Coronavirus, Fear, and the Rock of Faith

The Coronavirus. A pandemic. Whole cities being quarantined. Travel interrupted. Schools closing. Stadiums and large gatherings forbidden. Financial markets plummeting. Fear and the danger of mass panic and even hysteria. It almost sounds like a horror movie, and yet we all realize we’re facing this reality right now.

In the midst of such a public crisis, where is God? Where should the Church be in such moments of social turmoil? What is our role as Christians in society during such times of mass fear and grave challenges? Will our Christian Faith act as a source of comfort in our lives, something that we can embrace and from which we will find strength, or will we push it aside and focus only on our fears, or will we just ignore our Faith as something irrelevant compared to 24/7 voices we listen to from the media and society at large? Ultimately, do we truly believe that God is with us, especially in times of turmoil and uncertainty, and will we find hope and solace in Him during this crisis and any other unexpected turn of events in our lives?

I read an interesting article in the NY Times on Tuesday entitled “Coronavirus and God.” The Italian journalist Mattia Ferraresi wrote about the closing of churches, along with a general lock-down of society in Italy. He noted ironically that precisely at a time when people need comfort and strength, something that faith has offered to countless people throughout history, the government has closed the churches and suggested that people can watch the liturgical services on TV or via the internet. As the Archbishop of Milan celebrated Mass before an empty cathedral, he noted that the difference between attending Mass and receiving the Eucharist compared to watching it on TV was the same as the difference between “sitting next to a bonfire and contemplating a picture of it.”

Ferraresi went on to write, “Faith is a fundamental source of spiritual healing and hope. It’s a remedy against despair… and an antidote to loneliness… It is the ultimate source of meaning that makes sense of the whole of existence, including, and perhaps especially, during circumstances marked by suffering and tribulation.”

The early church is full of examples about how Christians would risk their lives in order to worship no matter what the authorities demanded. Why? Because they understood, “we cannot live without the Lord’s Bread,” which included worshipping the Lord even when plague or disease would create havoc throughout society.

Now, in our contemporary world facing the coronavirus, we must take care to heed preventive actions. We need to listen to the scientific and medical advice offered to control and address the spread of this virus. Yet at the same time, we must also be careful not to allow fear, overreaction and panic to rule the day. And we must especially take care not to turn away from or ignore the main source of comfort and hope we have – our faith in an ever-present and loving God.

Remember, the life of the Church, the Family of God, and our Faith is not simply one among many other secular organizations. Our secular society will treat the Church just like any other organization and will feel there is no problem in closing our churches. Yet the Church and particularly the Mysteries of the Faith are something that we need now more then ever. They are means by which we encounter God in the most intimate way, and in this encounter we will find comfort and strength.

We can see an example of finding this comfort, strength and hope in the midst of our concerns and fears about the coronavirus 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 “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.

Lord of the Powers be with us! God is with us! The Virgin Mary, the Mother of God is watching over us! We are never alone in any trial we face in life. Let us never forget or allow any threat of a pandemic or fear of any other concern overwhelm us so much that we forget that ultimately, we are in the hands of God. God is here and present even in the midst of any uncertainty. He is with us and will never abandon us! Always remember, the safest place to be is in the will of God! Let me repeat this. The safest place to be is in the will of God! Stay with Him and walk with Him and if we are with Him, there is never anything to be afraid of!

Listen to some of the comforting promises our Lord Jesus Christ told his followers:

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid… In the world you will have tribulation; but take courage, I have overcome the world  (John 14:27; 16:33) Christ offered this comfort right before he was arrested and crucified. He knew his disciples would be confused and afraid, yet he reminded them that His peace is something no unexpected circumstance can take away! As He often told his friends, “Do not be afraid. Fear not!”

Jesus’ final words, right before He left His followers and ascended into heaven, were And remember I am with you always even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20) He reminded them that He was not leaving them alone. He promised I will not leave you orphans. (John 14:19) but reminded them that He was sending His Spirit to always live in them.

We see another incredible example of this peace in the Apostle Paul, when he himself faced an uncertain future locked up in prison himself. He didn’t know if he faced life or death, and yet he was concerned about the Christians in Philippi who themselves were facing persecution and the uncertainty of their own lives, and he encouraged them by writing 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)

The Apostle Peter had similar advice to offer in his first letter when he wrote, Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

These words remind us: “Do not be afraid; Fear not; I am with you.” This doesn’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, but 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!

He is our Rock and if we rest in Him, the unexpected storms and waves of the world won’t impact us. As the Psalmist proclaims, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1) In moments of fear or uncertainty, pause from listening to the constant voices of panic all around us, and enter into the silence of resting in the Presence of God. Turn your attention to Him and invite His “peace which transcends all understanding” to come into our hearts. He is our Source of peace and strength. He is the Well-Spring of comfort and hope. Christ is our Rock and our Refuge. Do not allow fear to overwhelm you. Rest in the Lord and know that whatever tomorrow brings, we will be dwelling secure in the peace of our loving God.

Remember also that not only have Christians not been afraid of whatever unexpected challenges life brings, but throughout history Christians have always been among the first in society to courageously help those in need, offering whatever support, compassion, and encouragement necessary to comfort those facing the fears and challenges of the world.

So let us keep turning to our Lord these days whenever fear tempts us, and don’t allow any fear or panic of society to push Christ out of your mind. May we act as His instruments in bringing His healing grace and love to those suffering and to those who are afraid.

“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.”

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