“To ensure compliance with the Government’s instruction to stay at home, we will immediately …. stop all social events, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies, but excluding funerals.” (Prime Minister’s address to the nation on coronavirus: 23 March 2020.
The latest recommendations by the Prime Minister to ensure the containment of the current pandemic have now included the closure of churches for all public services other than funerals, which would even be restricted to the immediate family of the deceased. He has specified that baptisms and weddings should no longer take place until the pandemic has begun to clear. Whilst these measures are of a grievous nature in restricting the sacramental life of the Church they are intended to protect the life and well-being of worshippers, so they are definitely not anti-Christian.
Although it is the privilege and duty of all Christian men and women to engage and participate in the offering of divine worship to the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity, this consists of both public and private worship. As Christians, constituting the ‘Body of Christ’, daily prayer and intercession is an essential part of our spiritual life so when we are unable to worship corporately with our brethren we should still, as belonging to the Communion of Saints, invoke the prayers and participation of the angels and saints and the Mother of God, through Sacrifice, Adoration, Petition and Thanksgiving. As Orthodox Christians we enjoy the additional blessing of the Holy Ikons as the presence and manifestation of the Divine to express the meeting of God with humanity.
The ‘Prayer of Thanksgiving’, which is a regular component of our liturgical worship, is one of the most profound prayers, because it reflects our heartfelt devotion towards our beneficent and merciful God, the Father of our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. It is of great importance to begin our prayers with praise and thanksgiving because it gratifies God and supplicates Him to come among us to accept our prayers. We also proclaim all the great and wonderful things that God has done for mankind and also does for each of us all day and at each moment, for He has “protected us, succoured us, preserved us, purchased us unto Himself, had compassion upon us, sustained us and brought us unto this hour.”
As Christians with a humble and thankful spirit we can see all these sublime things that God, the Lover of mankind, does for us and to thank Him for watching over us in every way, asking Him and entreating His goodness to have mercy and compassion upon us, that He will hear us, sustain us and accept the prayers and supplications of His saints on our behalf, for our good at all times, and that He will forgive us our sins. Faced with the current crisis we pray that all envy, all temptation, all the work of Satan, the counsel of wicked men, the rising up of enemies, hidden or manifest, will be cast away from us and from all His people, and that such things as are good and beneficial for us, will be bestowed upon us, because He is the one Who has given to us the power to trample underfoot serpents and scorpions and all the power of the Enemy. However, by contrast the ungodly, who are full of pride, will attribute everything good to their own works and ability and will not offer thanks to God but rather merely groan and complain.
The fact that these restrictions will extend during Holy Week and the Feast of Holy Pascha, when we traditionally commemorate the Passion and Glorious Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ with extensive liturgical worship, is a tragedy, but we need to remind ourselves that each Sunday or Lord’s day is in itself a commemoration of His Resurrection, so that the temporary loss of public worship at this time will not prevent us from proclaiming and celebrating it at other times throughout the year. Equally, the temporary suspension of the celebration of the Divine Liturgy on earth will not diminish the paradisaical banquet which is the celebration of the Celestial Liturgy at the holy and mystical altar in the heavenly Jerusalem, in which Christ glorified as the great High-Priest and the Lamb of God, surrounded by the Cherubim and Seraphim and the Church triumphant, is seated on the throne, as minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle.
Despite the restrictions imposed on the Church by the pandemic, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it and we shall continue steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship. As God declares to His people, “I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds” (Jeremiah XXXI 17) we shall “wait upon the Lord Who will renew our strength” (Isaiah XL: 31).
Metropolitan of Glastonbury