Deacon Thom Crowe serves at the St. Antony Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We are grateful to share here his practical wisdom for ways to grow in faith during this global pandemic. While certain suggestions are specific to the Orthodox tradition, we felt that TAC readers would nonetheless find inspiration in his recommendations to strengthen one’s prayer life, spend time with family, and practice compassion. After all, what better time for solidarity between the churches than right now?—Ed.
I went to a conference a few weeks ago for work in San Francisco (against my wife’s better judgment). As a result, I was potentially exposed to someone who is quite ill from COVID-19. When I came home, over three weeks ago, I proactively self-isolated. At the time, I know some people thought it was extreme, but as I became symptomatic, I was glad I did. I was tested and, glory to God, the results came back negative, but I did have another communicable virus. After two weeks, I came home. While I was alone, I had a lot of time to reflect on what we can learn right now, what this time of social distancing and isolation can teach us.
As the pandemic grows, it’s creating some honestly trying times. There are so many opinions floating around about what the right response is from the church. Criticisms are being waged against bishops, arguments are breaking out on social media, and people are frustrated—the general feeling of uneasiness and anxiety is manifesting in very negative ways.
Let’s take a breath and look some ways this moment can help us to grow our spiritual lives.
Focus on Your Little Church
St. John Chrysostom tells us that “indeed the household is a little church.” Often times we come home, relax, eat, watch television, and sleep. It’s such a common place for us that we neglect the little church. Now that many of us are home much more than we’re used to, it’s a great time to set that right. Take time to ensure our holy items are neat and tidy. Clean your icon corner, if necessary, dust off your bible, and make use of what you have. Teach your kids about the icons. If you don’t understand what the icons are telling us, take time to learn. There are great resources available online to explain icons and other aids to prayer. You can learn together as a family.
If you have friends or family who aren’t in your home, consider using something like the video-conferencing site Zoom.com to pray together. Our diocese youth organization group prays together over conference calls, and it’s a powerful experience.
Strengthen Your Prayer Life
As things slow down, we all, no doubt, have more free time available. This is a wonderful opportunity for us to improve and strengthen our prayer life. A great place to start is to come together as a family for morning and evening prayers. Chances are, if your parish hasn’t restricted the services taking place, they will be—so this is a good time to learn those services. During Lent, for example, we pray the Orthodox akathist hymn on Fridays in our parish. There is nothing to stop us from doing that at home. Liturgy.io is a favorite website of mine. It has all of the prayers for each hour and how to read them without clergy. This includes the variable prayers and readings. Our archdiocese is also adding daily prayers to be read at home. Try using this time to add some new prayers to your daily life.
Connect with Your Family
These times are hard enough for us, but it’s especially difficult for our kids. Many of us have been asked not to take our kids out or to arrange playdates. Take time with your kids and extend them extra grace. Read more books, work on projects around the house, let them help you cook (Lenten) meals. Eat together as a family. Play games. These things will go a long way in removing anxiety and stress from your kids. Plus, it is something they will remember for the rest of their lives.
The time we have with our kids is limited, they grow so quickly, and we can never have this time back. Enjoy it. I’ve never heard of anyone, as they near the end of life and reflect back, complain that they spent too much time with their loved ones.
One thing we’ve started doing is letting our daughter (who is only four) FaceTime with her friends. We’re having virtual playdates and sharing pictures with her friends so they can see what they are doing and stay connected.
The holy apostle St. Paul exhorts us, “Do not be anxious about everything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God” (Phil. 4:6). That advice is especially important to remember right now. There is a lot of fear and anxiety throughout the world at this time. We need to remember that our faith is in Christ. We need to remain steadfast in our prayers and seek first the Kingdom of God. We know things are scary right now, but we must “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23).
Show Compassion and Help Others
Reach out to your priest and see if there is anything in place to help parishioners who are in need. Donate to help those families. If not, food banks across the country are working hard to make sure that, as people’s financial situations are changing quickly, everyone has what they need. If you have extra, help others, and show love to your neighbors.
While we are practicing social distancing, we need to keep our heads about us and remember we are being wise in the face of a potential crisis and not given over to fear and panic. Know that those who are near you may be struggling. Check in on friends, share the ways your family is coping, and pray, pray, pray.
We all must do our part to protect those around us who are more vulnerable to COVID-19. Let’s use it as an opportunity to strengthen our faith and bring our families closer together. In moments of difficulty and disruption, let us remember the words of St. Paul: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit, you may abound in hope” (Rom. 15:13).