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.
We are officially half-way through our Great Lenten Journey. Remember, the forty days ends the day before Saturday of Lazarus, and today is day twenty! We’ve made it this far, and if you’re still “in the game” chances are you will finish the race. Congratulations on making it this far! I’ve written a great deal about how this year’s health crisis has affected our journey. Today I’ll look ahead at try to “reframe” the second half of our journey considering the new, albeit temporary, reality.
As the second week of Great Lent comes to an end this weekend, we look back at a week filled with anxiety and emotional rollercoasters. If you’re like me, you have to force yourself to turn off the news just to have some peace and quiet. The last time I experienced this much public tension to this level was in the days and weeks after 9/11. I remember feeling like the anxiety might never end, and the (then new) 24-hour cable news didn’t help insisting on airing over and over scenes of panic.
In many Churches throughout the world yesterday, Presanctified Liturgy was either celebrated behind closed doors, or was cancelled all together. We were blessed to offer Presanctified Liturgy at our host parish last night, but I was inspired by one comment by a mother shortly before the beginning of Liturgy. “The fact that I’m running to church tonight to commune my family in case it’s the last time during our most holiest time of the year, tells me that the devil is working on overtime to keep us out and us faithful really need to step it up.”
Over the years of my ministry, I have come to the realization that the single common sin in every human being is pride. This longstanding tradition of pride goes way back to our ancestors in the Garden, as we have learned during Great Lent by reading daily from Genesis. In the case of Adam and Eve, pride drove them to falling into the temptation from the devil, and more than anything else, Great Lent is about defeating the pride so that we can enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Since our current health crisis is going to be our partner on our Daily Lenten Journey, I will endeavor to remain focused on our journey while not ignoring the reality of the Coronavirus. We’ve all been asked to practice social distancing, and many of our Church throughout the world have actually closed their doors. For some this has been a source of scandal, while for other it has been a relief from anxiety. Either way, it will be imperative that we do not allow these few weeks of social distancing to permanently change the way we interact as human beings, let alone as churches.
In times of crisis, our faith is not only challenged from within, it is challenged from others. While we normally encourage faithful to attend Church at difficult times, and to brings friends and relatives who need God’s healing, today we are encouraging faithful to remain home for the health and safety of others. For those who stay home, this does not mean they have lost their faith in God, nor does attending Church deny the truth of science. As Orthodox Christians, we welcome the partnership of faith and science.