Refusing vaccine, fire and police chaplain asks for exemption

Abbot Tryphon cited religious and other reasons for objecting to the vaccine.

Father Tryphon, the well-known abbot of Vashon’s All-Merciful Savior Monastery, said last week he is unwilling to be vaccinated against COVID-19, even if his refusal means he would have to leave his longtime roles as chaplain for Vashon Island Fire District (VIFR) and volunteer for the King County Sheriff’s Office Chaplaincy.

Fire and police chaplains fall under Gov. Jay Inslee’s recent vaccination for state workers, as chaplains respond to emergency or crisis situations with other first responders and provide counseling or comfort to those affected.

In a phone interview with The Beachcomber, Tryphon said that he had submitted paperwork to VIFR asking for a religious exemption to the mandate. He said he did not intend to resign his post but rather, would force VIFR to fire him “if they tell me that I can’t do it anymore.”

For now, Tryphon said, he will continue to perform his duties as chaplain until the mandate’s deadline, which is Oct. 19.

Reached by phone, VIRF Commissioner Chair Andy Johnson said that he had not heard from Tryphon directly, but was aware that the chaplain was unwilling to be vaccinated. Requests to the district for exemptions to the mandate, he said, are being processed by the fire district’s human resources staffer, Rachel Elhers.

Accommodations for those who qualify for exemptions will be separately addressed, though the district has made it clear it will not have any unvaccinated persons responding to calls after Oct. 19, Johnson said.

“If you get an exemption that doesn’t guarantee you an accommodation,” he said.

Recent reporting in The Seattle Times, about thousands of state workers now seeking exemptions to the mandate, said that the accommodation process necessarily gives weight to the needs of employers — meaning that employees who receive exemptions could be fired anyway if accommodations in less public-facing jobs cannot be found for them.

The Beachcomber reached out to Tryphon after viewing recent Facebook posts made by him.

“I will not be taking the ‘vaccine,’ Tryphon wrote on his two Facebook pages, one listed as Abbot Tryphon and another listed as David Parsons (Abbot Tryphon). In his postings, Tryphon said his opposition to the vaccine was based on “the advice of many holy monastic elders of the Church, as well as the research of many medical professionals I admire.”

Additionally, he wrote, “It is not fear that keeps me from getting this so-called vaccine, but the knowledge handed down by so many holy elders that this is the precursor to the Mark of the Beast.”

The “mark of the beast” is a reference to Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, which some Christians believe is a prophecy of end times. Passages in the scripture describe a deceptive beast who gains control of the world, forcing those who follow him to receive a mark on their bodies. Those without the mark are excluded from community life.

Vashon’s All-Merciful Savior Monastery was founded in the 1980s and now occupies 16 acres of forested land on Maury Island. According to its website, the monastery holds services seven days a week. Those wishing to attend services or visit the monastery are asked to call in advance.

As a means of financial support, the monastery has long sold custom blends of coffee beans, in a silver package branded as Monastery Blend Coffee, which are sold both online and in local stores including Thriftway.

The monastery’s five community members, who reside there, all oppose vaccination, Tryphon said.

“Everyone in my monastic community on Vashon feels the same way,” he said. “I’ve made it very clear, as abbot, that they are free to take the vaccine if they want to, but we’re all in agreement.”

Tryphon said his roles at VIFR and the Sheriff’s Office Chaplaincy will be hard to fill, given that chaplaincy requires extensive training and credentialing.

He took on the job almost 20 years ago, he said, because Vashon lacked a chaplain at that time, leaving both fire and sheriff’s deputies with the task of notifying family members of the deaths of their relatives in accidents and other sudden circumstances — a difficult and sensitive task that he has since performed many times.

The job of chaplain, he said, also required him to be on call at all hours, whenever he was needed to respond to a crisis or emergency.

At age 75, he said, he still felt called to serve in the job and had recently paid $150, out of his own pocket, for decals to mark the SUV he uses when he responds to calls.

In speaking to The Beachcomber about his objection to the vaccine, Tryphon mentioned not only religious reasons but others as well.

He said that he believes the death toll from COVID had been greatly exaggerated, because hospitals and doctors had profited from listing COVID as a cause of death for those who had, in fact, died of other causes.

This claim, also made by then-President Donald Trump in 2020, has been declared false by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, Politifact and many other fact-checking sources and public health officials.

Tryphon also told The Beachcomber that he believes vaccinated people are undercounted in current tallies of those hospitalized with COVID-19 and that he did not consider Centers for Disease Control studies and statistics to be credible.

Tryphon also said that many medical practitioners and scientists are opposed to the vaccine.

According to a survey released in June by the American Medical Association, 96% of surveyed U.S. physicians have been fully vaccinated, with no significant difference in vaccination rates across regions.

Asked where he obtained his information about medical professionals’ opposition to the vaccine, in light of this statistic, Tryphon said that one of his friends “was a medical scientist who told him that most scientists know that if they speak out they will be blackballed.”

Tryphon also said that many who share his Orthodox faith have rejected the call to become vaccinated.

Some factions and prominent bishops in the Russian Orthodox Church have indeed made strong statements opposing COVID vaccines.

However, in July, Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Church’s Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external church relations, said that those refusing to be vaccinated were committing “a sin for which they will have to atone throughout their lives.”

It has also been widely reported that the Russian Orthodox Church’s highest authority, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, was vaccinated against the coronavirus in April.

Tryphon said that he was aware of Hilarion’s statements, but he was still free to make his own decisions about matters that fell outside of official church dogma. Regarding Kirill, he said that the Patriarch had supported some Orthodox communities who had refused vaccination.

He said he was not opposed to vaccination in general and had received flu shots and other vaccines.

But COVID-19 vaccines were different, he said.

“I am saddened that our governor and our president have mandated the vaccine with the threat of being fired, and the total lack of freedom that we Americans have always taken for granted. Abortionists shout “My body, my choice”, but not in this case,” he wrote on Facebook.

In his conversation with The Beachcomber and a subsequent email, he said that he was not alone in his objection to the vaccine and Inslee’s mandate, pointing to Vashon’s own fire chief, Charles Krimmert, and other first responders, officers, hospital workers, and police and fire chaplains, who “are saying no to these experimental vaccines.”

The Pfizer vaccine has been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration; both the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are authorized by the FDA for emergency use.

In his interview, Tryphon also spoke about the vaccine in context with some of his other political convictions, which included his belief that many people who had gone to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to “demand a recount” had been treated unfairly.

“Only a few got in and did the damage, and it’s all those other people who have been demonized,” he said, contrasting their treatment in the courts with what he characterized as a defense, by many, of Antifa activists who participated in riots last summer.

“I would have to say this — it speaks a lot about the age that we are living in,” Tryphon said. “Our country has never been this divided.”

Note: On Tuesday, Sept. 21, moments before The Beachcomber went to press, Father Tryphon stopped by The Beachcomber newsroom to report that he had just had a meeting with VIRF regarding his exemption application, and was told that the district would accommodate his request, allowing him to work remotely and over the phone as chaplain. The Beachcomber could not immediately reach VIFR to confirm Tryphon’s account.