After a Lenten season like no other, New Hampshire’s Greek Orthodox community welcomed the light and hope of Easter in the early morning hours Sunday.
The Very Rev. Agathonikos Wilson, pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Manchester, said the past few weeks have been “sad” for him and his parishioners.
“I’ve been going to church for 63 years, and it’s the first time we've ever experienced anything like this,” he said.
Back when Lent began on March 2, all seemed normal, Wilson said. Then, he said, “We got to the second week of Lent and everything came to a screeching halt.”
But the church community rallied. They installed a high-quality camera and adjusted the sound system to stream services from the soaring cathedral. On Good Friday, he said, “We probably had close to 500 or 600 watching in their homes."
In the Orthodox tradition, during the midnight Easter service, the priest carries “the unwaning light of Christ from the eternal light on the altar table,” Wilson explained. Starting from that flame, the people light their candles in turn, filling the cathedral with light.
With the state under a stay-at-home order because of the coronavirus pandemic, that ritual did not happen this year. But Wilson said when the current crisis is over, he plans to hold a candlelight service the first Sunday back. “When we have the green light to come together, we will receive the light,” he said.
It’s not the first time believers have faced hardships, Wilson said. “If you think back in history, the first three centuries Christians were persecuted for their faith and they had to worship underground in secret,” he said. “Our people endured world wars, they endured many things throughout recorded history, and I'm sure the services were disrupted during those times.”
Wilson said he worries about what lies ahead, beyond the pandemic. He fears a mental health crisis will follow the current troubles.
“The public health crisis will be over and hopefully the economic crisis will be over, but the mental health crisis I think will go on a lot longer,” he said. “I’m already talking to people who are hurting.”
But the crisis also presents an opportunity, Wilson said, “to use the gospel message to bring calm to people.”
He likes to think about the Bible story of the apostles who were tossed in their boat during a storm until Christ arrived and calmed the storm. And that’s his Easter message this year.
“”Don’t be anxious. Don’t worry,” he said. “The dark storm clouds that are over us right now will pass. And when the storm passes, the sun comes out and there's brightness over the land.”
Christ told his followers “he would be with us always, until the close of the age,” Wilson said. “He never promised us we would be free of storms. We’re going through the storm, but he’s with us.”