We Are Called to Peace and Communion

by Anna Stickles

Note: Since pub­li­ca­tion, the sen­tence in the third para­graph below begin­ning with “The saints stress…” has been slight­ly mod­i­fied at the author’s request.

I just want­ed to make a brief com­ment on the trou­bles we are fac­ing with the glob­al response to COVID-19. In the world this has become a polit­i­cal­ly and social­ly divi­sive issue, but in the Church we are called to peace and com­mu­nion in the Church.

Every­one has a dif­fer­ent idea of how much trust to put in lock­downs and masks and how much in God’s Prov­i­dence over life and death, through prayer and the Holy Mys­ter­ies, etc.

The Church teach­es that both man’s gift of med­ical knowl­edge and depen­dence on God through prayer and the sacra­ments are good things. The saints stress that it is right to give thanks for and use the gift of med­i­c­i­nal wis­dom, but it is also good and nec­es­sary to rec­og­nize its lim­its and put more hope in prayer. St Basil urges that “What­ev­er requires an undue amount of thought or trou­ble or involves a large expen­di­ture of effort and caus­es our whole life to revolve, as it were, around solic­i­tude for the flesh must be avoid­ed by Chris­tians. Con­se­quent­ly, we must take great care to employ this med­ical art, if it should be nec­es­sary, not as mak­ing it whol­ly account­able for our state of health or ill­ness, but as redound­ing to the glo­ry of God.” 1

Obvi­ous­ly the sec­u­lar world, hav­ing no hope in God at all, and trust­ing only in man’s abil­i­ty to “defeat the virus” has entered into a sit­u­a­tion where the whole of our social life has been revolv­ing around this virus for the last year. As Chris­tians we need to resist this mind­set, and speak out wise­ly against it.

As Chris­tians we rec­og­nize that just as no one is born apart from God’s will, so too no one dies apart from God’s will.  As St Paisios notes, God takes each man at the best time pos­si­ble accord­ing to His Good Prov­i­dence. The sec­u­lar man counts the num­ber of peo­ple dying and con­grat­u­lates him­self that by his own knowl­edge and activ­i­ty he has been able to pre­vent deaths — not under­stand­ing that this is delu­sion­al pride. It is satan­ic pride to think we are in charge of life and death. The athe­ist thinks that sci­ence can com­plete­ly explain the spread of the virus. But he can­not explain why a 106-year-old man in poor health sur­vives the virus and a 38-year-old with no health prob­lems dies. He can­not explain why some peo­ple in a house­hold get the virus and oth­ers liv­ing in the same house nev­er get it. Sec­u­lar sci­ence does not rec­og­nize God’s inti­mate inter­pen­e­tra­tion with the ener­gies of cre­ation, nor His ongo­ing Prov­i­den­tial guid­ance in every move­ment of every elec­tron. The sec­u­lar soci­ety thinks that our litur­gi­cal prayer is use­less and unnec­es­sary and our gath­er­ings are dan­ger­ous. They believe that trust in prayer and the sacra­ments is sim­ple super­sti­tion. Some oth­ers believe in a two-sto­ry uni­verse where God may occa­sion­al­ly reach down to do a mir­a­cle, but that since He is unpre­dictable in His help we must rely on our own strength.[ed.: see the writ­ings of Fr Stephen Free­man for more on this top­ic. In both cas­es God’s ongo­ing Prov­i­den­tial inter­pen­e­tra­tion and guid­ance of the ener­gies of cre­ation are denied. In the 19th and 20th cen­turies athe­is­tic sci­en­tists most­ly believed in a sim­ple deter­min­is­tic view of nature. But even though we now have sci­en­tif­ic proof that the nat­ur­al laws are indeed open to exter­nal influ­ence, change, and vari­a­tion rather than being com­plete­ly deter­min­is­tic (see for instance Chaos the­o­ry and quan­tum mechan­ics) sci­en­tists still deny any pos­si­bil­i­ty of a God who influ­ences nature, choos­ing to see the uni­verse whol­ly in terms of imper­son­al laws and human influence.

How­ev­er, while we reject the athe­is­tic view of the world, nev­er­the­less what each Chris­t­ian indi­vid­ual con­sid­ers on a per­son­al lev­el “an undue amount of trou­ble” is going to be dif­fer­ent. How each one responds to what is going on is a mat­ter of faith and con­science, and St Paul says2that in mat­ters of faith and con­science we should not judge one anoth­er, nor despise anoth­er per­son­’s decisions. 

While the world fights over mask wear­ing and lock­downs, while it riots and engages in polit­i­cal bat­tles, let us as Chris­tians take what St Paul says to heart so that peace and love can reign in the Church. Let us not judge each other’s opin­ions or actions but rather entrust all judg­ment to God who indeed will judge just­ly. Let not the per­son who puts their hope in prayer and the sacra­ments despise med­i­cine, which Tra­di­tion teach­es is a gift from God. And let not the per­son who respects med­ical and sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge call the per­son who is trust­ing whol­ly in prayer and the sacra­ments super­sti­tious or fool­ish or a dan­ger to soci­ety. As the Apos­tle says, Who are you to judge another’s ser­vant? To his own mas­ter he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. 3

We are called to obe­di­ence and also to bear … one anoth­er’s bur­dens.4 We are called to “com­mit our­selves and one oth­er and all our lives unto Christ our God.”5 So let us, beloved of the Lord, rein in our own fear and not treat oth­er peo­ple like lep­ers, being afraid that they will infect us. At the same time let us not jus­ti­fy our dis­like of mask wear­ing and lock­downs as some kind of faith if in real­i­ty we are sim­ply tired and irri­tat­ed at bur­dens we feel to be unnec­es­sary. Let us with fear of God respect our hier­ar­chs and not make life dif­fi­cult for those who will give account to God for our souls.6 Let us not be rebel­lious nor fear­ful, not irri­tat­ed, nor proud, but bear all things with patience and sym­pa­thy. Then our faith and love will be puri­fied and grow.

In the world we see those who fear get­ting sick from the virus at odds with those who fear get­ting sick from the vac­cine. Both of these come from undue con­cern for the flesh. St Basil says that we should rec­og­nize the lim­i­ta­tions of med­i­cine and not make “it whol­ly account­able for our state of health or ill­ness, but as redound­ing to the glo­ry of God”. If med­ica­tion fails we should accept this as God’s prov­i­dence and trust that God will not try us beyond what we can bear. In your patience pos­sess ye your souls.7

 So let us not get pulled into the world’s excess­es or let our lives com­plete­ly revolve around con­cern for our phys­i­cal health. The world will always be the world and be filled with chaos and con­flict, but in the Church “We have found the true light, we have received the heav­en­ly Spir­it.” Let us live in the peace of Christ, not judg­ing one anoth­er but instead focus­ing on how we can extract spir­i­tu­al ben­e­fit out of every aspect of our life. This is the art of arts.

About the Author

Anna Stick­les is a moth­er of 6 chil­dren, whom she and her hus­band Michael par­tial­ly home­schooled. She cur­rent­ly assists senior cit­i­zens with in-home care and non-med­ical help and is active in her parish. Anna and her fam­i­ly con­vert­ed to Ortho­doxy in 2008 and she grad­u­at­ed from The Pas­toral School of the Dio­cese of Chica­go and Mid-Amer­i­ca in 2018.

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