Reflections To Comfort Us During these Uncertain Days

Reflections To Comfort Us During these Uncertain Days
 

And remember I am with you always even to the end of the age.
Matthew 28:20

We can find comfort, strength and hope in the midst of our concerns and fears during these uncertain days in three beautiful hymns we chant during this Great Lenten season. In the Great Compline service we sing repeatedly, “Lord of the Power, be with us. For in times of distress, we have no other help but You, Lord of the Powers, have mercy on us.” We also chant the inspiring hymn. “God is with us, let it be known. Let all nations be humbled, for God is with us!” And at the Friday Salutation Service, along with the Divine Liturgy, we chant the hymn of thanksgiving to the Virgin Mary: “O Champion General, I your servant now inscribe to you, Triumphant anthems as the tokens of my gratitude, Being rescued from the perils O Theotokos. Inasmuch as you have power unassailable from all kinds of perils free me so that unto you I may cry aloud, “Rejoice O unwedded Bride.”” This last hymn was written in gratitude to the Virgin Mary for protecting the great city of Constantinople during one of its most dangerous and perilous periods. Turn to Christ during these days of distress and anxiety and find comfort and strength in the Lord of the Powers!

 

“Do not be afraid; Fear not; I am with you.”
Mark 6:49-50

These comforting words of our Lord don’t mean we won’t be concerned. We all may have certain anxiety and worries. And we must take all the precautions and guidelines necessary to protect ourselves and one another. Yet as Christians, we shouldn’t allow fear to become a guiding force for our actions. We need to remember that God is with us and will always remain close to us no matter what uncertainty we face. Throughout history, Christians have faced countless perils and dangers from devastating plagues that have wiped out large portions of the population to wars, famine, pestilence and other natural and man-made threats. Yet Christians have always found their greatest Source of comfort, support and strength in their faith in Christ and in the assurance that God is with us!

 

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins…
God is love and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him…
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear”
1 John 4:10, 16, 18

There is a deep joy in giving and loving and in doing something for someone else! Life is empty if it is only about taking care of ourselves, if it is only about worrying and protecting ourselves and our loved ones. The deepest meaning in life comes when we sacrificially live for something greater than ourselves, when we discover the incredible delight in loving God and seeing the face of God in others, especially in those who are suffering, marginalized, and in need.

 

“I will both sleep and rest in peace, For you alone, O Lord, cause me to dwell in hope.”
Psalm 4:9

Just over a week ago, we celebrated the feast of the Annunciation, which marks the beginning of our salvation.  The salvific work of Christ was a process, which began when God entered into the womb of the Virgin Mary, continued throughout His life of Divine Love as the Teacher of wisdom and the Wonderworker of miracles, and ended with His victory through His Passion, Cross, Resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon His followers. As we prepare to enter Holy Week and celebrate the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord, earth-shattering events which changed world history, we remember how God entered into the fallen world, took His place among his creation and began the restoration of fallen humanity. The new Adam restores the old, fallen Adam. Hope is restored and renewal of life is given to all. Through the Annunciation and then into Holy Week and Pascha, we remember that we are not alone in this harsh world.  God has not forgotten us or abandoned us. We do not need to face the mystery of life, with all its struggles and uncertainties, by ourselves.  For God is with us!

 

“We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness,
but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace,
that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need”

Hebrews 4:15-16

God has not forgotten or abandoned us. We do not need to face the mystery of life, with all its struggles and uncertainties, by ourselves.  For God is with us! As we hear all the uncertain, disheartening, and frightful news of the coronavirus and think about all the devastating social and financial consequences this virus will leave behind, we balance the ‘bad news’ of these days with the Good News of our Faith. God has come in our midst. God has entered into this troubled world to participate and transform our suffering, sorrow, and despair.  We do not believe in a God who lives far away in the heavens, but we believe in a God who is near us, ready to help us! What greater message can we hold on to than to know that the Almighty Creator of the universe lived among us, experienced life as we know it, faced the same temptations and dangers, felt abandoned and rejected by the world, and yet overcame the world!

 

“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by.”

Psalm 57:1

The storms of the coronavirus and all its side effects will pass one day, hopefully soon. These are challenging days for the entire world, and many will suffer and struggle. Let us find our comfort and strength in the Lord. Turn to our Lord many times throughout the day. Find refuge for your soul in Him and Him alone. The storms will pass, but God remains forever.

 

 “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.”
Proverbs 18:10

Call on the name of the Lord Jesus day and night. This is what we try to do when we learn to say the Jesus Prayer continuously. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner.” Or “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.” Monastics and priests along with everyday Christians will say this prayer literally thousands of times a day, until God graces them with the gift of unceasing prayer. The Prayer just continues to be repeated deep within our hearts. Part of the power of this prayer is that we call on the name of the Lord. We combine the power of the Name of Jesus with the humble repentant cry “Have mercy on me.” Let us turn to this prayer whenever we have a free moment throughout the day and night, as well as discipline ourselves to pray it continuously for 15 minutes as we stand in our morning or evening prayers.

 

“The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.”
Proverbs 17:3

These times we are living in seem so uncertain. What will tomorrow bring? This crisis appears unprecedented, and yet, if we study history, we see that every generation has faced their own forms of calamity and insecurity from both man-made and natural disasters. We can fear or mourn these transformative events, or we can see in them an opportunity to discern what is essential and eternal in life, allowing these circumstances to draw us closer to God. As this Proverb teaches us, can we see all the events of this time as a test ? What do we sincerely value in life? In whom do we put our ultimate trust? What is this brief sojourn in life all about? Such crises often reveal clearly our character, our values in life, and who we truly are. Such moments can also be times of sincere reflection and deep repentance. Repentance means turning away from all that is false and meaningless and empty in our lives, and turning toward the Source of Meaning and Wisdom, the Well-Spring of Life Himself, turning toward our Creator. Our Lord Jesus Christ is “testing our hearts.” What does He see in us? And how will we react?

 

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.”
Psalm 46:1

Remember and repeat these words throughout these days of uncertainty and concern. Every day as we read the news and spend hours on social media, take time to turn away from all the news of fear and anxiety and spend time focusing on the Good News that God is with us and that all things are under His control. Take time every day to “be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) Never forget that our Lord God says, “I am the “Alpha and the Omega, the Almighty who is and who was and who is to come.” (Revelation 1:8) Nothing in past history, present history, or future history is outside the Almighty One. Let us find comfort and hope in Him.

 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

We are living during some very stressful, uncertain times with the coronavirus and the impact it is having in our lives and on the local and global community. Everyone will react to this stress, concern, anxiety and fear in different ways. Now is the time for each of us to be instruments of God’s loving and comforting presence. When family or friends or even strangers we encounter are stressed and worried, and even panicking, can we bring Christ’s “peace that transcends all understanding?” Can we offer words that will “impart grace to the hearers?” (Ephesians 4:29) If people around us are over-reacting or even panicking, don’t respond in like manner. May each of us be instruments in God’s hands to offer peace, to impart grace, and to offer a soft word of comfort, encouragement and hope. Remember, God is with us. May we act as God’s ambassadors in bringing His presence to everyone we encounter today.

 

 

“The Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want for anything…
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for You are with me, Your rod and Your staff shall comfort me.”
Psalm 23

As the world around us reacts and panics to the spread of the coronavirus, may people of Faith find comfort and refuge in our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our rock and our fortress. When one is filled with His Holy Spirit, divine peace will reign in our heart and will allow no space for fear. Fear is not of God. “Perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18) So whenever we are tempted with fear, run to Christ and remember that He is with us. Learn to pray Psalm 23 each day and find comfort knowing that we have a Good Shepherd who is watching over us and taking care of us.

 

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

During these uncertain and stressful days, one of the central vices we must be aware of is our egocentric tendency to worry only about ourselves and loved ones and to care for ourselves alone. In contrast, one of the crucial virtues we need to cultivate is remembering that divine love is all about our neighbor - loving God implies loving our neighbor, loving the other! Let us be conscious about this specific virtue - consciously reaching out to our neighbor, especially to those who are afflicted with this illness, those who feel alone and afraid, those who are anxious and stressed out, those who have lost their jobs, to those most marginalized of society. Let us act as ambassadors of God’s presence in this crisis.

 

“If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.
For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake
 and the Gospel’s will save it.”
Mark 8:34-35

In the midst of not only these uncertain times with the coronavirus, but also in the middle of our Lenten journey of fasting, increased prayer and spiritual disciplines, self-reflection and repentance, and more generous and conscious charity and love, the Church draws our attention to the significance and centrality of the CROSS of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Cross reminds us WHY we take our spiritual lives to a higher level and WHERE our journey is leading us. Jesus said, Christ reminds us that our entrance into paradise passes through the Cross, our journey into heavens implies a life of sacrificial love, our union with God can only occur when we struggle, deny ourselves, and ultimately die to our worldly desires! Our Lord sacrificed, suffered, and died on the Cross to take upon Himself the sins of the world, our sins. Through the Cross He destroyed death itself. Yet the cross also teaches us that only if we imitate this life of self-denial, sacrifice, and love will we join our Lord in His ultimate victory.

 


Describing how Christians responded to the plague in the first centuries
Eusebius in Ecclesiastical History

During the crisis, most of our brethren were unsparing in their exceeding love and brotherly kindness. They held fast to each other and visited the sick fearlessly, and ministered to them continually, serving them in Christ. And they died with them most joyfully, taking the affliction of others, and drawing the sickness from their neighbors to themselves and willingly receiving their pains. And many who cared for the sick and gave strength to others died themselves having transferred to themselves their death. Truly the best of our brethren departed from life in this manner, including some presbyters and deacons and those of the people who had the highest reputation; so that this form of death, through the great piety and strong faith it exhibited, seemed to lack nothing of martyrdom. And they took the bodies of the saints in their open hands and in their bosoms, and closed their eyes and their mouths; and they bore them away on their shoulders and laid them out; and they clung to them and embraced them; and they prepared them suitably with washings and garments. And after a little they received like treatment themselves, for the survivors were continually following those who had gone before them. But with the heathen everything was quite otherwise. They deserted those who began to be sick, and fled from their dearest friends.  They shunned any participation or fellowship with death; which yet, with all their precautions, it was not easy for them to escape.

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