Sunday, March 15, 2020

Lent 2020: Churchgoing As an Act of Defiance

Today took me to an Antiochian Orthodox church. The priest talked about the challenges we face in not compromising the way we worship in these times of panic and said he remained committed to keeping things as they are, as much as his bishop and local ordinances will allow. Leave it to Orthodoxy to hold the line. A church that withstood the Crusades and the Iron Curtain isn't going to let a bug lay it low.

As I was talking to the priest after the service, he mentioned that the congregation was small for the day. I'd say there were 40 or 50 people present, but he said there were ordinarily 50 kids alone on a given Sunday. So apparently a lot of people are self-sequestering. We already know the Catholic church's reaction to the panic is to close its doors, so one assumes that a lot of people are just not coming of their own volition, even if you're not one of the three-quarters of the churches, in Father's words today, that haven't shut down.

It's almost as if going to church has become an act of civil disobedience, in a world that's being terrified into conformity and submission. Heck, it's getting to the point that leaving your house is in itself a revolutionary act.

The Gospel reading today was appropriate, in that in involved the paralyzed man whose friends dropped him through a hole in the roof when they couldn't get through the crowds to see Jesus. Jesus healed the man, of course, which is one lesson in itself: When you're sick, come to Christ, who can heal us. Don't run away from his presence. Come near to him instead, and be not afraid. As Father reminded us today, for believing Christians, death has already been destroyed, so if sickness and death do come to us -- even if they come to us from ministering to the sick when others fear to do so -- why on earth would we fear it?

Father also said today that it's his belief that sometimes God allows sickness to happen, to remind us we're not in charge. That's a lot different from the Catholic priest who said a few weeks back in a terrible sermon that God brings sickness upon us as punishment -- and the difference says a great deal about how the Eastern and Western churches view their relationships with God. In the West, God is angry, vengeful, spiteful, wrathful. In the East, God is a supernatural physician who wants to heal our souls so that we might find our way back to him again. In short: God seeks our humility in the East so that we might walk with him, but in the West he's a judge who will love us if we do right but punish us if we do wrong. This is exactly why Orthodoxy has always appealed to me.

The past week has really revealed a lot about the human race, little of it good. We've seen that people are easily manipulated by the panic their TVs feed them. We've seen that they'll act like selfish jerks and hoard basic supplies, and if you want some toilet paper, pay me $50 a roll, and if you don't like it, screw you, because I've got mine. I tell you -- as much as I am a philosophical fan of anarchism, times like these prove that humans aren't fit to govern themselves, because we'd just revert back to the law of the wild, like a bunch of apes beating our chests at each other and jabbing each other with pointed sticks.

Of course, perhaps most tragically of all, we've also learned that a Christian church that has historically faced down disease and persecution with courage and faith now has as little faith as the society surrounding it.

With very few exceptions, I think it's safe to say that Christianity is dead in the West.

For as long as it can hold out, then, long live Orthodoxy.

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