Starting in mid-March, on the advice of His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion, Holy Cross Monastery in Wayne, WV stopped receiving all outside visitors in response to the worldwide outbreak of COVID-19. During the three months that have ensued, the stay-at-home orders issued by various state and local governments have affected the daily lives of almost everyone in the country. For the Orthodox faithful throughout America, it was surely an unexpected and unforgettable Lent and Paschal season. Even now, many laypeople are unable to attend church services on a regular basis, and when this is still possible, the usual modes of Orthodox worship are necessarily restricted for the sake of maintaining social distancing standards.
For us at the monastery, we have been constantly aware of how blessed we are to live relatively unaffected by all of these impediments to the normal course of Church life. Though our guesthouse is empty, our daily life of prayer and labor has continued unabated. And with the entire brotherhood effectively quarantined from the outside world, we have not been forced to adopt social distancing protocols among ourselves. Of course, the safety of our community has been Fr. Seraphim’s (Archimandrite Seraphim (Voepel), abbot of Holy Cross Monastery ‒ ed.) primary concern, since a number of the monks would be at great risk if they were to contract the virus. But by restricting visitors, limiting our trips outside the monastery, and taking necessary safety measures when we do go out, we have, thanks be to God, remained in good health and good spirits throughout the course of this pandemic. As always, we trust in the protection and intercession of our heavenly patron, [the Holy Great-Martyr and Healer] Panteleimon, since all human measures are only effective by the action of God’s grace.
In all seasons, monasteries are meant to be a spiritual haven for the faithful, a place of comfort and stability for those who live amidst the cares of the world. Even as our monastic life has remained untouched by many of the difficulties faced by those outside the monastery, we have tried to bring that element of normalcy and stability to those who are experiencing this unprecedented crisis deprived of the solace of liturgical worship and the Church’s Sacraments. That is why we took the unprecedented step of live-streaming our church services. For those who are accustomed to the fullness of Orthodox worship, the limitation of this approach will be immediately apparent. But we felt that the inherent shortcomings of the digital medium were outweighed by the benefit to be gleaned by those who were left without any access to the nourishment of the Church’s liturgical life, especially during the holy season of Great Lent, Pascha, and Bright Week.
The overwhelmingly positive response of the faithful seems only to have confirmed that intuition. The warm gratitude expressed to us by countless viewers online and through the mail has been genuinely touching, and we ourselves are grateful that, even though we cannot exercise our usual ministry of hospitality to the pilgrims who come here, we have still been able to share our monastic life in a way that edifies and encourages those living in the world. For those who have watched the live-stream regularly, you will notice that we have also managed to share our experience of modern technology’s notorious unreliability in a remote holler of West Virginia. Thank you for bearing with the numerous power and Internet service outages that comprise a routine part of our life. We also convey our thanks to all who generously made donations in response to the availability of the live-stream, which likewise brought with it additional traffic and sales to our website. Thanks to your contributions and support, the monastery has so far managed to weather the economic storm that has followed in the wake of the government response to the virus.
Hopefully, on a personal level, the primary response all of us have had to the COVID crisis has been prayer ‒ the prayer of repentance, the sobering remembrance of our individual mortality, and the fragility of our institutions and technologies when confronted with unforeseen acts of God. In this regard, the arrival of the pandemic during the penitential season of Lent was no mere coincidence. During this time, Fr. Seraphim instituted a weekly moleben to the Mother of God and St. Panteleimon, with prayers for the ailing, for the duration of the pandemic. We continue to perform this special service of supplication every Friday at 12:00 PM, and will do so until, by God’s mercy, this trial has passed. When that will be is still very uncertain, but even though many long for a return to normalcy, it seems that the coronavirus will be with us for some time to come.
As of right now, we are in Phase I of reopening the monastery, which has allowed for the return of several local visitors who come to the monastery regularly for worship. Visitors are required to wear masks and maintain proper social distancing in church. We are monitoring the situation in our state and the rest of the country, in consultation with our monastery doctor, Dr. David Life, to determine when we can safely proceed to Phase II, which will allow for a limited reopening of the guesthouse to those within driving distance of the monastery. The partial reopenings in numerous states have led to a troubling resurgence in cases, so we are proceeding with caution, and will likely remain closed to out-of-state visitors through the month of July. You can keep up with any further developments on the monastery’s reopening by checking our monastery news page, www.holycross.org/blogs/news. We pray that God give you steadfast faith and good courage in these uncertain times.