesitatingly commands you, that you will make every effort and draw your attention quickly to this important subject, in order to carry out as quickly as possible these most salvific Synodal orders.

In Athens on the 24th of June 1864

Of Athens Theophilos, President

Of Argolidos Gerasimos

Of Fthiotidos Kallinikos

Of Halkidos Kallinikos

Of Mantineia and Kynouria Theophanes

The 2nd Secretary Ignatios B. Epeirotis

Source: Αρχιμανδρίτου Στεφάνου Γιαννόπουλου, Συλλογή των Εγκυκλίων της Ιεράς Συνόδου της Εκκλησίας της Ελλάδος, εν Αθήναις 1901, σελ. 921-922. Translation by John Sanidopoulos.