Together with the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, we also recently celebrated the Feast of the Twelve Holy Apostles. In thinking about the Apostles and the challenges they faced as they worked to establish the Church, I am struck by their response after our Lord’s crucifixion. Saint John’s Gospel teaches us that the Apostles were behind closed doors for fear of the Jews.  (St. John 20:19) I suppose their fear was justified. After all Jesus had just been crucified, and as followers of Jesus, perhaps they thought their execution was eminent. The apostles did not yet understand what had happened. For them, death was still death, and their despair and fear loomed in their hearts deeper than ever. Yet in their fear, and in the depths of their despair, our Lord and Savior came and stood among them and offered them the greeting, “Peace be with you.” His resurrection totally transformed their lives! Saint Peter went from being fearful and denying our Lord to preaching with boldness to his Jewish brethren. Three thousand were baptized that very day! (Acts 2:41)

Fear, uncertainty, anxiety, worry. We may have felt, to one degree or another, all, or some of these emotions in the face of this COVID pandemic. One thing I think we all have in common is the fact that, to one degree or another, this Coronavirus pandemic has changed the rhythm of our lives.  Being sheltered in place, we are spending more time at home. In conjunction with spending more time at home, we are spending less time with family and with one another. We are more isolated now than at any other time in our society. This heightened isolation is accompanied with so many questions. When will things be back to “normal”? Will this pandemic permanently change our society? Will my livelihood be in-tact in the future? With the recent uptick in the number of COVID cases, will we experience a regression in our journey increasing our isolation?  How long will this virus affect our lives? This uncertainty of what the future will look like, coupled with all the questions that accompany it, can lead us to this place of experiencing a heightened sense of anxiety and fear.

Fear is not necessarily a bad thing. It does have its place. If for example, if we did not fear a dangerous situation, we could unintentionally make decisions compromising our health and even our life. This type of fear is life preserving and is necessary for our survival. Our Lord gave us the emotion of fear to protect us.

Fear does have its place. But like every other emotion, the devil can use fear to undermine our faith. Fear, then becomes a sin when it causes us to doubt our Lord’s promise that He is always with us leading us to a place of disbelief. This is what happened to the people of Israel. After Moses led them to freedom from the bondage of the Egyptians, they wondered in the desert for forty years simply because they gave into their fear and refused to obey the Lord. They allowed fear to paralyze them and as a result the generation of Moses missed the Lord’s promise of the blessings of the promised land.

Because people are made in the image and likeness of God, being an icon of our Lord, we as human beings want peace in our lives more than anything else. In fact, in preparing this reflection, I realized in my own private prayers, I ask for peace daily. In addition, we ask for peace at the start of every Liturgy, as peace is the theme of the first three petitions. God created us, not for fear, but for peace, because through peace we come to know God. No wonder our risen Lord’s first greeting to the Apostles after His resurrection was, “Peace be with you.” So how do we keep a peaceful heart in the face of this pandemic uncertainty that at times may be overwhelming?

The answer is simple, we must always remind ourselves in the promise of our Lord, to His apostles and to us, that he will be with us always. The letter of the Hebrews reminds us of our Lord’s promise, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) Jesus reminds us in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, “Surely I am with you always, to very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) In addition, Saint Peter reminds us “Cast all of your anxiety on Him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Our Orthodox Christian faith reminds us that our fears and problems, which may feel so very real, do not have the final word! Yes, fear can undermine faith, but fear can also strength faith, when our trust and hope is in the Lord. Fear then become a powerful teacher inviting us to focus beyond our problems, on the promise of our Lord, that He will always be with us, that His peace He gives us.

As the Twelve Holy Apostles learned as they walked their life journey, yes, the crosses in life will always be with us. However, as the life of the Apostles also taught us, our hope and life’s anchor is in our faith in our Lord and trust in His promise. While acknowledging our challenges, our focus on our Lord and our trust and faith in Him, as the Apostles witnessed, will strengthen our faith, bring peace to our hearts, and will show us the way of victory over the challenges of the world.