My beloved flock. Glory to Jesus Christ. Below you'll find a couple of things: First, my words summarizing the latest directive from Archbishop Benjamin to the priests of our diocese, which changes a number of things in His Eminence's last directive, previously summarized. It definitely is stricter in measures of not gathering. Next, a couple of links to important websites through which very edifying and helpful words are given you. You have noticed, I'm sure, that the particular articles, from respected Orthodox elders and teachers share a similar quality: they look at the present sufferings and difficulties on a very deep and humble plane. You must know that this is not a diversion, or "being positive," nor is it a distraction from real suffering, pain, loneliness and trial. Yesterday, I was trying to catch up on people I knew in College. A certain friend that later became a Protestant pastor was addressing his flock in a very consoling way through a Psalm. Yet, he led his reflections by saying that God has nothing to do with the Corona Virus. This is just the devil wreaking havoc. I'm sure that my friend has more to say than this 4 minute post, and I won't judge his theology on the basis of it. But this is absolutely a perspective that I, as an Orthodox priest, could not teach. Like several of you who have contacted me, I too, have shed my share of tears: sometimes in a deep sense of connection to one or the other heroic act or heart-breaking suffering and, sometimes, frankly, just rather selfishly over the things that I am being deprived of. But, because of the great connection with our Orthodox Tradition, I have entertained an idea that God "has nothing to do with this". I needn't give you a version of "why," just read Archbishop Makarios' words at this line and your heart will truly meet the Real Gospel, the Real Lord: https://greekcitytimes.com/2020/04/02/archbishop-makarios-every-trial-in-life-is-an-opportunity-for-the-christian-to-become-a-better-person/. The second link is to a site hosting the full life of Mary of Egypt. The article that I sent you from Archimandrite Zacharias referenced it. It is among the most inspiring of lives of the Saints, and an icon of repentance in this, the 5th week of Lent. Night before last, I chanted the whole of the Canon of St. Andrew. It, with it's references to St. Mary of Egypt, along with the weekend being dedicated to her memory, is so marvelous. Here is the link: https://stmaryofegypt.org/files/library/life.htm.
A couple of other housekeeping items. By the Archbishop's blessing, I can hear your confessions by phone and absolve you of sins by telephone. Normally all of you come to confession during Lent. That need not change in any way, as we have a couple of weeks for us to be able connect through the means the Archbishop blessed. Please call or text to arrange a time for your Lenten confession. Secondly, I am grateful to Peter H. for having put together the Reader's service for the next two Sundays. I will forward that to you under separate cover. For now, please take advantage of the two links of teaching above (let me know if you have trouble connecting ) and check our website- especially the weekly bulletin. If you prefer to stream live services rather than read the Reader's Service, we're trying to get up to speed and hope to do so by next Sunday (our palm Sunday). For now our diocesan cathedral is streaming at holy-trinity.org. Here are my words adapting the Archbishop's directive:Archbishop Benjamin’s latest Directive– my beloved flock. I received more correspondence from our Archbishop that has radically revised his last. Things, as you yourselves know, develop daily. His Eminence, in consultation with the Metropolitan and the Synod of Bishops, has rescinded the previous directive to administer Holy Communion in small groups on Palm Sunday, Holy Saturday and PASCHA morning. The danger is just too great to spread the virus through the air or means OTHER than Holy Communion Itself-even if we take all the hygienic precautions that are being advised in addition to our shelter-in-place state mandate; this virus is just too contagious and with fatal consequences for those whose health is compromised. His Eminence is allowing services of Holy Week to be served only by persons who are not ill and at each Rector’s discretion and particular situation. In order to minimize risk, that means preferably by the rector and his family (who are one family unit), but, when not possible, by one or two members of individual families who are needed to serve and sing (with no more than 4 and preferably 3, including the Priest). In our case, that means, most ideally, Matushka (as much as she can, individually), Director Karen (with Scott if his shoulder injury can bear it, because they’re one family unit), and Peter (where the Archbishop’s directive more suitably fits with he and I doing a given service). In addition we will employ one of our appointed ushers to watch the front door. We are not to combine families in the performance of these privileges (no trio of our best singers from different families, for example) We are also to limit as much as is possible rotating different persons into the mix. This minimizes the risk of spreading the virus to multiple families. We are allowed to stream and we have ordered a camera and appointed Mary Mac. as the tech person in charge of setting that up and supervising. This fits well with the only piece of government information that we Californians have for churches: that streaming may be done (assuming no larger gatherings, which are clearly proscribed, and even illegal). This year is unprecedented for our experience of Lent, Holy Week and Pascha. Several of you have contacted me to tell of how hard this is for you. Let me assure you that it is very hard for His Eminence to make this decision. As a District Dean, I am in a closer contact with His Eminence. It is painful! However, I have tried to forward you reflections from people known to be great spiritual leaders in the Orthodox world that take our disappointment to a deeper plane and will help us to appreciate this new ’normal’ deeper level.