Thoughts about Liturgy in the Time of Corona Virus

Theotokos giving communion

Our churches have been closed, and now that I have been denied Liturgy, I really miss it.  How typically contrary of me!  So, the Lord has led me to participate in the Liturgy from Elwood City by YouTube.  Ironic isn’t it:  Once I cannot have something, like a child, now I really want it. However, this distanced Liturgy in my own bedroom, gives me a unique chance to really hear the prayers.

You see, when I am in church, I get distracted by other parishioners, how I feel, noises, my aching back, what others are thinking, and so on. In fact, having gone to church so much as a child, in a Slavonic-language church, never missing a single service, when I didn’t always understand, I am not by nature now drawn to Liturgy (much as I hate to confess it). As I have gotten older, I have gotten lazy.  But in my own bedroom, in front of my own Icon corner, I feel quiet, secure, unexamined, and I want to make the effort to connect with this Liturgy somewhere in space. Liturgy takes on a much deeper meaning in this unusual situation, a depth of meaning that I only occasionally experienced in an actual church. I follow along in my prayer book and have margin notes from studying Liturgy in the past as a seminarian.

More now than ever, I clearly see the Liturgy is a procession from our broken world towards the seat of God through Jesus Christ. And it is a Banquet of food that feeds us eternally. The first part is, as we were taught, the Liturgy of the Word, and the second, the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  But what does this really mean to me--especially now?  As I listen, I make associations and thoughts about what is happening pass through my mind:  I realize that Christ’s words to the Tempter during his 40-day fast really encapsulates this meaning for me. Especially during my own forty-day lent. When tempted to create bread from rocks in the desert, Jesus said,”One does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4).

There it is! Jesus is the Word, as St. John’s Gospel tells us.  So, the first part of Liturgy is the food of the Word to us Christians, as we hear readings from both Epistle and Gospel.  This reminds me of our faith through the person and action of Jesus in our world. I receive it through my ears, and my mind, as I am studying to be a Christian, since I always fall away. This teaching is reinforced by the Sermon. This is what I must “live by.”

The second part of the Liturgy is the accomplishment of our procession to God’s throne. Here Jesus gives me the gift of His sacrifice as food, through communion. (After all, as humans we are what we eat, and we must eat to live.) So in His ineffable Love for us Jesus makes this very physical, very real in terms of our hands-on world: He descends in Spirit on the most ordinary food of His day, bread and wine, and through that enters our own bodies, to knit with our bones, blood and flesh. We have asked Him for this, and He gives it. This is our journey to become Christ-like, to become His likeness and image. This is the affirmation of our Baptism changing us from dust-human to god-human: the sister or brother of Jesus Christ. Listening to the priest say the Anaphora reminds me of my story as a Christian: This Liturgy is a timeless and cosmic event in which all the saints and angels participate.  It is outside of time. I am elevated to this timeless presence, as the story within the Anaphora reminds me of God’s actions to allow for this now, this instant that is transformative to me.  Of course, this electronic participation does not allow me to partake of the actual bread and wine/body and blood. But I understand what is happening at the actual Altar table, in the chalice that I see.  I also feel the power of the Holy Spirit in His presence in that chalice and I am awed by the power of the moment. I also realize that in essence the Spirit goes where He wills. Although I am physically distant, I am spiritually present. I can dedicate my spirit to participate in this moment that contains all the past and future moments so that I factually partake of communion with assent and spiritual commitment. So therefore, I am at this spiritual feast.

The prayers of Liturgy are so logical and orderly and, if we follow closely, we can see this gradual elevation of our dusty bodies up into the Presence of God ministered by Cherubim and Seraphim and all the heavenly Host, but we arrive there led by our Presbyter, the “president” of our church body (our pastor): “That we many receive the King of all, invisibly borne in triumph by the Angelic Hosts. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.” And we as church body are bound together with Love: “Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess…”  Then at the anaphora we join the Heavenly Host in their worship singing, “Holy, holy, holy…” So, the entire Church is united in this one gift to all: Christ’s sacrifice in spiritual union with all Creation.  We are present, we have been raised up and not asked anything except to be present and to participate.  Then, we are invited to call God, the unknowable “Other,” as “Father” to accept His invitation to be adopted as His children through Jesus.  Isn’t it overwhelming when we stop to think about it?

Angel icon
COVID19 Sunday liturgy

As we prepare to leave the liturgy, we pray that “we depart in peace” and that our “whole day may be perfect, holy peaceful and sinless” as we “entrust ourselves and each other, and all our life to Christ Our God.”  Now we are sent out as apostles to “be” Jesus in our time and in our place. Now we must behave as the early Christians taught us to be: the ones who minister to the sick, the lonely, the homeless, the abused, wherever we meet with them (to our own families) and through our prayer whenever things are beyond us. During our isolation, it is a miracle that we can connect through our technology.  I am so grateful that I can be present at Liturgy, even if I have a hard time getting up in the morning.  God allows it to be right here. Right in my own home.  How merciful and gracious He is to bend to my sinfulness, my weakness and darkness.  He comes and brings worship and food right into my own dark little world and enlightens it. And as for my continuing in a Christian life, again we can share what we can through telephone, through social media, through financial sharing. After the Liturgy, just to make a physical gesture, I drink some Holy water to stand in for communion, and reinforce the promise of my confession (that can also be done by telephone).  And so I pass into my living room, my larger world, look out over the Hudson River, and my phone rings: “Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!”  

Tanya Penkrat holds a master's degree from St. Vladimir's Seminary and blogs regularly for Axia.

Tanya Penkrat