Church in a Time of Isolation

Canadian Orthodox Messenger

Church in a Time of Isolation

by Anastasia Bartlett

Well, I can’t avoid talking about this Covid19 outbreak, especially since it has replaced the weather as the number one topic of choice. So here are a few thoughts.

As a confirmed introvert, I rejoice in the option of self-isolation. I no longer have to search for excuses to avoid social gatherings, now I can just humbly say, “For the good of the community and especially those with compromised immune systems, I will stay home,” and I am viewed as a community minded person and no longer as anti-social. I can now engage in my personal projects without having to worry about stopping because ‘now its time to go somewhere’. There’s no where to go, no people to see and lots of things to do at home! Finally, a government decreed world of introverts.

That’s the upside, the downside... I don’t get to go out when I want to. Even as an introvert, I like to occasionally eat out, go to a movie, see friends and, most importantly, attend Church.

And that for me is the biggest downside.

As a Christian, being part of the body of Christ means being a part of community. At our church, we have a potluck after every Sunday liturgy where everyone can sit and talk and share and enjoy each other’s company. During this season of Lent, we have mid-week services where we are refreshed for the battle of self-denial. We have book studies where seekers can learn about the faith and the faithful can share thoughts with one another. But because we’ve chosen to comply with the health guidelines, these extra services have been cancelled. Sunday liturgy has been curtailed until April and may be longer.

Normal no longer exists, at least for now. But that’s okay. I now have time to reassess what’s important in my life. Being in the relaxing presence of family and friends, talking, teasing laughing, these are things I enjoy. I can, to a certain extent, maintain those relationships with the use of technology but technology is limited. On the other hand, community festivals, sports activities, concerts had little impact on my life, so I won’t notice their absence.

But I regret not participating in the life of the Church especially during Lent, the journey to Pascha. I haven’t missed Holy Week or a Paschal service in 20 years of becoming Orthodox, in fact this Palm Sunday will be the 20th anniversary of my family becoming members of the Orthodox Church.

So what does this mean, is my journey through life, to achieving full humanity as Christ did, dependent upon my weekly attendance at church? The simple answer is ‘No’, though regular attendance at services with other members of the body certainly helps me on that journey. 

It’s the difference between exercising by myself and exercising with like-minded people. When I set a goal, others can encourage, support and even work with me to achieve that goal. When I’m by myself, its so easy to fall back into bed or not to practise because there is no one checking up on me. If I am to succeed by myself, I have to have the intestinal fortitude to be disciplined in my daily exercise program.

Throughout history, Christians have experienced times when regular church attendance was impossible and yet they didn’t lose faith. In fact, many emerged with their faith stronger than ever. They did so because they had a personal active, vital prayer life, something I need now I can no longer attend services.

During Lent, the Orthodox Church honours St Mary of Egypt. She was a woman who wasted her early life through self-gratification. When she finally repented, she spent the next 40 years, in the desert, by herself, praying to God for mercy. In all that time, she saw a priest twice and had the Eucharist once before she died. Yet she is considered a great saint for the discipline she imposed upon herself as she journeyed towards holiness.

St Mary is my example of self-discipline and my prayer book contains my exercise program. I will begin with Psalm 91.

Holy St Mary pray for us and may the Lord guide and strengthen us all during our time in the desert.