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

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