On Sunday morning, I woke and— like many faithful Christians over the last two thousand years— did not go to church. Last Friday, the archbishop announced that a skeleton crew would conduct the Divine Liturgy every Sunday morning through the end of the month. The faithful were exhorted to stay home and pray the Typica, a lay service of Psalms, prayers, and Scripture readings. Despite the fact that I have been a member of more than a dozen different churches in my life, from Southern Baptist to OPC to non-denominational military chapels, I don’t believe I’ve ever missed two consecutive weeks of church in my entire life. Now, it seems I will miss at least three, perhaps even more.
In the Middle Ages, a great many families simply lived too far from the nearest church to attend regularly. In 1215 AD, the Fourth Lateran Council decreed that all pious Christians had to attend church once a year and receive communion, though this requirement said more about church availability than a failing desire to worship. For many people, making it to church and back home again might be a two-day round trip, which was untenable for most farmers during the winter.
Instead of driving to church on Sunday morning, then, my family drove to the home of some friends out in the country and we prayed and sang the Typica service together. I cannot help but thinking the coronavirus quarantine is offering us all a foretaste of the future, even though I have some confidence (or hope) the disease itself will be sorted out quickly. If remote learning experiments are even moderately successful, online high school classes could become a permanent fixture in American education. However, as I drove by the exit I typically take to get to church, I also wondered if this is what Sunday morning would look like in a future wherein American churches were closed for reasons other than the threat of contagious diseases.
For the time being, though, it is sobering to think of just the next several weeks without the Divine Liturgy to look forward to. For those suffering a similar loss, I offer the following consolations.
1. Gabriel Faure’s Requiem: We should not let any sickness go to waste on a blithe, optimistic hope that “things will probably be fine,” even if we are beset by nothing more than a common cold. Every sickness a man recovers from is a reminder that he will someday encounter sickness that he cannot best. Man was created to take dominion over the earth, but all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, the wages of sin is death, and so it is now the earth which finally takes dominion over man.
I hear Faure’s Requiem as an odyssey through the tumult death. The Requiem opens with deep, ominous, droning strings which suggest a man’s initial horror and dread upon realizing he has died. The Requiem then accompanies the dead man’s soul across the cosmos, through trials, tribulations, and the final judgment, then concludes in Paradise after the deceased has been vindicated and received into the company of the angels.
Even if a pandemic does not result in your own sickness, it is nonetheless a fitting time to contemplate the end which awaits all men. Faure’s Requiem allows listeners to spend a little more than half an hour on the other side of fate and to carry back into this life an elixir of splendid solemnity (and nourishing abstinence) which might guide us through these days of leanness.
2. The Akathist of Thanksgiving: A sequence of prayers and hymns which offers a rich enumeration of God’s splendor as may be enjoyed in nature. While the quarantine will deprive us of many pleasant things about our communities, it may also free us to rediscover creation.
In the last several days, I have seen more people taking leisurely strolls around my neighborhood than in any year since moving to Richmond. It is on such strolls at evening that I have been minded of the lines from the Akathist of Thanksgiving, “O Lord, how lovely it is to be Thy guest. Breeze full of scents; mountains reaching to the skies; waters like boundless mirrors, reflecting the sun’s golden rays and the scudding clouds,” and:
Glory to Thee at the hushed hour of nightfall
Glory to Thee, covering the earth with peace
Glory to Thee for the last ray of the sun as it sets
Glory to Thee for sleep’s repose that restores us
Glory to Thee for Thy goodness even in the time of darkness
When all the world is hidden from our eyes
Glory to Thee for the prayers offered by a trembling soul
Glory to Thee for the pledge of our reawakening
On that glorious last day, that day which has no evening
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age
It has been many years since I first encountered this poetry, but involuntary tears still fill my eyes every time I read them.