With the doors locked (John 20,19)
Fr. Anastasios D. Salapatas is a Greek Orthodox parish priest in north west London.
We live in strange times. All of humanity experiences a new and unique way of life. A life that is being lived behind closed and even locked doors. The spiritual experience though is that while the doors (especially those of our Churches) are closed, the souls of the dedicated Christians remain wide open.
The Orthodox Church, as all Christian Denominations and all earthly organisations, is trying to respond to the current need of communication and especially to the need of staying focused and remain real members of the Church, while we are still away from our usual place of worship.
In my 35 years of priestly life I never had the experience of such a Holy Week and Easter like this year’s one. We were celebrating all Sacred Services, without our faithful present, but we were quite blessed to have the use of modern technology, which transferred the Church into the homes of all our people, more especially of those who are familiar with the relevant technological facilities.
The Services of the Orthodox Church are quite colourful during Holy and Great Week, full of flowers, beautiful smells of incense, colourful vestments and many interesting and unique customs (decorated tomb - epitaphios of Christ, candles with the paschal light, red eggs, Easter cookies etc.). All these were either missed, or not personally experienced by our people this year.
It was very upsetting to hear the closed doors of the Church being hit and banged by the people, who couldn’t understand or accept why they were left outside (like the foolish virgins of the Parable), or to see certain others “attend” the Service through the Church window.
In certain instances, I left in one of the front windows of the Church antidoron bread (not Holy Communion), palm crosses, holy light, holy water, for the people to help themselves.
In my Parish’s particular case I have to emphasise the importance of having good relations with our local Group of Churches, as I was supplied with palm crosses by my local R/Catholic colleague priest when I needed them for our Orthodox Palm Sunday.
It is important to highlight that, although our Churches were closed and even locked this year for Holy Week, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ had actually happened and the open hearts and souls of our faithful had actually experienced this in a mysterious and supernatural way, enormously assisted by the live streaming of the Sacred Services and by the actual realisation of the Pauline idea of the home Church being experienced this year in a very powerful and spiritual way.
His Eminence Archbishop Nikitas of Thyateira and GB in his Easter Message this year had underlined:
"In the darkness of the night a small, but unwaning flame comes to an empty world of darkness. It is the light of Christ and the message of hope, for he says to us - “fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God” (Isaiah 41:10). He comes, once again, at this critical moment in history to offer us joy instead of sadness, hope instead of despair, and truth instead of deception. Although we will be apart, the joy of the Resurrection unites us and gives the strength to say to others that we still believe! We have the same faith and courage as the women who stood at the foot of the Cross, the same as the Theotokos who waited by the tomb, the same as the Myrrh-bearing women".
We all look forward to open up again in a normal way and gather as we traditionally do in our Churches, where the icons, the incense and the sacred music will fill up our souls with the beauty of Heavens.
Christ is Risen - He is Truly Risen !!!
The Very Rev Protopresbyter Fr. Anastasios D. Salapatas is a Parish Priest of St. Panteleimon Greek Orthodox Community in Harrow and Principal of the Hellenic College, NW London