Letter from Fr Ian & Fr Seraphim to the Parishes
Christ is risen!
As we begin to emerge from our lockdown it seems appropriate to write and let you know how the revised rules will affect our Church life. We know how much people have found themselves affected (sometimes to their surprise!) by not being able to attend services physically, and by not being able to receive the Sacraments, especially Holy Communion. We all want to see the churches open again, and we pray that we will be able to meet again as soon as possible.
For the moment it would appear that we have to continue to keep the Church closed. Although the rules regarding travel and meeting people have been somewhat relaxed the Prime Minister made it clear that we may meet with only one person at a time who is not a member of our current household, that this meeting should be in the open, and that “social distancing” of 2 metres between us continues to be required. We have been told, both by His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew and by His Eminence Archbishop Nikitas, that we are to be good citizens and follow the Government guidelines. So, like all places of worship in the country, whether Christian or non-Christian, we will not be able to open up in this phase of the relaxation of lockdown.
However, we are making plans for the time when we will be allowed to return to our buildings. We are actively seeking to provide masks for those who will need them and hand sanitiser for all to use as they enter and leave the Church. Our safeguarding officers are working on procedures to ensure that we are able to adhere to our duty to safeguard the vulnerable, which in the present circumstances means all of us. Once we are allowed back in we shall be ready! We have also discussed the question of what to do about services. It seems probable that we shall be able to be open for prayer before we are able to serve the Holy Liturgy and to give Holy Communion to the faithful. We need to give consideration to the question of whether, for example, we might be able to serve Vespers and Matins in a transitional period before we are able to return to the service of the Liturgy, and whether, and when, the Church might be open for private prayer. Of course, we will need to respond appropriately when we hear what the next relaxation of the rules will be, but Fr Seraphim and Fr Ian are actively looking to find what can be done for our community.
A return to Holy Communion is still some way away. It is impossible to give anyone Communion in the way in which it is done in our Church’s Tradition and to remain at a distance of 2 metres. Our Archbishop has made it clear to the clergy at a meeting with them (via Zoom) just after Easter that there will be no change in the way that the Holy Communion is administered, and while the pandemic is still a reality Fr Seraphim and Fr Ian are also mindful of their own responsibilities towards the faithful to ensure that they do not place anyone in danger. The common spoon and the common cloth have been recognised by many Orthodox Churches as potential sources of the spread of the coronavirus, and as long as we are told to use these methods of distributing Holy Communion we need to be certain that we are not putting anyone at risk.
What can we do while we are waiting for our normal Church life to return? In the first place, of course, we can pray. Fr Seraphim and Fr Ian have been sending out resources for prayer, and they will continue to do this. Fr Ian continues to serve Vespers at home on Saturday evenings at 6:00 p.m. and Matins on Sunday mornings at 9:00, and although he is not allowed to stream these services he invites those who can to join him in prayer for as much or as little time as they are able. During Lent he sent out the texts of some prayers which might be helpful on these occasions, but if anyone has lost or forgotten these (or did not receive them) they can contact him and ask for another copy. Many prayer resources are available online. The texts of Vespers and Matins in both Greek and English can be found at https://www.agesinitiatives.com/dcs/public/dcs/dcs.html (where there are even musical settings of some texts for those who would like to sing them!). Daily prayers can be found (to give one example) at http://www.greekorthodox.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/GOAA-BoP-English.pdf (some of our older parishioners might like to know that Fr John Chryssavgis, our former cantor and school teacher, was one of the committee that worked on this book). Many Greek resources can be found at http://glt.goarch.org/. These are just a few of the many resources available.
Then we can “attend” virtual services. Patriarch Bartholomew issued a directive some time ago that recommended that there should only be one Church per diocese streaming the services, although the local Archbishops were allowed discretion in increasing those numbers as they saw fit. Currently in the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain there are four Churches which stream their services, and these can all be found via the Archdiocesan website (https://www.thyateira.org.uk/live-broadcasts/) We know that there are other Churches of other jurisdictions, in this country and abroad, which also stream services either online or via satellite. Those who wish to worship in this way are therefore well provided for, but we must remember the caution that His All Holiness issued at the time of his directive: there is a danger that what we watch on screen is treated as entertainment, that we become an “audience” rather than a “congregation”, so just as we would remove all distractions when we pray at home (standing if possible, ignoring the phone and our messages etc.) so should we also do if we are “going” to an online service. Given the Patriarch’s wish that there should not be many sources of streamed services, and given the current ample provision, we do not see it as necessary that our Church, too, should stream its services.
A third thing that we can do during this time is to get to know more about our Orthodox faith. Within our community a series of online talks is being arranged. Fr Seraphim has talked about the Office of Preparation at the Liturgy, and Fr Ian about reading the Bible. This coming Saturday Fr Dobromir, an old friend of our community, will be talking about icons. We also have a midweek “Sunday School” led by Ioanna Christodoulou, via the Holy Trinity Parish’s Zoom account. The Archdiocese has also begun a Sunday School in three classes, depending on the age of the participants (see https://www.thyateira.org.uk/online-sunday-school-10th-may/ for this week’s details) and Fr Nephon’s study of St John’s Gospel continues on Tuesday evenings. But even for those who are unable to attend virtual meetings there are resources available to deepen our understanding of Orthodoxy. A good outline of faith, history and practice can be found in the four books entitled “The Orthodox Faith” by the late Fr Thomas Hopko, available at https://www.oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith, while the Archdiocese of America and the Archdiocese of Australia have many useful and instructive essays on their websites. https://www.goarch.org/library and http://www.greekorthodox.org.au/ (under the tab “Being Orthodox”) are good places to start. Fr Seraphim sends out a sermon each week that he would be presiding at the Liturgy and Fr Ian does the same. You can also find the published sermons that are distributed on Sundays (in Greek and in English – note that the sermons are not the same one) on the Thyateira website (https://www.thyateira.org.uk/category/sunday-bulletins/)
Above all let us remember that the Church is more than a building, more than the clergy, more than the individuals who, in happier times, gather together for worship. Just as each cell of our bodies carries our full genetic information so each one of us as a cell of the Church carries the Church within us. May God grant us to keep this life glowing and growing within us, and may we all emerge from this trial with a new appreciation of one another and of all of us together as the Body of our risen Lord.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Fr Ian & Fr Seraphim