In a wide variety of published works of our church, a number of booklets came out recently containing the instructions on how to behave in a church, the house of God. But I want to focus on how to behave before we come to this Holy temple; and what we need to do to make our coming to this Holy home more pleasing to God and more fruitful to our souls. Therefore, we should come on time to our meeting with God and our prayerful gathering with Him.
We, priests, usually start the Divine Liturgy before almost an empty church. As the Liturgy moves along and progresses, more and more new faces appear, and church slowly begins to fill with those ones that are late. When the Liturgy comes to its end is the time when the number of the faithful is the largest. Therefore, we reassure ourselves later on and say that “the church was full” and that “many people came”. This especially applies when there are memorial services, baptisms, weddings etc, and a lot of people come to do their business and do not even think about God, the host of the church while they are in His home.
This time I won’t even discuss how our negligence and carelessness towards God disturbs and disrupts those ones that are punctuate, who always try to come to the house of God on time. Therefore, I won’t discuss the banging of the doors, or drawing the attention by tardy shuffling of our feet through the house of God. I’ll try to get to this carelessness from another, more substantial side. The forth commandment says: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it Holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” The seventh day is Lord’s Day; it belongs to God. We have apparently jumbled up the terms and we think that is left to us to decide whether we want to dedicate the seventh day to God or not. And God was very clear in His fourth commandment: the seventh day is His day and must be returned to Him.
St. John Chrysostom says: “A week has seven days; these seven days God has shared with us so that He did not take more for Himself and left us with less; He didn’t even shared them equally by giving three days to us and taking three days for Him; instead He gave you six days and took only one for Him. However, you don’t abstain from the worldly business not even for that one day, but you behave like the relic thieves, you too dare to steal this day and use it for worldly worries even though it was made Holy and dedicated to listening of the spiritual science. But why do we talk about the whole day? Use the time of this day the same way the widow used the charity. She donated two mites, and got great mercy of God, you too donate two hours (of prayer in church) to God and you will bring home an income of numerous days. If not, you might ruin the hard work of many years just because you won’t abstain from work for a small portion of one day. God can, when forgotten, ruin even the aggregated wealth”, St. John Chrysostom talks about days first-that God only took one seventh from them- and then St. John Chrysostom talks about hours. In early church, when St. John Chrysostom lived along with other saints of orthodox faith, eagerness was greater; holy, fresh and clear water of the Christian faith was running through the souls of early Christians.
You hear the priest saying during the Liturgy: “Depart catechumens” That remained from the early church when the catechumens: the unbaptized and the communal sinners really used to leave the church. There was a constitution of church doormen, the paramonar, which closed the church door right after those words and to those who were by any chance late, admittance to the Holy Sacrament of Eucharist, to the Divine Liturgy was denied. Nowadays, eagerness has eased and we cannot talk about days or hours, but only about minutes.
We find time for everything: for our get-togethers and our empty chit-chats, for our almost ritual wasting of time at the shopping malls, for dreadful staring at the TV sets, and for many other things, necessary and unnecessary. Except when we should go to church, even when the decision is final, we find a million “urgent things to do” and in that way we cut short the only hour that we decided to dedicate to God and we come late to our meeting with God in His home. And we come before God on the fly.
Everything we have God gave us: our life as well as all the long days and years. Lord feeds us and keeps us healthy. We and our whole family are in the mercy of God. When someone indebts us with something that is not even his, for what on Earth is ours, or when we go to a meeting with someone from whom we expect something or on whom we depend, we watch carefully how we look and we try to get there even earlier. And when we go to God Almighty and our giver, then we think we could go to Him on the fly and in our excess time. However, we must not forget that the meeting with God, as Metropolitan Anthony Bloom warns us, is somewhat similar to the Judgement Day. You come to God, stand before Him face to face, and then what? You leave either damned or justified. There is not and there cannot be anything in between. Therefore, everything comes down to one: If you have already decided to give back to God one little piece of your life that was given to you by Him, then do it properly, so it is to your benefit and your salvation.
We sin everywhere and always, but let’s not sin at least where we go to purge ourselves of our sins. St. Theophan the Recluse reminds us of the fact that: every church has its Guardian Angel, its heavenly protector, which records on the invisible paper the behaviour of all that are present. Church is a place where God resides on Earth.
St. King David, the writer of psalms, introduces us to his excitement when memories pass through his soul of the time he spent in church.”These things I remember”, he said, “as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.” (Psalm 42:4) He thinks that the greatest happiness and blessing from God is to be able to come to church, the house of God. “Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple.” (Psalm 65:4) “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)
In many things, especially in this one, we should bring back that solemn and holy discipline, when Sunday was truly Lord’s Day, and it stood out for its solemnity and holiness from other days, also Lord’s. And we should rise with joy, and prepare solemnly, and joyfully come on time to our meeting with God. Everything we do on that day should be different, more solemn and holy. On Sunday, Lord’s Day, we should distant ourselves and arise from our often dreary everyday life, as Father Alexander Schmemann compares it to a journey: “The Divine Liturgy and the Holy Sacrament of Eucharist can be presumed as a journey, or procession. That’s a journey of the church to the dimension of Kingdom of God. The journey begins when the Christians leave their beds and their homes. They truly leave their lives in this everyday and concrete world, and regardless of whether they have to go fifteen miles or only a few blocks, the act of the Holy Sacrament is already happening, the act that is a condition for everything else to happen. Because they travel to form the church, to be transformed to church of God.” And we should worship the Lord with gladness and come before Him with joyful songs. (Psalms 100:2); and enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise (Psalms 100:4) so that our comings to God would truly be to our salvation.