By now, it would almost be commonplace to observe that the COVID pandemic has created (or perhaps, rather, it has apocalyptically exposed) a cultural rift within the contemporary Orthodox Christian community. As a pastor, I have experienced this division firsthand, and I know of other clergy who have lost parishioners as a result of it.
On the one side stand those who have wholeheartedly embraced government-sanctioned restrictions and measures to reduce the spread of COVID. They accept the closure of churches as a matter of course, and once gatherings are permitted, they welcome mitigation strategies such as multiple spoons for receiving communion. On the extreme end, these folks tend to get anxious when they observe any failure to comply with the letter of the health regulations.
On the other side of the rift are those who resist attempts to restrict or shut down access to in-person Church services. They view attendance at the services as an unavoidable risk, inherent to Christian faith. The most extreme of these folks accuse other Christians of moral capitulation or worse, while yearning for the days of the early Church when Christians supposedly took all manner of risks to gather for the Eucharistic liturgy.
Internet trolling has, unfortunately, become commonplace even in Christian circles. While at times these trolls are known individuals who get a rise out of provoking anger and controversy, the present trend includes anonymous social media accounts using profile photos of holy images, while spewing responses that are anything but holy.
Without going on a tangent into the specific nature of this Internet trolling event, trolling not only predates social media, but can be found intertwined with Christian history. Even the temptation of Jesus in the desert was a form of trolling (cf. Matthew 4:1-11).
Most recently, I encountered a saint who also dealt with a troll. Following my article on Night Vigil, I became inspired to spend time with the writings of Saint Gregory Palamas, namely Holy Hesychia: The Stillness that Knows God. Therein I learned of the saint’s encounter with a troll (17).
The stress of 2020 through the present has caused many, including myself, to lose sleep. I cannot count the number of nights I have laid awake for more than an hour, and I often don’t fall back asleep until minutes before my alarm is set to go off. One sleepless night, I remembered a spiritual practice that had offered profound efficacy to me in the past.
Night Vigil is a spiritual exercise from Early Christian Mysticism, whereby one enters into contemplative prayer in the middle of the night. The Holy Spirit might either awaken us to pray, or our concerns become the cause for interrupted sleep and therefore a reason to pray. Because our defenses and distractions are minimal in the middle of the night, we can devote ourselves more fully to the voice of God.
Born and raised in the United States, it was a blessing never to have experienced war firsthand. War was something that happened “over there”—not at home.
Certain liturgical prayers were thankfully not immediately relevant, such as, “For the freeing of our captive brothers,” following the diptychs in the Armenian Orthodox Divine Liturgy. From the perspective of peaceful Central California, who were these people for whom we offered such weekly prayers?
This changed dramatically for many when the 2020 Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) War broke out on 27 September. All of a sudden, Armenians were drawn into a conflict in which they had no interest in beginning, merely desiring to live peaceably where they had for many centuries. If only that were possible . . . .