Peace to you, beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ!
Our Bishop Vsevolod traveled to Yekaterinburg, where he celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation in the parish of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, with assistance of priests Alexey Trapeznikov and Sergey Glushkov. At the beginning of his sermon, the Bishop said,
We still don’t know much about coronavirus, and because of this, as a result, there is a lot of panic and chaos around us. Universities and schools are closed now. In the grocery stores crowds are running to grab as much food as they can. We are told to put on masks and walk more than two meters from each other. We are also told not to gather in groups of more than fifty people.
In Moscow, the Roman Catholic Archbishop called on his parishioners to stop going to church services. I quote from his decree: “We urge the faithful to abstain from physical participation in the liturgy, to fast as a way to strengthen faith, to trust in God and to show solidarity with those who, due to the epidemic or distances, are deprived of the opportunity to participate in the Mass.”
You know, after all, we also have a lot of such parishioners who are so “fasting” (in quotation marks), almost all year abstaining “from physical participation in the liturgies.” More precisely, those who forget about the Church and not go to services. But it never leads to any strengthening of faith, because nothing can lead to the strengthening of faith except for the ways that God himself has established. These ways are: the word and the sacraments.
Honestly, I was surprised by this decree and I am glad that I am not a Roman Catholic (although during normal times I am quite open to ecumenical contacts between traditional denominations).
The problem is that when we declare that we stop celebrating the liturgy due to sanitary reasons, we hereby declare that our sacraments are unsanitary and can harm people. Can you say that about the Eucharist? The Eucharist is, as the ancients said, a medicine of immortality. The medicine. The most beneficial medicine of all medicines that exist in our world.
Because all other medicines in this world can only facilitate your temporary existence on this earth. They can only delay your death. But the Eucharist will give you the life, abundant life, eternal life, whatever happens to you.
So thank you for joining the liturgy today. Actually, today I was supposed to be in Moscow, to celebrate the Annunciation there together with Father Ivan. It is a parish festival there. There our parish is called as the parish of Annunciation. But we do not have our own premise there, we have to rent it. And the owners of the premise closed it for the quarantine. So there are no more normal services there, and the priest will go to give the Holy Communion to the parishioners in their homes.
How long all this will be continue on? We do not know. Six months? A year? No one can say for how long we will hide from the coronavirus.
There are two options, two approaches to the situation. A common way: to hide everyone. This is done almost everywhere, all over the world. The problem is that the virus is not going to leave, and people do not have and will not have the corresponding immunity. Therefore, when sooner or later we will leave our apartments, in six months or in a year, the virus will be waiting for us, and we will become infected.
(Although there is still a chance that scientists will be able to create a vaccine; they promise to do that, it seems, in a year).
Other (risky) option: not to hide. And get sick. Positive side is that we will have immunity. Disadvantage: everyone with poor health could die.
So here is such a problem in our world now. This is unexpected; even back in February, we planned trips and vacations and all sorts of entertainment. And now we don’t know how not to “die” of boredom with a bunch of children in our tiny apartments, and “yet our eyes failed, looking for help was useless,” and the coronavirus “hunted our steps so that we could not walk in our streets” (from Lament. 4:17-18).
The world is increasingly filled with anxiety. There is an ever-growing “dismay among nations and perplexity” on earth, and people “fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world” (Luke 21:25-26).
But so even more we cannot stay outside of the Church. Those who leave her, sooner or later forget about her. And the Church cannot be “virtual” or “online,” because no one will offer you the Eucharist from a TV screen or from a laptop monitor.
If we hide, then it will be like “if one falls, and there is no one who lifts him” (from Eccl. 4:10).
Our Lord has come into this world to “lift those who fell.” Not just to lift us up, but to raise us to the eternal life in the Heaven. “The Son of Man has come to save that which was lost” (Matt. 18:11). Not some abstract “lost,” but to save you and me, us who were lost. In Christ, we will stand, we will go through all the hardships of this world, and enter the Heaven. Without Christ, no matter how much we hide from evil viruses, we will be captured by one or another. Maybe it will not be a coronavirus, but some other plague. Maybe we will even be able to hide from every physical danger here on earth and live our short life without any extraordinary illnesses. But what will happen next? After all, sooner or later our earthly path will end anyway.
The most important thing is that when a Christian closes his (her) eyes on this earth, he (she) immediately opens them in the Kingdom of Heaven. For this purpose the Church exists. To lift you when you fall, to nourish you with the Eucharist, so that you might not “faint on the way” (Matt. 15:32), so that you reach the Heaven.
So try to attend the church services. And if it is difficult, call the priest, he will come and give the Holy Communion to you at your home. We exist for you; God has put us in the service of you; we have no other purpose in life than to save you.
Please pray for the Siberian Lutheran clergymen who travel to visit remote parishes during this difficult time. And please be healthy yourself, and pray with us that this difficult time soon end.
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“Faith and hope”