For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Most of us did not go to church this past Sunday. Yet, many of us experienced the Divine Liturgy from home, in a way that was different, that was creative. Several people told me of their worship experience at home that they stood and knelt at the appropriate times, that they sang in their living rooms, a few even did their own Sunday school classes and Bible devotionals after the service.
Nothing will replace worshipping at the Divine Liturgy in person, because the center piece of the Divine Liturgy is the Eucharist, which we can only receive when we are physically present. A “virtual coffee hour” is not going to replace face-to-face interaction. There is no such thing as a “virtual hug”. Our teenage youth group even got together Sunday night so we could “see” one another virtually, but even that is not going to replace sitting in a small circle sharing intimate thoughts about faith and life.
But for now, all of this will have to do. It is temporary. We will survive. And creativity will have a lot to do with our survival.
Tomorrow, March 25, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation as well as Greek Independence Day. Greek Independence Day occurred on March 25, 1821, 199 years ago. Between 1453 (the fall of the Byzantine Empire) and 1821, most Orthodox lands were under Ottoman oppression. They were not free to assemble in large groups to worship. Many of their churches were destroyed. They were not free to gather to learn or to have fun. Many of us who went to Greek language school learned about the “krifo scholio”, the secret schools held in homes and caves where children could continue to learn because they were not allowed to go to school.
Ever wonder many people in Orthodox Churches don’t sing during the service? Before 1453, there had been a robust practice of the congregation singing (there was always a choir to lead the singing). However, when the church went underground, it was not safe for hundreds of people to sing. Therefore, only the priest and the chanter (a person designated from the congregation) were doing the singing, and everyone else remained silent. Sound familiar? In most churches, that’s exactly what took place last Sunday.
I’m sharing these things today because in order to survive at certain points in her history, the church has had to get creative. Thankfully, God has given us creative minds, minds that are able to solve problems and negotiate challenges. The coronavirus is not going to last 400 years. It probably won’t last 400 days. However, it is going to require us to be creative, or maybe it’s better said that it will give us the opportunity to be creative.
Schools are being creative by creating ways for students to learn at home. Many jobs will be doing the same thing. And our church is going to find ways to continue to offer Bible studies, youth group, even Sunday school and worship during this current crisis. Holy Week is now less than three weeks away and in our church, we are already working to figure out ways to have a rich and meaningful Holy Week experience even if we can’t do it at our church.
Social distancing is a current “fad.” And like all fads, it won’t last. Because we are created to be social. We enjoy being social. Physical touch is a human need. And we communicated 90% of what we want to communicate through our body language. Only about one percent is communicated through words, and the rest through our tone of voice. Ninety percent of our stimulation comes through sight. So, seeing one another face to face is always going to be important and necessary. And hugs will never go out of style.
Thankfully, technology of the 21st century allows us to be creative when it comes to socializing, going to school, (for some of us) going to work, and participating in the life of the church until this crisis passes and we can return to things as we are used to them.
If anything good came out of our home worship experience this past Sunday, I hope it is a longing to return to church once we are able to. As the saying goes, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I hope we won’t take worship for granted, but it will become more of a priority once this crisis is past.
Until then, think creatively. For as we read in Ephesians 2:10, “We are His (God’s) workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” And whether it is in person, on the phone, on video, or “virtual”, we are all still capable of doing good works each day and giving glory to God.
Here is a suggestion for a “good work” that each of us can do today. Call someone who is elderly, who perhaps isn’t up to speed on technology, and just make conversation, ask if they need anything, make sure that as we are all isolated, that no one feels alone.
It was sad to not have people in church this past Sunday. However, I took joy in the challenge of how to bring the liturgical experience to people in their homes. I was more focused and thankful. And if we have to do Holy Week like this, and only time will tell, I will focus more on rejoicing in the challenge of how to make it meaningful, more than over the loss of having no people there. Let’s focus on the positives by being creative!
Lord, thank You for creating me with a creative mind. Bring creative thoughts to my mind as to how to best preserve my spiritual life until I can worship in church again; for how to maintain friendships until I can share them in person; for how to accomplish work from home. Help me to be calm in the face of uncertainty. Help me to remember others and to do my part to help everyone stay connected. Amen.
Prayer of Protection from the Coronavirus
(Prayer by Grace Bishop Alexis (Trader) of Bethesda)
O God Almighty, Lord of heaven and earth, and of all creation visible and invisible, in Your ineffable goodness, look down upon Your people gathered in Your name. Be our helper and defender in this day of affliction. You know our weakness. You hear our cry in repentance and contrition of heart. O Lord who loves mankind deliver us from the impending threat of the corona virus. Send Your Angel to watch over us and protect us. Grant health and recovery to those suffering from this virus. Guide the hands of physicians, and preserve those who are healthy that we may continue to serve You in peace and glorify Your most honorable and majestic Name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Be creative! And when we get back to church, let’s all sing. After all, the secret church ended nearly 200 years ago!
The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! There you may find a database for past prayer team messages as well as books by Fr. Stavros and other information about his work and St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.