Glory to Jesus Christ!
Dear Brothers and Sisters!

I hope and pray that all of you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy.

Just days ago none of us could have possibly imagined that what we are faced with now could happen. Almost in a blink of an eye, in a matter of days we are faced with new reality, to which we need to adjust our lives and even our liturgical life here at the parish. None of us imagined to see what we are seeing. It looks like the entire world just paused, and is paralyzed. It looks like the world is in silence, and all the people – suddenly – no matter who they are and what they believe – found themselves on a Lenten journey.

Virus which is invisible to human eye so suddenly and rapidly affected the entire world, and all of us. We are not able to see it, we do not know how to avoid it, and this unknown scares us. This situation makes us humble: no matter what we achieved so far, many feel powerless and scared... It reminds us how fragile human life is.

Certainly, this time is challenging in many ways. It brings uncertainty and fear. It makes us question things. More or less, in a visible or invisible, conscious or unconscious ways we find out that all of us worry and are afraid. It is our human reaction to what is happening around us.

This situation helps us to understand many things, especially, that we, who are used to plan our lives and think that we can control everything around us, suddenly discover that we are not in control… we discover, how little we can plan, we discover how powerless we are, but also in moments like these we can discover how powerful our God is…. we discover that He is in control. In these times we can learn so much about ourselves and our God. We pause to understand the meaning of what is happening around us. We may not be able to get all the answers we want, but one thing is certain: God is with us and moments like these can bring us closer to each other and to God.

We face the unknown and uncertainty of the coming days, but our God tells us: “Do not be afraid…,” He tells us: “Fear is useless, what is needed is trust.” “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid.” – He reassures us. The first response required from us as Christians should be prayer. Let us talk to our Heavenly Father, let us share with Him how we feel. Let us not hide from Him anything what is going on in our minds and hearts. St. Francis De Sales consoles us: “Do not worry about what might happen tomorrow. The same loving Father who takes care of you today, will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then and leave aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.” Let us listen to his advice. Let us not be afraid as far as it is humanly possible. Let us take one day at a time. One hour at a time. One moment at a time. Let us pray! Let us hope! Let us believe! Let us Love!

To love others means to want to be close to them. As it was said many times by many, to love now means to keep distance, not to put another person in danger by being close.
Today we keep distance, - physical distance, - from each other, to come closer spiritually. We are separated by these circumstances but only to be united in stronger invisible ways, a unity which cannot be ruined by anything.

We are in the hands of our Lord. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine yourself on the palm of God’s hand: He will carry you through this, He will protect you, He will guide you. With Him you are safe!

It is a test of our faith, of our solidarity. But it is also an invitation to rediscover God. Our church is filled today with God’s presence and the presence of all the heavenly powers. But it is also empty today, because you are not here. Remember, where you are, there is the Church of Christ! The Church is each one of you! You are that living brick of the Church of Christ, and if by where you are you can spread God’s Love, bring God’s Hope, if you can be a living witness of Christ at this time - this will make the Church even stronger, it will reveal its true nature and essence.

Let’s live in the constant presence of God. Let’s hope, let’s love, let’s believe, let’s spread light, let’s be children of God.

I invite you all to find new ways how to touch others with God’s love, and to allow Him to act in these circumstances through our faith and cooperation.

I invite you to use this time as an opportunity to reflect deeper on your lives, to spend time with your loved ones, to come closer spiritually as families, to help those in need, and to pray. At this time I encourage you to use your prudence and best judgment in everything you do and to follow the advice from our public health agencies. By doing so we are saving lives.

I promise to keep you and your loved ones in my prayers throughout these days of uncertainty.

I ask your prayers for me and my family and for each other. I ask you to stay safe and healthy. I offer this Divine Liturgy in your intentions today. I entrust each one of you into the merciful Hands of God during this time. I invite you to pray with me with the words of Psalm, 91 (90):

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. If you say, “The LORD is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

Let us all pray daily to the Holy Theotokos the prayer for protection:

“Beneath your compassion we take refuge, O Virgin Theotokos. Despise not our prayers in our need but deliver us from dangers, for you alone are pure and blessed.”

O Holy Theotokos, save us!

Fr. Vasyl Chepelskyy

Saint John the Baptist and Saint Mary's Byzantine Catholic Churches