Ok, I admit it feels rather silly to be posting photos of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the first Sunday of Great Lent, during Bright Week. Bear with me.
Although we didn’t know it we had just one more weekend in church before the directive came from Archbishop Alexander to limit attendance at services, limit the services, etc. We went from the joyous gathering you see above to a small number of people (supposed to be five, but we had eight out of necessity and five were from our family), locked church doors, full cleaning after every service, the services themselves limited to Sunday Liturgy and Presanctified Liturgies (one a week), and for the first time live-streaming services. There was no more Vespers, no coffee hour, no church school, no catechumen classes, no face-to-face meetings, no confessions, and no baptisms or chrismations (weddings are not typically celebrated during Lent anyway). We were in suspense for a while, wondering if we would still be on lock-down when Holy Week and Pascha arrived. We were.
Holy Week began with Palm Sunday but there was no procession. Blessed palms were set out on the porch of the hall for people to individually pick up if the were able. The Holy Week schedule was greatly curtailed; it was limited to one Bridegroom Matins, Holy Thursday Vesperal Liturgy, Holy Friday Vespers, Holy Saturday Vesperal Liturgy, and the Paschal Liturgy celebrated at 10 AM on Sunday. We literally missed 10 services between Palm Sunday and Pascha, something that I’m still having trouble wrapping my brain around.
This has been the most bizarre Lent and Pascha I’ve ever experienced. The churches have not been shut for over a hundred years, since the great Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. And this was world-wide, not just limited to America. Different jurisdictions gave different directives, some more stringent, some less, and there was likewise an international disparity. Overall, however, this pandemic has been incredibly disruptive to the life of the Church, and still is because as of yet nothing has changed. We’re hopeful that restrictions will slowly be lifted by summer.
Archbishop Alexander has promised that as soon as we’re all allowed to return to church he will declare a Sunday for all of his parishes to celebrate the Paschal Matins and Liturgy together. [2 Chronicles 30:1-4] We had baptisms and chrismations originally scheduled for Holy Saturday which have not occurred, so it will be good to finally do those. In addition we will have a parish feast together to replace the one which we usually have after Agape Vespers.
As Father has said, this may not be the Lent and Pascha we would have chosen, but it is the one God has given us. I suspect in the future none of us will take for granted the blessing of being able to hold and attend all of the church services we desire.