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? (Part II)
By Hieromartyr David Sisoyev, translate by Priest Sergii Alekseev
The Holy Scripture is nothing other than instruction on how to receive Heavenly Grace. But if we simply read a set of instructions and do not try to, let us say, put a bookcase together or use a computer program, the set of instructions will remain un-mastered and will be soon forgotten. It is well-known that our mind quickly filters out any unused information. Therefore, the Holy Scripture is inseparable from the church community, for it was given solely to the Church.
And vice versa, those who attend the Sunday Divine Liturgy and then read the Holy Scripture at home will comprehend meaning in it that they would never have comprehended otherwise. Often, it is precisely on the Church Feast Days that people learn the will of God about themselves. According to the words of Saint John of the Ladder (Climacus): "Although God always endows His servants with gifts, He does even more so on the yearly feasts of the Lord and the Mother of God" ("To the Pastor," 3:2).
It is not surprising that those who regularly attend church are somewhat different, both in outward appearance and in the disposition of their souls. On the one hand, to them virtues become natural, while on the other hand, frequent confessions prevent them from falling into serious sins. In the life of a Christian, passions can intensify, for Satan does not want us--who were made from dust--to ascend to Heaven from which we had been cast down. For this reason, Satan attacks us as his enemies. We, however, should not fear him; we should fight him and overcome him, for only "he that overcometh shall inherit all things, says the Lord" (Revelation 21:7).
If the person says that he is a Christian but does not pray with his brothers and sisters, what kind of Christian is he? In the words of the greatest expert on Church Holy Canons, Patriarch Theodore Balsamon of Antioch:
"Such a person either does nothing regarding fulfillment of the Divine Commandment about prayers and singing hymns to God, or he is not a believer. Otherwise, why would he for twenty days not want to be in church with Christians and have communion with God's faithful people? (This is reference to Church Holy Canons which stipulate that Christians who were absent from church on three consecutive Sundays are to be excommunicated." Trans.).
It is no accident that people we consider model Christians: Christians of the Apostolic Church in Jerusalem, were together, and had all things in common..." And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord to the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did seat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:44-47). Their inner strength was a result of their being in one accord. They abided in the Life-Giving power of the Holy Spirit which was poured forth upon them in response to their love.
It is no coincidence that the New Testament directly forbids one to neglect assembling together in Church: "We shall not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but we shall exhort one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day [of the assembly] approaching" (Hebrews 10:25).
All the best things which made Russia holy, and which sustain other Christian nations, are provided by the Divine Services. In church we are delivered from the yoke of our vanity and we can break through from the shackles of crises and wars into God's peace. And this is the only correct decision: not curses and revolutions, not malice and hatred, but church prayer and virtues can change the world. "For the wicked boasteth of his heart's desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the LORD abhorreth. The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts" (Psalm 10: 3-4), and the righteous one flees to the Lord to find refuge. This is not cowardice but wisdom and courage. Only a fool is going to try to stand up by himself against the onslaught of the evil of the entire world, be that terrorism or a natural disaster, revolutions or wars. Only the Almighty God can defend His creation. This is why a church has always been considered a place of safety.
Indeed, a church is the Heaven's embassy on the Earth where we pilgrims looking for the Heavenly city, receive support: "How Thou hast multiplied Thy mercy, O God! Let the sons of men hope in the shelter of Thy wings. They shall be drunk with the fatness of Thy house, and of the torrent of Thy delight shalt Thou make them to drink. For in Thee is the Fountain of Life, in Thy Light shall we see light" (Psalm 35:8-10).
I think it is clear that love for God is the reason for one's striving to frequently visit the house of the Lord. But the second Commandment demands the same--to love our neighbor. Where else can we give our attention to what is most beautiful in a person? In a store, in a movie theater, or in a hospital? Obviously not. Only in the house of our common Father can we meet our brothers and sisters. Our communal prayer is going to be heard by God sooner, too, than any prayer of a profound loner. For Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself said: "That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them" (St. Matthew 18:19-20).
In church we distance ourselves from the hustle and bustle and are able to pray both about our own troubles and about the entire universe. In church, we pray to God asking Him to heal the diseases of our relatives, to free the captives, to preserve the travelers, to rescue the perishing. In church we are also in communion with those who have left this world but have not left Christ's Church. Whenever the departed visit the living they beg them to pray for them in churches. They say that every such a commemoration is like a birthday to them, but we often neglect that. Where then is our love? Let us imagine their condition. They have no bodies, they cannot receive communion, and they cannot do any good deeds (alms), either. They are waiting for support from their friends and relatives, but what they are getting are just excuses. It is the same as saying to your hungry mother: "Please forgive me, I am not going to give you anything to eat, because I badly need a nap." Do we not know that the church prayer is true food to the departed?
Besides, holy righteous men and women, worthily glorified, await us in the temple. Holy icons allow us to see them, their words are proclaimed during the service, and they themselves often visit the house of God, especially on their feast days. They pray together with us to God, and their powerful hymnology like eagles' wings bring up the church prayer directly to the Divine Altar. And not only people but bodiless Angels also participate in our prayer. People chant Angelic hymns, such as the Trisagion (Thrice-Holy Hymns), while Angels chant along with us, "It is truly meet to bless Thee, O Theotokos."
According to the Church Holy Tradition, an Angel always stands over the Altar within any consecrated Church, sending the prayer of the Church up to God, while a blessed spirit stands at the church entrance, watching over the thoughts of people entering and exiting the church. This presence is rather palpable. For it is not without reason that many unrepentant sinners do not feel good in the temple--it is the power of God rejecting their sinful will and the Angels punishing them for their lawlessness. Such people, instead of ignoring the church must repent and receive forgiveness in the Mystery/Sacrament of Repentance/Confession and then remember to thank the Creator.
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