It is with great difficulty that I relate to you the most recent turn of events affecting our life as a community: I have decided that we will not be holding any Eucharistic worship services in the temple at Holy Trinity over the period of Holy Week this year. This same decision applies as well to services at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. This decision, which I was led to by the wise counsel of the other parish clergy and of my spiritual father, is based primarily on the principle of solidarity. If the vast majority of our parish cannot participate in our collective sacramental life, then it seems good that the rest of us should abstain as well.
Now it will not be only some of us, but in fact all of us, who know what the psalmists meant when they wrote, “my soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (84:2) or again “as the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after Thee” (42:1) or again “behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” (133:1). Now it is not some of us who will be deprived, but rather all of us. Now it will not be some of us who are unable to walk beneath the winding sheet or to process around the church at midnight with candles in our hands and hearts aflame: it will be all.
Now it is not some of us who will not receive Holy Communion at the liturgies of Great and Holy Thursday, Saturday, and Pascha: it will be all.
So we, then, will be united in suffering and in longing. And it is our hope that we will emerge from this period of time with a new hunger for the divine services and a new thirst for the Christ’s holy teachings. One thing that I think we can say from this is that it will be a long time before any of us is again tempted to take the services of the Church for granted. Let us remember and give thanks to God for the blessings and opportunities we uniquely have in our local situation.
In my short time in Alaska, I was once tasked with flying out to the priestless “house church” in Quin-hagak, a brotherhood of around 30 souls. It had been over a year since a priest had come to them when I arrived. Can you imagine the hunger for the holy mysteries that such people must feel? All of them confessed; all communed. Many of them brought their non-Orthodox neighbors to the services. We served services and blessed homes constantly in our short stay. And these are not alone in the history of the world. There are many Orthodox Christians who have to travel for hours to attend services. And it has occurred to me from the study of history, that there have even been some Orthodox Christians in remote parts of the world who were baptized as infants by their parents and have lived whole lives never being able to be chrismated, let alone to receive the holy gifts! So let us, brothers and sisters, remember how blessed we are and remember what great responsibilities we have on account of this: to God, to the world, and to each other.
There will be many ways we will observe Holy Week together as a community. Through technology, we will hear the readings of Holy Week, culminating with the 12 Passion Gospels on Thursday night and of the Old Testament prophecies on Holy Saturday morning, and concluding with Agape Vespers on Pascha night. For information on how to participate, call (814) 231-2855; no computer is needed. And since the Saturday Open Houses are for all the faithful, we will continue this practice. At the Open House on Lazarus Saturday, we will distribute blessed palms to all who want them; on Holy Saturday we will bless your Paschal baskets.
I have asked that all parishioners be commemorated before the Lamb at the Paschal Liturgy at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. Before your home altars, please remember each other as well—a continually-updated prayer list can be found at holytrinity-oca.org/commemorations. To add names to either list, email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the Parish Office. May God remember us, bring us salvation, preserve us from this present calamity, and lead us back together in peace, health and concord.
I have been deeply impressed with the spiritual maturity of all the faithful who have contacted me expressing a desire that the services go on, even if they are themselves forbidden to enter or to partake. The liturgies, dear and beloved, will go on, not just in cloistered monasteries, but in Heaven, where there is an everlasting Pascha under the gentle light of the never-setting Sun. Our in-person services are cancelled. Our building is closed. But Christ is still risen, glory be to God
From the Rector’s Desk,