Peter Markov, a parishioner at the Orthodox Church of All Saints of Southern North Dakota, is having a hard time with this year’s Lent, especially the prayer of St. Ephraim, as he finds it entirely too literal for our country’s predicament with COVID-19.
“Take from me the spirit of sloth?” he asked. “Sloth is what the government is telling us to do, stay home and stay inside.” Some friends had advised Markov to leave his house and go for a walk without getting too close to other people, but he just couldn’t deal with the cascade of changes. “First they close the schools, then the restaurants, and now the libraries. Next thing, I bet they’ll turn off the corona of the sun, and I sure don’t want to be outside when that happens.”
Markov similarly couldn’t handle the “despair” part of the prayer. “How can I not despair? I despair every time I see an e-mail from the church.” A few weeks ago, the church advised parishioners not to kiss during the kiss of peace, just bow. Then they canceled coffee hour. Then they closed church.
“The fifth Sunday of Lent is coming up soon and I’m sure what’s next is that the bishop is going to send a letter telling us to practice St.-Mary-of-Egypt-in-the-desert-style social distancing. How can I not despair? That St. Ephraim needs to loosen up,” Markov said.
Another member of the parish, veteran homeschooler Tiffany Page, said she was having a very difficult time with the “not to judge my brothers and sisters” part of the prayer as she watched friends tear their hair out over having to homeschool their kids while the schools were quarantined. “Usually I’m the weird one,” Page said, “but when my friend posted on social media that her new homeschool fired a teacher for drinking on the job, I couldn’t stop laughing.”
A third member of the parish, church extrovert Evie Barr, when contacted by phone by the Daily Podvig, similarly said St. Ephraim’s prayer was just too hard. “Idle talk? Idle talk? I’m stuck at home without any talk here, I’d give an arm and a leg for some idle talk right now and by the way what have you been watching on Netflix, because I really like…”
The interview with Barr continued for two hours without The Daily Podvig reporter getting a word in edgewise.