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The President of the United States echoed what many are saying across the nation— that houses of worship are essential and must re-open.
In California, more than a thousand pastors from various— predominantly Pentecostal Christian denominations— even threatened an angry lawsuit against that State’s governor, Gavin Newsom and loud voices are continuing to grow across the nation, particularly now that the President has used the pulpit of the West Wing to send his defiant message— even threatening to override the governors’ orders.
If Costco and Starbucks are essential to the functioning of society, so too are houses of worship, they are saying. If liquor stores and beauty salons are essential— so are churches!
And they’re 100% correct… And everywhere across this great nation, Christian Churches are continuing to provide the essential functions that they have been called to do.
Churches never stopped being essential. They were never stopped from doing what Jesus commanded them to do.
No one has stopped a church from feeding the hungry, or tending to the needs of the poor and the sick. Social media is full of great examples of how Greek Orthodox parishes, Philoptochos chapters and youth groups throughout the nation are helping the vulnerable— just as Christ has commanded all Christians to do.
No government has stopped priests from conducting services— albeit behind closed doors but still connected to their communities thanks to the power of technology.
Especially in times of distress— Churches are, and have been, providing essential services. No government has forbidden this and this is, after all, the message of Christ, isn’t it? It’s about serving others and not ourselves.
On the contrary, even under harsh restrictive measures with physical buildings shuttered and gatherings prohibited, Greek Orthodox Christians are still able to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and live his commands. They are still able to “worship” Christ in countless ways without being inside a building.
Archbishop Elpidophoros of America set the example by establishing a $500,000 Covid-19 Relief Fund that will assist the most vulnerable people of our community and beyond.
Inspired by the story of the first Greek settlers in America in the 1700s who found protection in St. Augustine, Florida, Bishop Demetrios at the St. Photios National Shrine sought to share protection in the form of more than 800 masks that were sent to all clergy in the Archdiocese.
At my home parish, Fr. Chrysanthos Kerkeres and a network of community and business leaders have been delivering meals to first responders and sick people throughout the city and continuously checking in with members of the parish with regular wellness checks.
Continuing in their nearly-century long tradition, the Philoptochos Society made emergency cash contributions to food banks and launched an extensive outreach program to assist people throughout the nation who are in need of material and emotional support.
In New Rochelle, a town in New York that became an epicenter of the virus in March, Despina Karston and her team at the local Philoptochos Chapter didn’t run to the safety of their homes and hunker down. No. They mobilized and immediately began serving the broader community’s first responders and healthcare workers.
These are but a few examples that prove that worship and being a Christian is not confined to ritual and liturgies.
Everyone misses getting together and participating in the Divine Services and Holy Sacraments which are an integral part of the journey of Greek Orthodox Christians.
But when Christ spoke about love, I doubt he was talking about loving ourselves to the point of prioritizing our own desires and spiritual nourishment over the well-being of the community, not to mention the most vulnerable.
Is it Christian-like to demand public gatherings that public health officials have warned could put people’s lives at risk? Is it Christian-like to impose upon the clergy— many of whom are well into their 70s and 80s— and to risk their own health for our spiritual satisfaction? Just so we can get a palm cross, or a lit candle?
I echo the words of Fr. Mike Kinman of All Saints Church in California in an online sermon he gave to his community.
“Do we miss gathering in our worship space as an entire community? Absolutely! We share the pain of those who want to pour into their worship spaces. We long for being together in that way. And … prioritizing our desires over the safety of the community is not love. It’s self-centeredness … and it’s deadly.”
Watching all of the self-centered whiners on Facebook demand to go to church, demand to receive Holy Communion and even threaten to leave the Greek Orthodox Church for another jurisdiction reminds me of a conversation I had with my 95 year old uncle in Crete during Holy Week.
My Uncle Manolis is a very devout man and to this day, regularly attends the Church of the Evangelistria in Hania— the same church where my parents were married in 1962 and the same Church he’s attended all his life.
I asked him how he was handling being in quarantine and not being able to attend services.
He chuckled as he proceeded to tell me a story.
“My son (paidi mou) God isn’t in that building and we don’t need that building to be close to God. God is wherever we are,” Uncle Manolis proceeded to tell me.
During World War II when the Nazis invaded and occupied Crete, my uncle recalls a rogue priest who defied orders prohibiting assembly and celebrated a liturgy in the neighborhood Church. It was the beginning of the occupation in 1941 and the Nazis established curfews on the local population.
“That day,” my uncle told me, “was the last service for three entire years. The Germans became so angry at this priest that they shot him in front of all of us and locked the doors of the Church with a chain.”
“We didn’t have services, we didn’t have communion, we didn’t lift lambades to proclaim the Resurrection of Christ for three consecutive years,” my uncle continued. “And that distance from the church didn’t make us weaker— no, it made us stronger in our faith.”
Think of it. Three whole years. No church. No communion— and back then, they didn’t even have live-streaming. Three entire years— and we’re complaining about two months.
Demanding to gather for liturgies and services that put lives in danger is not a way to honor Jesus Christ.
Organizing homeless meal deliveries and tending to sick and vulnerable people in your community is a way to honor Jesus Christ. Picking up the phone to call the elderly people in your community and ask if they need anything— that’s a way to “worship” Jesus Christ.
The President and numerous others have said Churches are essential.
I agree— but their essential purpose isn’t to serve individual desires of cry-babies demanding God’s love. Their essential purpose is to serve and protect the well-being of the greater community and share the very love that Jesus Christ himself commanded all Christians to share.
And when doctors, public health experts and officials tasked with protecting the public have determined that it is safe to gather, churches can continue their other calling– the liturgical and sacramental calling. In the meantime, we all have plenty to keep busy with if we want to follow in Jesus Christ’s footsteps.
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