Pandemic Information

 

April 15, 2020

To the Reverend Clergy and Monastics, the esteemed Archons, the esteemed Parish Council Presidents and members, the esteemed Philoptochos Presidents and members, And all the faithful of the Metropolis of Atlanta:

My Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
 
As we are in the middle of Holy Week, I wish to offer some thoughts during an uncertain time. We have heard stories of grandparents separated from their grandchildren; and though this is an understandable protection, it is still painful. Similarly, as spiritual people, it is understandable that we miss being in the home of our Heavenly Father, who took on flesh for our sakes, and gave Himself up, as the Divine Liturgy says, “…for the life of the world.” However, despite our absence from our parishes, Christ is risen from the dead—whether or not we are in church.
 
If we think of the life of St. Mary of Egypt, she was literally not permitted to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchere because she was a great sinner. Another way of looking at her story though, is not that God was denying her the sacramental life, but He was guiding her. I do not try to judge when I say that we too live in sin, whether these sins are in our desire for material things, or in our relationships. Therefore, we should consider the Coronavirus not as a punishment from God, but as opportunity to grow closer to Him. Our Heavenly Father is the God of Love, forever ready to welcome us, Prodigal Sons and Daughters, if we show a willingness to repent.
 
I was blessed to receive a message from an Abbess whom I greatly respect, Gerondissa Thekla of the Convent of the Panagia Panagoritissa in Quebec, Canada. Her message, which I will quote in part, offers a beautiful reflection on the power of God, even in the absence of Eucharist.
 
To summarize, when the Gerondissa first entered the monastic life, a lack of monks and priests meant that her convent did not receive the Eucharist on the Great Feasts. The Abbess writes that instead of complaining or becoming angry (as the Devil wishes), “We would fast as if preparing for Holy Communion, we would gather together in our chapel which was an extension to a hallway… We would read the services and at the end, our Most Holy Gerondissa Makrina would “commune” us by giving us Great Holy Water and Holy Bread. She would always counsel us that, “If we would be as we should be spiritually, then it is possible noetically to receive Holy Communion from Holy Angels, just like we have read many times in the lives of the Saints.”
 
Gerondissa Thekla goes on to describe the “…many heavenly moments which we never encountered again even after when we had a permanent priest and would serve forty-day liturgies… The chapel would be fragrant as if someone had sprinkled it all over with myrrh. Our eyes would stream with endless tears. Our heart would leap from the Grace of God. On the days that we supposedly “communed”, without even realizing it, we would speak softly because we felt as if we had partaken in some sacred ceremony. Saying the prayer, our mouth would taste as if we had taken a very fragrant candy. We would feel the presence of Holy Communion, even though we had not received it… No matter what I write, it is not possible to describe the feeling of Christ’s grace that we lived back in those days of deprivation, because there are not words to express this.”
 
In a few years, the number of Priests’ grew, but when her obedience brought her to Canada, a similar situation occurred. Though there were enough clergymen to serve the Sisters during weekday Liturgies, the priests’ responsibilities to their home parishes meant that, again, the nuns were left alone to support the younger novices during the Great Feasts. However, the Gerondissa had not forgotten how a lack of Communion had mysteriously uplifted her. “…Whoever prepares themselves with humility, without grumbling and protesting, but with much prayer and faith in the Providence of God, and receives Holy water and Holy Bread in replacement of Holy Communion and contemplates that theoretically “God did not permit me to receive Holy Communion, as being “unworthy and unprepared”, then this person will be filled by God’s grace of endurance of martyrdom, of which Saint Luke the doctor would say: “I loved much the grace of martyrdom, which so wonderfully cleanses the soul”.
 
If you still feel sadness at missing Divine Liturgy, I only ask that you think, not only of Gerondissa Thekla, but again, of St. Mary of Egypt. When she became an ascetic, she lived for 47 years without any community at all. She did not attend church and received Holy Communion only once. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst?”  (Corinthians 3:16) St. Mary of Egypt knew this, which is how, despite living without any sort of community, St. Mary was still a faithful Orthodox Christian who lived in purity, until she was prepared to greet her Heavenly Father. And so, my beloved, I encourage all of us to take strength, for as long as we may be apart from one another, it will certainly not be the 47 years which St. Mary dedicated to her spiritual life.
 
I would like to take these thoughts just a step further: how many times in our life do we use the many wonderful media tools we have, simply for pleasure—whether for movies, television or sports? Like St. Mary of Egypt, before her conversion, we too are focused on these things which make us feel “better”, but really provide no true spiritual nourishment. In spite of the fact that we cannot attend the services, I, His Grace Bishop Sevastianos, your clergymen, and our Archbishop, His Eminence Elpidophoros, continue to commemorate this Holy Week,  as well as to honor those fighting this virus, the sick, and those who have fallen asleep.
 
I firmly agree with the Gerondissa when she writes of this pandemic that, “The tempter wanted to close the churches; let us make our homes into churches. He shut 11 churches; let us open 11 thousand. May each home become a church; let prayer be raised like a torch of fire towards heaven; let the incense fragrance all the neighbourhoods; may the candle and the vigil lamp always be lit. Let us attend the services through electronic correspondence, praying together… If we do this, instead of closing down the churches, they will grow and spread and whole cities will become churches. Then God will give His blessing, and seeing our repentance and our faith, He will cast away this evil plague and give us the freedom along with our churches to live many years working for Him.”
 
I think of that phrase, “…working for Him.” How, especially, can we work for Him during this time, this struggle, which as St. Paul says, “…is not against flesh and blood, but against… the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)? Let us  look at this time in our homes, not only as a time for spiritual growth, but living out the Word of the Lord, who instructed us to feed, clothe and visit those in need: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:40). Even in this time of social distancing, we can still care for those who are vulnerable, by helping provide their food and their basic needs, or just to call our friends and remind them we love them.
 
I offer all these thoughts to encourage positivity in this time when it seems negative. Participate in all the coming Holy Week services throughout the Metropolis: offer your own processions, respond to the petitions. Truly, when we are together in prayer, we are together in spirit, even if we are far from one another physically.
 
Please know that you have my love and blessings, praying for your forgiveness, as I hope you will also pray for me. May we grow, so that when God gives us the ability to be together in person, our prayers and hymns will be full of the Paschal spirit. I remain,
 
Paternally yours with love in the Lord

 
+ A L E X I O S
Metropolitan of Atlanta



April 10, 2020

Dear St. Philotheans,

Kalo Pascha!  Wishing us all a Blessed Pascha!  As we end Lent and begin Holy Week, I want to wish you all spiritual strength and courage to walk these holy days to Golgotha with our Lord and arrive with Him at The Day of Resurrection.  As we shelter-in-place, I know it will be different this year but let us take it as an opportunity to pray more and worship more.  

Plan to “attend” the live-streaming services, here are some inspiring suggestions

set up your icons, vigil lamp or candles, incense burner, a vase of flowers if available

set up your electronic device, pick the live stream link you will use, set notifications to "do not disturb"  https://www.stphilothea.org/covid-19-news/worship-live-streaming

we will be having both Hugo and Constantine Kokenes chant the services with me at our church, and live-streaming, God willing.

dress respectfully, sit together in chairs but allow room to stand as well

Follow the texts on AGES/Digital Chant Stand Use the “Daily Services by Date” option, then select the service you want, you can choose PDF or Text/Music format and then there are options for English or side-by-side Greek/English.  With the Text/Music format you can make the font bigger by clicking the + at the bottom left of your screen. Call Presvytera if you are having any trouble navigating this.

Challenges may arise in the form of technology or small children but don’t be discouraged.  You can read the texts (on AGES) if you have live-streaming difficulties. Have the children help with flowers (or candles) and processions, coloring book icons, and singing kyrie eleison as much as possible.  Do the best you can just like being at church with children!

Remember: THE RESURRECTION WILL BE PROCLAIMED 9:00 AM SUNDAY MORNING. (note this new time)

Presvytera Christine has set up a COVID-19 NEWS section on our website where you can find a lot of support and useful information.  

I am so grateful to be painting the Icon of our Lord’s Crucifixion and I hope you are all tuning in to watch the daily videos of our progress. Maximos and Zachary have been helping me, along with Zach’s dad, Doug Metcalfe who does the videography.  Subscribe to The Liturgical Arts Academy YouTube Channel to watch.

Sacraments: 

Confession - I can talk over the phone with you about any issues, but confession with the prayers of absolution must be done in person at a later date.

Palms and Holy Unction - You are encouraged to make crosses at home with materials you have available, and when the quarantine is over, bring them to church and we will bless them and anoint you with the Holy Unction.  Don’t forget to dye the red eggs.

Baptisms and Chrismations that we usually celebrate at this time of year, will be postponed until the gathering ban is lifted.  

Funerals - are permitted with (up to 10) family only.  

Holy Week Schedule of Services at St. Philothea * April 11 - 19, 2020

Saturday of Lazarus 

April 11

Matins

Divine Liturgy

8:30 am

9:30 am 

Palm Sunday

April 12

Matins

Divine Liturgy

8:45 am

10:00 am

 

Bridegroom Service

5:30 pm

Holy Monday

Bridegroom Service

5:30 pm

Holy Tuesday

9th Hour & Presanctified Liturgy

8:30 am

 

Bridegroom Service

5:30 pm

Holy Wednesday

Holy Thursday Matins with Unction Service

5:30 pm

Holy Thursday

Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St. Basil

8:00 am

 

The Holy Passion (12 GospelsReadings) 

5:30 pm

Great & Holy Friday

Royal Hours

8:30 am

 

Vespers & Apokathelosis

10:30 am

 

Epitaphios Service

5:30 pm

Holy Saturday

Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St. Basil

9:00 am

Great & Holy Pascha

April 19

Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

Followed by the Agape Vespers

9:00 am

Sunday Morning

CHRIST IS RISEN!    TRULY HE IS RISEN!

With Paternal Love in Christ,  

Fr. Anthony


April 4, 2020

Dear St. Philotheans,

His Eminence Metropolitan Alexios spoke with all of the priests of our Metropolis yesterday and shared his deep concern and paternal love for you all.  He and his team prepared a comprehensive overview of what we are facing as the Church and they gave us guidelines to follow. First I want you to know that it pains His Eminence deeply that we can not all gather together at the altar table for liturgies and Pascha.  He shared with us the lives of the saints such as St. Mary of Egypt who lived in the desert and received the sacraments but once a year and of other times in history that foreign invasion limited the sacramental life of the Church. But he and the entire committee underscored how we must cooperate with our civic authorities for the sake of everyone’s health and safety.   And he called upon us to pray fervently in our homes, planning time to watch the divine services live streamed, to partake of antidoron and holy water each day . Also he encouraged us to keep in close communication with our church family by phone and internet, giving support and love to each other.

The Metropolitan has advised us to celebrate the divine services of Holy Week in accordance with the following guidelines:

First, we must strictly adhere to the rule of having no more than 6 people in the church at a time.  It is recommended to have the priest, an acolyte, 1 or 2 chanters and 1 or 2 persons to manage the cameras. Note that the neighbors of the Atlanta Cathedral have reported them to the police twice when they saw cars in the parking lot during services. Let us not be neither a temptation nor a scandal to our neighbor.  

We are encouraged to live stream the services for our communities.

For those inside the church, there can only be one chanter per side and all other persons must maintain a safe distance of 6’ from each other.

We should change the times of church services and combine services to limit travel and allow people to be home before any travel curfews in our area.  For instance, on Holy Friday we will combine the morning service with the afternoon service, so the priest and chanter(s) only come to church twice instead of three times that day. 

On Palm Sunday and Holy Wednesday, we will live stream the services but we will not distribute palms or Holy Unction. All other sacraments including baptisms, weddings, and chrismations will be postponed until we are able to do them again.  Funerals can take place with no more than 10 people present.  

There will be no outdoor processions.  We should scale back the decorations around the epitaphios to a small display and we will not decorate the bier (kouvouklion) of Christ. 

We are not permitted to do “drive through” participation or anything in the parking lot.  Other communities have tried to do this and were either issued a warning or shut down. We are required to shelter-in-place for the maximum protection against this highly contagious virus. 

At St. Philothea, we will celebrate the Resurrection Matins and Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning beginning at 8:00 am.  That is Sunday, April 19 at eight o’clock in the morning rather than at midnight. 

We are checking to see if Hugo can travel across state lines, or would he be required to quarantine for 14 days.   Or could he be our virtual chanter? Please be patient as I and the Parish Council work out the details for these changes.

Parish Council will meet via Zoom and continue to oversee the business as usual.  You are encouraged to keep up on your Stewardship as the bills have not stopped. As you watch the live streaming we will have a virtual basket for you to make a donation and light a candle as well.  We are exploring the payroll protection program offered by the government to see what assistance is available for us.

There is nothing convenient or easy about any of this, and as the days progress, each of us is hearing about someone we know who has contracted the disease.  Pray. Continue to pray the evening prayer for protection from COVID-19 at 8:00 pm with the faithful of our Metropolis. Schedule to “be” at the live streaming services. As a family, follow the suggestions in the  Practical Guide for Participating in Church Services that are Live Streamed 

Call me.  If you have a need or know someone who does, please contact me and we will do our  best to help anyone we can. I will be day and night at the church painting the icon of the Crucifixion on the north wall, and I hope to have it ready by Holy Thursday in time for the 12 Gospels.  We will begin posting progress shots hopefully on Monday. Keep me in your prayers.

Continue in faith, be strong in hope, and encourage one another in love.  God is with us always and forever and unto the ages of ages.


MARCH 30, 2020

Message from our Vicar Fr. Panayioti and Fr. Anthony

Dear friends and parishioners,

God is with us even through the most difficult situations. We are writing to encourage you to not lose heart, but turn instead to God in faith and love and face the pandemic of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) as people of faith.  He became one of us to live and share our life, our struggles and all the weaknesses of our fallen humanity. He stands by us to help us through every difficulty; “God is with us!", we sing during this Lenten period. Let us trust in His love and mercy!

As we pray that this tribulation may be quickly resolved and people’s lives may be spared, we are also called to do our part so that we may help contain the spread of the disease.  Our greatest concern is for those who are more vulnerable to this virus, especially the elderly and those with health issues. I pray that they may be protected by God in a very special way.

We need to follow the directives of the CDC (The Center of Disease Control) and take precautions to protect ourselves and others around us. We must reduce our exposure and the exposure of other by staying home. His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew stated it clearly:

However, that which is at stake
--is not our faith – it is the faithful.
--It is not Christ – it is our Christians.
--It is not the divine-man – but human beings.

Church services: Church services will continue to be held as scheduled but they will be celebrated by the Priest and the chanter; all others are asked to follow on-line services and pray and study from home.  Below you will find a wealth of resources to support you at home. It is still too early to tell what will be for Holy Week and Pascha and we will update you regularly.

Stewardship: We do need to continue to pay our bills during this time. We have taken measures to reduce our energy consumption and find cost saving opportunities, in light of the loss revenue from hall rentals and Spaghetti Dinners. Please remit your stewardship through your bank Bill-Pay, PayPal

or send checks payable to St. Philothea, c/o Kate McClain at 1001 Kings Court, Watkinsville, GA 30677.  

Finally, Please join the Orthodox faithful of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta at 8 o'clock every evening in supplicating God in this time of crisis. We will be praying together the following prayer:

PRAYER OF PROTECTION FROM THE CORONAVIRUS   - Daily at 8:00 PM -