Dear Faithful, the past year has been so difficult for our nation, our city, our parish, and for us as individuals. The threat of virus and the response to it have heightened fear, anxiety, and made it even more difficult on those that suffer from mental illness and chemical dependency. Beyond that we feel as if the Church Herself has been invaded. As I have said many times since this pandemic began, I hate that you are wearing masks in the church, and I cannot stand the smell of hand-sanitizer in the Narthex. These foreign elements do not lead our hearts to prayer, but are reminders of the fallen world that we try to leave behind for an hour or two when we enter sacred time and worship with the heavenly hosts. I know that most of you are also feeling worn-out by these precautions, and have grumbled for having to register to attend the Divine Liturgy. This is certainly a difficult topic to discuss, as it has been politicized and polarized to the degree that it is has ruined relationships - a true tragedy! Now let me also say this: Many blessings have come as a result of the pandemic and the lockdowns associated with it. Perhpas not all of us will be able to realize this, but having spoken with so many of you in confession or counseling appointments, I know it to be true! Many of us have realized that we had taken the ability to "go to church" for granted; we have realized that we did not treat it with the proper solemnity and gratitude; we have realized that we loved "The Church" or "The Community" more than we loved God, and have begun to repent of this. My brothers and sisters in Christ, I am not afraid of the virus - at no point have I ever been afraid of it, even though I am usually the first person to get sick and have it the worst...but I trust in the Providence of God and am not afraid to get sick (I am more concerned with accidentaly giving it to one of you!). Some of you are higher-risk than I am, and I understand that you are afraid and are keeping away from larger gatherings, including the Divine Liturgy. If you are choosing this way, then please make sure that you are staying connected to Christ and practicing your Faith in other ways so that your soul is not harmed (you can do this by praying the "Typika" service on Sundays, keeping your daily prayers, reading the Holy Scriptures, fasting, and chanting the hymns of the services in your home). All of the precautions that we are forced to take right now in the church are for your sake - so that you will not be afraid to come to the services; and at the same time, we cannot guarantee anything in this life, and certainly cannot guarantee your safety. We are coming to a time when things will start re-opening, including our parish. Each of us is going to have to decide the degree of risk that we are willing to take on in order to practice our Faith in its most full expression. Those discussions will be had by the Parish Council, by the clergy in our meetings with the Metropolitan, and by each one of you and your families in the coming days, but I want you to know that for my part, I will continue to do all that I can to meet your spiritual and pastoral needs, whatever you choose to do. For now, please let each of us examine our own conscience and ask the Lord to help us repent of all that needs healing, so that on the day that we do return to full and open worship of God, we do so with hearts that are more pure and open to Christ then they were when this pandemic began.