Here is another perspective on attendance at our Holy Orthodox Worship:
- “As a harbor in the sea, shielded from winds and waves, provides complete safety to the ships that enter it, so also does God’s house, as if wrenching those who enter it from the storms of worldly activity, allow them to stand quietly and safely and hear the word of God.
- The church is the school of the virtues, the institute of the love of wisdom not only during services but also before and after them.
- Enter upon its threshold and a kind of spiritual breeze blows upon your soul. This quietude instills fear of God and teaches love of wisdom; it awakens the mind and does not allow you to remember the present, but transports you from earth to heaven.
- If it be so beneficial just to be here without a gathering, then what benefit does it bring those who are present here, and what loss do those who are absent suffer, when the prophets proclaim, when the apostles preach the gospel, when Christ stands in our midst, when the Father approves what takes place here, when the Holy Spirit imparts its joy?”
I believe that what the author is sharing with us, should be our own personal experience every time we enter our beautiful Church, dedicated to Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker. We should recognize his words, not only for their inspirational beauty, but also as being expressive of a common experience shared by each of us with each other and with the author. If we are not having this experience, we must search our hearts and minds and ask why not.
Here are the first few petitions from the Divine Liturgy:
Deacon: Master, give the blessing.
Priest: Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.
The people respond with Lord, have mercy, after each petition.
Deacon: In peace, let us pray to the Lord.
For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord.
For the peace of the whole world, for the stability of the holy churches of God, and for the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord.
For this holy house and for those who enter it with faith, reverence, and the fear of God, let us pray to the Lord.
For pious and Orthodox Christians, let us pray to the Lord.
What I see in these first petitions, otherwise known as the Litany of Peace, is the faithful praying together that the Church, the “calm harbor”, and those in it, first experience the harbor’s shielding from winds and waves, and that we be wrenched from the storms of worldly activity, before we move on to hear the voice of the Apostle’s preaching the gospel, and experience Christ standing in our midst, along with the Father and Holy Spirit, otherwise known as a Theophany.
We are to experience a Theophany during every Divine Liturgy, if I understand the author correctly. But this is prepared for by first experiencing the peaceful calm of the harbor, and by first having our our hearts and minds uplifted from the Earthly to the Heavenly. Just as athletes warm up their muscles before competition, we must prepare our hearts and minds for the full experience of Trinitarian worship, of doing Liturgy. We should not be passive spectators, but essential participants.
Next the author expresses an unusual idea; that the Church is always teaching us, inspiring us, and lifting us from Earth to Heaven, both before and after the Divine Services. This Spiritual Breeze and quietude is always radiating within the church, available to all who chose to partake. There is grace in being early or in staying late, in silence, or chanting psalms or hymns, allowing ourselves to be washed over by the breeze of the Holy Spirit, experiencing the fear of God and love of wisdom, not as a subject taught and memorized in school, but as an essential inner experience of our self. So many things are able to happen if we allow ourselves a few quiet minutes within the church, by arriving before the service starts, or staying a while after, or by doing both.
Finally, the author, having expressed the attributes of individual experience of peace and spiritual enlightenment within the church, hints at the awesome exponential multiplication of Grace when the local Body gathers to worship together, and to live the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. And laments those not present, not as disobedient, nor as sinners, nor as worthy of our disdain or derision, but as brothers and sisters who have suffered loss by their absence. This is an expression of the selfless love of the author for all of us, and not of passing judgment.
I would enjoy feedback on this article.
also: there are bonus points for identifying the author quoted in this reflection. Let me know, if you have a guess, or figure it out.