Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Bear Ye One Another’s Burdens… or: No Vacations During Wartime

Yesterday we received an email from the Rector of our cathedral in Washington, DC, Fr. Victor Potapov. Due to the increased restrictions on social distancing in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia it essentially became impossible for the cathedral to continue to hold Divine Services. This was sad on many levels, but Fr. Victor used these words from St. Paul to encourage his parishioners to understand that their absence from church was to help the weak, the infirm, the elderly, and those who are likely to suffer from the COVID-19 pandemic:

Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

Whose burdens are we bearing when we absent ourselves from the Divine Services? The weak, the infirm, the elderly, and all those who would otherwise die if those who have the disease were exposed to the weak, the infirm, etc. Certainly I can hear some saying “Let the old fogies stay home and we’ll all go to church!” Yes – that is possible. But it doesn’t really work that way. If we have church one asymptomatic young person could give the disease to another young person who will be asymptomatic who could give it to another younger person who will be asymptomatic who could give it to his grandmother who lives with him: and she dies. That is how it works. And that is why we are social distancing. Because we are Pro Life. We cannot just be against killing children in the womb. We have to be against killing old people too. And sick people. And people with underlying conditions. And if we infect the person who infects the person who infects his grandmother that dies everyone in that chain killed her. It is not a question of ignorance anymore. It is a question of hubris. “It can’t happen to me.” “It can’t happen here.” “I’m young and strong.” Fill in the blank with your prideful statement. Yes – if we were ignorant this would be different. If we didn’t understand how the disease was spreading and we infected someone out of blissful ignorance then of course – we would not be responsible. But we KNOW.

The problem is: there is a subset of the population that thinks they know better than the experts, the scientists, the physicians. Does the government always tell us the truth? Of course not! But do they always lie? Of course not! Why would they lie? Is this a big experiment to see if they can keep us from going to church by scaring us? Is this the first step in the reign of the Antichrist? Is this a test to see how stupid we are in the face of reality? Maybe any or all of those are true, or fill in the blank with your favorite conspiracy theory. Will those who hate God use the pandemic to try to hurt the Church? Of course. Is the disease man-made? Who cares. Are the media still obsessed with whatever it is that elites obsess about? Of course. None of that matters. The virus is real. People are dying in droves from this disease. Your hubris, conspiracy, or delusion do not change that.

In Michigan we have a HUGE wave of disease coming. They are not turning Cobo Center (or whatever it is called now) into a massive hospital ward for grins and chuckles. Beaumont and Henry Ford are not putting out propaganda – they are full of people with COVID. UM Hospital is empty. They have evacuated everyone who absolutely does not need to be there so they are not drowned by the wave when it hits. Detroit is slammed – but thank God that the disease is hot in some places and not in others. That allows us to get material and personnel relief from other states to stem our wave and it allows us to help other states when our wave subsides. Just because Detroit is on fire with this virus and your city in Michigan is not does not mean that it is not coming. There are cases in Houghton County for goodness sake! That is in the deepest, darkest, wildest part of the Upper Peninsula! If it has reached there it will reach everywhere. The Nile is a river in Egypt. Denial is delusion. If we aren’t fighting this scourge we should be praying for those who are. If we are fighting this scourge we should know that others are praying for us. THIS IS A SPIRITUAL OBLIGATION! No one is blessed to be on vacation now. Yes – we are all watching too much TV and too many movies at home now. That is understood (although we should also be spending serious time on acquiring good spiritual habits during our time in the desert). But that does not mean that we should not be praying for those who are working on the front lines (medical personnel, first responders, and others working in essential jobs), participating in the Divine Services via the broadcast, and otherwise working hard on our spiritual lives so that our entreaties for those who are dying, those who are suffering, and those who are serving are as powerful and efficacious as possible. NO VACATION. War is work. We are at war. Embrace that paradigm. There is no other paradigm that gets us to the mindset that we need here: we are fighting for our lives and the lives of others. For most of us that fight will be fought at home in the greatest isolation we can manage so that we do not spread the virus, but for some: on the front lines.

With God’s help we will continue to serve the Divine Services as often as possible. All services will be broadcast. If we do not turn to God now when will we? Now is the time. Now is OUR time – the Orthodox Christian time. Time to put aside all worldly pretensions. Time to pick up our spiritual swords of prayer and fasting. Time to NOT be on vacation. Time to work. When America went to war in World War II everyone did their part: on the front lines, in the reserve, and at home. Everyone worked to build one bomber per hour at Willow Run here in Michigan. ONE PER HOUR! We built bombers faster than the Germans could shoot them down. That is the sort of effort we need here! But we aren’t being asked to build bombers now. We are being asked to stay home. To pray for those who are fighting and to work on our spiritual lives. Probably staying home is harder than building bombers. We want to DO something. But prayer IS SOMETHING! We have to do away with the evil paradigm of the world that prayer is nothing. Prayer is work! Prayer is effort! Prayer is the path to victory. Especially when we add our entreaties to God, to the miracle of modern medicine that He has given us. God’s love for man allows us to understand how this virus works. And our entreaty to God in addition to not acting stupidly in the face of the knowledge He has given us get us to victory faster, better, and with fewer causalities. THIS is how we show the world that we are really Pro Life. This is how we show the world that faith and wisdom go together, not faith and ignorance (or hubris, or pride, or whatever you want to call it). The world is looking for answers. The world is looking for the reason that we are here. The world is looking, whether it knows it or not, for Christ. We have Christ dwelling within us and amongst us. This is the reality of being part of the Church that Christ established for our salvation. But if our face to the world is pride, hubris, stupidity in the face of the reality that the Lord has shown us about the virus, how many people will we attract to Christ? The answer is few, and they will be fanatics, unstable, and/or mentally ill. Not that those people don’t deserve to attain salvation – of course they do. And they are welcome in the Church! But we don’t want the parishes to be populated ONLY with those folks. Orthodox Christianity is NOT fanatical. It is sober. It is peaceful. It is the calm after the storm in which the Prophet Elijah found God. It is strong faith combined with wisdom adn struggle. This combination will attract the largest part of our American people to Christ. And I’m pretty sure that is why the Lord put us here – to bring the most people we can to believe in Him and attain the Heavenly Kingdom and spend eternity with Him sharing His love.

Fr. Victor’s decision to close his cathedral was wise. It was unfortunate, but it was wise. It was faithful, even if it was what he absolutely did not want to do. The Lord arranged things in such a way that this was the only path. We should learn from this. Sometimes there is wiggle room. If so – we can and should wiggle. But when there is not, when we have no control over a situation, we should give this situation and our life to God, knowing that He desires our salvation even more than we do. To be at peace. To know that when we lose control the Lord will reign, if we do not oppose Him.

So let us not oppose Him. The Patriarch has blessed the faithful in Russia to stay home until further notice. Metropolitan Onuphry has blessed that the faithful gather in groups of 10 or less. And Archbishop Peter has blessed us to serve the Divine Services with the fewest people possible, while the faithful show love to their neighbors and bear one another’s burdens, by staying home. Cabin fever is setting in or will soon. We are sick of all this mandated time with our families. :) We always said we wanted to spend more time with our families, but now that we have it, we see that marriage and child rearing is hard work! We need to entreat the Lord to strengthen us in that work, to strengthen our family bonds, and to work together against the virus. By staying home. By isolating. By acting indeed, but acting through prayer and tending and harvesting the spiritual fruit can can be found in our desert. Just as the farmer sows with faith and labors in hope of a crop that will appear only in the future, so too do we sow the seeds of prayer in our desert, trusting in the spiritual fruit that will flower and mature in time.

May the Lord strengthen us all to be obedient, prayerful, and peaceful in this blessed time of Great Lent! To be thankful for the desert the Lord has given us and to work it diligently and with hope as a spiritual “farmer”! And to be good children of the Church in this extraordinary time when we are being asked to labor with zeal by staying at home!

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Time to Consider Communion at Home – or How to Transform in the Desert?

We are just about a week into our new coronavirus reality in Michigan and really in our whole diocese and country. Most of us are off from work and home. Not all – but most. And we have been participating in the Divine Services via broadcast - and that is good. It is all novel and thus rather engaging. For a while. But the novelty will wear off soon and we need to be ready for that. We need to plan. We need to look forward. How do we live a spiritual life in quarantine? How can we be transformed in isolation?

Whether in isolation or in community one big part of our ongoing transformation into the sons and daughters of God is Repentance (Confession) and partaking of Holy Communion. It is OK to go a few weeks without partaking of the Holy Mysteries. But we have for years encouraged people to commune often. Because that is a very good spiritual practice. It forces us to confront our sins, to fight them, and to ideally hate them so they will be literally repulsed by those sins. That does not mean we commune every day as a rule or even every week, but we should not be going months without the Mysteries either. The communications from the diocese make it clear that the laity, except for those who are in church to execute the services, should commune at home. It also makes it clear that the laity should be patient with the priests – this will be a significant burden on them, especially as a wave of severe COVID cases hit in various areas. There will be people dying in the hospital and the priests will have to try (I say try because right now we are banned from the University Hospital and St. Joseph for infectious disease reasons) to care for these people as they step into the next life. But there is still time to bring communion to those who are healthy and at home. Fr. Moses is still working some, so we will try to do this mostly via me, but you are always welcome to reach out to Fr. Moses and see if it would work for him. For me, you can use open times you find on my Calendly application for one hour blocks only. I will open up some more mornings for the next few weeks as well. A few important guidelines:

1. Read the pre-Communion prayers as usual. If you don’t have those they can be found at our PARISH PRAYER KIT

2. Fast from Midnight if you will commune early in the day. If you will commune much later in the day follow the rule before evening Presanctified Liturgy (light breakfast – nothing after that).

3. Participate (do not just watch or listen – participate actively) in the Divine Services of the day you will commune if those are available on the LIVE STREAM. If not – one of the recent cycles of Divine Services found on our Facebook page. Just pan down – you will find them. They should be in “videos” too.

4. Forgive everyone and have noth
ing against anyone (as usual before Communion)

5. Write out your confession if you can write. Give that to the priest that visits. He will read it and have a short conversation with you about it. SHORT is the key word here. We are trying to minimize the opportunity for infection and the infection spreads by droplets – and talking makes droplets.

6. Follow this protocol, which was created with the consultation of three Orthodox Christians physicians to minimize the spread of the coronavirus:

  • The faithful will confess in written form. 
  • When considering to visit a sick person at home for confession and communion, a priest is to first ascertain if the illness manifests as respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms. 
  • If a person is sick with the above-mentioned symptoms, the priest should abstain from visiting this person but strongly encourage that person to seek medical attention immediately. If the symptoms are different, e.g. those of worsening chronic disease, a priest is to follow precautions recommended by CDC in the current situation.  
  • Contact should be between the priest and the penitent only without any family members which would allow for distance of 6 feet. The room should be well-ventilated.
  • After the prayer of absolution both the priest and the pertinent should wash their hands, or use towelettes or waterless hand sanitizer if hand washing is not practical or possible.
  • A mask should be worn by the sick person. The priest may wear a mask if he desires.

It is important that as we are quarantined on any level we do not quarantine our faith. We have been given the blessing to be in our desert during this Great Lent – isolated from most of the rest of the parish. That has good aspects and bad – but most certainly it is a struggle and and opportunity to draw nearer to the Lord. Just as the monastics in Palestine used to wander through the desert for the 40 days of Great Lent and grew spiritually from that struggle. We will read the life of St. Mary of Egypt this week on Wednesday evening. Please listen carefully to the benefits she, and St. Zosimas, received in the desert. You could argue – and I would submit that this is true – that St. Mary was transformed in the desert. We can too – but we have to struggle to acquire these benefits – to be transformed. You cannot read the life of St. Mary of Egypt and take from it that struggle is NOT necessary. May the Lord strengthen you! Please let me or Fr. Moses know if you have any questions.

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Are we Telling You to Go Away and Never Return?

In the course of this pandemic I have had the obedience to do research on past pandemics and the Russian Church’s reaction to them in my capacity as Secretary of the Diocesan Council. You might be surprised to know that we are NOT in any sort of virgin territory here. Finding ourselves unable to attend the Divine Services because the ruling hierarch of the diocese has closed the churches has happened in the past. The most notable was during the outbreak of the plague in Moscow around 1771. It is notable mostly because the Archbishop of Moscow, Ambrose, was literally torn to bits by the raging people who were apoplectic following his decision. The perpetrators of the murder were later hanged for their inappropriate response. I don’t think any of us would react in this way, but both the murder and the reaction of the government are instructive here. Leaders have to lead – not follow. Sometimes (in fact almost always) it is a question of two bad options, rather than “right” and “wrong”. In our situation the two bad options are:

1. Keep the churches open and allow people to be infected by the present plague and deal with the subsequent deaths

2. Close the churches to public worship

If we are honest we are a little “spoiled” by our easy access to the church, to the sacraments, to the clergy, etc. I am not suggesting that what we have had these last few decades is bad. In fact it is almost the ideal! Almost. But that is not the point of this post. The point is this: in the history of the Church there have been times – sometimes short and sometimes very long – when it was not easy to access the Church and the sacraments. Sometimes that was because of persecution. Sometimes that was because of plague. In either case the Church is not instructing the faithful to “go away”. The Church, as a loving mother, wants the best for her children. First and foremost – salvation. Nothing is more important. The real crux of the thing then, is this: is it more valuable for our salvation to attend church and die because of that or is it better to stay away, stay alive, and continue to struggle for our salvation? As Orthodox Christians we care about what has come before. How the Church has lived in past circumstances like we are experiencing now. As I noted above – it is not unheard of to close the temples to public worship during time of pandemic. It is also not unheard of to call the faithful to gather all the more into the temples to pray for God’s mercy. If either of these is possible then why did Archbishop Peter choose to close to public worship rather than encourage the faithful to gather all the more? The miracle – and it is a miracle that the Lord has given us – of modern medicine. The Lord has allowed us to use the talents He has given us to learn. To ignore this would be essentially taking God’s gift to man and tossing it in the garbage. You probably wouldn’t like it if people took the gifts you gave them and threw them away. Why would the Lord be pleased if we take the gifts He gives us and toss them aside, and in place of His gifts put our own pride? It is important to know that clergymen are not experts on every topic, no matter what the clergymen think. :) Archbishop Peter knows that he is not an epidemiologist. He knows that he does not have a Ph.D. in Public Health. And so he consulted Orthodox physicians and scientists in order to make the best decision for the most people. This is how we got to this point: the bishop had to choose from two decisions he did not want to make – and he decided that the best of the bad decisions was to close the temples to public worship.

This is instructive to us. Why? Because most of us don’t really understand the part the bishop plays in the Church. We see him once or twice per year, but we essentially associate the bishop with long Liturgies and a purple cape. :) But the bishop is the overseer. He answers for every soul in the diocese. I answer for the souls of those who are in our St. Vladimir parish. The bishop answers for all. And it is his job to protect the faith. To teach the truth of our Orthodox Faith. And to correct when there are things not right in the diocese (whether that be on a parish by parish level, or the diocese as a whole). The bishop cannot change the faith – his job is to uphold the faith and the dogmas of the Church. But the present pandemic question is not a dogmatic question. It is not a question of faith. In these non-dogmatic questions the bishop leads and we follow. Of course, we hope he will consult experts to make the best decisions, as he did in this case, but the call is his. The faithful and clergy are called to follow the bishop in such questions, and understand that our part is to be obedient. If the bishop is wrong about a non-dogmatic question, and we follow what he says, WE do not answer for that – HE does. Thus, we can be at peace. Our salvation depends not on the correctness of the bishop’s decision here, but on seeking peace and being obedient (these two things sort of depend on each other – if we are obedient it brings us peace if we ask God’s help to find that peace).

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me or Fr. Moses with questions. Our jobs now are to stay home and stay away from others. We have two options for social distancing as the picture above shows. Let’s choose the one that is not 6 feet under! If we are examples to our society in this instance more will come to Christ. In such a thing as a pandemic people are looking for answers – looking for meaning – looking to understand why we are even here. The Church provides them those answers. And we, serving God and man with Christian love, can and will attract those who are seeking to Him. Work on your good habits! Increase your prayer life! Read more spiritual books! With your effort and God’s help you will come through this pandemic safe, and spiritually stronger than when it began. And your good example will bring more to Christ!

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Prayer in the Time of Coronavirus

It is important for us to pray. To focus. To have something that we can do rather than just sit all day and think about viruses coming to get us when we aren’t looking. :) Obviously that is not how the virus works. If we social distance we save lives. Period. But the verb “to social distance” is, at its very best, passive. We are not passive beings! We need to act! This prayer was approved by the Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The English is our translation and I thank those that helped with this! I STRONGLY suggest that each of us read this prayer every day at 2:00 p.m. If you can’t read it then – read it ANY time. At least once.

PRAYER DURING THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS
Approved by the Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church
Metropolitan Onuphry, Primate

Let us not forget that it is Great Lent. On weekdays of Great Lent we read the prayer of St. Ephraim with prostrations. You can find that prayer here:

PRAYER OF ST. EPHRAIM

Let’s not let this virus and the passive role we are being asked to play in this war lull us to sleep spiritually! Be zealous! Pray for those who are in need! Our parish prayer list is here – health care workers are on page one:

PARISH PRAYER LIST

That is all for today. Pray. Use this time the Lord has given you to strive to acquire good spiritual habits! First of all: prayer. Push yourself. Struggle. Try. Ask God’s help. Repeat. Your prayer will improve as you struggle and as you practice. We are not looking for experiences during prayer. We are not looking for or using emotion in prayer. Strive for peace, quiet, sobriety, focus. Remember that God was not seen by the Prophet Elijah in the wind
or the earthquake or the fire, but in the quiet after the storm (I Kings 19). And please – pray for me as well.

Fr. Gregory

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Diocesan Policy Regarding Worship During Quarantine + Living in the Desert

Yesterday the Diocese of Chicago & Mid-America published a policy regarding worship during mandated quarantine. You can find the policy here:

PUBLIC WORSHIP IN DCMA DURING CORONAVIRUS

However, our Michigan executive order is stronger than the diocese’s policy and we are going to have to be even more stringent for that reason. I had written yesterday that we were going to have to keep to 10 people maximum, but really we will have to be smaller than that. We need to have the fewest people necessary to hold the Divine Services. That is going to vary from service to service, but, including the clergy (which we have broken into two teams to keep the liklihood that we will have at least one healthy priest at all times as high as possible) we will try to stay at about 6 or 7 people most likely. Here is the sign up sheet to volunteer to sing or read – please add your name to this if you can help:

SIGN UP TO READ FOR QUARANTINE SERVICES

There is a change to tomorrow’s liturgical schedule. The Presanctified Liturgy will begin at 6:30 a.m. instead of 6:30 p.m. We will publish this widely – please make a note of this. Next week’s schedule will change a bit too. We will add more Presanctified Liturgies and probably move the Liturgy set for April 2 to the morning rather than have it in the evening. More to come on that as we figure out Fr. Moses’ work schedule or lack thereof going forward.

It has become clear that we are going to spend most or all of Great Lent in the spiritual desert. That is not necessarily a bad thing. But it takes a paradigm shift. There is much that can be gained from life in the desert, but there is always much temptation there. That makes sense of course – there is much reward when there is much work. We include here the life of St. Onuphrius the Great to give you an idea of life in the desert. Not that we will emulate it exactly. Not that angels will bring you Holy Communion in your desert (why would they since Fr. Moses and I are happy to do so, but St. Onuphrius obviously had not one to do so and thus the Lord cared for him), but so that you can see that the barren desert can bear much spiritual fruit if we endure with thanks and love to God for the blessing He is giving us.

ST. ONUPHRIUS THE GREAT

But what shall we do in the desert? Here are a few ideas:

1. Establish the habit of saying morning and evening prayers. You can find short versions of these at our prayer kit page: PARISH PRAYER KIT

2. Establish the habit of reading the scripture daily. You can find the readings for the day at the top of our parish home page, in Sunday Reading, and on the annual calendar each of our parishioners is sent

3. Establish the habit of reading spiritual literature. Most of us have a spiritual book or two lying around the house. If so – pick one up, dust it off, and open it up! If not – please visit our LIBRARY PAGE to see how you can pick a good book from our parish library.

4. Keep up your tithe. This is not nothing. Yes – the parish needs your support. But even more importantly, YOU need to support the parish because it is spiritually important for you. You can learn more about that at this link: TREASURER’S CORNER

Let us ask, brothers and sisters, for peace during this time. Let us ask for sobriety. Let us ask for spiritual strength. And perhaps most important, let us ask the Lord to help us to establish good habits now that will carry through to the time when we are able to leave our desert. We are saved in community, but we perish alone. We have written that here many times. But now we are in our deserts not by our own choosing, but by the will of the Lord. So let us ask Him to make this time, which He is blessing us with, be spiritually fruitful. If we ask Him, and if we work to establish good habits in our desert, we can have great hope that indeed – we can improve during our time of exile. But we must push ourselves if we want to improve. We must work if we want to establish good habits. But if we try – really try – the Lord will crown our efforts with success!

In Christ,

Fr. Gregory

Why is the Curtain Closed ½ Way at the Presanctified Liturgy?

Several people have asked about this over the course of Great Lent. This is an excerpt from a presentation I gave to the clergy of the Eastern American Diocese two years ago. Hopefully it is helpful.

After the Great Entrance at the Presanctified Liturgy the Royal Doors are closed and the curtain is closed half way. Not to veil the consecrated gifts (for these are not veiled during the other liturgies). But rather, as Nikolsky writes – to fulfill the same rationales as the closed curtain after the Great Entrance at the other liturgies, AND the open curtain after the consecration of the gifts at the other liturgies:

A) Closed curtain after Great Entrance: going of the Lord to His passion and the unattainable mystery of the salvation of men, hidden from many ages and generations (Col. 1:26)
B) Open curtain after the consecration of the gifts: people contemplate the sacrifice offered for the sins of the world while calling upon the Heavenly God as Father and saying “Our Father”

The hypothesis that the curtain is used to veil the consecrated Gifts during the Presanctified Liturgy contradicts the use of the curtain at the full Divine Liturgy, where the curtain is closed fully after the Great Entrance, when the Gifts are not yet consecrated, but is opened for their consecration and remains open after their consecration until the communion of the clergy.

Nikol'sky, in his "Aid to the Study of the Liturgical Typicon of the Orthodox Church," writes as follows:

“At the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, after the transfer of the Holy Gifts, the curtain is partly closed (its first half) and opened (its second half). It is closed for the same reason that it remains closed also at the full Liturgy after the Great Entrance, namely that the Entrance recalls the going of the Lord to His passion and is the unattainable mystery of the salvation of men, hidden from many ages and generations (Col 1:26) -- the mystery of the bloodless sacrifice of the Lord, "who is the God of ineffable and invisible mysteries, and with whom are the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (prayer at the Presanctified Liturgy after the Great Entrance). The curtain ought to be open after the Great Entrance, during the Litany before "Our Father," for the reason that at this time it remains open also at the full Liturgy. As at the full Liturgy, so also at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, at this time the consecrated Gifts are on the Holy Table, and the people (with the curtain open), while contemplating the sacrifice offered for the sins of the world, call with boldness upon the Heavenly God as Father and say: "Our Father."”

According to Nikol'sky, then, the half-open, half-closed curtain after the Great Entrance at the Presanctified Liturgy serves two functions:

A) the function of the closed curtain after the Great Entrance at the full Liturgy and
B) the function of the open curtain during and after the consecration of the Holy Gifts at the full Liturgy.

Therefore, the curtain should be closed from south to north, so that the open side, i.e., the left side, would correspond to the same side of the Holy Table (the left side) on which the discos with the consecrated Lamb has been placed. That way the consecrated Lamb would be open to the contemplation of the people before the Lord's Prayer, just as it is at the full Divine Liturgy. This reasoning, then, is the exact opposite of the idea that the curtain is intended to veil the consecrated Gifts from view.

Fr. Gregory

Monday, March 23, 2020

Shelter in Place from Midnight 3/24/20


Governor Whitmer has just announced a “shelter in place” order for Michigan beginning at midnight tonight. This will have an effect on the Divine Services at St. Vladimir’s. There seems to be an exception for houses of worship. Thank God for that – this will allow our Divine Services to continue so that we can broadcast on the internet and so the church will not be without the Divine Services. According to Archbishop Peter’s directive when a state establishes “shelter in place” public services are no longer held. I am discussing details with the Parish Council now, but I expect that we will hold the Divine Services with a “skeleton crew” of not more than 10, including the clergy. The breakdown would likely be:

2 Priests
2 Deacons
2 Readers/Altar Servers
4 Singers

We are working on these details now and I will share more as I know more. Most certainly Holy Communion will take place for the faithful only outside the times of the Divine Services. Exactly how that will work (families come to the church to commune, or the priests visit people at home, or both, or something else entirely) is not clear yet. More to come as we figure that out.

For now, let us be an example of good citizens of our state, whether we agree with the Governor or not. At every Divine Liturgy we pray for our civil authorities, and Christians have done this since the time when the Roman Emperors were seeking to completely destroy the Church. Clearly the Governor is not seeing to destroy the Church here - she is trying to save the lives of our friends, neighbors, and of us as well.

We should never be seen as having contributed to the spread of this disease by violating the law or the guidance we are being given on how to best contain this contagion. We must never been seen as selfishly putting our own needs above the needs of the society as a whole in such a dire situation! Let us pray now that the Lord will strengthen us and our society in our war against the coronavirus, and that He will grant us peace in our struggle. This will come to an end some day. And when it does, let us Orthodox Christians be known as those who did good, those who helped, those who were unselfish, those who put the welfare of their neighbor above the welfare of ourselves, those who exhibited Christian Love and Christian Wisdom in the face of danger – and, if need be, even in the face of death.

May the Lord bless you all and keep you safe! If you have questions or concerns please reach out to me. DO NOT PANIC! God is with us, and that should give us great peace no matter what is happening around us. There will be many more detailed instructions coming later today and throughout the week.

With Love in our Lord Jesus Christ,

Fr. Gregory

Update 3/23/20 4:00 p.m.: we are working on assignments for singing and reading at the services based on family groups (to minimize spread of the infection) and will have that information available soon. If you would like to volunteer to help at the servcies please visit this link to do so:

VOLUNTEER FOR PANDEMIC DIVINE SERVICES

Update 3/23/20 7:00 p.m.: after a closer reading of the governor's executive order it is clear that if we want to follow the spirit of the thing we should be reducing our gatherings to less than 10 as a rule. We will continue to work on this and share more information as we have it.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Prayer for St. Vladimir Healthcare Workers + Diocesan Clarification: Unction & Confession

We have updated our parish prayer list with the names of our St. Vladimir Healthcare Workers and First Responders. You can find the list at the link below. Please pray for all those who are fighting this war against coronavirus on the front lines, if you will, and also specifically our St. Vladimirians in this fight! If you would like to add someone to the list please email info@stvladimiraami.org.

ST. VLADIMIR PRAYER LIST

Yesterday the diocese clarified how the parishes are to serve Unction and Confession during the time of the novel coronavirus pandemic. You can find that information here:

CONFESSION & UNCTION IN THE DIOCESE OF CHICAGO & MID-AMERICA

In short: the Unction service scheduled for April 5 in Ferndale is canceled. We have the blessing to schedule Unction in our parish this Great Lent and we will do that as soon as we reasonably can. As for Confession, this will now require a mask. There is no way we are going to punish people because they cannot find masks and there is a great shortage of these now. So the parish will be in charge of providing the masks. And with that sentence I am asking everyone who can to donate masks they may have. If you have extra of course. Or to tell us where we could buy masks if you know. Or to help us sew face masks. In a crisis (and if this is not a crisis I am not sure when that word could ever be used) the CDC allows for sewn masks to be used. To volunteer to sew masks please email info@stvladimiraami.org. If we cannot find or sew enough masks that is not your fault and we will hold confession without masks with me (Fr. Gregory) ONLY. Fr. Moses does not have a blessing to hear confession without a mask. This is not because he is a bad priest! It is because I will be the Corona Priest and Fr. Moses will be the non-Corona Priest. We will try to keep both of us helathy of course, but now we are at the point that we need to make sure that at least one of the priests remains healthy and that is going to be Fr. Moses. We should not confess to either priest without a mask if we can avoid it, and we NEED YOUR HELP to gather adequate masks. Save your mask after confession! You can use it again almost certainly. If it is a sewn mask you can wash it and use again. And confession can only be one time per week maximum unless you LITERALLY kill someone. Or rob a bank. Or something else deathly serious. Please do not abuse this privilege. If both of our priests get sick then no one can have confession and that would be a very bad outcome.

Confessions MUST be in writing unless you cannot write. The priest will come out of the confessional, receive your written confession, and return to the confessional to read it. He will then alert you that he has read it and is ready to have you come forward for absolution. The key here is brevity. Briefness. Not longness. Shortness. Non-lengthiness. I am making up words so that you see this is serious. We have to be brief. The priest may give you a little bit of advice or ask you a clarifying question. This is not an invitation to an extended conversation. The entire interaction should take not longer than 60 seconds. The written confession should essentially be bullet points. Under no circumstances should it be longer than ½ letter size piece of paper using about 12 point type and 1-inch margins. If you need to have more time to discuss your spiritual struggles with the priest that is welcome! In that case please make an appointment with one of us to have an extended phone conversation.

I don’t like any of this any more than you do. We take comfort in the way we have always done things. That is human nature. But as Orthodox Christians we are often called upon to go beyond human nature. To strive to move higher – to struggle for the Heavenly Kingdom. And this also gives us a chance to reflect on the way we confess. I’m not saying anyone does it “wrong”. If you do something just plain wrong Fr. Moses or I will tell you. But if we are honest, some of us can be a little long-winded in our confessions. Sometimes that just happens – we can’t help it. For others – it is a consistent issue. Consistency is the hallmark of excellence, of course! But in this case we need to remember that the most important pronoun in our parish family is not “I”, but “we”. We have to think about how our actions effect others in our community – whether those actions are very long confessions, letting our children run wild without supervision, singing loudly out of tune, or anything else along those lines that impacts those around us. Most things are just fine in moderation. If you know you struggle to sing in tune you can still sing, but maybe the volume should not be super loud. All kids can be a little noisy or fidgety – that is normal. But if they are really loud or need to stretch their legs it is OK to take them out for a little while. And sometimes our confessions just turn into something longer than we anticipated since the Lord, in His mercy, showed us things during the confession that we hadn’t really seen before. Thank God for that! But this should be the exception and not the rule. If long confessions are the rule for you then please pray about this. The answer is not to stay away from confession, but to talk to Fr. Moses or myself about how you could be more brief and still confess fully. It is possible – but we have to think about everyone else in order to motivate ourselves to actually do this. To seek to change for the good of others. Long confessions mean others have to wait. It is not about the priests. We rejoice that the faithful want to confess their sins! But others don’t always rejoice when the person in front of them consistently takes 15-20 minutes or more to confess. :) And now, during the time of coronavirus, the longer we stay in proximity to each other the more likely we are to spread the disease. This puts our care for each other in a more serious light: we need to be concerned for others not just out of convenience, but because this is a life or death situation.

The technical parameters of confession are clear. But do pray about all that is written above. The most important part is this: we should be very cognizant of how our actions effect others. If you are sick with a cough and a fever and you want to come to church anyway that is just wonderful for you, but it is wrong for your brothers and sisters in Christ. I hate to break it to you: it isn’t all about you. :) It is about everyone else first, then us. God is #1, neighbors are #2, and I’m #3. That is the Orthodox way. Let us ask the Lord to help us to adopt this now, during this societal crisis, when we are likely to be more spiritually flexible. If we make an effort we can have great hope of progress! May the Lord grant it!

Fr. Gregory

Thursday, March 19, 2020

How to Worship Using the Live Stream

At this point in our new coronavirus reality the vast majority of our parishioners are worshiping using one of our live streams. We have heard from some of you that Facebook is not convenient for you. Establishing a YouTube live stream is not as easy as one might assume, so at least for now, we will live stream on Facebook using video, continue our high fidelity audio stream, and try to get a YouTube live stream started as soon as possible. You can find links to each of our streams below.

LIVE STREAMS

Now – to the question at hand: how does one worship at home? This is an important question. There is most certainly a wrong way to do it and a right way to do it. We’ll talk about the right way – then we’ll cover the wrong way.

Here are the steps – they are all important. There is a HUGE temptation to cut corners here. Don’t fall to that temptation! Success only comes before work in the dictionary. If we want to be successful in these remarkable times we have to work – and this will take work.

1. Worship together. The idea is that we would all worship together live – as we do when we are in God’s House. Don’t fall to the temptation to watch the service later on your couch. We do not watch the Divine Services. We are not spectators. We are participants. Participants participate, and this only works if we all worship together at the same time. Get the whole family together – ideally in the place that you say prayers together as a family. Light the oil lamp. Light the censer and put on incense if you have a home censer.

2. Get dressed for church. That’s right: take a shower, shave, do your hair, put on your church clothes. Do whatever you do when you go to church. We won’t know if you are in your sweats and a tshirt, but you will. And you will feel it. It is hard to get into the paradigm of “we are worshiping” if you are dressed like you are going to work in the garden. Gardens are good. If you wore your church clothes to work in the garden you would feel pretty weird. You should feel weird if you wear your grubby clothes to worship God the Holy Trinity. You might not be in His House, but you can make your house His House in a small way if you work for it – so please do.

3. Turn off the radio, the television, all the screens, and any other distractions. Put the cell phones on silent. Then put the cell phones in a box and put the box as far away from the place you are worshiping as possible. You are not worshiping if you are texting or checking Facebook. God deserves our full attention. Of course you have to have one phone in the space where you are worshiping, but you can suppress notifications on that phone and you should.

4. After the service take a moment and pray for those that need prayers. If you have your own list: use it. If you don’t – use the parish list:

PARISH PRAYER LIST

5. After the service have a meal. What do we do at St. Vladimir’s after the banquet that is the Divine Liturgy? We continue our fellowship by sitting down to have a meal together. This was the practice of the very Apostles – and they used to worship often in houses with the faithful. Yes – this isn’t the same meal as we have on Sunday with all our brothers and sisters, but it is the tradition and we should follow it.

No one will see if you followed these guidelines. Except God. And your guardian angel come to think of it. And we should care WAY MORE about that than we do about whether our friends see our new dress or tie. These guidelines are to HELP YOU. We need the strength that we can glean from the Divine Services, but to receive the Grace of God we need to prepare ourselves. We need to work. And if we work, and we ask God’s help, we can have great hope that we will have success in this work. And by the way, Liturgy essentially means “work of the people”. Let us work brothers and sisters, to keep the love of Christ alive in our hearts during this time, and let us work to keep it alive in our community!

Fr. Gregory

P.S. We forgot – what is the wrong way? There are many of course, but we can sum them up in one phrase: the wrong way is to do it other than the way we’ve suggested above. :)

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Coronavirus Instructional Letter from Archbishop Peter + St. Vladimir's Response

St. Vladimir Family,

First: have you reached out to your elderly neighbors and friends? Have you talked to your friends from St. Vladimir’s that you know or suspect are lonely during this time of isolation? Please FIRST do that now. THEN read the rest below.

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Yesterday His Eminence Archbishop Peter sent an instructional letter to all our diocesan Rectors. You can find that here:

INSTRUCTIONAL LETTER FROM ARCHBISHOP PETER

At St. Vladimir’s we are committed to following Vladyka’s instructions at all the Divine Services, but we will also continue to screen all the faithful as we did on Sunday, March 15, 2020. This worked well. As a reminder, the screening questions are:

A. Have you had a persistent cough or fever in the last 7 days?
B. Have you been exposed to anyone with a persistent cough or fever in the last 7 days?

We probably will not screen at every service, but we definitely will on Sunday mornings. If you know that you cannot pass the screening questions please stay home – not just on Sunday morning but for any of the services. God willing we will continue to broadcast all services on our Audio Stream, and most services on our Video Stream. You can find links to both streams here – please remember that the Audio Stream is only on during the Divine Services:

ST. VLADIMIR LIVE STREAMS

If you are home and want to confess or commune please reach out to me or Fr. Moses. We are happy to visit you. There is no reason you should be deprived of the Grace of the sacraments because you are staying home to stay safe.

The biggest impact on our St. Vladimir’s faithful in light of Vladyka’s letter is the cap of 50 people at any public gathering that is in place in Michigan now. During this pandemic it makes perfect sense to me that each of the faithful will want to partake of Holy Communion at least once per week. This is following the logic of the early Christians who sought to partake essentially daily, since during the persecutions they did not know when they might be called upon to give up their lives for Christ. At St. Vladimir’s we have four Liturgies per week for most weeks of Great Lent. We will do everything we can to keep to that 50 person limit. That means that 200 people could hypothetically commune on any one week if we manage this well. In this regard we have prepared this sign up sheet:

SIGN UP FOR DIVINE SERVICES

Please sign up for the services that you KNOW you will attend. Please do not sign up for every service “just in case”. That is not fair and it is not kind. And we have to be at least fair and kind to each other during this stressful and spiritually challenging time.

If we reach our 50 person cap at any one service (likely this is just a Sunday concern – at least for now) we will ask number 51+ to move to an overflow area that we will establish outside the church, where folks will be asked to maintain the 6 foot distance per family group. In this overflow area there will be an icon and the services from inside the church will be broadcast using our Audio Stream. Therefore, those in the overflow area will be able to pray along with the community. Those in the overflow area who wish to partake of Holy Communion will be allowed to do so of course. Please approach a screener if you wish to partake and we will have someone from inside the church step outside so that you can enter and commune.

We also need to deal with the confession issue. It is nice to be able to go to confession often during Great Lent with all the services. BUT – confession is our weakest link in our public health efforts. Beginning tonight we are strictly limiting confession to one time per week per parishioner. There will be additional limits on confession most likely (for instance, you might have to write out your sins and hand the letter to the priest while staying out of the confessional). Vladyka is praying about how best to deal with this weak link now. I will share more when he decides how to proceed. For now we can reduce our risk by confessing only once per week and by being BRIEF. One need not share every detail of every sin that one commits every day. If you judge two people in the week you can confess to judging. That will take 2 seconds. You do not need to spend 5 minutes explaining all the issues and feelings around how you judged these two unfortunate souls. :) Yes – there are times we need to go into some detail about our sins, but that should be the exception and not the rule. Any confession that needs to take more than 5 or so minutes should be handled by briefly confessing one’s sins without exquisite detail, making it clear that there is more than needs to be discussed, and making an appointment with the priest you are confessing to. The priests are unquestionably going to be infected with the virus at some point since we will need to care for the sick. That is part of being a priest. But we can keep our priests healthy and working hard for our parish family longer by firming up the weak link of long face to face confessions. Thank you for working with us on this.

Fr. Gregory

P.S. Please support the parish materially now as you are able. There are many fewer people at the Divine Services now and that is good from a Public Health point of view. But our bills have only INCREASED during the pandemic. Please help us by setting up a recurring donation at the link below - you can use your credit card or directly transfer from your bank account:

ST. VLADIMIR DONATE PAGE

Monday, March 16, 2020

Pandemic Help Needed and Help to Give - St. Vladimir Family Response

If you need groceries, a ride to the doctor, financial support, pharmaceuticals, to talk to someone so you don’t feel so isolated, or ANYTHING AT ALL during the pandemic please reach out to our St. Vladimir Family! And of course, if you need spiritual support! We are here to help! And we want to help!

Email: info@stvladimiraami.org
Phone/SMS: 734-475-4590
ON LINE SIGN UP

And perhaps even more importantly: please tell us if you can PROVIDE the help that we outline above! We need to have a roster of people ready to help that we can call upon when a need is identified.

If we do not pick up the phone please leave a message! We will get right back to you.

Need to have Confession, partake of Holy Communion, or just talk with one of our priests? Please reach out! Fr. Gregory: 734-649-5746 ~ Fr. Moses: 530-591-0416.

*Lots of people who will never get sick will need spiritual and emotional support. The next few weeks will be isolating and anxiety-inducing. Your prayers are our first and most important line of defense. Social contact at a physical distance will be the second line. Make a plan to engage in regular phone calls, FaceTime, or Skype with people you would otherwise have chatted with at Church or in social gatherings. Reach outside of your regular circles to check in on folks. Be aware that some of our members have large, robust circles of families/friends, but others are already fairly isolated. If someone comes to your mind assume the Lord is touching you and asking you to reach out to that person!

*Elderly people are at much more risk of dying from Covid-19, but anyone can be infected and contagious. Experts believe that you can be contagious up to 14 days before you experience any symptoms. Young children can be contagious for that same period, even though they may never have apparent symptoms. Do not put yourself or your children in direct contact with the people you're supporting. Six feet is a safe distance to keep from infecting someone. If someone you're helping needs physical support (walking, getting to a car, etc.) wear a N95 mask and gloves. Wash your hands thoroughly before putting on gloves. Soap & water is much more effective than hand sanitizer.

*While elderly people are at much more risk of dying, and are generally more isolated in their daily lives, lots of people under 60 have contracted this disease and many have died. It is not an "old person's disease". So if you get sick and need help for you and your family, please let us know using the contact information above.

*Lots of people who will never get sick will need financial support. Hourly wages will be limited as businesses experience significant downturns in business. School closures will increase household expenses as kids no longer get school lunches, and parents have to take time off to care for their children. If you know that someone has financial needs and you can help directly, do. If you need help or you know someone who needs help let us know!

*Our parish financial resources will be STRETCHED LIKE NEVER BEFORE due to the pandemic. Many people are not coming to church now for public health reasons. That is good. But if your practice is to donate only when you are physically present NOW IS THE TIME TO FINALLY CHANGE THAT PRACTICE. Set up a recurring donation at our Donate Page below. Whether you are present at services or not (on Sunday, March 15 we had about 50% of the regular attendance) the parish needs your support! We have LOTS of people to help now – way more than usual. If we get caught in the death spiral of more needs with fewer people donating because they are not physically present we will get into a bad financial place very quickly. Stop that from happening by establishing a recurring donation today!

ST. VLADIMIR DONATE PAGE

Thanks to Matushhka McPherson for providing lots of these great ideas!!!

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In the middle of the third century, a terrible epidemic beset the great city of Alexandria, in Egypt. The pagans of the city deserted the sick and dying and tried to protect themselves. The Christians did the opposite. In the words of St. Dionysius the Great of Alexandria (quoted in Eusebius' Church History):

"Most of our brother-Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead, turning the common formula that is normally an empty courtesy into a reality: ‘Your humble servant bids you good-bye.’"

"The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning high commendation, so that death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith, seems in every way the equal of martyrdom."

Thank you to Fr. John Whiteford for this quote from Eusebius. Let us pray! As we discussed in the homily on Sunday we are going to be called upon in these times to show our commitment to Christ and His ministry to us sinners. He came to serve, and we as Christians must also serve! We must be Christians whether anyone is looking or not. The Lord will help us - and we must struggle to trust Him that He cares more for our salvation even than we do! When it is our time He will take us, whether via coronavirus, flu, cancer, car accident, or whatever. That does not mean we should be reckless - of course not! We should follow all recommendations from the Centers from Disease Control & Prevention. But if we are called then let us serve, and trust God that by emulating Him we will be saved. For the pearl of great price is our salvation - not our earthly life. We are citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom first and foremost. Now the Lord is giving us a chance to prove it! And with that challenge will also come His Grace. Ask Him for His help! Ask Him to overcome fear! Ask Him to do what needs to be done! And trust that indeed - He will answer your prayer.

"Fear not: believe only..." (Luke 8:50)

"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." (Matthew 7:7-8)

Fr. Gregory

Twelve Years from the Repose of Metropolitan Laurus

Met. Laurus on the day of his Consecration
Today marks twelve years since the repose of His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus. On the Sunday of Orthodox 2008 Vladyka failed to appear at the entrance of the cathedral at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY. The clergy went to his skete to gather him and found that he had peacefully reposed during the night. I still remember that day. We found out at the end of the Liturgy and we had the great honor to serve a memorial service right then and there – while everyone was still in the church. Yes – we do not do memorial services on Sundays. But there is an exception to every rule, and if we would not have served the service I am convinced that the faithful would have begun to sing the pannykhida hymns extemporaneously in any case...

It is difficult to overstate the impact that Vladyka had on the Russian Orthodox Church, and the impact that he continues to have. It is impossible to imagine that the reconciliation of the Russian Church could have happened without Vladyka’s moral leadership. His Eminence served in our parish in 2006 with Archbishop Peter and Bishop Longin for our 25th anniversary. You can find those pictures here:

PICTURES FROM MET. LAURUS VISIT TO ST. VLADIMIR'S

An excellent article was posted about Metropolitan Laurus on the English site of Sretensky Monastery today and it is well worth your time to read:

MET. LAURUS - 12 YEARS SINCE HIS REPOSE

Fr. Gregory Ordination to the Deaconate
Many venerate the memory of Vladyka, and I would second that initiative. Saints are generally glorified only after 100 years or so from their repose, so if Metropolitan Laurus is glorified some day we will not be here to witness that, but we can hope that we will be with him in the Heavenly Kingdom by then and so the glorification would not be a surprise to us at all. If he is a saint it is important to understand that even saints make mistakes. Only God Himself is perfect. And perhaps Vladyka’s glorification will take place only after 200 years, since he did ordain me. But God is merciful, and we can hope that He will forgive even this!

Fr. Gregory Ordination to the Priesthood
Please remember Vladyka in your prayers on this day – and always. We can have great hope that he is also praying for us, his small flock struggle to swim in the great ocean of lost souls in North America. Perhaps if we can emulate his earnest service to God and man in some small way, begun when he entered the monastery in Ladimirova as a young boy, we can attract some of those lost souls to the saving Ark of the Holy Church by our example and through God’s Grace. Let us truy – let us strive! May the merciful Lord grant it!

Fr. Gregory




Saturday, March 14, 2020

Coronavirus - Diocesan Guidance & Our Application

Dear Friends,

Things continue to be in a state of flux regarding coronavirus. The diocese just put out these rules for our use:

DIOCESE OF CHICAGO & MID-AMERICA CORONAVIRUS ADVICE

It is clear that we are to take this VERY seriously. And I intend to follow that advice. In light of Archbishop Peter’s decision we will make some changes in the parish through the end of March.

1. Except for the Divine Services all other activities are canceled. That includes meals after the Divine Services, Lectures, Bible Studies, etc.

2. To be clear: the Divine Services will continue as scheduled.

3. You may want to consider taking advantage of the many weekday services our parish holds at this time of year rather than only attending on Sunday mornings.

4. Beginning with Divine Liturgy on Sunday, March 2/15, 2020 the faithful will be pre-screened for exposure to and sickness from the novel coronavirus BEFORE entering St. Vladimir’s. Screening will take place on the sidewalk outside the front doors. The screening questions will be the following:

A. Have you had a persistent cough or fever in the last 7 days?
B. Have you been exposed to anyone with a persistent cough or fever in the last 7 days?

If the answer to either of these questions is yes, you will be asked to refrain from entering the parish church for the sake of others. An icon, candle stand, and candles will be available for you outside the church proper so that you can place a candle and pray. If you already know that you will not pass the screening please do not come to the parish church, but rather join us from home on our Audio Stream or Video Stream. We will continue to stream all services on our Audio Stream and as many as possible on our Video Stream.

5. In accordance with the decree from the diocese there will be no wine served after Communion. A senior server, wearing a sanitary food serving glove, will provide each person with bread to consume after Communion. This will NOT be self service. Parents MUST oversee their children in this regard.

6. The 6 foot rule will be by family unit. That is, each family should stay together and maintain, as best as possible – a 6 foot space from the other families in church. Parents must see to it that their children stay with them during the services so that this rule is followed to the best of our abilities. And we must utilize the whole church! Not everyone will be able to stand in the back. :)

7. When you come to the cross after the Divine Liturgy there will not be a veneration of the Cross, but just as at the Presanctified Liturgy, the holy bread will be
distributed without the cross. The priest who distributes the bread will wear a sannitary food serving glove.

8. After the Divine Liturgy each Sunday we will sing the moleben "In Time of Destructive Pestilence & Deadly Plague" starting tomorrow and every Sunday until the pandemic ends.

To reiterate from an earlier posting: this is a war. We must take this seriously. We are citizens of our country and our state. Our national and state (and local) health officials are asking us to do our best not to spread COVID-19 for a very good reason: so that the health system is not overwhelmed at the beginning of the outbreak. In Italy they did not take this seriously enough. Because of that people are dying now that could be saved – if only there were enough ventilators and ICU beds. But there are not because they thought this was all hysteria. Of course there is plenty of hysteria around (witness the panic buying of toilet paper). But what we are asking you to do is NOT hysteria. It is wise. Let us be wise. Let us pray for wisdom. And for God’s mercy on us all.

Fr. Gregory

Friday, March 13, 2020

Coronavirus is Here - a Spiritual Response

Dear Parish Family,

Things are escalating quickly with the coronavirus in our community. Although Michigan has not been seriously stricken with this disease it is coming, and you need to know how we, as a parish family, will deal with this. You will have read on the internet, no doubt, that different parishes and dioceses in North America have taken different approaches to the virus than we will, ranging from canceling all services for the next month to doing essentially nothing. We think that the middle path is the golden path, and we will try to tread that path with God’s help.

1. If you have a fever or a cough or otherwise fear that you have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus (novel coronavirus) we kindly ask that you NOT attend the Divine Services in person, but rather join us in prayer via one of our live streams (details below). And that you reach out to one of our priests (details below) so that you are appropriately cared for at home.

2. The Divine Services will continue as scheduled for now. The State of Michigan is asking that we not gather in numbers greater than 100. That is about how many people we have on an average Sunday, and no doubt some folks will not attend because they are concerned that they will become sick or are already actively sick, so we will almost certainly be under that number. It is understood that some will be too concerned to attend, or will be actively sick and not want to attend so that others are not infected. THIS IS NOT A SIN by any means, but we also urge you strongly not to panic. Only those at high risk should consider absenting themselves from God’s House. The virus will come. You will have to deal with this pandemic together with your parish family or isolated from your parish family. But no matter what you will have to deal with it. You will be exposed to the virus. They key is to minimize exposure to high risk individuals early in the outbreak so that our hospitals are not overwhelmed by sick patients. For the vast majority of us it makes most sense to be together in the Holy Church during this time and to be spiritually strengthened by partaking often of the Holy Mysteries.

3. It is not possible to become sick from the chalice. If it were, the Church would have ceased to exist long ago because the clergy would have died off. The clergy consume the gifts that the faithful do not commune of, that is, what is left over after the people commune. If it were possible to receive disease from the chalice all diseases of the people would be there, and all clergy would be dead. As would all the faithful for that matter because they would be infecting each other. But it is not possible to receive disease from the chalice. Why? Because in the chalice is the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is pure. What is in the chalice is without spot or imperfection because it is God. Do not shy away from the Mysteries at this time! During a pandemic it seems to me that we need to commune MORE often – not less. The Church has never deviated from the faithful partaking of the one Cup of Life – and it never will.

4. Schools are closing. Given the larger number of Divine Services we have during Great Lent this is an excellent opportunity for our young people to be in God’s House more often. Parents – please consider this as a silver lining in the cloud that is coronavirus and bring your children to church with you for the Great Lenten services – especially during the week.

5. All services will be broadcast on the audio live stream so that if you cannot, for whatever reason, be at the Divine Services you can participate in this way. But the Divine Services should not be background noise. One should PARTICIPATE in the services. How? Something along these lines is appropriate:

A. Gather the family at the icon corner
B. Turn down the lights
C. Light the oil lamp
D. Turn on the live stream
E. Pray with us: cross yourself at the appropriate time, maintain silence, do prostrations with us for the prayer of St. Ephraim, sing the hymns with us that we sing together, etc.

Live Stream Audio

Live Stream Video (not on for every services – but for many more now that those who shoot the video are off of school)

6. At this time we do not intend to close the church. If that is somehow mandated we will deal with it then, but we have begun to put plans in place to assure that the Divine Services continue, and continue to be broadcast. Hopefully we will not get to this point, but if we do, we are ready.

7. Although you may choose to not be in the church now it is important to remember that the electric company and our other utilities are not going to stop charging us for their services. It is important for the stability of the parish, and for your own spiritual health, that we continue to materially support the parish – perhaps more important now than ever before because this pandemic will put pressure on our resources – and those resources come from the free will offerings of our community. Please visit this page to assure that your gifts continue – even if you cannot be present:

ST. VLADIMIR DONATE PAGE

8. Pray. At the end of the resolution of our Diocesan Pastoral Retreat that just ended in Chicago you can find the prayer of the Optina Elders – I would strongly suggest that we ALL add this prayer to our daily prayers during this time of difficulty:

DIOCESAN CLERGY RETREAT RESOLUTION

9. Do not panic! This is not the first pandemic and it will not be the last. The Church has survived them all and served the sick and dying each and every time. We will do that this time as well. If you are sick, need help, or just need to talk to someone call me (734.649.5746) or Fr. Moses (530-591.0416). We are happy to help you, talk to you, pray with you, and support you in any way that we can. If you are sick – we are happy to bring you Holy Communion. As I wrote above: we can go through this pandemic alone or as a parish family. And we can perish alone or we can be saved in community. Let us be together! Let us support each other! This is what a family does! Yes – maybe we will end up greeting each other with an elbow bump or in some other non-pagan manner (the media is somehow obsessed with pushing the namaste bow or the Vulcan “live long and prosper”, but as Christians we can no doubt come up with something that is not pagan if we cannot kiss each other or shake hands). It is always traditional to make a slight bow to each other in the Church – especially during the services when we should not be talking and loudly greeting each other. Perhaps this is our opportunity to reinvigorate this ancient Christian practice?

10. We will be more actively cleaning the icons in the church throughout the Divine Services, wiping down door knobs and other surfaces that are often touched, and otherwise be more active about keeping the virus from spreading among us. You may notice a few things are different at St. Vladimir’s during this time, but we think these differences will be pretty minor and we intend for them to be temporary.

May God help us all to go through this experience as Christians. Because we will go through it. We cannot avoid it. We cannot deny it. Be at peace – the Lord knows the number of our days and He will always give us what is best for our salvation.

Fr. Gregory

P.S. And follow the directions of the local and national authorities. If we all work together we can get through this with a minimum of casualties. This is a war, and a war takes the whole society working together to defeat the enemy. Now is not the time to think you are smarter than the authorities. Do what you are told and the maximum number of people will survive. There is a time to argue, to stand up for your rights, to be smarter than the powers that be, etc. I would submit that now is not that time. Now is the time to focus our fight on the enemy – not on each other. We can go back to attacking each other on the internet and Facebook after this is all over...

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Idol Smashing Time: Scriptures of Thursday of the First Week

St. Theodore Stratelates Smashing Idols
We should pay attention to the scripture readings that are appointed for each day of the year. In fact, it is a great spiritual undertaking to actually read these readings each day. This helps us to align with the cadence of the Church and helps us to see the importance of the transcendent God in our lives. It is good to come to church on Sunday – this is the most important day of the week: the day of our Lord’s resurrection! But if we only touch the Church on Sunday, God becomes less than central in our lives, and that is not what we are striving for as Orthodox Christians. Other things get put in a higher place than God. And anything that takes a higher place than God in our lives is an idol. Idols aren’t just statues made with men’s hands. In fact, I’m pretty comfortable saying that there is no one in our parish family that would worship an idol made of gold or silver. But many of us worship idols of other sorts – those things that we put in front of God.

This brings us to today’s very interesting readings. These are:

Isaiah 2:11-21
Genesis 2:4-19
Proverbs 3:1-18

Want answers to the questions that often beset you? Read Proverbs. Especially at this time of year. And the Gospel – at all times of year. But the Gospel is only appointed to be read on weekends of Great Lent since that is the only time that we serve the Divine Liturgy proper (the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is a Liturgy of course, but there is no consecration of the gifts – these are consecrated (Pre-sanctified) at the Sunday Liturgy).

We read in today’s reading from Isaiah: “In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats...”

In today’s reading from Genesis we read about the creation of man: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

It is a mistake or just a weird coincidence that on the day we read about the creation of man we also read about the casting away of idols to moles and bats? I just really like the moles and bats thing – not sure why. I suppose it stresses how utterly we are to cast away our idols since who spends time with moles and bats? To answer the first question: no. It is not a coincidence. It is by design. To remind us of our sickness: that we are inclined to put lots of things in front of God. We have the tendency to turn God into our eternally present “buddy” who affirms our decisions – whatever they are – and confirms to us that our thoughts are equal to God’s plan for our salvation. But our thoughts are not the same as God’s – we are not the Creator. We are the creation that NEEDS the Creator – God – in our struggle to return to Him by casting away the idols we put in front of Him. In case we aren’t sure that our thoughts are not equal to God’s wisdom the Lord helps us understand the reality in this passage from Isaiah:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Certainly there are those that will read the lines above and be personally insulted! How can it be that we are not the same as God! Or HIGHER!? If we are honest we sort of live like our thoughts are not just the same as God’s, but higher, since we ignore the parts of the Church’s teachings that we find inconvenient or not in alignment with our “wisdom.” And the rest of us will read that and not react so virulently – but we will kind of think the same thing as those who are so insulted but just be quieter about it.

Thank God He has given us Great Lent! This is our special time of breaking idols. The Holy Church gives us lots of opportunities to be in God’s House, to be exposed to His Grace that is present in a special way in His House, to see in the holy icons those that went before us and broke down their own idols on their journey to the Heavenly Kingdom, and to struggle. To push ourselves. To do a little more than maybe we are comfortable doing to show to ourselves and to God that we want to destroy the idols that we have placed between ourselves and Him.

Great Lent will pass in the blink of an eye. Do not miss this opportunity to smash your idols! Come to the Divine Services! ESPECIALLY the weekday services. Make that special effort. Avoid the Coronavirus but get the Liturgical Flu*. Come more often to God’s House. Put God first. And if you do this – if you make a significant effort in this time of spiritual renewal – you can have great hope that after Pascha you will NOT go back to your idols. To be sure, you will have to struggle
in that regard after Great Lent just as you do during Great Lent. But here, now, during Great Lent, we train. We learn how to break down our idols. And if we learn well now, we will more easily smash them going forward.

May the Lord grant all a spiritually profitable Great Lent and to zealously smash our idols!

Fr. Gregory

*Most of us have sick time at work. We seem to have no trouble using this time for “mental health days”. That is good. Everyone needs a break and to decompress. But we should also use this time for “spiritual health days” and give ourselves the gift of attending the weekday Divine Services from time to time.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Can One Confess too Often?

The first week of Great Lent has many beautiful aspects to it, one of these being that there are services every day and thus the theoretical possibility of confessing one’s sins every day. But is this something that we should do? Or is it better to confess less than daily?

Of course, we all sin ever second of every minute of every hour. Sometimes those sins are quite small, other times these sins are rather consequential. That being said, our spiritual life is not just comprised of the person we see when we look in the mirror. We hear this axiom often in the Church: “one is saved in community but one perishes alone.” Given this is true (and for the great majority of us this IS true), we need to look beyond ourselves and think about our brothers and sisters as we decide whether it is good for us to confess every day. For the purposes of our discussion here we will not concern ourselves with the priests who hear confessions. If we priests have the great privilege to hear confessions ever day late into the night we will rejoice at those who are striving so diligently for their salvation! We can rest in our graves – we are here to work for God’s people. Today let us consider our parish family without taking into consideration the clergy.

In 2019 our parish had 135 paid adult members. If each of the adults (not taking into consideration the children who are old enough to go to confession, who are also quite large in number) comes to confession, and limits themselves to a 10 minute confession, confessions will take 1,350 minutes. We can divide that by two if we assume that each of our priests will hear an equal number of confessions. Thus – the total time for confession with two priests confessing and everyone limiting themselves to 10 minutes (on average – obviously some would be longer and some shorter) the time set aside for confession would be 675 minutes per day, or 11.25 hours. With the kids we can just round it up to 12 hours per day to make this a little easier to “feel”. May God grant that we have such zeal to stand and wait for confession for 12 hours (the last people in line would need to wait this long)!

But we don’t. And we shouldn’t pretend that we do. So that means that we need to figure this out. We probably can’t all go to confession every day the first week of Great Lent.

But we are ALL called to confess the first week! We follow the traditional practice of the Russian Church in our parish and call all our parishioners to attend as many of the First Week of Great Lent services that they can and to partake of Holy Communion on the first Saturday or Sunday, or both, of the first week.

How do we manage this? We don’t have a schedule for confession for the first week. Perhaps we should. But if we divide the confessions over the first 5 nights of Great Lent things start to become more manageable. That gets us to 2.4 hours per night if both priests are hearing confessions. That is not SHORT, but that is sort of manageable – especially if confessions are heard during the Divine Services like Great Compline. If Compline is 1.5 hours long then we are talking about less than an hour after Compline that confessions are heard if folks confess during the service. That is very manageable, and it means that the last person in line would wait less than an hour for confession. But still – it is clear I think that we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of confessing every day. Because our luxury negatively impacts the life of everyone else in our parish family.

What to do? How can we manage to live with ourselves if we commit a sin and do not go to confession as soon as we possibly can? First – let us thank God that we have the opportunity to confess AT ALL! It wasn’t that long ago that there were people in the Soviet block that were not allowed to go to confession – perhaps for their entire lives! Second – there are many people in the world today that cannot confess because there are no clergy or the government they live in suppresses their spiritual life. Christianity is under attack throughout the world. We don’t feel that here, but if a secular news outlet like the BBC is calling this a “genocide” we can be sure that this is not hyperbole. We here still have the First Amendment to the Constitution which guarantees us free expression of religion. Thank God for that! But there are times that we have to struggle with our sins before we can have them resolved at Confession. In fact, we MUST learn to do this. If we have a serious sin we should confess it. And if we commit a second serious sin during the first week of Great Lent we should again confess it. And if we commit a serious sin every day of the first week of Great Lent we should confess it. But we are allowed to NOT commit serious sins! The English saying “fool me once shame on you – fool me twice shame on me” is on point here. We are allowed to learn from our mistakes! We are allowed to use the brain the good Lord gave us to not repeat our sins. And we are allowed to struggle. And we MUST struggle against our sins and our sinful inclinations! Confession was not the first sacrament established by our Lord after His Resurrection so we could be lazy. He established this sacrament that we might be forgiven our sins, but we are also called upon to struggle. St. Paul probably says it best:

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

We are in a spiritual war! We must fight! We must struggle! What are our weapons? The Lord instructs us clearly:

“… one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not. He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me. And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child. And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose. And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out? And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:17-29)

Prayer and fasting. Struggle. It is not that we should not take advantage of the gift of remission of sins via Confession that the Lord gave us. We should! And often! But there will come a time when we can’t easily access Confession. We need to train now to struggle against our sins and sinful inclinations so that when that time comes we are not lost. And the first week of Great Lent is a great time for us do this training. Indeed – come to Confession! But be merciful to the rest of your parish family – think of someone besides yourself – and come only once. And if you commit a grave sin (murder, for instance) come again. If you do not commit such a grave sin – and I very much pray that you do not – do not come again. Ask the Lord to help you. Struggle against your sin with God’s help. Take part in the spiritual training that Great Lent affords us. If we do this – if we learn to fight our sins and our inclination to sin we will be well served. For a time will come – sooner or later only the Lord knows – that we will not have easy access to Confession. And then we will look back on Great Lent each year as a blessed time of training that prepared us for the race that we will need to run then. Where do we learn to struggle? At the church and in the Divine Services. Especially the weekdays of Great Lent. If we struggle without instruction our struggle will be in vain. Our school of struggle is the parish family, the parish church, the Divine Services. For “one is saved in community but one perishes alone.”

May the merciful Lord grant us all a spiritually profitable Great Lent! Please reach out to me or Fr. Moses with questions!

Fr. Gregory