A KEY TO A PUZZLE: PIECES 1 & 2 What is the big deal; why do I have to go to Church?

It’s cold out there; why do I have to go?             

I promised I would go to the mall with my friends; I can’t go.

I want to go to the movies, it’s a date; why do I have to go?

I have a game, there is no way, I won’t finish in time; why do I have to go?

Why can’t I go to my friend’s Church, they are all the same, aren’t they?

 

This is a great mystery. Why do we really have to go to Church, especially this Lenten season?

The Pre-Lenten period of the Triodion, Great Lent and Holy Week contain the majority of the pieces of a puzzle, a puzzle that makes up our Orthodox Christian Identity. There are many pieces to this puzzle, but it is up to each of us to complete our puzzle by attending the Services during the year and especially during this period. We have to look for and find each of these pieces as they are presented each week.

The puzzle pieces of our identity are “extracted” from the knowledge we bring home from Church. Our “cutting tool” is presented through the message offered in the Epistle and Gospel and “sharpened” by the Priest in his sermon. The pieces are “put together” in the puzzle of the development of an Orthodox Christian Lifestyle by the Sacrament of Holy Communion offered at every Divine Liturgy. All these pieces offered during the Pre-Lenten and Lenten weeks provide the important parts to “assemble” the identity puzzle, of the way in which to have a relationship with Christ, for the forgiveness of sins and a chance for life eternal.

You often hear your non-Orthodox Christian friends say, that the basis for their Christian Identity is that “They have a ‘personal’ relationship with the Lord” that leads to eternal life in Paradise. To have a “personal relationship” with the Lord is not merely to attend Church Services of contemporary or rap music, a minister preaching with videos in the background, or skits and personal testimonies from the congregation. Very few, however are offered the Sacrament of Holy Communion in their Church.

“Jesus said, …I am telling you the truth: if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you will not have life in yourselves. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in him.” (John 6:53-56)

There is no more ‘personal’ relationship than to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, Holy Communion each Sunday in the Orthodox Church, to have the Lord “live” in you. A “personal relationship” with the Lord involves the reception of Holy Communion with the proper preparation. The pieces of the puzzle, provided each Sunday of this period offer the images for the proper preparation to encounter Christ, and receive His precious, Body and Blood. By making these images a part of our Orthodox Christian Identity, we can reveal the mystery of the puzzle:

Why do we really have to go to Church, especially this Lenten season?

Sunday of Zacchaeus Luke 19:1-10 – January 31, 2016

Zacchaeus was a tax collector, not a sterling character by any means. As many in his profession, he lied and stole from his neighbors. Zacchaeus was a short man, but his curiosity was giant, especially to see and hear Jesus. This curiosity drove him up a sycamore tree. It was his genuine Desire to hear the truth that saved and changed his life. The actual lengths Zacchaeus used to hear, amazed Jesus. Jesus immediately asked him to descend the tree, and went home with him as his guest. Zacchaeus was so moved by Jesus that he repented and gave back all he had taken from his neighbors up to “four-fold”. Desire – Zacchaeus was so moved by the words Jesus spoke that he repented of everything bad that he had done. Zacchaeus needed to hear the words that Jesus spoke. Those words change his life and the lives of those in his household.

Zacchaeus’ desire to hear the truth helped him find Jesus. If we show, a true desire to hear the truth Jesus teaches us, before, during Great Lent, and Holy Week we could benefit as Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus experienced three things: The story of Zacchaeus does not stop here, it continues. Zacchaeus was exceedingly happy, even after Jesus left his residence. Legend has it, that he went to the sycamore tree every day and made sure it was cared for and watered. When someone asked him, why he was caring for the tree, Zacchaeus’ response was very interesting. It was at the sycamore tree he found Jesus, and he was thankful for that gift.

St. Cyril of Alexandria stated, “As long as he is in the crowd, Zacchaeus does not see Christ; he climbs above the crowd and sees Him…” Thus, we have to climb above the crowd, above peer pressure regarding Church attendance, to encounter Christ in the Divine Liturgy.

Desire is your First Puzzle piece.

 Sunday of the Canaanite Woman Matthew 15:21-28 – February 14, 2016

The Canaanite woman came to Jesus with a problem; her daughter was tormented by a demon. Jesus said nothing to her. The Disciples urged Jesus to send her away, because she was disturbing them. Jesus wanted to test the woman’s faith. He told her that He was only sent to the Lost Sheep of the house of Israel (Jews). The woman kneeled, and begged Him for help. Jesus used an analogy to place more resistance before the woman. He compares believers (children of God) to non-believers (dogs). Jesus told the woman that the children needed to be fed; the bread (words of faith) that goes to the children should not be given to the dogs (non-believers). The woman through humility and ultimate Faith, understands the analogy and humbles herself to the level of a dog, with her retort, “…even the dogs eat from the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table.” She understood that salvation was not just for the chosen people of Israel, but for anyone actively seeking Jesus. Jesus was moved by the Woman’s great Faith and her determination; He cured her daughter.

The story of the Canaanite Woman teaches us about steadfastness in Faith. Occasionally we may make a commitment of Faith, but it is shelved due to complications or neglect. Following the example of the Canaanite Woman, we persist in Faith to encounter Christ in the Divine Liturgy.

Faith is your Second Puzzle piece

Desire and a persistence in Faith to attend the Divine Liturgy, are the initial pieces of the puzzle of the development of an Orthodox Christian Identity. They provide the framework for the additional pieces necessary to construct a “personal relationship” with the Lord for forgiveness of sins and a chance for eternal life in Heaven.

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