Serious About Church

The following is from Friday Reflections, an email sent out every week from the editor of Touchstone Magazine published by the Fellowship of Saint James. It describes exactly how I feel about the Church’s proper response to the current coronavirus pandemic. I hope that you find its news about the Georgian Church’s response refreshing and inspiring. Christ is risen!

The Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi, built between 1995 and 2004
By Roberto Strauss from Frankfurt am Main, Deutschland
I picture myself on a Sunday morning, standing in an Orthodox church in Tbilisi, Georgia, during Divine Liturgy, at which I have prepared to receive Holy Communion. Noticeably, all the women’s heads are covered, the atmosphere quiet and reverent. Everyone is still. I have bowed my head, closed my eyes, and listen to the Litany sung in Georgian.

I slowly begin to feel sick—nauseous, stomach cramps, weak, and begin to fear passing out on the spot. I turn and, trying not to disturb the reverent worshippers, make my way through the door outside. I find a bench to sit on. I take a drink of water; after several minutes it becomes clear that I will not be able to return to the Liturgy, but only slowly walk back to our hotel, where I must replenish my body.

I had observed the usual Communion fast of not eating after midnight, but my body would not cooperate; it was confused, 9 hours out of sync with my Chicago time zone. We had traveled a grueling route to arrive in Tbilisi only the day before, getting to our hotel room after 4 AM. It was a major disappointment to miss Liturgy and Communion in the Republic of Georgia. We would be back in Chicago the following Sunday. That was in 2016.

This episode came back to me when I read about the response of Georgian churches to the coronavirus threat and saw this 3-minute video showing a service in a Georgian parish, which was being broadcast to worshipers outside the church building who are obviously keeping “social distance” but gathered for worship as best they could. They partook of Holy Communion, keeping their distance from all except the priest and servers. They respect Communion–and their fellow Christians.

My intent in sharing this is not to stake out a position on the actions of various church leaders, although it is easy enough to comment on extreme actions on either side: those who completely closed their own churches even when the state did not require them to do so, and those who ignored all restrictions, whether strongly recommended or mandated by law. My comment is only that those positions seem, well, extreme.

What I appreciate about the video is the evidence of prudence and careful thought: yes, there is a serious viral threat that we should not ignore; no, we will not just close the church; yes, the church will serve Liturgy on Sunday; no, we will not simply do things as usual; yes, we will take serious precautions; no, we will not forbid Communion.

This was part of the Georgian Patriarchate’s response to criticism: “Prohibiting church attendance for those for whom it is vitally needed is an unjustified offense against God.” They said anyone feeling sick should, of course, stay home. A visit from a priest may be requested. I am not sure what the perfect policy is for any particular church.

While tradition says that Christianity was preached in Georgia in the first century (by Simon the Zealot and Andrew), in about 315 Christianity became the state religion of Kartli (Iberia) in what is now Georgia. Syrian monks likely developed the unique Georgian script.

The Georgians have endured invasion, subjugation, persecution for their faith by Persians and various Muslims, but also fought many battles, eventually establishing a united monarchy. Georgia later became part of the Russian Empire, then declared independence in 1918 after the Revolution, only to fall to the Red Army in 1921 and be absorbed into the Soviet Union. Georgia is again independent, but it fought Russian troops in 2008 over two of its provinces. Georgians are tough.

Most Sundays, when I am in my right mind, that is, having prepared myself properly, I enter the church feeling a bit sick, wounded. That’s right in the pre-communion prayers. It’s good to come clean and be healed. Ignatius of Antioch called Communion the “medicine of immortality.” It’s not magic; not a dosage. We celebrate the Resurrection this season, the Font of Immortality. Our life is in Christ’s indestructible Life. On my Sunday in Georgia, I also needed simple bread and wine, which he also provides. Communion is a gift not to be taken for granted.

James M. Kushiner

And if the above video does not break your hear with intense joy for Christ, watch this STUNNING video of children breaking out with the news of the resurrection. CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD TRAMPLING DOWN DEATH BY DEATH AND UPON THOSE IN THE TOMBS BESTOWING LIFE!

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