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Episode 3
April 9th, 2020

The Coronavirus: A Sign of the Times

In this episode we examine the Coronavirus Crisis as a crisis of both soul and body, the reaction of many Christians as a sign of the times, and the faithfulness of the Prophet Daniel as an example for the Last Christians. 

Sections: 

  • Questions we must answer. 
  • Not Of this World?
  • As in the Days of Noah
  • Carrying out Both of the Great Commandments
  • A Sign of the Times as the End Times?
  • The Example of the Prophet Daniel
  • When it is illegal to go Church...
  • If we are afraid, we will not enter the Kingdom of God
  • More Questions we need to answer
  • Time for Self-knowledge


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Transcript


Utilize the Orthodox Ethos Podcast Interactive Transcripts!: https://oe-transcripts.now.sh

For all who would like to economically support the work of The Orthodox Ethos, donations can be made via Paypal at the following link: paypal.me/FrPeterHeers

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Today on the Orthodox Ethos podcast:

The Coronavirus Crisis: A Crisis of Soul and Body

A Sign of our Times as the End Times

and

The Faithfulness of the Prophet Daniel as an Example for the Last Christians.

Today, the world is facing a universal crisis, a crisis not just of the body, and first and foremost for many people, this is how they are viewing it. But it is also a crisis of the soul. It is a crisis of the spirit. It is a crisis for us Orthodox Christians. And there are many questions being asked.

I have some important, pressing questions of my own that I would like to direct to all of us. First to myself, and to all of us in the Orthodox Church. I am wondering about our response. I am wondering about how many of the Orthodox Churches have chosen to deal with this crisis, in relation to the health of its members, but also in relation to its stance towards the state.

I am wondering if perhaps we have succumbed to the wiles of the enemy, in our pastoral response. It is a question for all of us to consider. Is it possible to shut down the churches, keep people from the Fount of Incorruption, and yet do this out of love for our neighbor?

Are the Two Greatest Commandments at war with each other? Can we say we are doing God’s will while we cease to keep His commandments? For we have two basic commandments that we are not keeping when we shut down the churches.

The first is that we bless him in congregations, as it says in the Psalms, “In congregations bless Ye the Lord.” This is a commandment of our Lord.

But more importantly, and more basic to our life as Christians is the commandment to eat his body and drink His blood in the Holy Eucharist. The communion with our Lord is a sine qua non; it is something that is impossible for us to be separated from, and not be falling away from God. This is a commandment that he has given us. It is quite frightening for us to have separation from this.

Is there no way for us to obey God rather than men? Have we exhausted all of the possibilities? Is it really impossible for us to commune with God in the Eucharist and love our neighbor.

Did not the Archangel Gabriel say to the Theotokos: with God nothing shall be impossible?

In this pandemic, and our response to it, we see a sign of our times. God has allowed this trial (at once at the instigation of the enemy; yes there is clearly the hand of the enemy at work here). But it is allowed by God. Nothing happens without it being allowed by God. And there is something that he wants us to get out of this, undoubtedly.

I believe it is for us to come to a better knowledge of self, before worse trials begin. We need to see how, in our stance and in our reactions to the threat of bodily death, which we should remember, is a doorway to Heaven for us! We readily expose ourselves to the threat of spiritual death, to spiritual death if we are separated for a long time from the fount of incorruption, the fount of life.

In our response, we appear to differ only slightly from the world and those who are not of the church. We also appear to be fearful. And our decisions are driven, in part, by this fear, which is, however, unjustified, for we are no longer “in bondage to the enemy through fear of death.”

Our Lord has ASSURED US: “be of good cheer, I have overcome the world,” the death of the body AND the devil. These are no longer for us anything to be fearful of.

Insomuch as some Orthodox have sped to close the Churches, even before the State mandated it, and others have acquiesced quickly to the classification of the Church and the Divine Liturgy as a NON-ESSENTIAL - NON-ESSENTIAL - activity, we have entered into very dangerous spiritual waters.

Not in vain did our Lord liken the last days to the events “in the days of Noah…” Brothers and sisters, a flood is coming, a flood of unbelief, of flood of faithlessness, of lack of trust, in the Theanthropic Person of Christ. This is the temptation that is coming upon the whole world. Are we building our Ark of Faith? This is the time. It is already late. Noah spent decades and decades building his ark. Our time is short.

We cannot, in our response, be saved by citing our great love of neighbor. For it is not possible for the horizontal bar on the cross to be at war with the vertical. It is not possible for the commandments to contradict themselves.

The Source and Giver is One and we can and must find a way to carry out BOTH commandments together: communing of the Holy Mysteries, worshiping God in the Churches, and loving and caring for the well-being of our neighbor. There is a way forward. We must find it. Practical issues cannot overcome the basic principles. Our Lord is not that powerless. We have become obstacles to Him working his miracles and Him protecting us.

Let us be on guard, lest while boasting we are sacrificing for our neighbor, while not keeping the Lord’s commandments, we are revealed as lovers of self.

I wholeheartedly adopt for myself the statement of my fellow priest, Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov: “There is just something inconsistent about Christians who risk getting infected while stocking up on toilet paper at Walmart or Costco, but are not willing to take a similar risk when it comes to going to church (and communing of the Holy Mysteries).”

In all of this a SIGN OF THE TIMES, as the END TIMES. It is apparent because of our weak faith or lack of faith, according to the words of our Lord: “when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” So this is a sign of the end times, when Christians become weak in faith.

Will we remain faithful? This is the most important question that we need to ask ourselves. We are being tested. This time we are being tested. But soon the general rehearsal will end and on center stage will be the main act, those days prophesied of.

Whatever might happen, whatever challenge might come, and comes to the faithful man - and this is not a great challenge at all, compared to what will come for those of the end times - if someone has God as his master he is not shaken, not in the least. This is apparent in the story of the prophet Daniel, in Chapter 6, Book of Daniel, where we read:

“The presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could not find occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him. [5] Then these men said, We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God.”

So, what did they do? Listen to what they did, because in every age there are rulers who work by stealth and seek to wipe the Worship of the One God in Trinity from the face of the earth. Ours is especially filled with such rulers.

“[6] Then these presidents and princes assembled together to the king, and said thus unto him, King Darius, live forever. [7] All the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, and the princes, the counsellers, and the captains, have consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions. [8] Now, O king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not.”

This was quite deceptive and smart, for it appears that they are establishing the power of the king, even as they were working to destroy his trusted servant and lock him into a decision that we will not want to make. By insisting that it become the law of the land they are also making it very hard for the king not to enforce it.

And the Scriptures go on: “[10] Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime. [He did not change because of the law.] [11] Then these men assembled, and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God.”

Notice how the Prophet did not consider it “wise” or “prudent” or “pastoral” or “humble” to avoid praying because such a law was passed.

Listen to what the great Elder Athanasius Mitilinaios says about this in 1981, in Greece:

“Tomorrow, my children, you do not know what laws will be enacted! In a few years who knows what kind of laws they will pass? There may be laws which will make it illegal for us to go to Church. [Indeed.] What will we do? Will we start to take into account the laws of the state when they impinge upon our Faith? Do not forget that the Martyrs were the most important and, especially if they were soldiers, the bravest soldiers who fought on behalf of the king. When, however, the decrees infringed upon their faith, they said: “First in order is the Heavenly King and then the earthly! End of Discussion! … Pay attention to this point.”

And he continues elsewhere in his analysis of the Scriptures:

“…That is why I told you to always be ready and be on guard. We do not know what tomorrow will bring. I will only tell you this: the antichrist will do this; he will do this. He will shut down the churches. And I will tell you something else: he will not just shut them down for a time. He will entirely shut them down when he comes to power. A terrible persecution will be unleashed by the antichrist; we know this of a certainty, and our fathers have forewarned us about it. So we must always be ready.”

But there is more to the story of the Prophet Daniel which is of interest to us now, in these historical days.

Again, Fr. Athanasius says, and this is very pertinent to our situation:

“What did the Prophet do? (They came and they reported him to the king. He knew that he would be thrown into the lion’s den if he was caught. What did he do?) His duty! He was a man of his word, both to the king, and more importantly, to the Lord. What he did in his own home was of no concern to the King. He was going to do his duty.

“For this reason he did not hesitate to pray and indeed to say his prayers in a room which had large windows. He did this not in order to provoke them but because he had the habit of praying in this way, with the windows open, looking towards Jerusalem.

It was not to provoke, but simply because he did not want to change his custom at all. He did not want to change his typicon, his prayer service. His order of services, his way of praying, in the least. He was a faithful man.

Someone might wonder and say why doesn’t he just close the windows and say his prayers inside so that no one can see him? There is always a good, smart answer. He just had to pull the curtains and who would have seen him? But the elder Athanasius responds: His enemies would have simply gone on top of an adjoining housetop and seen within and say, “look what is he doing, he’s praying!?” They were ready to accuse him.

Do not be fearful. If we are afraid, we will not enter the kingdom of God. I repeat the words of the great elder. If we are afraid, we will not enter the kingdom of God. In the book of Revelation, the timid, who are precisely those who are afraid to confess their place and their stance as faithful - ‘shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.’

The Holy Scriptures are TIMELESS and always TIMELY. There is always an answer to our current plight, our crisis, our so-called “crisis.” There is nothing new under the sun - except for, perhaps, the reign of quantity, which we are living through right now. But that for another podcast.

You see, my brothers and sisters, the only thing to fear is fear, fear of faithlessness. The odor of fearfulness, the stench of fearfulness, and timidness is a sure sign that the enemy is hidden nearby. When we see fear being wielded as a tool to control and herd humanity - and that is exactly what we are seeing right now - fear is being used as a tool, and will be even more so in the days ahead. No matter the excuse, and “urgent need” being pushed upon us - there is always an “urgent need;” there is always an excuse - we can be sure that the enemy has his hands in it.

Prayer and humility, and obedience to God, are the essential ingredients. They are not non-essentials, they are essentials. These are the essentials that make up a fearless stance. It is essential that we make no excuses for ourselves. It is essential that, right now, we all double down on self-reflection, self-criticism, and self-knowledge. It is key.

I want to read you something from the great elder St. Paisios about the man who is faithful and fearless, in his book on family life, p. 213. He says:

If one understands the mysteries of spiritual life, and the mystical way of God, in which He works, he ceases to worry. He ceases worrying about what happens to him, because he accepts joyfully the bitter medicines that God gives him for the health of his soul. Such a person considers everything to be the result of his prayer, since he constantly asks God to purify his soul. So he considers everything to be the surgery, the health program of God for the purification of his soul.

When people face their tribulations in a worldly manner, they are tormented. They are fearful. It says, God follows all of us closely. We should surrender ourselves unconditionally to him. Otherwise it becomes an endless torture for man.

Are we, as Orthodox Christians, at peace with our response to this challenge, this crisis? Are we at peace? Can we rejoice and praise God for the closing of our churches? Are we filled with Paschal joy, or even Lenten joyful-sorrow, locked in our homes? Are we thankful for the witness of our people before the unbelievers, the heathen and heterodox? Have we given a unique Orthodox response, that only the Orthodox Church can give?

WE NEED TO BE BRUTALLY HONEST with ourselves and admit our worldliness and our weakness. We have to humble ourselves and entreat the Lord to increase our faith, increase our trust, increase our desire for His second coming. In this stance we will find mercy and our spiritual strength will increase and our self-knowledge will bring with it knowledge of God.

Our God is a good God. He loveth mankind. And He is ready to listen, but He waits on us. He respects our freedom. He treasures it, even. He knocks at the door, but we have to open up. We have to put our trust in Him, to bring forth repentance, to imitate His extreme humility, in and through which He will quickly bring about our resurrection! And make us worthy to celebrate Pascha again with Him.

In our next episode, we will look at the guides available to us in our quest for acquiring the Orthodox Ethos, and we’ll continue our look at the spiritual signs and lessons to be learned from this so-called “corona virus” crisis. I hope you’ll join me then.

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Utilize the Orthodox Ethos Podcast Interactive Transcripts!: https://oe-transcripts.now.sh

For all who would like to economically support the work of The Orthodox Ethos, donations can be made via Paypal at the following link: paypal.me/FrPeterHeers

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