Beloved in the Lord,
Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
It has been said that life under the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic is a "new normal." For us, however, this is far from "normal." Normally, clergy and faithful, tired yet edified by the forty-day Great Fast, would now be gathering in temples for the services of Holy Week. We would stand together, in the company of that "great cloud of witnesses" represented in the holy icons, and take the final steps of a liturgical journey that began with Forgiveness Sunday Vespers.
This year, we still grow weary, but it is weary of "stay-at-home" orders and the anxieties of not knowing how much longer our nation will be occupied by the coronavirus. We still anxiously await joyous liturgical celebrations in our churches, but this year we are unsure when they will come. This year has been far from normal and I am sure we all share the sentiment that doing this once in a lifetime is quite enough.
However, in the face of these unexpected challenges, let us be assured that God's providence is at work in these times, as it is at all times. This year, we are closer than ever to the countless faithful who came before us that celebrated our Lord's resurrection in even more adverse situations. Let us remember our brethren behind the iron curtain, who sat at home singing the Paschal hymns in hushed voices lest their neighbors give them up to the authorities. Let us remember the Christians under the Ottomans and the Romans whose public celebration of the Risen Lord would cost them their lives, and then only after horrific tortures. Think of the joy in our forebears' hearts the first time they could cry out for all to hear, "Christ is Risen!" When we are again able to gather for the divine services, we will not have to imagine what that felt like; we will have had a small taste of it ourselves.
This year, we have a choice. We can look at the journey we've been on with bitterness and remorse, or we can be grateful for an opportunity to stand with those who came before us, whose devotion and faith in the face of great adversity made it possible for us today to "glorify Christ, Risen from the dead." Patience, my children. "Those who endure will gain their lives," as the Risen Lord fills their hearts with his life-giving presence. Wherever Christ is, be it in church or at home behind closed doors, there is "eternal life and his great mercy."
With love in the risen Christ,
Archbishop of Toledo and the Bulgarian Diocese – Orthodox Church in America