Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
I greet you during this wonderful feast reflecting the gift of the Holy Spirit being distributed to the disciples. They immediately began to speak to the diversity of persons gathered in Jerusalem as we read in the Book of Acts:
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.” Now when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. (Acts 2:4-6)
As chaplains, we not only understand the meaning of these verses, but we are called to live them each and every day. Like the disciples on the day of Pentecost, we pray that God would grant us the grace, through the Holy Spirit, to minister to those we are called to care for, not only in our parishes but in hospitals, hospices, long-term care facilities, and many other diverse and pluralistic contexts.
We carry our faith into every ministry context, whether or not a particular person shares our Orthodox Christian Faith. Just as the persons of the Holy Trinity shares all the virtues superabundantly between them, and with us through the Incarnation, we are called to share the virtues of love, compassion, and be the embodiment of the presence of Christ with those we are called to minister to.
This, of course, does not mean forcing our Orthodox Faith on those we minister to, but rather that as Orthodox Christians we seek to speak the language of those we minister to, and in so doing experientially open a door with them of God’s abiding presence, His love, compassion, truth, justice, and righteousness, as St. Paul commits to Titus:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, … Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. (Titus, 2:11-12;3:1-2)
These very verses have been in the forefront of ministry these past few months. In the midst of the Corona Virus pandemic, we have been living within guidelines established by civil authorities in parish communities and in diverse caregiving settings. We have been and are called to continue our efforts to live soberly and reflect God’s presence in the uncertainty of these days.
It is important to share that – as a parish pastor (and chaplain educator of many years) who has followed an already established pattern of celebrating daily services – I have, since mid-March when our parish was closed, prayed for our chaplains daily in our home prayer corner during live streamed services. Our OCA Holy Synod of Bishops offered us a prayer to regularly offer during this pandemic. One sentence of this prayer references physicians. In being mindful of our chaplains during these challenging days, here is the prayer that has been offered daily: “Guide the hands of physicians, nurses, all of our caregivers, the chaplains ministering to them, …” Your ministry as chaplains is a critical dimension of the caregiving team supporting literally millions of Americans afflicted with the Corona Virus.
May Christ our God, through the grace of the Holy Spirit who descended upon the disciples as tongues of fire, renew each of you in your ministry, especially during our present challenging time, as we proclaimed during Vespers on this day: “You renewed Your disciples, O Christ, by giving them the gift of foreign tongues, that through them they might preach of You, the immortal Word and God, Who gives great mercy to our souls.” (Pentecost Feast Vespers, Lord I Call Stikhera) Let us continue to pray for one another as we seek to comfort those in need during this most challenging time.
With love in Christ,
Archpriest Steven Voytovich, D.Min., Director,
OCA Office of Institutional Chaplains