MARCH 17, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters,

Christ is in our midst!

Please find attached a copy of the updated policy on COVID-19 released today by the Antiochian Archdiocese. 

With respect to many of the policy directives, St. Nicholas is already compliant. 

Here is a summary of new changes applicable to the parish of St. Nicholas Church:

1. While, in accordance with the policy, I do not want to completely shut off our faithful from the church which is, as His Eminence noted, their 'spiritual hospital', nevertheless I STRONGLY ENCOURAGE EVERYONE TO STAY HOME, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER OR NOT YOU ARE SICK

2. There will be NO Presanctified Divine Liturgy tomorrow (3/18). The Presanctified Gifts will be reserved for the needs of the sick if necessary.

3. Akathist on Friday (3/20) (and the remainder for the foreseeable future) will be live-streamed from our website and Facebook page. I will serve alone. Please do not come.

4. Divine Liturgy on Sunday (3/22) will be live-streamed. Most likely, I will serve with only my family present. Please do not come. I provide further comments about NOT partaking of the Eucharist further below in this email; please read them.

5. Regarding Confession and Eucharist (again, see notes below):  Frankly, this is the hardest decision to make, and it is the one decision I vacillate on. This is what I am going to attempt this week (I may change things for next week):
        A. CONFESSIONS: If you want your confession heard this week, please email me. I will make a list and schedule a time with each interested person to hear your confession OVER THE PHONE. This is not ideal, but I am 100% committed to protecting you from exposure to the coronavirus as much as I can. This prevents you from the need to get out or encounter anyone. Be clear: This in no way is a license for continuing this confessional practice after the pandemic has passed.
       B. EUCHARIST: His Eminence's statement reads: 'You may in these exceptional times, with great pastoral discretion, offer Confession and Holy Communion from the Reserve Sacrament for faithful who express a great need.' I stress the phrase, 'who express a great need'. Not to be too strong in my words, but now is not the time to be sentimental about the sacrament and thereby put others at risk. Let us be honest with ourselves: many are the times we have been absent from the Holy Gifts for a vacation or other personal choice. Now I encourage you to remain physically absent for the good health of your neighbor; instead, participate in the live stream and pray the services available to you in your home. Having said that, if you 'express a great need', then I will, 'with great pastoral discretion' try to make it available to you at the Church. I will not, however, make house visits except in the most extreme need. This is for everyone's safety. For further comments, see below.

6. In accordance with the Archdiocesan policy, I will have the church open during the week ACCORDING TO MY DISCERNMENT.
        A. I encourage you to let me know if you are coming so that we can be sure to limit the number of people in the church at any given time. 
        B. I will also limit the amount of time you can stay in the church: You may come in, light a candle, pray momentarily, and leave. 
        C. This is so I can be sure to be able to adequately clean the church and keep it clean.
        D. But again I say: STAY HOME and pray there if you have the strength
        E. You can be assured that I am and will be praying for all of you (my family and I prayed the Paraklesis to the Theotokos for you in the church last night). 

7. COMMENTS ON NOT PARTAKING OF THE EUCHARIST: Even if you are not present, the Divine Liturgy, as His Eminence says, 'brings sanctification "in behalf of all and for all"'. Under these extreme and rare circumstances, grace is offered to you even when you do not partake of the Eucharist. Remember that it is the Church, the true Body of Christ--of which you are members--that is the true Sacrament. And since you are true members of that Body, God's grace is made available to you at every instant that you seek it. The sacramental and incarnational grace of God reaches out to each member of the Body of Christ, regardless of where we are--especially when our hearts and minds are turned to Him. I recommend you be encouraged by the Athonite story I have many times shared: 

Two monks, one physically present at the Divine Liturgy and the second unable to be so due to an obedience that took him away from the monastery. The first monk, though present physically, allowed his mind to wander and grow cold and complacent. The second monk, though physically far off, set his heart and mind on the liturgy back in the monastery and even prayed it from memory as he fulfilled his obedience. When the priest censed, he skipped over the first deaon--who was present--and censed the empty stall of the second--who was absent! When the first monk indignantly reproached the priest for this, the priest responded: 'I did not see you in your stall; but your brother--whether he was away or not I don't know--but I saw him in his stall praying and singing.' Then the first monk realized that though he was present physically, he had allowed his mind to wander, and therefore he--not the absent monk--had missed the grace of the liturgy.

Here is the lesson for us today: Though you are absent physically, keep your heart and mind set upon Christ and His Church and be at peace. As His Eminence states: 'We pray that by implementing these measures in accordance with our civil authorities, we can hasten the time when it will be safe to return to a full liturgical life, and in the process, God willing, save lives at the same time.'

If you have questions about anything in either the Archdiocesan policy or my application thereof, please email me. If you need anything else from me, please let me know.

May God bless you and keep you!

Blessings in Christ,
Fr. Matthew