On March 17th, 2020, Greek Orthodox parishes across the United States received the following directive from the Archdiocese:
“For all services, including the Divine Liturgy, only one priest and one chanter will conduct the services; meaning, the Faithful will not assemble, but participate virtually via the Internet and multimedia. There will be not exceptions to this condition without the express permission of the Archbishop.”
The very first thing we must understand about this unprecedented statement is this: no matter how we may initially feel about it, we must know that this is a decision made through the prayerful deliberation and loving consideration of our shepherds.
The present battlefield is one with which the majority of us are completely unfamiliar. We, therefore, must trust that both our Church and civil leaders are well-informed, and doing what has been determined to be most beneficial to the greater community as a whole. And besides, no one is making the case that our Great Church should survive with any permanency in the current conditions. However, we are (through the benefit of modern technology) presented with a temporary alternative to being physically present for worship in our local sanctuaries. Which brings us to the real dilemma…
There Is No Such Thing as Passive Participation
While it may be tempting to tune into the local live-streamed Liturgy donning a bathrobe, equipped with our bowl of Fruit Loops, consider the question: is this what “participation” looks like? As Orthodox Christians, we admittedly struggle with actively participating in the divine services, even when we are physically present. Many times the intended beautification (from the vestments, to the chanting, to the language) can be confused for mere pageantry…so much so, that it can sometimes feel as though we are watching some sort of mystical stage show.
Thankfully, we are equipped with a variety of resources (see links below) to combat this sort of passivity. Perhaps the most effective defense comes in the word ‘liturgy’ (λειτουργία) itself – which comes from the Greek words λαός, (meaning “people,”) and ἔργον (meaning “work” or “action”). Thus, the Divine Liturgy is the “holy working action of the people.” The presence and participation of the faithful in the service are essential. In fact, if no one is present to receive Holy Communion, a priest cannot celebrate the Divine Liturgy, which is exactly why our new directive allows for a chanter (who responds to the priestly petitions on behalf of – not instead of – the people).
In other words, the Liturgy, as well as other divine services, should feel like work. These services are both an encounter and an offering as part of God’s people, which requires attention, engagement, and reverence. They are not intended to be casual viewing, much less, entertaining.
Bridging the Gap
All that being said, if we decide that we are going to “participate virtually” in these divine and holy services, let’s do it right…
Steps to Virtual Participation
- Prepare for service. Remember that we are setting aside this time to be united in prayer with one another, honoring our Creator. It’s not a time to do taxes, catch up on emails, or have a meal. Do all of that beforehand, so that the only thing on our minds is what is happening on the screen. We should also prepare whatever material is necessary to help us follow the service. Again, we refer to the excellent and free resource, AGES Digital Chant Stand (https://www.agesinitiatives.com/dcs/public/dcs/dcs.html) – have the service you are ‘attending’ either printed, or pulled up on another device.
- Dress appropriately. We’re not talking ‘Sunday best’ here, but imagine that you are meeting up with a friend (which in a way, you are); somehow pajama pants and a spaghetti-stained t-shirt just doesn’t seem appropriate. Be assured that how we present ourselves will influence our own sense of presence and participation.
- Utilize the home church. Set yourself up in front of your icon corner (if you don’t have an icon corner, now is the time to act: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/behind-the-scenes/2016/12/05/little-church-foundations-icon-corner/), light some incense, and gather any family who wishes to participate as well. This is a time which should reflect the essence of our worship as a larger community, again, not in attempt to substitute, but in an effort to simulate.
- Immerse your existence. Remove any distractions, silence the noisemakers, and enjoy. Really, enjoy. Even though this is work, it is a joyous work, one which brings comfort, edification, and most importantly, demonstrates our thanks for all that He has given.
When you are praying, watch over yourself so that not only your outward man prays, but your inward one also.+ Saint John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ
More on the Divine Liturgy/Participating in Holy Services: