Praying with a mask

January 4, 2021

2020 has been a devastating year. Covid-19 has caused immeasurable harm, taking the lives of millions of people, creating unprecedented long-term illnesses, and is responsible for significant shifts in our emotional and mental states, not to mention uprooting our daily routines in life. To be sure it has also taken a toll on our spiritual lives. Many civic jurisdictions around the world have prohibited or limited our ability to gather for community worship, sing at divine services, and even caused significant, sometimes disconcerting discussion on how Holy Communion is to be administered.

Perhaps one of the strangest sites to see is Orthodox Christians praying in churches while wearing masks. To say that our joy was slightly diminished last year at Pascha (Easter), this year at Christmas, and probably again this year commemorating the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ is probably an honest appraisal. As someone who teaches students while wearing a mask for over eight hours a day, I can tell you that it is not an easy task to bear. Speaking, expressing yourself, not being able to see smiles and facial gestures, having to be distanced, have all taken a toll on the learning process. So too in the Orthodox ethos of communal worship, as we strive to involve all our senses in the worship of God. Thus, the chanting, singing, gestures, movements, smells, tastings, and even sights, have been altered because of our masks.

When seeing people in Church, praying while wearing masks, I cannot help comparing this to what gay, lesbian, and transsexual Orthodox Christians experience whenever they come to church. We have learned to always keep our masks on in order to protect our spiritual, and at times physical, safety. We have learned not to appear to stand too close to our spouses in Church, how to carefully phrase our words in confession, to avoid using the word we, when talking about our daily lives, and even to deny ourselves the holy mysteries such as marriage and the Eucharist, for fear of being rejected and prohibited from even entering the church. And yet, all the while, we believe, and we know that God knows exactly who we are under our masks.

My prayer in this New Year is for all of us to be able to remove our masks. For my brothers and sisters, LGBT Orthodox, know that you are not alone. God is with us and the Lord sees our struggles and desires. There are numerous LGBT Orthodox Christians who also desire to remove their masks, live the fullness of life, as Christ created us. Be assured, have hope and faith that there are also numerous heterosexual Orthodox Christians who love us, support us, and walk with us in our daily struggles. May the Lord quickly hear our prayer!

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