ST. NICHOLAS ORTHODOX CHURCH, JACKSON, TN - INITIAL PASTORAL LETTER IN RESPONSE TO CORONAVIRUS AND COVID-19

MARCH 13, 2020

ST. NICHOLAS ORTHODOX CHURCH, JACKSON, TN - INITIAL PASTORAL LETTER IN RESPONSE TO CORONAVIRUS AND COVID-19

Dear brothers and sisters,

Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!

Undoubtedly all of you are aware of the national and local concern regarding the coronavirus, and that a national emergency has been declared to aid the national response to the virus. You may also be aware of the many closures and cancellations it has caused even here locally. None of this has been lost on our hierarchs and clergy, who strive to provide the best pastoral guidance and care possible to the faithful across our Archdiocese. Attached hereto is an encyclical from His Eminence Metropolitan JOSEPH; I encourage you to read it (and the remainder of this email) thoroughly. 

I am breaking up my email below into two sections for clarity's sake: 1) the response of the Archdiocese, 2) our local response.

Here are a few things to know as we think about the response of the Archdiocese as a whole:

1. The situation is changing rapidly, and it is important that we are able to adjust as it does, seeking pastoral aid where appropriate and praying constantly for the welfare of all.

2. A one-size-fits-all policy will not work, therefore I am trying to stay in contact with His Grace, Bishop NICHOLAS for any guidance needed. This means that we be attentive to his guidance and not be overly concerned if other dioceses act differently, as they may have greater or lesser outbreaks within their dioceses.

3. The CDC offered this breakdown of responses that includes a section for religious communities based on local conditions: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/community-mitigation-strategy.pdf

St. Nicholas' Local Response:

1. His Eminence has blessed us to cancel any non-worship related activities. This means:
      A. We WILL NOT have Sunday morning Bible Study and Church School for the foreseeable future.
      B. We WILL NOT have Coffee Hour after Sunday liturgy for the foreseeable future.
      C. We WILL NOT have a potluck after Presanctified Liturgies on Wednesdays for the foreseeable future.
      D. We WILL NOT have any other social or teaching gatherings for the foreseeable future--including Antiochian Women, Catechism, etc.

2. We must take care to make sure everything at the church is cleaned according to the CDC Guidelines as long as we continue to have liturgical services (see the Guidelines here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/cleaning-disinfection.html).

3. We WILL CONTINUE to have the Eucharist in the traditional form.

4. We WILL NOT offer antidoron after Communion. Rather, I alone will offer it at the end of the Liturgy to those who choose to receive it.

5. We will continue to work with both our hierarchs and local civil authorities to discern the wisest plan going forward.

6. If you feel unwell, do not be unreasonable and try to attend services just because they are held. For the sake of your own health and that of others, stay home and seek the advice of your physician. I encourage all of you to be obedient to your physicians.

7. During this time, it is important that we do not allow ourselves to neglect the liturgical life of the Church. If you choose not to come to church, I encourage you to remain vigilant over your prayer life while you are home. I recommend that you pray the Paraklesis service at your prayer corner. Here is a good resource for both the text and a recording of the service: https://www.goarch.org/-/the-service-of-the-small-paraklesis-intercessory-prayer-to-the-most-holy-theotokos. There are also many wonderful resources for prayer and spiritual growth via Ancient Faith (online), etc. Feel free to ask me for further resources if you need them. It is absolutely important that we are fed spiritually during this time, especially as this may feel very surreal and cause us anxiety and depression.

8. Depending on how things develop over the next few days, I may offer an opportunity for those who desire it to come to the church for anointing with holy oil or even Unction.

9. Whether there are services at the church or not; whether you are able to attend or not; be assured of my prayers for you and your spiritual and physical health.

My own final thoughts:

All of this may feel very surreal. We may be tempted to go to extremes--either to panic or to dismiss the concerns as overblown. A mature and reasonable response is to be prepared spiritually,  mentally, physically. This involves constant prayer, vigilance over our thoughts, and cleanliness. This is not a situation we can control, but we can control our reaction. Our vocation as Christians does not change under these circumstances: we pray for all people, we think beyond ourselves of others, we remain faithful to God and humble before our neighbor. We consider that our constant liturgical prayer is that God would grant us His mercy and peace, and nothing now changes that. This is not the Lenten journey we expected but it is the Lenten journey God has given to us--for our salvation and for the salvation of the world. May we be faithful to Him in all things. All is Gift, however hard it is to see that. Therefore our constant prayer is 'Glory to God for all things!' It is in times like this that we prove our faith.

If you need to reach out to me outside of services to talk about how to deal with these circumstances, please feel free to email or call me. I will do my best to be available. I'm sure I haven't covered everything in this email. May God bless you and keep you!

Blessings in Christ,
Fr. Matthew