Spiritual April Report
Empty Parking Lots and Pews
This year began with the concluding feasts and commemorations connected with the Birth of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. On the final weekend of January, we then began looking ahead to Great Lent. We heard the Gospel about the tax collector named Zacchaeus who had the desire to see Jesus as He passed by, and was blessed when Our Lord stopped, looked up at him in the tree, and invited Himself to be a guest at the tax collector’s home.
One month later, at the end of February, we heard of the final directives given to begin the Great Fast on February 24. We spent three weeks celebrating the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, Lenten services and two special days to pray for our deceased loved ones as we marked the second and third All Souls Saturdays. During these weeks we began getting news reports that a virus, the Coronavirus, was being contracted by people first in China, then in European countries, including Italy. It was reported that Pope Francis was streaming his talks; that the Vatican Square was almost completely void of faithful and the Sistine Chapel was closed to all pilgrims.
A week later we reached the mid-point of Great Lent. The cross of Christ, decorated with flowers, was again placed on the tetrapod in our churches. It was during the Divine Liturgies that we heard the Gospel of Saint Mark the Evangelist (6:34-38) “If a man wishes to come after me, he must deny his very self, take up his cross, and follow in my steps.” I had mentioned at the Divine Liturgies that weekend that according to the news reports that the Coronavirus, now named COVID-19 was spreading to other countries, including the United States. I then mentioned that the cross that we were to take up would be different this year, and that reports began to come our way that we would have to take precautions against what was now a pandemic.
Little did we know then that those precautions would actually close the doors of our churches throughout our Metropolitan Province. We have only now been one week into this sad time of looking at empty pews inside and empty parking lots outside our churches. I am limited to praying by myself in church and have commemorated the deceased of our parishes and our deceased loved ones in an empty church on the Fourth All Souls Saturday. You have had to likewise pray in your homes, have possibly watched the steaming Sunday and Lenten Liturgies from those churches that have the capacity to video-stream to your personal computers, iPads and smart phones.
As I write this article, our celebration of the Feast of the Annunciation to the Mother of God by the Angel Gabriel is taking on a different tone today without a public celebration of the Vespers and Liturgy of this great feast. It was hopefully reported that this “Pandemic Cross” might pass by in time for our commemoration of Great and Holy Week and our joyful celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as a parish family but it appears more likely that we will not be able to celebrate this Great Feast together, because of the continued spread of this disease! It will be very difficult for the clergy to see empty pews and parking lots at this time! It will be difficult for the faithful to spend this time in joyful celebration without their fellow parishioners, and possibly without even members of their family and friends at Eastertime.
By the time you read this article, I hope that our prayers today and the days that follow will be for the end of this pandemic. It is also my prayer that we will never again have to celebrate the feasts and fasts away from our beloved churches; and that parking lots outside our churches will be filled with far more vehicles than even before, while far more people fill the pews of our churches and give thanks that this pandemic, our cross, has passed!
Very Rev. Richard I. Lambert