My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
WHY DO WE GO TO CHURCH EVERY SUNDAY?
By Hieromartyr Daniel Sisoyev, translated by Priest Sergii Alekseev
"I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord" (Psalm 121:1).
People often ask priests: "Why should we go to church every Sunday?" And then they begin to justify themselves: "We need our sleep, then, we need to spend time with the family, do things around the house, etc. And you want us to get up and go to church. What for?"
Of course, in order to justify one's laziness one can come up with various objections. But first we have to understand the meaning behind the weekly trips to church and only then to measure it against our self-justification. It is so obvious that the requirement of frequent church attendance is not man-made, but it was one of the Ten Commandments:
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, they manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it" (Exod. 20:8-11).
In the Old Testament, violation of the Fourth Commandment was punishable by death, as was murder. In the New Testament, "The Lord's Day (Kyriaki) or Sunday, became the greater holy day because Christ, having risen from the dead, sanctified that day. According to the Church canons (rules), whoever violates this Commandment is subject to excommunication. As stated in the 80th holy Canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Synod (Council):
"In case any bishop, or presbyter (priest), or deacon, or anyone else on the list of the clergy, or any layman, without any graver necessity or any particular difficulty compelling him to absent himself from his own church for a very long time, fails to attend church on Sundays for three consecutive weeks, while living in the city, if he be a cleric, let him be deposed from office; but if he be a layman, let him be removed from Communion."
It is rather unlikely that the Creator would give us ridiculous commands, or that the Church Holy Canons were written to make people's lives unbearable. Then what is the meaning of this Commandment?
Everything in Christianity has its origin in the self-manifestation of God the Trinity, Who is revealed to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. Entering His inner life and participation in His Divine Glory is the goal of our life. Since "God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" by the word of the Holy Apostle John (St. John 4:16), we can enter into communion with Him only through love.
As affirmed by the word of the Lord, the entire Divine God can be reduced to two commandments: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and the greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hand all the law and the Prophets" (St. Matthew 22:37-40).
Can we truly fulfill these Commandments without going to church? If we love someone, do we not try to see this person as often as possible? Is it possible to imagine two people in love who are avoiding seeing one another? Yes, they can talk on the phone; but it is far better to talk face to face. The same goes for the person who loves God--he wants to come closer to God. May King David be an example for us. He, being a ruler of his people, fighting numerous wars with enemies, executing judgment, used to say:
"How beloved are Thy dwellings, O Lord of Hosts; my soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God. For the sparrow hath found herself a house, and the turtledove a nest for herself where she may lay her young, Even Thine altars, O Lord of Hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house; unto ages of ages shall they praise Thee. Blessed is the man whose help is from Thee; he hath made ascents in his heart, in the valley of weeping, in the place which he hath appointed. Yea, for the lawgiver will give blessings; they shall go from strength to strength, the God of gods shall be seen in Sion, O Lord of Hosts, hearken unto my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob. O God, our defender, behold and look upon the face of Thine anointed one. For better is one day in Thy courts than thousands elsewhere. I have chosen rather to be an outcast in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of sinners" (Psalm 83).
When he was in exile, he would tearfully cry every day over the fact that he cannot enter the house of God:
"These things have I remembered, and I poured out my soul within me, for I used to go to the place of the wondrous tabernacle, even to the house of God, with a voice of rejoicing and thanksgiving, yea, of them that keep festival" (Psalm 41:5).
It is exactly this attitude that gives rise to the need of going to God's temple and makes it essential for the person.
And this is not surprising! The eyes of the Lord are always directed towards God's temple, the church. In the church, He Himself is present in His Body and Blood. In the church, He revives us in Baptism, therefore the church is our lesser motherland. In the church, God forgives us our sins in the Mystery (Sacrament) of Repentance/Confession. He gives us His own self in the Most Holy Communion. Where else can we find such sources of incorruptible life? According to the word of an ancient ascetic, they who throughout the week fight against the devil, hasten on Saturdays and Sundays to church to partake from the sources of the Living Water of Communion, in order to quench the thirst of their hearts and to be cleansed of the filth of their defiled conscience.
Ancient legends tell us that deer hunt snakes and eat them; but when the poison starts burning their interior parts they run to a spring of clear water. So also we have to hasten to the church, in order to cool the irritation of our hearts with the communal prayer. As Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-bearer said:
"Try to gather together more frequently to celebrate God's Eucharist and to praise Him. For when you meet with frequency, Satan's powers are overthrown and his destructiveness is undone by the unanimity of your faith. There is nothing better than peace, by which all strife in heavenly and earthly spirits is cast out" (Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-bearer, Epistle to the Ephesians, 13).
People forget that only church prayer can save man from the devil's attacks, for he is trembling before the power of God and is unable to harm the person before the power of God and is unable to harm the person who abides in Divine Love.
King David chanted:
"Though a host should array itself against me, my heart shall not be afraid; though war should rise up against me, in this have I hoped. One thing have I asked of the Lord, this will I seek after: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, that I may behold the delight of the Lord, and that I may visit His holy temple. For He hid me in His tabernacle in the day of my troubles, He sheltered me in the secret place of His tabernacle, upon a rock hath He exalteth me. And now, behold, He exalted my head above mine enemies. I went round about and I sacrificed in His tabernacle a sacrifice of praise and jubilation; I will sing and I will chant unto the Lord" (Psalm 26:3-6).
Besides the fact that in His temple the Lord protects us and gives us strength, He also teaches us, for the Divine Service in its entirety is a true school of Divine Love. In God's Holy Temple, we hear His word, we bring to mind His marvelous acts, we learn about our future; indeed, "In God's temple everything uttereth His glory" (Psalm 28:9); as if before our very eyes there takes place feats of the martyrs, the victories of the ascetics, courage of king and priests; we learn about the mystical nature of God, about the salvation which Christ has granted us; here we rejoice at Christ's Radiant Resurrection. It is not accidental that we refer to Sunday Divine Service as a "lesser Pascha." Often it seems to us that everything around us is terrible, awful and hopeless, but the Sunday Divine Liturgy reveals to us our extreme hope. It was not without reason that Prophet David said that: "We have thought, O God, of Thy mercy in the midst of Thy temple" (Psalm 47:10).
Sunday Divine Liturgy is the best weapon against those numerous depressions and sorrows which inhabit our gray every day life. This divine service is a brightly shining rainbow of God's covenant amidst the fog of the everyday bustle.
In the heart of our festal Divine Liturgy is prayer and contemplation of the Holy Scripture, the reading of which in the church possesses a unique power. One ascetic saw tongues of fire rising up from the mouth of the Deacon reading the word of God at the Sunday Divine Liturgy. They were purifying the souls of the praying people and were ascending to Heaven. Those who say that reading the Bible at home is sufficient and, therefore, they do not need to go to church to hear the Word of God are mistaken. Even if they do open the Book at home, their distancing themselves from the assembly of the faithful in the Church will prevent them from fully understanding the sacred text. It has been confirmed that those who do not partake of the Holy Communion are practically unable to understand God's will. No wonder! (Source: Orthodox Heritage)
(To be continued)
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God