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As we prepare to receive Holy Communion again

Dear friends and parishioners,
This period of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a time of soul searching for me as I reconsidered the essentials of my own life and the priorities of my personal faith and tried to understand how everything fits in what God has allowed to be put in front of us during these strange and difficult times. I want to share with you some of my thoughts with the hope that perhaps you may get some benefit from what God has shown to me.

We are now preparing to open the church for our parishioners in order to make it possible for them to join in person in the divine services and offer every Orthodox Christian, who is spiritually in good standing within the Church, the opportunity to receive again Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ. This is a very significant event and we need to NOT take it lightly!
I would like to appeal to everyone to consider very seriously his/her own personal spiritual standing as we approach again to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. We all need to do some soul searching as to how we live our lives, what the Church means to us and why we missed it, if we indeed miss it. 
Let’s not look at others, but only look at ourselves and ask some honest questions regarding our own thoughts and feelings.
Our Orthodox parishes in the United States, which for such a long time have been more like activity centers, social centers, athletic centers, dance centers, ethnic centers and many other things, have now been reduced for the foreseeable future to just Orthodox Churches, where the main activities taking place are the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Sacraments. These sacred activities, which are really at the core mission of the Orthodox Church, and which comprise the essence of what really makes us an Orthodox parish, have survived intact and uninterrupted (as we live-stream all the services) in the midst of the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19, which severely disrupted everything else. One can even say, that in spite of all the Strategic Planning Meetings and our implementation efforts over the last 30 years of the life of our parish, it took a pandemic (literally an “act of God”) to refocus us back to our core mission! 
As we now initiate the process to come back together again and begin to move forward from here, we need to consider seriously this lesson given to us!
Of course, we want to eventually return to our full range of activities and offer our parishioners opportunities for social and other gatherings – we love to be together, we enjoy each other’s company and we have missed each other – but we first need to become again a Church, a gathering of the faithful, whose main goal is to lead people to the Kingdom of God through Faith and Worship! That is why the first gatherings for our people will have to be ONLY for the Divine Liturgy and the Holy Eucharist, which is the door into the Kingdom of Heaven. We do not even have the choice for other activities, because the Coronavirus’ threat (this “act of God”) is still hanging over our heads and preventing us.
As we attempt again to be a Church, here are some questions we need to ask ourselves on the personal level:What is it that I missed the most about “Church” during this time of “sheltering in place”? Was it the Orthros Services, the Divine Liturgies, the Vespers Services, the Bible Studies or Confession? Or, was it the social gatherings, Coffee-hour, Greek dancing, the Greek Festival, or playing ball in the basketball court? The major question is “What is really ‘Church’ for me and why do I want to go back?” What is truly the specific thing that I want to go back for?
Some more questions we need to ask ourselves are: Who is Jesus Christ? What does He mean to me? What is the purpose of the Liturgy, and above all, What does it really mean to me to receive Holy Communion? Should I even receive Holy Communion? Am I worthy to receive His Sacred Body and Blood?
If this pandemic is to become a “gift” for us as Orthodox Christians and not a “curse” as a sickness, and a “financial burden” because of the disruption of the economy, we need to seriously re-think what we have been doing all these years and how we treated or used this great gift called “Church”. We need to re-consider, re-focus and re-embark, with God’s help, on the journey to His Kingdom.
God is ready to offer us forgiveness for previous errors. He is the Loving Father awaiting the return of his prodigal children. As we return home, to the Home of God, to the Gift He has given us, our beautiful Church and community, we need to approach with thanksgiving, tears of repentance and prayers of forgiveness. We need to admit how unworthy we are of His amazing Gifts, asking Him to receive us back as humble servants and not as perennially arrogant children. We need to become (with His help) peaceful lambs and not unruly goats. This kind of humble return will be transformed by God into great joy!
As we return to church, we will be approaching for Holy Communion again. Hence, this is also the right time to reconsider what Holy Communion is for us. 
Receiving Holy Communion is not a personal “right”to claim for ourselves, but a divine privilege. Holy Communion is not for us to claim, but for us to accept in humility and contrition of heart. It is not for us to “take”, but for us to “receive” with tears of repentance.
l invite you to listen to the voice of the Holy Fathers coming to us from the depths of time; the voice of those who understood the transformation of the bread and wine to the Body and Blood of Christ as the greatest miracle occurring on the Earth. They saw it as the Source of Power against the demons, the Bread of Life, the Source of Eternal Life, the Medicine of Immortality, the Antidote against death. 
Here is a link to my recent article “The Chalice, the Spoon, and our Fear of Death”: https://www.trisagionfilms.com/blog/2020/5/25/chalice

Dear brothers and sisters, let us prepare properly as we return again to Holy Communion. Let us ask for God’s Mercy and forgiveness and that He may restore us again in His good favor, protected from disease, calamity and eternal condemnation.

As the Parish Council team is working diligently to clean and disinfect the church building from the poisonous Coronavirus which threatens to lead us to sickness and the death of our bodies, let us also diligently cleanse and disinfect our hearts and souls from the poisonous sins and sinful vices, which threaten to lead us to eternal death of both soul and body.Let us, then, approach the Holy Mysteries with Love, Faith and the “Fear of God” not with “the fear of a tiny virus” which can do nothing to our eternal soul and our salvation. His Holy Body does not communicate corruption and death, but only Life Eternal. 

Here is a Link to the “Prayers in Preparation for Holy Communion” offered by the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops: http://www.assemblyofbishops.org/about/scobaresources/military/prayers/holy-communion-prayers-text. Please use them in your preparation to return to Holy Communion. 

Looking forward to seeing you in church soon,

In Christ’s Love,

Fr. Panayiotis

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