Beloved Faithful Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Christ is among us!
Perhaps my favorite story of the Lenten season is the story of Abba Zosimas who went into the desert and much to his surprise (and very much for his humility) encountered the great saint Mary of Egypt. The context for his journey was that his monastery had the tradition of sending out those monks who were healthy enough into the desert for the 40 days of Lent to wrestle with their passions, only to return at Holy Week, renewed. This was not an isolated practice. The Life of St. Kevin of Glendalough recounts how the young (and often troublesome) novice went into the forest and there learned stillness while a blackbird built a nest in his resting hand one night, which he then patiently held for the rest of the fast until the eggs hatched. And we also see the tradition of withdrawal in the life of our own St. Herman of Alaska on Spruce Island. All these great saints practiced an ascetic and eremitic form of “social distancing” to combat the sickness of sin in their souls and to contain its spread. They were following the example of St. John the Baptist in the wilderness and even the Lord Jesus who fasted alone for 40 days after his baptism to defeat temptation in its track.
With this tradition in mind, I am asking that our community approach Lent this year in a similar spirit. The reality is that the world is facing a pandemic in COVID-19 and the best and wisest practice for us as a responsible community is to slow its spread by engaging in social distancing. Therefore, I am asking you to consider adopting a practice of Christian self-exile in the spirit of the fathers by refraining from attending services in person for the next few weeks, until we see the rate of virus transmission begin to taper off and decline. We have been providentially blessed with being able to offer livestreaming for all our services at this link: streamingchurch.tv/stream9592.
In addition, the following “typikon” will now be in effect at St. Mary’s:
- Liturgy will be served on Saturday and Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. Akathists on Friday nights and Vespers on Saturday nights will also be offered. (please view/listen via livestream.) The on-line Calendar has been updated for March 2020. The work of the church is to pray for the salvation of the world, and we will continue to do so as long as health and strength permit.
- If you decide to come, please do not kiss the icons (or more accurately, their cases,) the Cross, or each other. No antidoron (holy bread) will be offered, but communion will continue to be offered for the healing of soul and body. We will be storing the liturgy books for now. The Collection trays will not be passed but located near the exits. Please use the hand sanitizer at the entrance both coming and going.
- If you are symptomatic, please stay home. If you have been in contact with someone who has been symptomatic or is under quarantine for potential infection, please stay home. Part of the challenge of this virus is that you can become communicable before even having symptoms, which is why limiting social contact is so valuable.
- Choir members are not expected to attend and sing at services and should ask permission from the Director first.
- Candle-lighting and prayer requests may be sent to [email protected] Candles will be otherwise unavailable.
- Confessions by appointment only. Home visits for the sick may also be requested. Your priest is also available by phone and would love to hear from you!
- No Coffee hour, Lenten suppers, or other fellowship in the hall or St. Nina’s is permitted. Introverts of the world, rejoice!
- Church School is on hiatus until further notice. Children’s choir likewise. Adult Catechism is available on-line but we may offer class at church as well since it is a small group.
- All other events are cancelled/postponed until further notice. Meetings that can be held virtually will be re-scheduled as appropriate.
- We encourage you to continue your offerings during this time, especially through on-line giving in Realm (using Vanco). You may consider setting a reoccurring donation.
- The OCMC Soup Luncheon is canceled for this Sunday but we encourage you to visit ocmc.org and help support our sponsored missionaries: The Frantz family, Jesse Brandow, and Jennifer Rice. You may also make a check payable to St. Juliana Fellowship with OCMC in the memo if you prefer.
May God protect us, help us, have mercy on us, and forgive us our sins. I look forward to worshipping with you both in the spirit and again in person when the time is right, hopefully by Holy Week and Pascha. Until then, stay safe and smart, so that we can do our part to limit the effects of this already destructive disease.
Remember that we take these measures for those whom the virus is particularly dangerous, even though for most of us it will likely cause little harm. The Lord teaches us that when we do a good deed for the least of the brethren, we do it for Him. This is simply an opportunity for us to show our care for the vulnerable in the spirit of the Gospel. There is no reason to fear this outbreak, and it is the humble logic of mathematics that shows us that if we can slow the spread of the virus through simple measures like these, we can reduce its impact significantly. The Lord is still good, and the Church will still stand (it’s been through worse!) Again, I encourage you all to take the opportunity to find quiet, prayer, and peace in a slower pace and more deliberate approach to daily activity. May this temporary denial of creature comfort be for each of us another way to fulfill the Apostolic calling: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1). Amen.
— Fr. David