As I monitored all developments concerning the Coronavirus outbreak — and some of the discussions that followed within faith communities (including my own) — a sermon I once heard came to mind:
A terrible storm came into a town and local officials sent out an emergency warning that the riverbanks would soon overflow and flood the nearby homes. They ordered everyone in the town to evacuate immediately.
A faithful man heard the warning and decided to stay, saying to himself, “I will trust God and if I am in danger, then God will send a divine miracle to save me.”
The neighbors came by his house and said to him, “We’re leaving and there is room for you in our car, please come with us!” But the man declined. “I have faith that God will save me.”
As the man stood on his porch watching the water rise up the steps, a man in a canoe paddled by and called to him, “Hurry and come into my canoe, the waters are rising quickly!” But the man again said, “No thanks, God will save me.”
The floodwaters rose higher pouring water into his living room and the man had to retreat to the second floor. A police motorboat came by and saw him at the window. “We will come up and rescue you!” they shouted. But the man refused, waving them off saying, “Use your time to save someone else! I have faith that God will save me!”
The flood waters rose higher and higher and the man had to climb up to his rooftop.
A helicopter spotted him and dropped a rope ladder. A rescue officer came down the ladder and pleaded with the man, “Grab my hand and I will pull you up!” But the man STILL refused, folding his arms tightly to his body. “No thank you! God will save me!”
Shortly after, the house broke up and the floodwaters swept the man away and he drowned.
When in Heaven, the man stood before God and asked, “I put all of my faith in You. Why didn’t You come and save me?”
And God said, “Son, I sent you a warning. I sent you a car. I sent you a canoe. I sent you a motorboat. I sent you a helicopter. What more were you looking for?”
The storm has manifested itself to us in the form of the coronavirus. God has sent us a warning — public health officials are sounding alarm bells every day. He has sent us our neighbors with a car — friends, family, communities that can look out for us. He has sent us a canoe — readily available goods (medicine, soap, cleaning products, food) that help us take care of ourselves. He has sent us a motorboat — science that is widely available to help us make the right decisions. And he has sent us a helicopter — technology that allows us to make adjustments in our lives and duties in order to stay safe in this storm.
Our choice is whether we will be any more sensible than the faithful man.
To that end, here is what the Hellenic American Leadership Council is doing:
- Our entire staff will be working from home. We will be as available as ever to all of you — via phone, Skype, Zoom Video call, Twitter, Facebook. We will also be suspending travel for the time being.
- We will be making all our programs virtual. Those of you who were going to take part in upcoming briefings, training sessions, meetings with members of Congress, and celebrations of Greek Independence will still be able to do so — as long as you are in front of a computer or on the phone. Our mission and work will continue unabated, and you will be provided opportunities for civic activism and public education in a manner that keeps you safe.
- We will be regularly posting updates and information from public health authorities to make you as informed as possible.
This is our contribution to make sure we are doing what we can organizationally to keep our members, their families and their communities safe. But we will only overcome this pandemic together. Therefore, we are urging all of our members to:
- Limit their travel — especially on public transportation.
- Work from home if possible.
- Pay special attention to their health — be mindful of your temperature, wash your hands consistently, disinfect your home, computer, smart phone and anything you touch with any consistency.
- Regularly check in with family members that happen to be in the most vulnerable demographics for coronavirus.
- Limit your attendance in public events.
It is on this last front that we ask you to exercise special vigilance. We call on Greek schools to follow the example of schools — public and parochial — around the country to either temporarily suspend classes and extend the school year or shift over to an e-learning system where possible. We applaud the Hellenic Federations that are postponing their parades and the Greek Consulates that are postponing their celebrations of Greek Independence.
And given that there is much discussion over the attendance of Church services, we ask our members to reconsider attending services for the time being.
We echo Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ admonition that “Religious duties must adapt to reality.” We are indeed facing an unprecedented public health crisis, and to believe that the underlying reasons for restrictions on public gatherings do not apply to religious services is demonstrating the same disregard for the messages God has sent us as the faithful man in the story above.
We are constantly reminded that we — the community of the faithful — are the Church, and that the Church extends far beyond the four walls of the sanctuary. Thus, our religious duties when it comes to liturgical life are outweighed by our duties to one another.
This crisis will indeed test our faith. We do not pass that test by defying the warnings of public health officials. We can fulfill our religious duties by attending liturgy via LiveStream (here is one link for a Parish in Chicago but check with your local parish for similar services). You can use the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese’s website or the Daily Readings App on smartphones to guide your worship.
We will not fail as Greek Orthodox Christians by adjusting the way we will fulfill our religious duties, but we will fail if we do not act with love and concern for our fellow people.
About the author
Endy Zemenides serves as the executive director of the Chicago-based Hellenic American Leadership Council. Prior to joining HALC, Endy spent over a decade at the intersection of policy and politics. He practiced law in Chicago, specializing in municipal law and government relations. He served as Senior Advisor for Illinois State Treasurer and Democratic candidate for Senate Alexi Giannoulias. Endy serves as a Nonresident Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, where he had previously been an Emerging Leaders Fellow. Endy’s policy experience also includes participation in the Aspen Institute’s Socrates program, service on the editorial board and board of advisors of the National Strategy Forum, and lecturing in international relations and American foreign policy in DePaul University’s political science department. Endy presently serves on the Board of Directors for College Year in Athens, and on the University of Chicago Booth School of Business’ Civic Scholars Program Advisory Committee. He received a BA from DePaul University, an MA from the University of Essex (UK), and his JD from the Georgetown University Law Center, where he was also a fellow in the Harrison Institute for Public Law and an editor of the Georgetown Journal of International Law.
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