I tend to be a “news junky” ever since the days following 9/11 which ushered in the height of the 24-hour news cycle. I recall very vividly the first night, being glued to the TV news, wondering and waiting for what was (I presumed) bound to come next. Nothing ever came, thank God, and I eventually turned off the TV, going to bed. I didn’t go to sleep, but I did go to bed. My mind couldn’t turn off, after so many hours of watching, and re-watching the tragedy of that day. I’ve been feeling very similar lately.
On the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent, we hear the story of a man whose son was sick, and the Apostles were not able to heal him. Christ challenges him. “All things are possible to those who believe.” The father confesses his weakness, “I believe, help my unbelief.” His son was healed. When asked, Christ explained, “This kind can only go out through prayer and fasting.” In this current health crisis, we must increase our prayer and fasting, not to bargain with God, but to strengthen our faith, so that we can better understand His will for us.
Today my sermon was focused on the Gospel reading. Since you will be able to watch or read the sermon later when it is produced, I decided today’s Daily Lenten Journey would feature the Epistle Reading from Hebrews. Another Sunday, another day with empty Churches, continues to create anxiety on the people of God. When will this virus subside? When will God make everything better?
One of the more popular expressions among what you might call mainline Christians is, “God put on my heart…” or some version of understanding that God was speaking to them. Some even use the phrase, “God told me…” I rarely hear such an expression among Orthodox Christians, but does that mean God isn’t speaking to us? Maybe it means He is, but we’re not listening.
I’ve been a priest for thirteen years, a clergyman for fifteen, and worked for the Church for nearly twenty-seven years. In all my years in Church work, one common frustration I hear is, “I don’t have enough time to pray like the Church wants.” During Great Lent, the Church invites us to get more intense in our spiritual struggle. We are asked to go to Church more, say our prayers more, fast more, and help other people more. Then I realized today, this year we have been presented with the ideal opportunity to take the Church up on her offer.
As promised, this week we are focusing on hope for our Daily Lenten Journey during this health crisis. I don’t mind admitting, I didn’t turn the news on even once yesterday, and already I’m feeling more at peace. I’m not suggesting living in ignorance. I’m quite aware of the severity of the situation, but I just needed the day off from the news. I’ll get caught up today. In meantime, I’m focusing on hope.
During this unique season of Great Lent this year, because of the threat of the Coronavirus (COVID19), the Church has asked us to stay home. The Church has asked us to not come to Church during some of the most holy days of the year. This goes against our normal thinking, but for the good of our neighbors and society in general, we must stay away from the Church. Christ invites us, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” When we are obedient to our Church Fathers and leaders, we learn to sacrifice our will.
Today we begin the third week of our Great Lenten Journey, first having remembered venerating (even if virtually from our computer screens) the Holy Cross yesterday. With the memory of the struggle of the cross that waits our entire Christian life, today the Church reminds us of the hope that God has promised.