BOSTON – His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros published a new book titled Faith in the Time of Covid-19 as TNH wrote in last week's edition. The book contains the Archbishop's Homilies and Addresses on Great Lent-Pascha 2020, and also pastoral messages. The book is being published as we near the first anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic that forced widespread lockdowns in the United States and around the world.
In his interview with The National Herald Archbishop Elpidophoros said among other things that “the Church has clearly not been exempt from the effects of the pandemic, despite the wishful and sometimes dangerous thinking of a tiny, yet vocal, minority. We have had to learn to cope, especially in the areas of worship and the ministration of the Sacraments.”
The entire interview follows:
The National Herald: Your Eminence, what is your aim with the publication of the book, Faith in the Time of Covid-19?
Archbishop Elpidophoros: Since we are still in the `Time of COVID-19' – even though we are hopeful about the prospects of the vaccines, I thought to share with the Faithful and the general public a chronicle, if you will, of our journey through Lent and Pascha last year, when we were all reeling from the newness of the pandemic.
This was an extraordinary moment for society at-large and especially for the Church, which thrives on the connection of human persons in the face-to-face encounter of divine fellowship. As you and your readers remember, there were tremendous challenges as we had to engage in `virtual' worship over computer screens and monitors. It was a hard Lent and Holy Week, but the Light of Pascha was still passed in our communities, from heart to heart and from soul to soul.
As we are not yet at the conclusion of this pandemic, I thought to offer last year's words of hope and encouragement to all, hoping that they would strengthen our community in this new year of 2021.
TNH: What sales numbers would be considered a success?
Archb. Elpidophoros: What I was hoping for was not a numerical success, but a spiritual one. If only one person benefits from these messages, and has their spirit lifted, then the book is a success.
TNH: Given the fact that the large Church of America is made up of a large portion of Greek speakers, but also for reasons of respect and symbolism in the Greek language, will the book be published in Greek – and when will it be ready?
Archb. Elpidophoros: We are currently in the process of translating the book and there is going to be a Greek Language edition. It was easier to publish first in English, because the homilies and messages were, for the most part, delivered in English. As to the timeline I am hopeful that it will be within months.
TNH: What are your thoughts today, one year after the outbreak of the pandemic?
Archb. Elpidophoros: We have come, as the Psalmist says, “through fire and water,” and we are not quite yet on the firm ground of full health and safety. Nevertheless, we have proved our resilience as a community of faith, and I am confident in the capacity of our Church to face any crisis that might arise. This experience of the past year has been replete with challenges, but challenges that – together – we have met. Thus, we should all have the confidence that as we go forward, we will be able to meet the future and whatever it holds for us, as a united community of faith.
TNH: How much has it affected the life of the Church in liturgical, social, and economic terms?
Archb. Elpidophoros: The Church has clearly not been exempt from the effects of the pandemic, despite the wishful and sometimes dangerous thinking of a tiny, yet vocal, minority. We have had to learn to cope, especially in the areas of worship and the ministration of the Sacraments. Like the willow tree, we have learned to bend, but not break. With the unequalled leadership of our Ecumenical Patriarch, we have successfully navigated a Scylla of scientific caution, and a Charybdis of magical thinking. As our forefathers taught us well, Παν μέτρον άριστον.
As for the effects on the community and material aspects of Ecclesial life, these have been foreshortened, as have most aspects of society. But they have not suffered so much that they have been permanently damaged. Our communities are anxious to return to a full and robust daily life, and we expect that it shall be so in the near future. And let's not forget that even during the pandemic, this past September we held virtually the most attended Clergy-Laity Congress in the history of the Archdiocese as relates to delegates. If that doesn't say an “engaged Church,” I don't know what does!
TNH: Did you consider that during the pandemic, instead of the Archdiocese setting the specific annual amount of the financial contribution of each community to the Archdiocese, the communities should decide on their own according to the capacities of each?
Archb. Elpidophoros: I have to say how incredibly proud I am of our national Archdiocese and the parishes on the local level during this past year. Yes, everyone has had to tighten their belts. It would have been absurd to think otherwise. Many communities are meeting the financial challenges, and we are working with them, through an honest assessment of capacity and need. Through the Archdiocese, we have provided financial assistance to those parishes in most need and shared the financial resources available to us with them thereby reducing their financial commitments to us. So we have accomplished much of what you are asking about. Despite financial challenges, we did not lose our ability to provide, to serve, to worship, to support one another. This is a testament to the faith and resilience of the Greek Orthodox People of America, and I believe we should all be grateful and proud on this account.
TNH: How concerned are you about the prevalence of the concept of `e-worship' over the Internet and its various applications, given the ecclesiastical ignorance of many about what the Church is, rather than what it is not?
Archb. Elpidophoros: Let's not forget that the Church – both here and in Greece – has been broadcasting the Liturgical life of the Church for decades. Remember that this is a great benefit to those who are homebound or reside in institutional settings. Of course, `virtual' participation in the life of the Church is no substitute for face-to-face presence, but we must acknowledge that one may be “πρὸς τὸν Θεόν” anywhere and at any time. We will continue the broadcasts going forward, as much a missionary tool as anything else. And I believe, that when the time is right, we will see our Churches overflowing with faithful again.
TNH: How do you think the post-pandemic Archdiocese will be?
Archb. Elpidophoros: I think it is safe to say that nobody is going to return to the normalcy of the pre-pandemic situation. The loss of life, the heartaches of families, the loss of resources and opportunities, all of these and more have forever changed us. We will take these experiences with us, and try to make our Church and our world better because of them. I hope that, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “the fierce urgency of now” will compel us to action on every level of our ecclesial, social, and civic engagement. Our Church has so much to say to this hurting world – about God's love, God's acceptance, God's mercy and compassion. We need to speak this truth in love and with conviction. Our Orthodox Faith is not some museum-like ritual that we are obligated to perform without thinking. Our mission of making real the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, as we so often pray ως εν ουρανώ και επὶ της γης, is a mission that is never-ending, at least until the Lord comes again. And if the pandemic has heightened our appreciation for what we have lost, then we may yet benefit as we continue to engage the world for what might still must found – a loving, just, compassionate, and forgiving Church that is the leaven of the greater society.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak to the Community. God bless you and your readership.