As I write, the most common depiction of our time is of uncertainty. A year after the first documented case of Covid-19, we are still uncertain as to how and when the threat of Covid will disappear and we can go back to normal. Politicians, physicians, educators, business leaders and clergy all disagree within their ranks as how best to handle this crisis. Such uncertainty leads to stress, anger, frustration, depression, and anxiety. Many make the case that we have all been traumatized by this disruption of our lives. I feel this tension and anxiety everywhere I go. Yet amid such uncertainty, Christians can rest upon that of which we are totally certain; the empty tomb, and our conviction that Christ has risen from the dead. We are also totally certain that God loves us and is with us, even when we suffer, and when disease destroys our bodies. We know for certain that God shares His life with us, and through His church attaches us to Himself. He allows us to share in eternal life, love, and joy. The tomb is empty, and the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Blessed is the Kingdom!
In the last year, medical researchers and policy-makers have learned much about Covid. We understand that it is a deadly disease. We also understand that God created us to be social beings, uniquely able to commune deeply with Him and each other. Like Him, we naturally desire to know others and be known. Isolation is unnatural, painful, and destructive to our minds, bodies, and souls. Metropolitan Joseph met with the clergy of the Archdiocese on September 29, 2020. While we want to do everything that we can to keep everyone safe, it is also time for us to do all we can to return to the churches and do the work Christians were baptized to do. This work, called liturgy, is gathering as God’s people, worshiping with the prayers given by God through inspired biblical and liturgical authors, receiving His message through the preachers and teachers of the Church, and sharing the good news with the world as witnesses, icons and workers of good. We bear witness to Christ and His Resurrection with our families, our parishes, and the world. This is what makes us the Church, this is what makes us Christian. Parishes have been highly creative in finding and inventing ways to do the Church’s work. People have gathered for daily prayer in internet chat rooms. Parishes have produced modules to lead family discussions. There are daily, weekly, and monthly Bible studies on Zoom and similar platforms. Parishioners have been calling each other, offering encouragement, shopping, and rides to the doctors. Teens have held car washes to raise money for suffering people in Beirut. Ladies have cooked with masks on and practiced social distancing, parishes have held weekly virtual coffee hours, checking in on each other, and the list could go on.
Fear has crept into many of our churches during this time of Covid uncertainty: fear of getting sick, fear of losing freedoms and autonomy, fear of losing our financial reserves, and fear of losing our pre-Covid lifestyles. This sinful fear – sinful because it separates us from God and each other – often manifests itself in political activism and blog-posting. In the Church such activism is divisive and compromises our Christian witness. These things must be avoided in the Church and by church leaders. We have a greater purpose.
One of the most frequent biblical admonishments is, Be not afraid! Christians need not be afraid in our uncertainty, because we are certain of our God. I join our Metropolitan in encouraging everyone to take every reasonable measure to stay safe. How each of us defines reasonable is admittedly difficult, but we cannot surrender our lives to fear, as if we have no hope in God and do not understand that we are the people of the Resurrection. In baptism, we die with Christ and rise with Him.
I am encouraged because I have great trust in the clergy, whose wearied yet optimistic faces I saw on my computer screen yesterday. They are worthy of our trust. I am encouraged because the people of our parishes have risen to the challenges of this world crisis, and are keeping our churches going. I am encouraged because our Metropolitan and bishops are dedicated and have kept the vision of St. Raphael, Metropolitan Antony, Metropolitan Philip, and all of the other bishops who have served in America. God is with us. Heaven is at hand. Blessed is the Kingdom.