“There are certain parts of the sea which teem with huge beasts like sea monsters. Those who sail there hang bells from their ships, so that the creatures panic and flee at the sound. Many wild things far more horrible breed in the sea of our life: the evil passions, and even more evil demons who supervise them. God’s Church sails upon this sea like a ship, and instead of bells, it has spiritual teachers to ward off invisible beasts by the holy sound of their teaching.” -St. Gregory Palamas
This Great Lent, for many of us, has probably felt a bit like drowning in the midst of the turbulent waters of an ocean. The demons of despondency, of stress, and of worry have no doubt been snipping at our toes beneath the waves, which have carried us to emotional highs and lows since that glorious Divine Liturgy we had of Orthodoxy Sunday (which seems like a distant memory).
But now, the time has come my dearest brothers and sisters in Christ, for the Church to once again pull us out of the world for at least one week, and enter into the Divine Life of Holy Week. Starting on this glorious feast of Palm Sunday, our earthly cares are cast aside! We place the bells of the Services of Holy Week on the side of the ship to ward off any of the horrible passions that will try to throw us off. The Holy Spirit acts as the wind, allowing us to set sail for the Uncreated Light that is shining brightly in the distance!
As we have said in the beginning, keep calm…Pascha is drawing near! Whether we are able to see it now, or whether we will come to this realization years from now, this year’s Pascha will truly be like no other Pascha we have ever experienced. I am not talking about how it will feel different not packing the Church for Holy Week and on Saturday at Midnight. I am speaking of sheer amount of Glory that we can expect, which always comes after periods of darkness.
We see a tremendous example of this in the events that we celebrate at the beginning of Holy Week. We heard in the Gospel readings this weekend, about the great friend of Jesus, Lazarus, who had fallen ill in the town of Bethany. When things began to get desperate, Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha, sent word to our Lord, asking for Him to come and to heal their dear brother…but He delayed in coming.
A few days later, we hear how the sisters were overcome with tremendous despair, because their brother was unable to overcome his illness…and died. Their world, and maybe even a small part of their faith, crumbled around them.
What else could they have done? They sent word to the master, yet He didn’t immediately come to answer their prayer. Now they found themselves shrouded in despair.
How many of us these past few weeks have done everything in our power to help the world overcome the sickness that plagues it? There are many who have probably spent more time in prayer over these past 6 weeks, than over the past 6 months…making similar requests to our Lord, as did Mary and Martha:
“Lord, I am worried about my wife who is a doctor in Detroit…rid the world of this virus!”
“Lord, I have lost my job, and if things continue, I will be unable to feed my family…give us a cure to this pandemic.”
“Lord, there are so many in the world that are struggling to breathe on a ventilator…I beg you, do not allow them to die.”
Desperation, anguish, and seemingly unanswered prayers. This is where so many in the world, and so many of us Orthodox Christians, might find ourselves today…just like Mary and Martha, waiting for an answer.
Although it wasn’t an immediate answer to their prayers, Our Lord did eventually come to Bethany, and we know the rest of the story! After testing Mary and Martha’s faith in the midst of their despair, our Lord raised Lazarus from the dead! Imagine the joy! Mary and Martha had their dear brother back with them!
Word began to spread throughout the region that the Messiah had come! Jesus made His way to Jerusalem, and was greeted by large crowds, who threw their cloaks on the ground and shouted with loud shouts of joy, that same greeting that we shout today: “Hosanna! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!”
In the midst of darkness, Glory always triumphs! We will see this play out again as we enter into Holy Week. All of us will be witnesses to the greatest evil that has entered the earth. We will watch as the Son of Man is betrayed by His own creation and sent to His death. Creation itself will moan and groan on Holy Friday. Rocks will be split, the curtain of the temple will be torn in two, and the earth itself will tremble in fear! But just Three days after this unimaginable sorrow…Glory will Triumph.
As of this morning, there are over 1.8 million confirmed cases of the Coronavirus throughout the world. Millions of people are out of work. Families are unable to be with their loved ones in the Hospital as they fight to stay alive. The outlook right now is bleak to say the least, but we as Christians have seen this story before. We know from experience how this is all going to play out. Regardless of what has happened or what is to come…Glory will triumph. That is why this Pascha, as well as that first glorious Divine Liturgy that we will celebrate together after this is all over, is going to stand out among the rest. But in order for us to fully experience it, and to allow its reality to penetrate our hearts, our minds, and our souls, we have to first enter into the boat of the Church, and allow our faith to guide us through these stormy waters of life, towards the Glory that is to come.