by Fr. Paul Yerger
At the direction of our Archbishop Alexander, I served the Divine Liturgy Sunday with only four people present: the choir director, one singer, one altar server, and myself. I found it to be a very sad experience: what is usually a joyful gathering of the faithful now a handful.
In his letter Archbishop Alexander calls our attention to the passage in the Life of St. Mary of Egypt, where we are told that the monks of a certain monastery left the monastery at the beginning of Lent and went into the desert, each to pray and fast alone, returning on Palm Sunday. I want to comment on the passage that mentions that they left one or two monks behind “so that the chapel might not be left without ministry.”
We normally think of the church services as being for the benefit of those who attend. This is true. But even more important, they are offered for the glory of God.
It is interesting that the services in the Old Testament Temple (unlike the synagogue services) did not have a “congregation.” Some people, such as the righteous Joachim and Anna, came to attend, but were not really part of the services. These were offered by the priests and other functionaries, but all the people were understood to benefit from them.
At Christian Liturgies normally all believers should be present. But every Liturgy is done “on behalf of all and for all” and all benefit even if not present. The Christians serving Liturgy in catacombs were in a similar position.
During this time of plague we are serving the Liturgy with a minimum number of people present in obedience to our bishops. Probably many of us wonder if it is necessary. But the obedience in itself is of great value. I myself have always taken pride in ignoring all health advice. But that in itself is a lack of humility.
Orthodox do not serve the Divine Liturgy on the weekdays of Lent. The idea is that the Liturgy is such a joy that it is not compatible with the fasting and mourning that Lent is about; so to speak we “fast” from the Liturgy. We could consider ourselves in this situation now.
We certainly don’t consider this a good situation, and we pray it ends soon. But while it lasts, let us make spiritual use of it. Like the monks in the desert, let us struggle alone for patience, self-examination, humility and obedience.
And let us pray for those suffering with the virus, for the physicians, nurses, and others who minister to them, for those who have lost loved ones, and for those departed.