These are strange times. In many countries, we have been asked or forced to remain at home. Religious gatherings have been either advised against or outright cancelled. Some Church bodies are doing so out of caution, some out of obligation to their civil authorities. Some are finding refuge in the catacombs, as it were. Some are finding their communities on the internet. We are all encouraged to pray.
There is an unusual opportunity here. Can this provide a common experience through which we can speak across Church boundaries? Can we use this experience to further our dialogue about what it means to be Christians in the world? Can we, having been brought out of our habits that keep the blinders focused on our own daily needs and communities, seek something greater together?
I, for one, am concerned about what this time away from Church as status quo will do the lukewarm among us. I predict that our numbers “after the storm” will be fewer- reduced to the already devout, and many will have adopted a new habit of life without Church. What can we do when the “New Evangelization” (as our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters call it) is the only thing we can do – when digital outreach, catechisis, and mystagogy is our only means?
Is there a chance that we can seek strength through our Common Bonds in Christ? Can we learn from one another as we venture into this new reality? Could it be possible to actually seek Communion in common with one another for the sake of the whole world?
Over these coming weeks, we’ll explore just that. We will be talking to leaders and faithful of Churches around the globe and seek answers to these questions – together.
It is a beautiful thing when voices come together and dialogue can take shape. That is what the Urbi et Orbi Foundation is based on – dialogue so that the prayer of Jesus “that all may be one” (John 17:21) can come closer to reality.
There are glimpses even now. Love is being shown as societies try to grapple with stores running low on groceries and daily necessities, as schools close and students from families in poverty who rely on meals from their cafeterias are now home and hungry, as small businesses and service workers are suffering from lack of work with their customers taking refuge at home.
His Eminence Cardinal Peter Turkson, Roman Catholic Prefect of the Dicastery for promoting Integral Human Development, the coronavirus emergency “is a propitious time to understand the value of fraternity and of our bonds with each other in an indissoluble way”.
The Romanian Orthodox Patriarch spoke of such love in his homily from this past Sunday found here: https://panorthodoxsynod.blogspot.com/…/patriarch-daniel-tr…
“This isolation and quarantine need not be considered as estrangement,” noted Patriarch Daniel, “but an opportunity to enhance communion, our humble love of God and our merciful love of our peers. Therefore, we must pray and work not only for the health of our souls and bodies but also for the health of our fellows. These rules that the authorities have imposed are aimed at preventing the transmission of the disease, and at the same time, taking care of our neighbor: not to transmit this virus and thus contribute to the deterioration of their health.”
Princeton Seminary, a Presbyterian Institution in New Jersey, explains (Originally posted to their website here: https://www.ptsem.edu/alerts/perspective
“It is not fear or irrational caution that led the Seminary’s leadership to put robust social distancing in place for our community. It is rather fidelity to Christ’s charge to love our neighbors and care for the least of these that compels us. Serving the common good in this way, to be sure, calls forth a sacrifice from us. We choose to limit for a season our participation in certain forms of human community — which bring us so much life and joy — in order to preserve human life.”
Love is shown by Churches giving the faithful prayers that speak words of comfort and healing like this from the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America found here: https://www.oca.org/…/holy-synod-issues-statement-on-corona…
“O God Almighty, Lord of heaven and earth, and of all creation visible and invisible, in thine ineffable goodness, look down upon us, thy people gathered in thy Holy Name. Be our helper and defender in this day of affliction. Thou knowest our weakness. Thou hearest our cry in repentance and contrition of heart. O Lord who lovest mankind, deliver us from the impending threat of the Coronavirus. Send thine angel to watch over us and protect us. Grant health and recovery to those suffering from this virus. Guide the hands of physicians and preserve those who are healthy. Enable us to continue to serve our suffering brothers and sisters in peace that together we may glorify thy most honorable and majestic name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.” AMEN.
Love is shown by hierarchs encouraging their faithful to take this isolation as impetus to fully engage the Seasons – especially the call of Lent to pray and reflect. Metropolitan Borys (Gudziak) of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia did just that in a video posted to YouTube this past Saturday which can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch…
During a webcast worship service, a Betsy Miller, who is clergy for the Moravian Church spoke these words:
“Please practice this awkward new thing we are calling social distancing. Practice it physically – but don’t practice it emotionally, or spiritually, or virtually. We prayed the liturgy for Christian Unity to remind us that viruses cannot separate us from the love of God. Viruses cannot separate us as the body of Christ from one another. We are united as people of God – in this together – and we walk together – with God – on a journey.”
Her full remarks can be found here: https://www.moravian.org/…/living-water-despite-social-dis…/
Love is even shown as Churches grapple with balancing the tangible ways Jesus comes to us and forms community even as their states want to take measures to halt such celebrations. The Orthodox church in Slovakia is trying to find a way. As one source reported: https://www.euractiv.com/…/short_…/slovakia-covid-19-update/
‘”Holy Eucharist has never been, isn’t and never will be a source of disease or death of a man, on the contrary, it is an eternal source of new life in Christ,” commented the representative of the Orthodox Church. Prime Minister Pellegrini said he regrets this “selfish approach,” adding that should the church not comply, there might be repercussions.”’
This is Love in these times. This is Love shown by individual Churches and Hierarchs. What could love look like together?
This is what we plan to do: We want to hear from leaders of Churches. We want to hear from those who are having to make hard decisions about how the clergy and the faithful under their care are to live as followers of Christ in the time of COVID-19. We want to hear where they see the Love of Christ at work. We want to hear where they see Churches can work toward unity despite/due to the challenges we are all facing.
Over the coming weeks, we will be sharing with you what we hear! stay tuned!
Even as we work from our homes in these challenging times, the Foundation is running at full capacity. Help us keep it up. Help us maintain our vision and create encounters for unity (virtual for now, face-to-face again as soon as we can!) for the sake of the Gospel and for the sake of the world.
We have great things in the works! Help us out!