It seems like ages since the last time this blog has seen contribution.
The world has changed. Many of us have accepted the idea of a “new normal,” while many of us have done everything in our power to maintain our old normalcy.
It has been a difficult year for the entire world. It has been an even more difficult year for the Church.
During the height of the COVID pandemic, I maintained that there was a time for theology and a time for Christian unity and preservation. The time for theological debate was suspended during the height of this pandemic, and so unity, as Christians, became the foundational cornerstone for overcoming the adversity we faced and are now facing as a Church and as a professing Christian community.
There are many challenges before us. On the one hand, worldwide governments have, in many respects, highjacked our parishes. They have assumed the role of Deacon, Priest, and Bishop, dictating through countless unilateral mandates how we are to conduct our liturgies, what is permissible in our daily practice of faith, and when we are given the permission to meet for fellowship around the Eucharistic Table. For all intents and purposes, governmental authorities have governed how we are to conduct worship and have defined what our Christian Faith is legally able to consist of. Our governmental authorities, for the first time to this extent, in 2,000 years, have redefined our Christian Traditions as if they have superseded the Apostles and God-bearers of our Holy Churches. The worst part? We didn’t ask for it—no. Many of us begged for it.
The ambience of fear has persisted for months, and it’s cloud has been set upon the world, and even more specifically, upon the Church. Fear has become an idol beyond all idols, and it has become plainly evident that fear, in this current situation, has even surpassed the Christian’s commitment to God and His Church.
Now before you stop reading, I don’t write this as a condemnation, but as an exhortation in love and in true concern for the salvation of souls, so I hope you’ll continue to read and give serious consideration to these words. We have much to be grateful for, even despite this difficult season in our lives. For so many families who lived incredibly busy lives prior to the pandemic, they were given a real chance to experience community within their own immediate family. Many of us got to know our children and spouses with extreme intimacy, living together and not being separated for any portion of the day. Likewise, many of us were reminded of the true value of our freedom, and even more appropriately, our freedom to worship freely. Many of us confronted our fear of death and suffering, and were reminded of its powerlessness against us as Christians. But above all things, many of us found ourselves running after Christ, seeking His Kingdom and finding ways to continue to be lights to this darkening world.
We also bore witness to a tragic turn of events in the essential cancellation of physically gathering as an entire Community for the Great Pachal Feast. Many of us watched while our venerable hierarchs single-handedly made provisions for millennia-old traditions maintained under every calamity imaginable. We were barred from venerating icons and relics in many of our parishes, as if the decree of one or two hierarchs superseded that of the 7th Ecumenical Council Fathers. To further illustrate the absurdity of this sort of determination, it would be akin to being temporarily barred from reciting the Nicene Creed for the sake of “not scandalizing our weaker brethren.” In many places, Holy Unction, the Sacrament of Healing, was withheld during Holy Week, running counter to its rational purpose of providing healing through grace during a time in which people needed it most—during a pandemic. In so many ways, logic and rationale was flipped upside down and inside out, and to say that this has all caused a cloud of confusion in the Church and in our Liturgical lives would be a massive understatement.
Today is a different day, however.
While most of us became polarized to one extreme or the other, all of that seems to now be largely inconsequential. The time for repentance has come and it is now upon us. This is not to say that we shouldn’t always be in a state of repentance, but many of us, whether right or wrong in our own judgment, have forsaken one another to various degrees. Our communities have forsaken one another to various degrees.
As we approach Forgiveness Sunday and the Sunday of Orthodoxy, we ought to contemplate within our minds and souls our own sin and injustices. We ought to contemplate how we affected those around us. We ought to seek restoration and reconciliation with our brothers and sisters because it is the God-glorifying thing to do, and in doing so, we shall once again achieve a unity that is so critical to the foundation of our Church and that is so crucial to ensuring that whatever calamities come next, we are prepared as a community of God to persevere through them together.
We cannot achieve this monumental but necessary disposition as a divided Body, and we cannot be forgiven by God unless we first forgive one another.
Some believe we are living in a time of judgment. May God have mercy on us if it be so. One thing is for certain though: we should always be living in a time of repentance. That time is now.
Be reconciled to one another, brothers and sisters, for we may not be afforded another hour to make reconciliation before God and fellow man.
I am reminded of a story about St. Anthony the Great:
Abba Anthony heard of a very young monk who had performed
a miracle on the road. Seeing the old men walking with
difficulty along the road, he ordered the wild asses to come and
carry them until they reached Abba Anthony. Those whom they
had carried told Abba Anthony about it. He said to them, ‘This
monk seems to me to be a ship loaded with goods but I do not know
if he will reach harbour.’ After a while, Anthony suddenly began
to weep, to tear his hair and lament. His disciples said to him, ‘Why
are you weeping, Father?’ and the old man replied, Ά great pillar
of the Church has just fallen (he meant the young monk) but go
to him and see what has happened.’ So the disciples went and
found the monk sitting on a mat and weeping for the sin he had
committed. Seeing the disciples of the old man he said, ‘Tell
the old man to pray that God will give me just ten days and I
hope I will have made satisfaction.’ But in the space of five days
May God have mercy on us, and may He grant us the necessary time we need to repent and receive His forgiveness and that of one another.
Forgive me, the sinner. Blessed Lent!