Reflections during the Time of a Post-Modern Plague

Irene Archos | 18 March 2020

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

I am living through a broken seal, one of the plagues of the Apocalypse is upon us. While history repeats itself, the Spanish flu of 1917 took as many as 400 million lives, history takes on a different tone when living through it. There are many perspectives, many opinions, and many voices about this new pandemic—some hysterical, some alarmist, some cynical and conspiratorial, some logical, mostly scientific. But I am going to put together my thoughts as they appear from a spiritual perspective. I am already disqualified before I make any claims seeing that I am immensely sinful, without Grace, and hardly even literate in matters of the spirit as I am neither a theologian nor a cleric. These are just the scribblings of a simpleton of spirit.

First, I cannot overlook that the outbreak, at least in Europe and the US of this virus, coincided with the beginning of Great Lent. If we are to accept this, as with everything that comes to us, it is God’s Will. Because it is God’s Will, I rejoice in it. By now, it should come as no surprise to those who struggle with the spiritual life, that Great Lent will be full of tribulations and trails. It just shows we are on the right path. This has been put in our path for the spiritual struggle and its consequent sweetness. There can be no wine without the trampling down of the grapes.

Nothing happens without God’s Providence.

Secondly, the nature of the coronavirus gives it a pinch of diabolical synergy. A virus is both living and non-living, a hybrid creature that needs to infiltrate a host in order to live. It is a vampire, a zombie of sorts. Its nature recalls to a person of the spirit that the struggle is against powers and principalities. The virus is sobering our conscience. We have entered a new stage in our battle against the powers of the evil one. For this we need to arm ourselves. As a diabolical energy, it has managed to empty churches. The Holy Chalice is untouchable. The fear related to contraction has caused even the faithful to stay away from the antidote to it, the Body and Blood of Christ. When this becomes the norm, as people take the advice of science over faith, the devil has won.

With that being said, for a person who strives for holiness, this virus is a blessing in disguise. Its response calls for prayer, fasting, and vigil. Now that I won’t have to go to work I will have more time to pray, to write and paint. Did I ever imagine in my lifetime I would be in forced isolation in my bedroom with more time to contemplate, create and focus my devotion on what matters most—the Lord? This thing has ostensibly grinded industry to a halt: the LA port with its hustle and bustle has shut down, thousands if not millions of containers sit in silence in warehouses; school halls are quiet; highways lighter than usual with traffic. There is nothing to do—no hurrying to stores, no massing in cinemas and clubs, no running around completing errands. The virus has turned the entire world into forced monasticism; each one in his or her cell minding his or her business. Glory be to God!

This pandemic affords an opportunity for all the children of God to bow on bended knee and call out as they did of old for salvation. It is an opportunity as with other plagues, floods, droughts, invasions in the past to bring a community in prayer for a common intercession. This is already happening. I have received more than one call for prayer from more than one monastery, asking that we recite the Jesus Prayer calling for salvation for the world. We in our arrogance and vanity believe we can accomplish things by ourselves. Humanity is so stubborn and unchanging in its ways, it takes a huge brake screech that can be heard around the globe, to make it change its ways. The world in all its minutiae of toil has been gathered in the mesh of a huge dragnet. This is a way to reconnect, to sit in silence and prayer and ask for His guidance and mercy.

The contagion becomes a yard stick of humility, an instrument of tapino-ephroysini. It is a way to take stock of my life. What really is important in my life? Have I been living the life that I was authentically called to do? No, I have not. If that is the case, the contagion has given me the spur to set on a new course of life, God willing. When this ends, I will embark on a pilgrimage tour of the Orthodox countries, creating related content to connect others through words, photos, and interviews. In life, what matters is the spirit, the soul. If I have not been living every moment of my life in service to my salvation, I have been squandering it. Lord, help bring me to my senses. Like the prodigal son I cry. Because humans are extremely stubborn and unchanging, they need not just a text message, not just a wakeup call, they need a whip, a slap on the face to change their ways. The pandemic is doing just that, for some at least.

The beginning of wisdom comes with the knowledge of death. The pandemic has provoked the register of our own mortality. Paradoxically, when one lives with the urgency of death, that this day might be your last, does one really live. Hello!—you don’t have time for nonsense! Today, this moment, the now is what really happens. Get out of the spin cycle of past regrets and the ghostly uncertainty of future plans. False selves and excuses melt away in the dark light of your own mortality. Heck, I don’t have time for that. My day is precious. The awareness of my mortality gives my life meaning. This is nothing new. Homer brought this up in the Odyssey when Odysseus refuses Calypso’s offer of immortality. An easy essay on Kibin makes the point, “Odysseus concludes that the death-defying mortal life, with its danger and relationships of love, is far superior to a purposeless and shallow immortality. Every courageous attempt towards his ultimate goal of returning to Ithaca and Penelope is tempered by the adventurous nature of the event. One important element for Odysseus is recognizing the value of his own mortality. Odysseus grows as a result of the mortal danger involved in each encounter, he gains knowledge and tales to remember, then refocuses on the original goal of Penelope and Ithaca. Odysseus’s journey is actually a timely revelation breaking the myth that the immortal life has more meaning than the mortal life. Mortal life at its minimum becomes all Odysseus can bear to think of, since missing his wife and home eventually overpowers every other desire.”

Yet, even this is a Catch 22; life without death has no value and meaning, and life with death has a value and meaning that death itself eventually takes away, then where is the salvation? This is where faith and love in Jesus Christ comes in. What the ancient Greeks did not have, that we as Orthodox Christians do, is Christ and the promise of everlasting life with Him.  This is another test of faith for our sinful age.  If it calls us to repentance and renews our trust in God, it is working.

Brace yourself, sinner. It is the Lord in His humility and loving kindness that has descended into flesh—the same flesh that is vulnerable to this virus—that has given us the answer. We are lucky because we know the answer, that after the agony of the Crucifixion comes the glorious Resurrection. This is precisely the moment to live our faith in action, not just words. Thank God for this moment. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” Corinthians 4:17.

My fellow, brethren in Christ, fear not. Turn your hearts to the Lord and He will deliver you. Glory to God for all things! Yes, even coronavirus.

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