As we end this incredible year, and prepare for another long period of life in the virtual experience of meetings, internet connections, and on-screen socializing, I would like to bring this question forward: how do we maintain our spiritual relationships and pray in this environment?  How often do we hear or say, “I will pray for you...,” or “Let's pray about it...”? How many “virtual hugs” can we send before their novelty wears off? If you are like me in feeling the strain of this form of distancing, then I pray that we can look more closely at what is going on inside of us, so that we may be encouraged to move through this time with joy.

I am thankful to have virtually attended the recent Ordination to the Episcopacy of Bishop Spyridon of Amastris, and while watching the service and coming to the moment where everyone kneels at the laying on of hands, I instinctively dropped down and prayed. It was then that I realized how many times I’ve just sat and “watched” a service online. This made me think of how easy it is to get comfortable and watch instead of participating. When the ordination inside the Liturgy was over, it was like I had been there with everyone; it felt like we were really praying together.

What can we say about distance and prayer though? You've all probably heard the saying, “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” but how can we apply this proverb? I am tempted to “feel” a certain way about the current virtual situation, referring all my frustration to Covid-19, and to constantly express how it all makes me feel. But what happens when we forget ourselves for a time, and place our attention not on the screen, but on those people who we care about, who are depicted there? Isn't that what icons are all about? The same way we venerate before an icon, that is to bring the reality of the person into the present, we could simply do with each other! Only here do we have the opportunity to actually pray for, and to really project our desire for God to have mercy on us, by drawing near virtually with our hearts. Is our life anything but an interconnected worldwide web of prayer?

We end our services hearing, “Through the prayers of our holy fathers...” We ask for many things for ourselves, from God, through the intercessions of the saints, but did we ever consider the opportunity to be an intercessor for one another?  While we are indeed dependent on God’s mercy, and their intercession, we are truly interdependent creatures. Forgetting ourselves in prayer – for those who lead us, those who love us, those who hate us, those who are making our lives difficult, and the sick, suffering, and captive – we are all these things. Our prayers move across all times and distances, and when we give our heart’s desire to the benefit of others, we are somehow, by the grace of God, refreshed and strengthened ourselves! This is an example of, “giving is receiving.” While on pilgrimage, I was given a small gift from a monk, and with the gift I received a little note which read, “Please give me the gift of you receiving this...” Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us, by illumining our hearts to the thought that we have this incredible opportunity, right now, to be spiritually closer, while being socially distant. Amen.