In the News
A Message and Prayer Services offered by Father Nicholas Palis of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Bethlehem, PA.
March 21, 2020
Brothers & Sisters,
I wish to share the edifying message and prayer services offered below from a dear friend and classmate of mine from our Hellenic College days, Father Nicholas Palis of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Bethlehem, PA.
As I have intimated in recent days, the present COVID-19 Coronavirus crisis has imposed a kind of temporary monasticism on us, i.e., our quarantine is something akin to an induced cloister, an ascetic seclusion from each other, and the world, not all that different from the flight from the world of our Orthodox ascetics and saints.
Not all monastic retreats were located in the desert or forest. Some were located in towns and cities, even major metropolitan areas. One of the most famous was the Monastery of Stoudios or, more fully, the Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner at Stoudios (Μονή του Αγίου Ιωάννη του Προδρόμου «εν τοις Στουδίου»), located within the walls of Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), during a time when “The City” was the largest metropolitan center in the world. Over the centuries, many saints were counted among the Studites, including perhaps the most renowned of all, Saint Symeon the New Theologian.
And so, our “retreat from the world” is not necessarily a physical one. It is, in fact, a psycho-spiritual one.
Whether in a city monastery, isolated monastery, in the desert, forest or cave, the flight from the world of our Orthodox ascetics was never an idle one, but always an intensely active one. The word “ascetic” derives from the Greek ἄσκησις, which means “exercise.” Also, the ascetics were often referred to as ἀθληταί, as “athletes.”
You see, then, the entire enterprise of taking up the monastic habit was characterized by serious commitment. If I may be permitted a modern metaphor, it was the spiritual equivalent of seeking to become a professional athlete. This is still the case in many parts of the Orthodox world, especially the Holy Mountain of Athos in the easternmost “leg” of the Chalkidiki peninsula in central Macedonia, northern Greece.
I invite all of you to use this time of quarantine as an active, ascetic time of intense prayer. Engage the Scriptures as you, perhaps, have not done so for many years, or ever. Take up the Prayer of the Heart, the Jesus Prayer (“Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”). Avail yourself of as much spiritual literature as you can. Don’t be a “spiritual ‘couch potato.’” We may not all be “spiritual pros,” like the Athonite monks, but this does not absolve us of the need of spiritual exercise, for our own spiritual health and well-being. As any good doctor will tell you, exercise is beneficial for all, not just the professionals. This is especially true of spiritual, ascetic exercise.
Finally, you will be doing something to combat the COVID-19 Coronavirus. Whence the virus? According to our Tradition, it is the product of a fallen, “infected” world. Prayer is the “antidote” that fights the infection. Together, while we are taking care to protect ourselves, our families and loved ones, let us “pump” as much “prayer-antidote” into the world as we can, and do our part to help heal the world, and each other.
Greetings in Christ!
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father and the Grace of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
As we are all going through this difficult time of the crisis of the Corona Virus or COVID-19, I realize that it produces difficulties of all kinds. On a spiritual level, it is very difficult to have to keep people away from Church Services, to limit the risk of spreading the virus as per the direction of our Metropolitan. On a physical level it is important to implement the instructions for safety, such as washing our hands frequently, and keeping a safe distance etc. It is painful to see so many people suffer and lose loved ones, and see people suffer and die around the world.
Many people and businesses will suffer financially as a result of the isolation required. So let us intensify our charity.
The response of Christians in times of suffering has always been to extend love. Many pagans became Christians because in times of plagues because when the idol worshippers were fleeing the city, the Christians were going it to help those suffering, risking their own lives to do it.
This calls us to intensify our love, by praying for the world, for all those suffering, and for the safety of the world. Let us check up on people who may be elderly and need help. Let us express our love however we are able. Let us encourage and strengthen one another.
On an ecclesiastical level, even though, we are not able physically to go to Church, thank God, at least we are allowed to hold the services, albeit with a very limited amount of people. Nevertheless, most people can watch the Church services online, so that we can keep up our regular spiritual practices. Let us intensify our prayer life, albeit at home, both by watching the services online, and also praying with our families, which Great Lent calls us to do in general. Let us do the Jesus Prayer for the whole world.
Too often it is easy to look at all the things we do not have, rather than the things that we do have. We are very blessed in this country to have modern means of technology, with which we can at least virtually attend church. We live in a country with an abundance of goods and excellent medical means. We are very blessed in many ways. Let us be grateful for all that we do have. St. Isaac the Syrian says that being grateful to God induces Him to give more.
I hope that these thoughts can prove helpful.
May God bless all of you!
May God grant you a fruitful Lent and a joyous Resurrection!
In Christ’s love,