Debates are raging on social media from coast to coast about whether or not Greek Orthodox Churches in our communities should close while we face a global COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the arguments I keep hearing is that in times of disease, God will protect Orthodox Christians and that in our two-thousand-year-history as a church, we’ve always been protected.
I keep hearing that disease can’t be transmitted through communion and people posting made up memes and unsubstantiated stories posing as historical truths.
I’m not here to argue about faith, nor do I expect an argument about whether you’re a better Orthodox Christian than me, or your neighbor who decided not to go to church.
I am here, however, to inform– and when asked, to offer my feedback and opinion.
Having lived in Chicago for almost 20 years, I often heard of the memorial at Evergreen Cemetery for the 161 Greek American child victims of the Spanish Flu pandemic that were from a single parish– Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church.
Let that sink in as you argue about keeping your churches open or putting your family, friends and communities in harm’s way because you insist on participating in services.
161 children from a single parish.
I wasn’t around then to know if these kids all took communion from the common cup, nor do I know if a debate raged then– as it is raging now– about whether or not disease can be transmitted through Holy Communion.
I’ll let history, fact, logic and common sense– speak for itself, as does this memorial at Evergreen Cemetery, for the 161 children who died during the Spanish Flu pandemic in the early 1900s.
This photograph of the Greek children’s memorial at Evergreen Cemetery was shared with me by Angelo Loumbas, who wrote a thoughtful post on his Facebook page that reminds us all of what our responsibilities are as members of a broader community.
“I’ve been hesitating to post this picture for a few weeks now, but if it will help impress upon us the importance of social distancing, now is the time. This picture is of a memorial monument at Evergreen Cemetery in the Chicago area to the 161 children from one Church, Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, who died from the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. That’s 161 kids from one parish. By social distancing ourselves right now, we can each do our part to avoid the eventual need to erect a second such monument this time (for each Church, Synagogue, or place of worship), or if we have to do it, one which will be much smaller and contain many fewer names. It’s up to us now.”
What Angelo didn’t say in the post is that his father’s sister, Frances Loumbas, was one of the victims of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, whose name appears on the monument. She died in 1924 at the age of 2.
Incidentally, Metropolitan Nathanael of Chicago currently stands out as the only Greek Orthodox hierarch in the United States to take the bold move and close his parishes.
Indeed, his decision has been controversial. But who ever said leadership was easy?
Perhaps Metropolitan Nathanael has visited Evergreen Cemetery and has chanted memorial prayers for the 161 children from the parish of Saints Constantine and Helen in Chicago.
May the memory of Frances Loumbas– and all of these innocent victims of the Spanish Flu– be eternal.
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