There was a gathering of only three people at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Resurrection, in Brookville, for the March 25 Annunciation, the Divine Liturgy that commemorates the visit of the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary. Greek Independence Day was also celebrated that day.
The cantor’s singing filled the church, but the pews were empty. Holy Resurrection is the spiritual home of some 420 families, and many of them were taking part in the Mass at home. There were 242 views on the church’s YouTube live stream, and 1,400 views on Facebook.
This is the new normal in the days of the coronavirus pandemic, as houses of worship live-stream to their members as they shelter in place. “It’s a very unprecedented and new world, and I don’t know if the world will ever be the same after this,” said Father Panteleimon Papadopoulos, the parish’s spiritual leader since last November.
One aspect of worship that is no longer possible for parishioners is receiving communion, which in the Greek Orthodox tradition is passed through a shared spoon and chalice. The priest then consumes the remains.
Archbishop Elpidophoros, of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which is headquartered in Manhattan, issued a directive on March 6 to Greek Orthodox churches across the country, suggesting that those who felt unwell not take part in communion. He also advised that those who are elderly or considered vulnerable, and anyone who had traveled out of the country recently, refrain from attending services and watch live-streams online instead. At the time, people could still go to church.
At Holy Resurrection’s last liturgy on March 15, Holy Communion went forward “as it has been for over 1,000 years,” Papadopoulos said. “The priest has the remains of the cup to themselves,” he said. “The same spoon, without any sanitation. This is the practice of the Orthodox church for thousands of years.”
According to Papadopoulos, there are no records of priests dying from infectious diseases. He noted cases of priests giving Holy Communion to victims of leprosy and not coming down with the disease themselves.
Since that liturgy, communion has not been available, and the Mass has been live-streamed.
The church closed to parishioners on March 16, following not only federal, state and local social distancing guidelines, but also orders from Elpidophoros. The Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre announced on March 24 that public liturgies would no longer be permitted until further notice.
Holy Resurrection now live-streams four services a week, because the Greek Orthodox Church is currently in a period of lent. Only three people are allowed inside the church — Papadopoulos; the cantor, John Szymkiewicz; and the church’s caretaker, Themi Dajko.
This will even be the case for the Orthodox Easter liturgy. To celebrate, there will be a service on Saturday night, April 18. But this year, the faithful will celebrate it at home.
“It’s the biggest holiday of our calendar, the resurrection of Christ,” said Zefy Christopoulos, a Glen Cove parishioner who sings in the church’s choir. “Not being able to partake in hymns and be in the church buildings, you feel a sense of loss, but we have hope and faith.”
She added that even though this all felt new and strange, she found comfort in being a part of the church services on Facebook, YouTube and on the church’s website.
Five parishioners have tested positive for the coronavirus, and added that they were “getting through the virus.” Papadopoulos did not feel sick or have a fever. And he said he was not overcome with fear. “Fear,” he said, “leads you where it wants you to go.”