Contemplating God’s importance in our lives

May the Peace, Love, and Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you!

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, very soon we will celebrate the greatest feast for all Christians — the Resurrection of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ!

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, we will celebrate Pascha much differently this year. As a priest and your pastor, what truly troubles me is the impending emptiness of our church during this sacred time. I will celebrate our Great and Holy Week services, especially the Divine Liturgy of our Lord’s Resurrection, without the presence of my beloved brothers and sisters in the pews. I will miss you and the time we take to reflect upon and pray about the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In Chapter 20 of the Gospel of St. John, we can read the inspiring story of Christ’s appearance to Mary Magdalene following His resurrection. Before that happened, Mary had visited the tomb early that morning only to find the tomb open and empty. At first, she thought someone had stolen Jesus’ body and hurried to inform Peter and John telling them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb” (John. 20, 2). Peter and John rushed to the tomb, entered it and found only Christ’s burial cloths. Mary remained outside lamenting the disappearance of the Lord’s body. But her despair soon would turn to great joy when He appeared to her.

This story reminds me of our current situation as authorities have “locked down” gathering places and strongly have
urged us to stay home. With that, our churches are empty like the sepulcher that first Easter morning. Clearly, we are troubled by the pandemic guidelines and are “crying” because we cannot attend church, participate in our liturgies/services and receive the Living Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In various ways, we are suffering from fear, anxiety and perhaps panic. And I totally understand your feelings because this situation is a very difficult time for us. But this time is also a great opportunity for us to contemplate God’s importance in our lives.

And how appropriate for us to ponder the church’s importance and what it provides us — baptism, confirmation, the mystery of reconciliation, the Holy Eucharist — to bring us closer to God and to receive His abundant blessings. When the church was open, ask yourself, “How much did I take the church for granted? Did I ever believe I could be shut out of the church?”

For now, let’s make a full commitment to turn our hearts and minds to our Lord and ask Him to protect us from the virus. But as we do that, also realize that we must take our prayers to another level as the lesson of Mary’s story is not yet finished. Jesus appears to Mary and asks her, “Woman, why are you crying?” (John. 20, 15). It’s the same question I ask you today. “Why are you crying?” Do we not believe that God is with us? Do we not believe that He did not abandon us? Do we not believe that He is Risen, that He is with us today and always within our homes where we always can worship him? We must understand the church not only is a structure but is also wherever we go and
with whom we keep company! And for now, the church is your home and your family and we must keep it holy.

So I ask you to please pray at home! On Great and Holy Friday, venerate in a special and solemn way the Holy Cross in your house, with your family. On Resurrection Sunday, sing “Christ is Risen”/”Christos Voskrese” in your home, with your family. Our families frame the church where we must worship the Lord every day and night! Please do not be afraid! Christ is Risen and He always is with us!

During the time I have served you, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, I have always called you to attend church as many times as possible. Now, with great sorrow in my heart, I advise you to quarantine yourselves until this crisis passes. It is a difficult time for our country and the world, but the best way to overcome the virus is to isolate yourselves at home. As your pastor, know that you are in my constant prayers, especially when I celebrate the Divine Liturgy each Sunday for you and your families.

Easter is a time of peace, hope, and joy! So wipe your tears and trust in God! Christ is Risen and with great joy we must cry out to Him in one voice: Christ is risen from the dead! By death He trampled death; and to those in the tombs He granted life!