By Archbishop Elpidophoros of America
The pandemic that is currently shaking the entire planet has also struck at the heart of the Church, that is the Divine Liturgy, the congregation, and the Holy Communion.
Especially on Easter days, Christians feel the pain of deprivation. We were not able to worship the Crucified Christ on the Cross, to attend, holding a candle, the procession of the Epitaphios, to be given the Holy Fire after the announcement of His Resurrection, to receive the Body and the Blood of Christ.
Nevertheless, I believe that the pandemic does not weaken, but strengthens the Church because it highlights its most important message, the message of love, solidarity, and spirituality. After all, the Orthodox Church has done wonderful things in times of ordeal. In such days the name of our Lord is being glorified even more. Indeed, church services are no longer the same, considering that we have to express our faith in a different way as long as we are not allowed to go to church. However, the values that we hold dear inspire more and more people, who remember sorrows of the past and worry about the present and the future. We help them to give a new meaning to their lives through the tender mercy of our God.
The coronavirus disease does not make the Church a slave, but it sets it free! Believers may be physically far from the Church and its preaching, but they are spiritually and mentally closer than ever. They are ‘thirsty’ for prayer more than ever. They approach the Church differently and have a deep reverence. The quiet voice inside them starts to whisper the teachings of the Church and, therefore, they try to think theologically. We will not stop exercising our religious duties, but we will make an effort to adjust to the prevailing conditions and to the current ordeal to protect the lives of our fellow human beings, which is the most important gift given by God to us. We are now closer to God. Even though we are not able to venerate the icons anymore, we worship God in moments of quiet introspection.
Self-reflection, through repentance, forgiveness and confession, is inherent in the existence of the Church. Humans, who are now facing the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic, are called on to reconsider their way of life, to revise their priorities, to seek true values, and to reject materialistic thinking. The modern people of the western world has turned individualism into ideology and identified happiness with success, wealth, and any kind of material possessions. However, humans pay, in the most dramatic way, the consequences, as they realise that there is no salvation for the privilege few and that wealth does not guarantee protection from anything. Environmental degradation results from human greed; the actions of humans, who act in the name of profit, will bring repercussions, which will cause even worst disasters. Humans are now aware of the fact that they are not God, and, therefore, they are not omnipotent. Everyone experiences fear, pain and death. The current ordeal affects all people the same way and without exemption regardless of race, beliefs, class or background. We are all equally children of God.
They also realise that the powerful, the glamorous, the influencers, the ones who seek attention and admiration cannot do anything neither. On the contrary, the people, who can do something, are not the ones who enjoy their five minutes of fame, but the ones, who are silent and discreet. They are the ones, who work unselfishly and passionately for the common good: doctors and nurses who fight in hospitals, researchers and scientists looking for drugs and vaccines, workers who help us meet our daily needs, cashiers and supermarket workers, people who distribute food and beverages, street cleaners, police officers and so many others who are far from home and face danger, whereas we are at home safe.
I express my sorrow for the thousands of fellow human beings, who are being severely tested and lose their lives in America. On the contrary, I am glad that Greece does not have to choose who will live and who will die. I always knew that our homeland, Greece, had great potential and that it could be a positive example for the whole world. This is what is happening at the moment in Greece. The Greek diaspora in the United States is proud of their homeland and takes great courage from the Greeks.
Once we overcome this challenge, we will have to answer the question of what we did and who we were during the period of the pandemic. We do not know to what extend things will change, but they will change. We know that the notion of social distancing will be buried so deeply in the unconscious of the people, not as a form of punishment, but as a more silent and discreet way of communicating. We realise today more than ever how important are relations and contact with other people, as well as physical and emotional expression. We realise how valuable and unique are all the things we have, which we are now forced to give away for some time. We took all those things for granted and that is why we were underestimating them. If we consider even little things to be of value, then we will be able to respect other people as well as our body, which is linked to the environment and the ecosystem. They are both creations of God.
We, Christians, will have the right to claim that we have respected science, which never conflicts with our faith. We will be following its dictates by being responsible, restrained, patient and by showing love and compassion to our fellow human beings. We stay temporarily away from the Church in order, on the one hand, to get closer to God and, on the other hand, in order not to put our health, our own lives, and the lives of our fellow human beings in danger. God the Father sent us His Son to be crucified for our sake. He did it out of love. So, we will be able to be resurrected. Christ is Risen!
* The article was originally published in the newspaper “Kathimerini”