Pastoral Letter March 15, 2020

Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:22-31

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

May our God Who is All-Wise, All-Merciful and All-Loving, keep you in His steadfast care. For He loves you in immeasurable ways and demonstrates that love through innumerable miracles. 

Unlike my usual, round-about style of eventually getting to a point, this evening, I’m going to dive directly and immediately into the deep waters of faith, struggle, doubts and pressure.

Coronavirus has occupied much of our time, energies, worries, buying patterns and rational limitations as of late.

For weeks now, we have been monitoring this strange looking virus. Firstly with curiosity. Curiosity begat interest. Interest begat concern. Concern begat fear. Fear begat panic. Panic begat a national toilet paper shortage. It has now become a part of our daily lexicon. Every hour we await updates. Every child awaits school closures. This has gone from nothing to bad to worse in an instant.

So naturally, when words like “pandemic” and phrases like “unknown properties,” no vaccine” and “travel bans” emerge; not through fictional dramas, but through the evening news, we stand up, take notice and respond. 

We respond in a myriad of different ways. We respond through rational thought. We respond through panic mode. We respond through prayer. We respond through faith. 

We also respond through action. 

Your Archdiocese, Metropolis and local parish leadership have devised and implemented ways in which the spread of Coronavirus can be mitigated. We have done practical things like removing books from pews, increased the sanitation of surfaces and advised against kissing anyone or anything within the church. These are difficult and unnatural directives for Orthodox Christians. But they are practices that make sense right now in uncertain times. 

We are complying with state guidelines and have temporarily halted all non-liturgical gatherings at St. Anna’s for the next two weeks. Longer than that, actually. For the next two Sundays. No Sunday School. No Fellowship Hour. No Retreats. No Potluck Dinners and Speaking Engagements. We are practicing social distancing and we are doing our part to stop the spread of contamination and being responsible citizens of our community. We are asking our elderly and vulnerable to stay away. We are especially asking the sick to wait until symptoms have passed before returning to church.

That is the easy part. Washing our hands more frequently and greeting each other with awkward elbow bumps is changed behavior, but not too taxing.

To be sure, there are countless inconveniences, disappointments, spoiled plans, lost opportunities and financial burdens that are only beginning to be realized due to the necessary efforts to contain a ravishing bug. There are championships that will never be won, graduations that will never be held and concerts that will never be played.

Thousands of people have passed away, infected with Coronavirus. May their Memories be Eternal. May their families find comfort. May their loss be filled by God’s Grace.

This is hard. It’s likely going to get harder. But what are these difficulties doing to you and what is stirring within you? As Orthodox Christians, what is troubling you?

Communion.

The Eucharist.

The Common Spoon and Common Chalice.

Our practice of the Eucharist has caused allot of commotion and has been the topic of hotly-contested debate.

It is alright that you have questions. Even doubts. But I strongly urge you to pray about these questions and doubts and come to your own conclusions and find your own answers. I am only here to provide some context and guidance. 

The Church of Greece has recently issued a couple statements that have been ridiculed in secular society. They came out and said without hesitation that “The Coronavirus cannot be spread through Holy Communion.” That is an absolute statement. Some find comfort in that statement. Some find it to be dismissive,  dangerous and preposterous. I, for one, am comforted by such a statement, not offended or alarmed. The Church says that Prayer is the answer to the virus. People are yet again offended by such a thought.

Believe me, it’s taxing on our faith when we read other quotes like “germs don’t live in wine” and “Jesus never got sick.” Silly, quippy statements do not help our cause or calm our fears. 

But really, can we believe for one moment, that the very Body and Blood of Christ –  the source of immortality, the Mystical Supper, the Promise of the Age to Come, the Consecrated Gifts, our Communion with our Savior – can we believe that sickness is lurking there? Is contamination interwoven with Grace? Can filth dominate Perfection? Is the Source of Life beholden to the sting of death? Is the Son of Man enslaved to the natural order that He, Himself created? 

Can you get sick from Holy Communion? No.

My beloved in the Lord, the secular world looks upon these words as reckless and irresponsible. I get that. I understand that. But I have a faith in the power of Jesus Christ and a knowledge that the Eucharist is the very Body and Blood of Christ. This is His promise. Not mine. “That whomsoever believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:15).

Our Archbishop, our Metropolitan and your priest have said, basically the same thing the Church of Greece has said, perhaps not in the same way. Yes, we removed books. Indeed, we refrain from kissing sacred objects. To be sure, we have limited our social interaction. But our liturgical life and practice of Communion will go on, uninterrupted and undeterred.

That said, you decide what you wish to do with this information. I do not insist that you receive. God forbid! How could I? But if you choose not to receive at this time, do it because:

You are not prepared.

You have not confessed.

You are un-reconciled with your Brother or Sister in Christ.

Even now, pious dentists who would never share uncleaned instruments between patients, receive Communion Joyfully. Even now, faithful doctors partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. Even now, men and women of science have a greater faith in the power of God than a fear that His promises are false.

The Communion practices of the Orthodox Church are not to change. I will prepare, consecrate and distribute the Holy Mysteries of Christ, as has been handed down through the ages. I will personally consume the remaining portions of Communion from a chalice and with a spoon that has been used by the entire faith community. Coronavirus notwithstanding, I would be sick every week and after every Liturgy if consuming from a common chalice was dangerous. Or using a common spoon was gross. Who do you think finishes the remainder of Communion following the Liturgy? The priest and deacon. I thank Him for that precious responsibility. I do not quiver or fall away because of it. 

In the dark of night, and in the midst of the storm, Christ told Peter, as the disciple took his eyes off of the Savior, and was pulled out from the consuming waves,

“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 

Let us not fall into the same trap. Coronavirus and countless other challenges will befall us. It is He Who saves. Not He who infects.

With Much Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony Savas

PLEASE BE ADVISED:

YOUR WEEKLY BULLETIN AND LENTEN SCHEDULE CONTAIN INFORMATION THAT IS OUTDATED, DUE TO OUR CANCELATION OF SOCIAL, NON-LITURGICAL ACTIVITIES AND GATHERINGS OF THE PARISH. PLEASE CONSULT THE PARISH APP FOR UPDATED CALENDAR INFORMATION.