My grandfather, George Manos, used to say that life can change more in an instant than in a lifetime. He was an immigrant from an island in Greece and owned a grocery store at the corner of Morris and St. Philip streets in downtown Charleston. Certainly, his life had seen major change. But the change he spoke of was the change that comes unexpected, the change that shakes your world or the world. He spoke to me very specifically of change that causes heartbreak.
As a child, I really didn’t understand why my grandfather thought it necessary to make philosophic statements to me, seemingly from nowhere. But, then again, my Uncle Milton Stratos from Cyprus did the same. I remember him telling me that we can count on the fact that life changes and that we have to be flexible with change. So my grandfather George and his brother-in-law Milton both spoke to me about unexpected change.
I wonder what they would be telling me now. Now that the whole world is undergoing major change, affecting everyone and in every aspect of life. Yet, amid this change, what remains unchanged is still here and still our foundation. Not only our foundation — but our testament to those who seek a place to root themselves when everything that seemed to root us has either been uprooted or is shifting.
In a time when everything seems unreliable, uncertain and even unknowable, there is something that we know and know for certain. Psalm 46:10 says “Be still and know that I am God.” He is here. He is still here.
Now that we are attending services online, I watched the Passion of our Lord at home streamed from my church, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. On Holy Thursday, when the Lord is placed on the cross and we hear the 12 gospels of His trial, the faithful have the opportunity to approach the solea, to draw near. In the absence of being able to do this, we were instructed by our priest to hold a cross in our hands at home. As I held the cross that typically stands near my computer where I was watching my service, I felt the presence of my Lord and His suffering so deeply and intimately. I simply, felt, that I was holding Him in my arms. We are able to post on the chat while attending service — and my comment for that evening: “My precious Lord. We are with you in Your suffering. And you are with us.” Psalm 34:18 says “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
This was the very first time that I was not physically in my church for Holy Thursday. And yet, it was the most intense Holy Thursday that I have ever experienced. I did not only shed a tear, I wailed as if I had lost my own bridegroom. Indeed, that is exactly what had happened. No walls can hold our church. No pandemic can stop God’s love. No fear can overtake the peace that only comes from Him.
Then the next day, Holy and Good Friday, our Lord was laid in the tomb. Only this time it was not the large richly adorned tomb that is carried outside around our churches in procession with the parish, this time it was a very small tomb placed on a table with the epitaphion (tapestry of Christ). Our priest carried it inside the church as we joined the choir and sang the lamentations from home. This time my comment on our shared chat was: “In the deep sorrow of this Holy Week, I anticipate the great joy that is to come. Joy in my sorrow.”
When my priest gave his sermon, he spoke of the joy to come. Yet, we all know that there is always joy to come. Joy at our Lord’s glorious resurrection. Joy at the renewal of life. Joy that sorrows, suffering and grief do lessen, even pass over time. Yet, perhaps even more significantly, that indeed there is joy in the midst of sorrow. He is with us in our suffering and we are with Him. And that will never, ever change. Because regardless of what happens in the world, regardless of how much changes, He is now and will always be our Lord and our God. As my priest so beautifully said during our online service: “We do not know what the future holds, but we know who holds our future.”
Jackie Morfesis has a BFA in fine arts, MA in liberal studies and teacher certification from Rutgers University. She held a Rotary Scholarship to Greece in the arts and humanities. An artist, poet and educator, she is a Greek Orthodox Christian and involved with prison ministry in the Charleston area.