Quiet on Zoom

Ana-Maria Niculcea
There are four main fasting seasons in the Orthodox tradition, plus days peppered throughout the year, so many in fact that over 100 days of the year are dedicated fasting times. When we fast, we are restricted from consuming any animal products, as well as keeping a much more rigorous prayer rule than the rest of the year. I confess I have been rather lax in my approach to fasting since my arrival in England. Not the best example of Orthodoxy as my mother keeps reminding me. 

The pandemic shocked us all and drastically changed our ways of interacting with each other. In March, we shifted gears and worked hard to get everyone on Zoom and made sure all who wanted to worship online were able to do it. It didn’t leave much time to grieve as no one knew what to expect. Lockdown 2.0 is less kind. Most of us now know and dread the intense feeling of physical isolation not just from our friends and loved ones but also the myriad of small ways in which we filled our social quota with chit-chat in the corner shop or smiling at a passing dog walker. It is not as easy this time around to live in the moment. 

Prayers on Zoom are once again the only communal worship we can do. Let’s admit it, we are more conscious now of the differences between online worship and the physical experience of worshipping day by day in the Chancel. But we should not forget the privilege of being able to worship online, in a world where children are missing key developmental stages because their schooling is now online and they barely have food, let alone access to the internet. 

All I remember of this year, where days and months blended into each other is ironically a sense of rushing in a world which stood still. During the last lockdown, I kept trying to keep up with the deluge of news. I didn’t have time for PE with Joe, or the Gins of the World puzzle I planned to hang in my cloakroom. This time around, I began to notice that I was missing my traditional fasting seasons of the year. I miss the quiet and the longer prayers. I don’t miss the food restrictions, but they were good for me and good for the planet. I also miss the structure of alternating days of fast with days of feast. It seems appropriate that I reinstate them this year. 

This pandemic is a symptom of our dysfunctional relationship with the world around us. We need to slow down, be kinder and more self-aware of our actions and decisions and how they affect those around us and the planet. The world is standing still, and it is time to take stock and start again on this new, more difficult path ahead. Because if we don't do it now, when will we ever have the time?

I feel immensely privileged to be able to spend this lockdown being healthy, having a job and a home, having a park nearby, being able to see people online every morning and pray together. I’m not planning anything for this lockdown. Just quiet, in whatever form that’s possible.