As much as we preserve in our Church an other-worldliness, my beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord, an experience of entering the Kingdom of God when we enter the Church, it is in times such as these we are reminded that we live very much in the world and are subject to the troubles of this world. It is in times such as these that we are reminded of Christ’s words, “The Kingdom of God is within you,” and now we have the opportunity to explore more deeply what that means as we observe “social distance” and “shelter in place” during this Coronavirus pandemic.

Today is the Feast of the Holy Cross to mark that we are midway through the Lenten fast. Jesus said in the Gospel today, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Through the Cross, salvation has come into the world, and the Church calls that to our minds on this day is upon that Cross. Taking up our cross has a particular meaning during Great Lent this year.

Following the government’s directives, we distance ourselves socially and shelter ourselves in our homes. However, when we look at the early Church, we see a different response to epidemics. From the historian Eusebius’ Fourth Century Ecclesiastical History, we see a very different attitude toward infectious disease from the people today. Obviously, we know much more today about the spread of disease than the early Christians did two thousand years ago. But even with their limited understanding, ancient peoples had a sense of contagion and isolating contagious people from healthy people. The Law of Moses institutionalized some of those isolative practices regarding Hansen’s disease, a bacterial infection, known also as leprosy, for example.

The lives of the early Christians, of which reading the lives of saints gives us a taste, does not describe our lives, nor the Church today. Comparisons are not completely fair, but suffice it to say that they were stronger than we are: spiritually, psychologically, and even physically. In this consideration, then, why would God take away our Great Lent in order to give us one of His choosing? We could speculate, but doing so we would miss the point: This is the Lent that we have. It would be very easy to shake a finger at the secular world and say, “See, God is angry for the world forgetting Him.” While it is certainly true that the world has basically forgotten God and so it can be said that He was and has withdrawn some of His protection from the world, and that this modern plague could be considered a “sign of the times,” our only meaningful response would have to be in doing what the saints have always done: to consider our own sinful nature, and recognize how far we have fallen. In the past week, have we increased our own private prayer or just blamed the Church for its reaction? We can pray for an end to the pandemic. We can pray for the recovery of those infected, and for the health of everyone else. What a gift we have been given, for example, to force ourselves out of worldly distraction with the shutdown of sports and entertainment, giving us, during Great Lent no less, all this extra time on our hands to attend to our souls, to force us to pause from the distractions of our lives.

Remember that the priests pray, in the services, for all those who are absent with good cause. Grace is poured out at every Divine Liturgy and especially when the priest prays for us in the service, even when we are not present, with good cause. Every time the Divine Liturgy is served, we are united to Christ and to each other, even when we are absent beyond our control.

The Body and the Blood of Christ in Holy Communion is not the only way to receive God’s Grace. When we show kindness to others, the Lord rewards us with His grace. We can have the grace of the Lord by attending to homelessness and the homeless. We can have the Grace of the Lord through fasting, and various almsgiving and every good deed. So, if we are forced to avoid gathering in Church, we can nonetheless be united in spirit in these holy virtues which are known within the Body of Christ, the Holy Church, and which preserve the unity of the faithful with Christ and with the other members of His Body. Beyond watching a live-stream of a Church service, we can pray while watching that video. We can even pray the services with our families, gathered in our homes in front of our icons, in front of the Holy Cross that we venerate today. All the things we do for God is Liturgy, my beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord, for these things minister unto our salvation.

Let us not give in to the lies of the Evil One, for God is with us, just as God was with His people when the Church was under persecution in various places. Let us accept the Lent that God has given us, and awaken the deeper roots of faith within us: Let this pandemic-plagued remainder of Great Lent be a beginning when we start to take our baptismal vows more seriously, to unite ourselves to Christ, at all times and not only in selected periods of our lives. The procession of the Holy Cross is about to take place. The procession of the Holy Cross in your lives, in your souls and hearts, so that the Holy Cross, the wood, as the Church says, can blossom in your hearts the hope and the vibrancy of our faith. Let us thank God for the Lent He has given us and glorify Him in all things. Amen.