by Fr. Jonathan Lincoln
“Rejoice in the Lord; rejoice in the Lord; rejoice in the Lord. May the Lord guard your soul and body and spirit from every evil, as well as from every opposition of the devil and every troubling imagination. The Lord will be your light, your protection, your way, your strength, your crown of gladness and eternal help.” — St. Barsanuphius the Great, Letter 10
Our lives have all been affected by the fear, isolation, and uncertainty in society due to the coronavirus. But yet, brothers and sisters in Christ, should we be surprised that we’re experiencing these temptations and difficulties during Great Lent? Should we be surprised that as we approach the Sunday of the Cross, the demons appear to be working overtime?
Certainly not. As the Holy Apostle Peter encourages us, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
What appropriate words for our time! This cross that we’re experiencing—the coronavirus and the ensuing unprecedented “social distancing” — can itself be a participation in Christ’s own sufferings, “that when His glory is revealed” at the Second Coming, we “may also be glad with exceeding joy.”
St. Peter’s words remind us that “through the Cross, joy has come into all the world.” Through the suffering, isolation, and pain of our Lord’s crucifixion, we are given the opportunity to experience a foretaste of the joy of Paradise here on earth. And the way by which we may experience the joy of Paradise is through denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Him (Mark 8:34).
And if this sounds ludicrous, consider the Lord Jesus’s own joy in suffering: “Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Ascending Golgotha, He saw that the outcome of the Cross was not only death, but resurrection; not only sorrow, but joy!
The truly Good News for us, in the midst of the craziness of the coronavirus, is that by bearing this cross of fear, isolation and uncertainty with hope in God and with self-sacrificial love for our neighbors, by enduring this “fiery trial” with patient endurance, we open up our hearts to a foretaste of the heavenly joy of eternally being in the presence of our Lord (Matt. 25:21,23).
As we continue to bear this cross, may we persevere in prayer, learn self-denial through fasting, and do good works of mercy to those in need around us. Prayer makes us united in God, even when physically separated.
One final thought. Perhaps we should not “think it strange” that this pandemic is hitting us on the fiftieth anniversary of the OCA’s autocephaly, a year of celebrations. This year we are reflecting on the past fifty years as the local Orthodox Church in America, celebrating the wonderful missionary work that God has done through our humble Church, repenting for our sins, and seeking to serve Him ever more faithfully. On this fiftieth anniversary year of our autocephaly, especially in the midst of a pandemic, we have an opportunity to be renewed in our mission of bringing the healing presence of Jesus Christ to a broken and suffering world. “Rejoice in the Lord…. The Lord will be your light, your protection, your way, your strength, your crown of gladness and eternal help.”
May we, for the exceedingly great joy set before us, endure this present cross with patience, that we may be found worthy through His grace to be co-enthroned with our Risen Lord Jesus Christ at the right hand of God the Father (Rev. 3:21).