One of the best things to come out of the pandemic this past year is the Anchorites, a group of more than 25 women who gather every morning at 9 am, Monday through Friday, to pray the Psalms for an hour via Zoom. Additionally they commemorate the saints of the day and pray for people in the parish and around the world. They’re now on their 65th round of praying the Psalter in its entirety.
Praying the Psalms has been a practice I fell into while recuperating from surgery. One night when I couldn’t sleep because of the pain, I began reading the Psalms aloud to myself. I soon realized that the only time I was pain free was while I was reading the Psalms. This evolved into a practice I have of reading the Psalms while friends or family members are in surgery. The Wednesday evening praying of the Psalter was one of the activities that I participated in after converting to Orthodoxy.
When the pandemic hit and quarantine was immanent, St. Paul’s began scheduling things on Zoom to keep the body of Christ connected, though we were separated physically. I was feeling vulnerable and helpless but I wanted to try and help. I lit a candle (that has been burning ever since). The idea came to me that we needed to pray with intent to protect our church, our loved ones and the world from this disease and all its ramifications. We needed to stand vigil. So, I asked Father Steve and Eve Tibbs if I could pray the Psalms every morning via Zoom. No one knew if anyone would be interested. No one knew how long quarantine would last. I was given permission, and we began on March 23rd 2020, with one half hour, Monday through Friday at 9am.
The first couple of days I prayed alone. I began at 9 am and ended at 9:30 am. Then one woman joined me, and another, and another (you know who you are). Now there are 25 (3 of whom are “in absentia” because of resuming work) of us—26 if we count our auxiliary member. We began reading two Kathismata a day and added the morning prayers that the monks on Mount Athos read after each Stasis. Then we added praying for those on St. Paul’s prayer list, the Women’s Study Fellowship’s prayer list and our personal prayer lists. We recently added praying the hymns, commemorating the Saints of the day. Our half hour expanded to one hour. We pray for about 35 minutes. This has evolved over the past year, and will hopefully continue to change as we grow closer to God and each other.
For the last 25 minutes, we speak about what touched us that day. Though we have gone through the Psalms more than 30 times (it takes us two weeks to get through all 150), every time something new speaks to our hearts. Individually, we have read excellent books that deepen our understanding, and we were blessed to have Mr. Dean give us a short course in Old Testament history. But we are not intellectually discussing theology or history. Rather, we focus on knowledge of the heart, lifting up our prayers and opening our hearts to those hurting all around the world.
As we share with each other what is touching us, there are some tears, there is also a lot of laughter. The blessing is, as always, that we are being changed and molded by a loving God. We come from divergent backgrounds, countries, political perspectives and we range in age from the 40’s to the 80’s. We pray in English, Greek, Russian, Arabic and Armenian. We are widows, mothers, single, married, divorced, grandmothers, healthy, and ill. We weathered the election, the polarizing ideas about COVID-19 and have come out the other side loving each other and God more deeply than before.
We carry each others burdens, rejoicing in our triumphs and sorrowing in our pain. As we experience Christ speaking to us through the Psalms, we are engulfed by the love of God and overwhelmed by God’s constancy. The depth of joy and peace that we have been blessed with during this uncertain time is miraculous. As God, in His mercy, allows our sinfulness come to light, we are filled with humility. As we trust Him and each other with our human frailty, forgiveness and mercy uplift and overwhelm us. It became clear to all of us that we are being anchored to God as we pray daily. We found hope and strength in praying with each other. And this is how we got the name “Anchorites” as we were shut away from the world, because of the pandemic and quarantine, and we were devoting our lives to prayer.
Two of the passages that have become near and dear to our hearts are:
O God, our protector, behold, and look upon the face of Your anointed. For one day in Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere; I chose to be an outcast in the house of my God, rather than to dwell in the tents of sinners. (Psalm 83:10-11)
Mercy and truth met together; Righteousness and peace kissed each other; Truth arose from the earth, and Righteousness looked down from heaven. For the Lord will give goodness, and our land shall yield its fruit. Righteousness shall go before Him and establish His footsteps as our pathway. (Psalm 84:11-14)