Finding Peace in Christ
Written By: Samantha
Column: Featured Essay
Issue: April 2020
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4: 6-7)
As I am certain you all know, the coronavirus has swept across the globe. Along with the viral pandemic, one of fear and anxiety seems to have simultaneously sprung up and traveled with it. Although understandable, I do not think there is much rationality in sudden alarm. Shall we be concerned and prayerful? Yes. Shall we prepare and protect ourselves? Of course. Shall we be fearful and panicked? No, I do not think this is the right reaction.
But why shouldn’t we panic when so much of the country seems to be in such upheaval and frenzy? Because we Christians have a much higher comfort in which to place our hopes. In such worrisome times, many people establish their trust in material things, government, or their own abilities. One can imagine what a stressful load that must be! When we are able to place our faith in Christ and the intercessions of the saints, our fears tend to fall away. Through prayer, we are able to communicate with God and tell Him of our concerns, hopes, and desires. Even if His answer isn’t what we wish it to be, we must remember that He knows best and will guard us against all harm. Everything that falls to our load to carry – our “lot” in life – has potential to make us more holy and draw us closer to God. Even the unpleasantness, the ugliness, and the sickness have this possibility.
To further this point, we may look to the saints and their lives. We can learn much from their patience and love, even in times of extreme pain and trial. One such saint is Saint Nikephoros the Leper. He endured much suffering because of leprosy but remained joyful throughout his life, glorifying God always. One of my church’s hierarchs, Archbishop Kyril of San Francisco, sent a letter regarding the coronavirus. In it, he writes “Already reports are coming in that the Archangel Michael has appeared to many people promising them his powerful help. Also, the newly-glorified Saint Nikephoros the Leper has appeared in Greece to a pious Orthodox serviceman and assured him that he will intercede for all who ask his prayers to be protected and healed from the Coronavirus.”
Finally, a word about receiving Communion during this pandemic. Although there is no doctrine explicitly stating the Body and Blood guard the faithful from contagious illnesses, many believe there is a mystical power of protection present. My priest put it this way: if you saw someone pour poison into the Chalice, it wouldn’t be a breach of faith to not take Communion (in fact, you probably wouldn’t). We humans are given reason in order than we may use it. We are not to test our Lord by blindly disregarding this ability to reason. However, it is important to remember that clergy and Orthodox churches around the world stand firm in their belief of divine protection. In addition, I have heard that priests who have distributed the Eucharist for many years (and to many people) have never fallen ill after consuming the Gifts following the Liturgy.
Now, all of this is not to say that we shouldn’t use our God-given reason in order to do our best to protect ourselves from illness. Certain leaders of the Orthodox Church have implemented various precautions the faithful are to take regarding church and liturgies. These include (but are not limited to) bowing before icons rather than kissing them, bowing to one another for the Kiss of Peace rather than sharing physical contact, the priest sanitizing his hands before distributing the Eucharist, not attending services when feeling ill, etc. These are natural precautions taken to protect the health and well-being of the people, not to instill fear into the congregation. Let us not forget that all things are sheltered under the watchfulness of Christ, and that He is always Good!
Come, O divine, Christ-loving multitude, let us adorn the friend of Christ, Nikephoros the Leper, with hymns of praise, as the perfect struggler of divine steadfastness.