Fifty Paschas Plus One[i]
By: James Kelly[ii]
Social distancing may quell the pandemic of Covid 19 gripping the world, but to paraphrase a line from Lincoln, “a church divided cannot stand. The Orthodox Church works best within a community. Today, at my struggling home church of Holy Trinity in Catasauqua, PA only a few people actually live in the community of Catasauqua.
The Orthodox church that came to America in the late 19th century was a community of immigrants who brought their religion with them in their hearts and souls. The first thing they did after settling was to build churches to nurture those souls and pay tribute to God for their new lives.
Social distancing overtook our church long before Covid 19 came along. Most of the descendants of the Slavic immigrants, like their grandparents and parents have had to follow the jobs to other parts of America. Many have left the church for numerous reasons. The demographics of far-flung families, social distancing of the worst kind, has led to a host of problems that I am not qualified to discuss, much less solve.
It is my hope, however, that the leaders of the Orthodox church, having performed so diligently throughout the church crisis of Covid 19, recognize that the electronic world which became a saving grace of Pascha 2020, could become a future beacon of togetherness and communication within our struggling churches, and with potential future parishioners, as well as our ever more distanced elders.
We were forced to turn to live streaming in order to protect the sanctity of more than 2,000 years of Paschal love for Christ, and it succeeded beyond measure. Most of us with the ability to stream attended and visited more churches than we would or could have, by car and in person.
My wife and I concentrated on Metropolitan Tikhon and services at St. Tikhon’s Monastery. We were thrilled by the Go-pro streamed procession around the church. We walked every step with them and sang with them.
Over the course of Lent and social distancing, we also visited churches across America and the world. One video showed a priest and two deacons censing people in cars as they paraded on the back of a flatbed truck, complete with bell-ringer. That joyous scene brought tears to my wife as she thought about all the priests from Russia who gave their lives for God in the dreaded days of Stalin.
In our lifetime we have traveled to Orthodox churches from Alaska to Paris, but never with the ease of live streaming. We are of the age of vulnerability. We are taking our doctor visits electronically, not the best, but something to be grateful for in a literally sick world… An adjunct physician if you would.
In the secular world we live in, the entertainment industry has gone from debased to basically evil. What better way to answer than to provide our spiritual physician, Christ the healer, in answer to the sick visions that populate much of what claims to be entertainment.
I plan to reward those churches we attended with small gifts. Perhaps others who used live streaming will do that, too. And, no we will not give up the closeness of our home church for the ease of staying at home. That need will come all too soon. We plan to enjoy our church as long as we can.
The goal here would not be to replace the physical church, but to expand it; to replace dismal demographics that show many of the churches withering like grass before a fire; to rebuild the communities of like-minded people and share the beauty and glory of Orthodox liturgies. Some priests are running with the concept of social media, but many are stuck in the past addressing themselves to tens of people instead of hundreds and beyond.
Pascha 2020 has shown us that the electronic world cannot replace “Being There, in church!” But it can certainly be a wonderful adjunct to reach out to the “NONES” (those millions of millennials with no faith base) to turn them into the “NEW ONES,” and in the process revitalize Orthodoxy!
[i] This article is copyright © to James Kelly and is published here under licence and was first published at http://holytrinityoca.org/protestant-man-meets-orthodoxy. This article may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the author’s written consent.
[ii] James Kelly is a retired editor, columnist and journalist with the Bethlehem Morning Call newspaper and is an active member of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, Catasauqua, PA.