Racism and Orthodox Christianity in America: A Modern Commentary

In light of recent tragic acts of racism and brutality — including the heinous execution of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, the murder of a black man simply for jogging in Georgia, and the weaponizing of the police against a black man in New York City, I humbly offer this blog entry, taken from a speech I presented in October 2019, which highlights racism and the Orthodox Christian Church in the USA today.

Allow me to open by quoting a 2017 statement of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America on the topic of racism.  I quote:

“The essence of the Christian Gospel and the spirit of the Orthodox Tradition are entirely and self-evidently incompatible with ideologies that declare the superiority of any race over another. Our God shows no partiality or favoritism (Deuteronomy 10:17, Romans 2:11). Our Lord Jesus Christ broke down the dividing wall of hostility that had separated God from humans and humans from each other (Ephesians 2:14). In Christ Jesus, the Church proclaims, there can be neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, but all are one (Galatians 3:28). Furthermore, we call on one another to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather to expose them (Ephesians 5:11). And what is darkness if not hatred? The one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness (1 John 2:11)!”

This brief passage lifts up the biblical notion of oneness and solidarity, while at the same time condemning acts of hatred and racism. In fact, however, the holy scriptures go beyond mere tolerance and outright condemnation of racism and discrimination. They also inform the Christian Tradition on the manner in which we ought to act, profoundly and personally, namely through the way of love. For he who does not love does not know God; for God is love (1 John 4:8). And, he who does not love abides in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him (1 John 3:15-16). Therefore, hatred and bigotry, racism and discrimination, or indeed any other action or attitude that violates the “other,” who is our neighbor, our brother and sister, are the exact opposite of love and fail to embrace Christ’s command to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). By contrast, any form or degree of racism embraces actions that are biblically condemnable, while simultaneously ignoring and contradicting the commandment to love. Ultimately, this is a rejection and denial of God, who is Love. Put plainly:  one cannot be racist and Christian; the two are mutually exclusive.

At the same time, the Orthodox perspective is also informed by the communal experience of racism both historically and to this day. At various times and in every corner of the planet, Orthodox Christians have been persecuted either for their ethnicity or else for their faith. Even here in the United States of America, early immigrants were frequently denied vital work, fundamental freedoms, and equal rights. Today, many Orthodox Christians – particularly, though not exclusively, those coming from the Middle East or Africa – are able to commiserate with our Muslim cousins inasmuch as systemic racism targets them simply because their skin is a bit more brown or they sport a long beard and robe. Whether they experience extra screening at airports, have difficulties securing loans, or are literally beaten on the streets, it is for no other reason than their heritage, as assumed by their appearance. So, you see, the darkness of racism is known to the Orthodox family both theologically and experientially.

At this point, I would like to make a quick “parenthesis” in order to clarify that I do not wish to reduce this matter to an “us too” moment. While my account here among you today is indeed truthful, and while our theological understanding or humiliating experiences might position us differently with regard to white guilt, I will not and cannot deny the fact that the majority of Orthodox Christians are of European decent. In this respect, our white complexions – whether or not these are perceived as “camouflage” – have played a key role in our community’s ability to overcome discrimination in this country. Unfortunately, because of the struggles of our ancestors – as well as for those Orthodox who are not white and continue to struggle – the concept of white privilege is neither readily acknowledged nor accepted. And by not recognizing this sense of privilege, some of our people have, over time, unfortunately embraced the ideals of racism and white supremacy. Some of these individuals even preach distorted and erroneous understandings of the Orthodox Christian tradition in the hope of recruiting others to their unhinged ways. For these individuals, I can only apologize sincerely and ask that we all pray fervently for their souls. For as we know those who do not abide in Christ, [who is love,] are cast forth as a branch and wither; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned (John 15). After all, no individual or group is perfect; so we must continually practice metanoia, which involves a change in our disposition from hate toward love.

Now, to return to my argument: despite the actions of a few, the majority of Orthodox Christians lift up the aforementioned theology of solidarity, embracing the experiences of others and embodying the love of Christ. In this way, the corporate body stands committed to addressing racism and ending discrimination, while remaining firmly positioned to promote essential equity and eventual equality. In this spirit, Orthodox Christian leaders have stood up against racism and discrimination in the United States of America for many decades. For instance, in the 1800s, Russian missionaries in Alaska defended local natives from abuse and prejudice on the part of the established trading companies and, instead, advocated for their land rights. More recently, Archbishop Iakovos famously marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and worked tirelessly behind the scenes for the passage of Civil Rights Legislation in the 19th century. His actions were recognized in 1989, when he and Dr. King together received the Congressional Medal of Freedom. Today, an annual conference entitled “Moses the Black” focuses on missiological principles among African-American communities and addresses systemic racism from a biblical and Orthodox perspective. In May 2018, Archbishop Demetrios, the former head of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, hosted an event at St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Washington DC to launch the National Council of Churches’ ACT to End Racism Campaign, which we currently co-chair and are very eager to advance. And just this past Monday, 1 June 2020, the Assembly of Bishops released another statement on racism and violence.

Dear friends, by way of conclusion, I would like close in an unconventional manner and leave you with the final words of Archbishop Demetrios at the aforementioned event in our nation’s capital:

“Typically, a [blog] has a beginning, a middle, and an end. But not this [blog]. This [blog] will end when the story ends. This [blog] will end when we have obtained, finally, the desirable overcoming of any racially involved entities and vestiges in our world and our society. So now, an open ended [blog]!”

 

That's a Wrap! Celebrating the Sunday Church School Year

As I am sitting down to write out end-of-the-year cards to go in each of my Goyans’ care packages, I can’t help but reflect on the crazy turn of events that the year of 2020 has brought us! Every single person’s life has basically turned upside down. For those of us who work in parish ministry, we have had to throw everything we planned out the window and rapidly create new digital ministries for our parishes. Zoom and social media have been great resources and a great way to keep things going, but after two months, I think we are all about ready to just press restart for the fall. As nice as that sounds, we still have to try to think through ending this Church school year and how, digitally or not, we can smoothly and safely transition to summer. So the questions is, how can we end the year on a high note, knowing that we have honored our students who have so graciously stayed flexible and easy going throughout this whole process?

 

After researching this and speaking with fellow parish ministry leaders, we came up with some suggestions for ending the school year on a positive note:

  • Have your parish priest announce the name of each student at the end of Divine Liturgy on your parish’s live-stream video
  • Send care packages to each student with items to help them grow in their faith over the summer
  • Have teachers hand-write personal cards for each of their students
  • Mail gifts and Sunday Church school certificates to each student
  • Keep in touch virtually by hosting group Zoom calls once a month during the summer
  • Host virtual game nights to help everyone stay connected
  • Start a virtual countdown for the start of Sunday Church school and GOYA in the fall

 

Things you can do to honor your parish graduates:

  • Yard signs
  • Distance parking lot parades for the grads
  • Grads can wear caps and gowns and participate in a virtual Sunday Church school graduation open to the whole parish
  • Create an “adopt a grad” program and encourage godparents or parishioners to sign up to send or drop off grad care packages
  • Deliver care packages with gifts for the grads to take with them to their next destination (e.g., Bibles, Holy Week books, prayer books)
  • Create a video and photo montage to be “viewed” together as a parish
    • This can be played at the end of a live-streamed service or viewed together as a Facebook “viewing party” on the parish page
  • Using the parish’s social media accounts, create posts celebrating each graduate

 

Here are a few examples of what other parishes have done so far:

 

 

So what can we do?

Keep in mind that in order to save money, you might need to spend a little bit more time!

  • Assess your parish’s capabilities and limitations
  • Follow the guidelines of your state and metropolis
  • Create a budget
  • Come up with a plan and a backup plan
  • Meet with your priest and other ministry leaders to collaborate
  • Work together to make sure each student in your parish feels special and honored as a member of your church family!

Last, but not least, remember to honor your parish volunteers as well. They truly deserve it!

 

Click to watch a webinar by hosted by the DRE about ending the church school year and beginning summer ministries!

The Department of Religious Education’s online store, OrthodoxMarketplace.com, is a huge resource for finding gift items for all ages.

Feel free to reach out to the DRE for your parish educational needs throughout the entire Church school year:

(800) 566-1088

[email protected]

[email protected]

www.religioused.goarch.org

www.orthodoxmarketplace.com

 

TOWARD A SOCIAL ETHOS OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH A New Document of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

TOWARD A SOCIAL ETHOS OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
A New Document of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis

Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Throne

In January 2020, the Ecumenical Patriarchate approved a social document crafted by a theological commission that was charged with formulating general parameters and guiding principles for the role of the Orthodox Church as well as the responsibility of Orthodox Christians in the modern world. In his letter of endorsement, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew welcomed the collective achievement of the commission for addressing “the complex challenges and problems of today’s world, without at the same time overlooking the favorable potential and positive perspectives of contemporary civilization.” For the Life of the World: Toward a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church was published online (on the Facebook page of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the official website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America) on March 27, 2020, in the heart of the Lenten period for repentance and reflection. In May 2020, it also appeared in book format (Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 121 pages).

For the Life of the World imparts general guidelines and principles toward a much-needed social ethos for Orthodox Christians struggling to navigate modern-day challenges. It follows a liturgical thread and adopts a pastoral tone, opening with the fundamental contours of an Orthodox Christian worldview and concluding on a prayerful anticipation of transformation and a positive aspiration of hope. It comprises a sustained, albeit sensitive pastoral approach to critical and controversial issues including racism and poverty, human rights and bioethics, as well as technology and climate change. The specific contents address the role of the church in the public sphere, the course of human life, the challenge of social justice, the tragedy of war, the importance of ecumenical dialogue, and the relationship between science and religion.

The reflection of a dozen scholars throughout the world, the document is in itself an unmistakably collaborative “achievement,” which is how the Ecumenical Patriarch describes it in his endorsement. The commission members deliberately and studiously refrained from incorporating personal positions in their effort to articulate pastoral perspectives on issues encountered by Orthodox Christians in communities of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This was a document initiated by leaders and theologians of the Church, informed by hierarchs and faithful of the Church, and intended for clergy and laity of the Church. Indeed, as the tangible result of extensive hierarchal consultation—there was direct input from dozens of Orthodox Metropolitans and Archbishops throughout the world and theological review by renowned Orthodox Hierarchs—and ultimate synodal commendation, it is a virtually “pentecostal” and verily unprecedented fulfilment of “a complicated, not to say contentious undertaking,” as the editors describe it in their preface.

The text, which runs to 33,000 words, seeks to delineate the profile of an Orthodox ethos:

It is impossible for the Church truly to follow Christ or to make him present to the world if it fails to place this absolute concern for the poor and disadvantaged at the very center of its moral, religious, and spiritual life. The pursuit of social justice and civil equity—provision for the poor and shelter for the homeless, protection for the weak, welcome for the displaced, and assistance for the disabled—is not merely an ethos the Church recommends for the sake of a comfortable conscience, but is a necessary means of salvation, the indispensable path to union with God in Christ; and to fail in these responsibilities is to invite condemnation before the judgment seat of God.  (§33)

The document is equally judicious and perspicuous on controversial issues, such as wealth and the refugee crisis, as well as science and climate change:

Among the most common evils of all human societies—though often brought to an unprecedented level of refinement and precision in modern developed countries—are the gross inequalities of wealth often produced or abetted by regressive policies of taxation and insufficient regulation of fair wages, which favor the interests of those rich enough to influence legislation and secure their wealth against the demands of the general good. (§35)

The developed world everywhere knows the presence of refugees and asylum-seekers, many legally admitted but also many others without documentation. They confront the consciences of wealthier nations daily with their sheer vulnerability, indigence, and suffering. This is a global crisis, but also a personal appeal to our faith, to our deepest moral natures, to our most inabrogable responsibilities. (§66)

And the Church encourages the faithful to be grateful for—and to accept—the findings of the sciences, even those that might occasionally oblige them to revise their understandings of the history and frame of cosmic reality. The desire for scientific knowledge flows from the same wellspring as faith’s longing to enter ever more deeply into the mystery of God. (§71)

None of this, however, is likely possible without a deep training in gratitude. Without thanksgiving, we are not truly human.  This, in fact, is the very foundation of the Church’s Eucharistic understanding of itself and of its mission in the world. When humanity is in harmony with all of creation, this thanksgiving comes effortlessly and naturally. When that harmony is ruptured or replaced by discord, as it so often is, thanksgiving becomes instead an obligation to be discharged, sometimes with difficulty; but only such thanksgiving can truly heal the division that alienates humanity from the rest of the created order.  (§74)

This groundbreaking document has special significance given the historical background of Orthodoxy. In recent years, the Eastern Church has been allergic, even aversive to social statements. This is arguably the result of a struggle to understand its place in the world in long periods of isolation or persecution of many traditional Orthodox homelands, particularly behind the Iron Curtain. The church has always grappled with its place and role in the world. Whether speaking of heaven in relation to earth, or of the world in relation to the kingdom, it has covered the full spectrum from identifying with the world to becoming estranged from it. The standard tension of the church being “in the world” but not “of the world” (based on the words of Christ before the Passion) was variously petrified into either a retreat to some blameless past or a retaliation against a corrupt present.

At some point on the lengthy Byzantine excursion, Eastern Christianity stopped dealing with questions related to the present and started focusing on the reiteration of answers from the past. The church was equipped for handling otherworldly or sacred things, whereas the state was entrusted with worldly or secular things. This understanding of a clearly defined role for the church in relation to the clearly designated responsibility of the state shaped and sharpened the Eastern approach to social justice. In fact, it was the sin of Byzantium was precisely its arrogant conviction that the institutional church could identify with the divine nature of Christ.

As a result, issues of politics and policy (especially as they relate to power and corruption), even economy and science (especially as they relate to poverty and prosperity), were reduced and relegated to the scope and concern of Western Christianity. In fact, the West excelled in these domains. By contrast, matters of personal maturity and spiritual integrity became the principal interest and mystical investment of Eastern Christianity. Moreover, these issues came to be seen as the exclusive propriety and distinctive prerogative of the East, which became all the more disengaged from interest and involvement in matters of the world. The truth is that the church not only disregarded its social principles, but largely also dismissed its social priorities.

Yet it wasn’t always this way. The early and Byzantine church had a bold voice on social justice. A cursory reading of fourth-century writers like Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom reveals the prominence of the social core of the gospel teaching in the minds and ministry. Certainly Basil the Great forcefully disapproves of any retreat by Christians from the world. Any eschatology that galvanized escapism from time and place was denounced as heretical and hazardous. Over time, however, an emphasis on monasticism (as the silent withdrawal into the heart) and mysticism (as the spiritual enchantment of the heavenly) provided justification for disengagement from the world in the Christian East with diverse ramifications for its ecclesiology, liturgy and ethos. Even the conventional safety-valve of Orthodox Christian ethics—namely, the relationship between spiritual elder (almost exclusively male) and spiritual disciple—is frequently a way of evading a universal commitment to principles and surrendering to the personal discretion of an individual. Despite the promise and potential of transcending the limitations of institutional clericalism, in reality the relationship with a charismatic authority is a phenomenon that has increasingly tended to stifle individual freedom and development in the last decades.

More recently, the social doctrine was further reduced to an emphasis on nationalism as the means of survival in times of persecution and oppression. During such periods, the church instinctively identified with the early martyrs and invariably internalized a negative criticism of external ethics and evangelical mission. While there may be some merit to a criticism of Christianity that merely seeks to be “useful” in a world of competing promises for security, the alternative does not need to be a Christianity that is predominantly “useless” in an age of pluralistic choices of fulfilment.

In this regard, Orthodox theologians should remember that the lack of critical or systematic thought is not always virtuous or advantageous. The emphasis on apophatic thought does not signal a lack of response or resolve. And eschatology should be perceived neither as imminently apocalyptic (a convenient pretext for indifference, inaction and irresponsibility) nor as naively optimistic (a superficial dismissal of sin, evil and struggle). Being “in the world” but not “of the world” suggests an uneasy, unresolved and unending contention with the world. The tension between the “already” and the “not yet” commands contention with the social challenges of our time and of our world. By the same token, the incompleteness or imperfection of our engagement with the world is what arguably shapes the beauty and dignity of our struggle to respond to the Christian gospel.

Nonetheless, a further reason why Orthodox Christianity has abandoned or avoided articulating a clear social vision over the centuries is the tendency—frequently a temptation—to denounce or dismiss all things that resemble or reflect Western Christianity. Thus, beyond any philosophically apophatic and apocalyptic dimensions, there is the purely apologetic aspect of an approach to social challenges in Eastern Christianity. However, in 2000, the Church of Moscow published “The Basis of the Social Concept,” a preliminary, albeit admirable attempt to outline the social principles of the Orthodox Church in Russia after an extended period of suppression and defining its role in an otherwise anomalous and antagonistic world. Within this context, the overall approach of that document was critical, if not cynical toward the world, which it regarded as a threat to be defied and defeated. Such a defensive posture may survive and thrive under conditions of confessional isolation, but often dwindles and dissolves in the context of ecumenical exposure.

In contrast, from the middle of the twentieth century, it was an openness to other traditions and cultures through an encounter with other confessions and religions—in many ways, the first time that the Orthodox were brought into close contact and critical conversation with the modern world—that at least partly inspired and impelled the worldwide Orthodox Churches to embark upon the long and arduous process of convening the Holy and Great Council. Meeting in Crete for the first time after almost a millennium, Orthodox patriarchs and hierarchs—along with a handful of consultants, clergy and laity—issued a formal decree as well as an encyclical message on “the role of the Orthodox Church in the contemporary world.” In this sense, the current document complements and completes the work of the extraordinary Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church that convened in June 2016 and may be considered as part of the process of its reception.

While the crafting this document was historically unparalleled as a process of transparency and unprecedented as a collaboration between the official hierarchy and theological scholarship, the readiness and openness of the church to involve and inform the laity in matters related to doctrine and polity still falls far short of the ideal and appropriate for chipping away at the hardened nucleus of clericalism. Nonetheless, the fact that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew commissioned, entrusted, and endorsed this social document is a welcome and refreshing shift in mentality and priority for a church traditionally associated with the past and alienated from the present. The Orthodox Church should no longer settle for mere survival.

For the Life of the World should be received as a step toward reflection on the social ethos of the Orthodox Church and consideration of the role of the Orthodox Church in the contemporary world. It provides a roadmap for reconciling contemporary issues with the wisdom and beauty of the Orthodox spiritual tradition, while initiating a conversation with parishes and congregations, schools and seminaries, as well as ecumenical circles and the broader community.

* An abbreviated version of this article first appeared in Commonweal (April, 2020) 19–19.

Ascension and Pentecost

As we get closer to observing the Feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost, a closer look at their origins is timely. If you like solving puzzles, the upcoming feasts of Ascension and Pentecost provides a number of questions to solve. Some of those questions are about the timing, like when did the Ascension happen? What was the Feast that brought so many people to Jerusalem? When did these Feasts enter the Orthodox liturgical calendar? And more.

Carefully reading the Scriptures coupled with some scholarship, can help us recognize how these pieces of a puzzle begin to fit. We have to admit though that because the Orthodox Tradition is dynamic and living, and thus things happen organically, we have to admit that we can’t always pinpoint when something happened. Even St. Basil the Great noted that the practice of making the Sign of the Cross was quite old but no one was sure how it developed!

Of course, we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of Christ on the fortieth day after the Resurrection (always a Thursday) and the Feast of Pentecost on the fiftieth day after the Resurrection (always a Sunday). According to liturgical scholars, these feasts, and the observation of mid-Pentecost, entered the liturgical calendar by the end of the fourth century (the late 300s), but not everywhere in the Christian world. That would take longer.

Originally, the period of Pentecost was a fifty-day period (the word itself means fiftieth) of celebration of the Resurrection, with every day treated as a Sunday. This meant no fasting or kneeling when praying. (Scholars note that the canons about fasting and kneeling come from this period.). This was being done to extend the celebration of the Resurrection, which over time began to include the celebration of the Ascension, and the gift of the Spirit. There are even a few references to anticipating the return of Jesus during the Pentecost. Recall that, in our liturgical life, we use the Pentecostarion from Pascha until the Feast of All Saints, which falls the Sunday after Pentecost.

When we read the New Testament, we can see the events in this celebratory perspective and slightly differently. The Gospel reading for the Feast (Luke 24:36-53) does not specify when the Ascension occurred. Neither does the Gospel of Matthew 28:16-20, which we often associate with the event. The Epistle reading Acts of the Apostles (chapter 1:1-12), verses 1-5, gives us more information. In that account, Jesus appeared to the disciples over forty days, teaching until the day when he was “taken up.” From this account, we can see why we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension on the fortieth day after the Resurrection.

As far as the gift of the Holy Spirit, in the Gospel of John (20:19-23), when the resurrected Christ first appears to the disciples, he gives them the Holy Spirit. Verse 22 reads, “And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This gift, according to a Monk of the Eastern Church, is the first coming of the Spirit, but not with power, which will come at Pentecost. The day of Pentecost, reported in Acts of the Apostles 2, the fiftieth day, refers to the fiftieth day after Passover, on which the Jewish Feast of Weeks (see Deuteronomy 16:9) was observed. The importance of the Feast helps us understand why so many different people were in Jerusalem that day when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles “with power” and Peter spoke to the crowds.

 

 

Orthodox Perspective on the Ministry of the Church Online

Rev. Dr. Nicolas Kazarian*

New York City is still the epicenter of the pandemic and people continue to “shelter in place.” Our churches remain closed. However, parishes of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America continue to have liturgical services behind closed doors with a skeleton crew of only a priest, a cantor and a server that helps in the altar, following federal and state regulations. Across all communities, we have seen voices rising against our churches closing their doors. In response to this, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has these beautiful words: “Perhaps some of you have felt that these drastic measures undermine or harm our faith. However, that which is at stake is not our faith – it is the faithful. It is not Christ – it is our Christians. It is not the divine-man – but human beings.” Today, to stay home is to live the radicality of the Gospel. A genuine Christian ethos is an ethos of solidarity and love for our neighbor. During a virtual Town Hall meeting, His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America pointed out: “These special times have brought special measures. Covid-19 has changed the way we conduct our ministries for the service of the people. Even though the means are different, the essence of our pastoral work remains identical: to praise God who offered salvation for all of mankind.”

For Archbishop Elpidophoros, reflecting the centrality of the Divine Services and Liturgies as part of the Orthodox spiritual identity, the priority was to keep church services offered as much as possible, with or without livestream. The first mission of the Church and its clergy is to pray for the world and the “life of the world”. This is why the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese has put so much emphasis on online services thanks to the help and support of a strong Internet Ministry. Because of the pandemic, many parishes began to livestream their services. More than half of Orthodox parishes use livestream today. Moreover, it is very interesting that Facebook has become a central platform to share the streaming. It goes back to the very nature of social media which is not only about watching but also allows participation. People respond with love reactions, thumbs up or even write messages during the Service. We can see who in our group of friends watches too. It reproduces a sense of community and connectivity.

In a conversation with one of my parishioners at St. Eleftherios Church in Manhattan, I was amazed by her comment: ”The prayer of the Church has come into my home.” Our faithful have found very creative ways to be real participants in livestreamed liturgical services, especially during the services of Holy Week and Pascha. This transformation of our home into churches takes multiple forms: the position of our body, the use of incense and candles, the bowing of heads and making the sign of the cross, the enactment of processions with flowers, chanting hymns, etc. There has been a very moving creativity among our faithful in conjunction of the use of online technology. I would like to point to the well-received social media campaign of Archbishop Elpidophoros “Come, receive the light” during which His Eminence virtually shared the light of Easter with the rest of the faithful.

Other avenues were explored to foster relationship through online ministries. Allow me to mention some of them that received very good feedback, like the daily prayers by Archbishop Elpidophoros for COVID 19 victims from the St. Paul Chapel at the Archdiocese Headquarters where people are invited to send names to be commemorated, Vitural Town Halls, Bible Studies, Youth Groups, Sunday School and Coffee Hour, support groups, through Zoom. We are also working on promoting online donations, especially on a parish level. These options are available in Resource Centers of the GOA and of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of Americas.

While online ministries are certainly a gift in times of crisis, we also have to acknowledge the limits linked to the use of technology, like internet fatigue, which is real. Imagine how tired you are after your fifth zoom meeting of the day. But there are also more challenges when it comes to participation in the sacramental life of the Orthodox Church, to receiving Holy Communion, to hearing confession, to celebrating funerals under many restrictions, and this is not to mention the many Baptisms and Weddings that are being postponed.

As the crisis evolves, and may continue in time, the pastoral response is being reviewed by the hierarchy. Roll back strategies are being considered. The need for technology and virtual ministry will still be necessary as we slowly come out from the pandemic. Being Christian is to be in communion and to find in communion the source of our salvation. Online ministries help us strengthen our sense of communion and community, while there is a real thrust to reconnect with the sacramental life of the Church and with one another.

* Text presented during the Webinar organized by the WCC on April 29, 2020 on “Churches’ Ministry Online”. Click here to watch the video.

 

 

Nicholas Anton
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