The current COVID-19 pandemic has cast an unfortunate shadow over our world. This highly contagious virus has shut down borders; led to physical distancing amongst friends and family; and it has caused isolation, fear, economic anxiety, and worldwide unease.
In the life of the church, this cold and dark shadow has been felt most acutely because it has fallen upon us during these holy days of Great Lent. Normally, our Serbian parishes gather during this time, in unity, to serve and enjoy lenten seminars. And for most of our Serbian Orthodox parishes, this is also a period of time when attendance during divine services gradually increases until we reach a joyous manifestation of all faithful at the Feast of Feasts - Pascha.
This time of year is also steeped in traditions that require contact - passing out pussy willows and palms branches, venerating the burial shroud of our Lord Jesus Christ, and breaking eggs and sharing food on that resplendent day of Resurrection! As we sing in the Doxasticon of the Praises, “It is the day of Resurrection; let us be radiant for the festival, and let us embrace one another!”
In the face of the global pandemic, however, we have been asked to distance ourselves and set all of that aside. We have been asked to sacrifice those very things that are near and dear to our spirituality, for each and for all, precisely at the time when we not only draw closer to our Lord Jesus Christ, but when we also grow closer to our church family.
Yet out of this difficult situation, our parishes and communities have not fallen into the sin of despair, but rather have creatively worked to reach out, teach, connect, learn, and maintain a sense of corporate worship and fellowship.
In our parish of St. George in North Canton, we have found so many ways to connect with one another - and by God’s grace, our online ministry has been radically enhanced and improved, connecting with Orthodox Christians across the globe, and even with older parishioners who have been physically unable to attend Divine Liturgy for years.
Since mid-February, the parish of St. George has come alive, digitally, with so many new offerings - follow the links below if you’d like to join-in, or share with your friends and family:
- Morning Prayers via Facebook Live - Every weekday on Facebook Live, Fr. Aleksa offers a short lesson on faith (based on visitor questions), and then reads morning prayers. This live stream regularly has more than 30 active participants at 7am, and well over 160 views by the end of each day. Looking through the comments section, one will see faithful Orthodox, and even non-Orthodox visitors, greet each other - learn - and pray.
- Orthodox Daily Checklist - As all Ohio Schools are currently doing work at-home, the St. George Church School team put out a ‘daily checklist’ for Orthodox families to include with their regular schoolwork. This checklist includes prayer, reading the Gospel, and even calling friends and family that may be isolated or lonely… every day.
- Live Streaming Services - Every Divine Liturgy and special service is streamed, live, on Facebook. The first liturgy had over 100 active participants and well over 1600 views, and continues to grow with each streamed service.
- Online Church School Lessons - Starting on the fourth Sunday of Great Lent, Fr. Aleksa has been creating weekly, at-home church school activities and lessons on YouTube. These are fun, funny, and modeled after the YouTube videos that are popular with youth all over the world. Students and parents, together, have enjoyed learning and posting their finished activities to the church Facebook site.
- Zoom Meetings - In order to create a sense of connection, the parish is hosting Zoom coffee hours following Sunday Divine Liturgy. This Saturday, the parish will also host a Zoom get-together and educational game for all church school children.
- Lazarus Saturday Procession - All students and families will be processing around their house during this Saturday’s Divine Liturgy. The procession will be streamed live from church, and people will leave pictures of their family, in procession at home, on the live Facebook feed.
- Weekly COVID-19 Updates via MailChimp - Our parish mass communication system has primarily been used to send out a weekly bulletin; now it is being utilized to send a weekly resource with information regarding COVID-19, the parish response, and the ways in which we can stay connected during this difficult time.
- 6th Annual Lenten Workshop ONLINE - Rather than cancel this year’s annual Lenten workshop, Fr. Aleksa will be going live on Saturday, April 11th at 12-noon, to go through some of the depth and meaning behind the Holy Week services and hymnography. Participants will be asked to do some activities at home, and engage via comments.
Although the physical distancing is painful during this time of year, the St. George community knows that this pandemic will eventually end. In many months, some semblance of normality will return and faithful Orthodox Christians will be able to return to their houses of worship, schools, restaurants, parks and more.
What will remain, however, are all of these tools and resources that our parish - and many others - have had to develop.
In this digital and connected age, these types of digital services will prove to be a tremendous outreach tool to those who are shut-in, to those abroad or traveling, and even to those who are not familiar with the Orthodox faith.
By God’s grace, we will emerge from this pandemic more connected than ever before, and with a greater understanding of the digital tools that will help us grow and share the Orthodox faith throughout the world.