One can often hear some people say they do not come to the church for a collective prayer because they pray at home, on their own. That’s also where they light the candles and the cressets. In their defence, or to their praise, they say that God is everywhere; therefore it doesn’t matter where one prays.
Truly, God is everywhere, but in the Book of Gospels, we can see that He Himself fulfilled the church requirements of the time, and like everyone else, He used to come to the home of prayer at a given time “And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbaths.” (Luke 13:10) And somewhere else the Apostle says that going to the temple, for prayer, was a routine for our God. “Then Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and according to His custom, He entered into the synagogue on the day of the Sabbaths, and stood up to read.” (Luke 4:16)
In this hectic time that flies, we have lost many customs. What used to be a natural cycle of alternating workdays and holidays, lenten days and non-lenten ones, does not exist anymore.
I recall in my furthest memories those of my early childhood days and how, already on Saturday we could feel the celebratory air of Sunday; and how all the jobs, – no matter how numerous or important they were -would be brought to an end; and the women would pass our house on their way to the cemetery where they would, by custom, weep and cry; and then at the end of the day, when all things were finished and done, mother would prepare the censer so she could cense the whole house while murmuring prayers known only to her, and we would all, with our father as the head of the house, stand through the routine saying of prayers before we could sit at the table and eat our dinner. All that was done in some kind of celebratory and divine order. In my memory, our Parish church, along with the old priest Branko, who baptized both of our parents, and all of us children, comes as if it were set down straight from heaven.
These days, I have been watching, horrified, the appalling carelessness of the majority of Serbs, from the youngest to the oldest, who cannot find the smallest corner of their soul where they could place their Church, and find at least a little time for their spiritual wellbeing. Many generations have been brought up and then lost forever in that manner. And judging by our neglect of church, chances are that the future will not be any better.
“I want to pray – but I don’t have time” – one song says.
I want to help you but – I don’t have time.
The child is playing – there’s no time.
The student is studying – there’s no time.
The university student has lectures – there’s no time. ”
And the song lists many things until both, life and song, come to an end, and then it says:
“The patient needs treatment – there’s no time.
Dying man – there’s no…
It is too late – there’s really no time.
We go through life running, hastily, stressfully, and impatiently.
I am not praying to you God, to give me time to do this or that.
I am praying to you to help me carry out thoroughly, in the time you gave me, the things you expect me to do.”
(Pravoslavni misionar, 2.79
Someone has calculated, and it is very easy to do so, that in 24 hours of day and night there is 1440 minutes. Let’s ask ourselves and then answer honestly how many of those 1440 minutes we dedicate to a prayer – a conversation with God? (Same) At the same time let’s keep in mind that for the Lord’s Prayer, we only need one minute.
Orthodox faith is a community, a congregation of God’s children, brought together by the common faith. The holy Church was established in a community. The writings of the Apostles bear witness that early Christians “every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts” (Acts 2:46-47). A true Christian breathes his faith together with people among which God has placed him.
We can pray to God everywhere, but He Himself showed us that the temple is that chosen and designated place where the force of God’s blessings is the strongest.
“Collective prayer in the temple has greater benefits than the individual one.” God had those benefits in mind when He said: “For where two or three are gathered in My name there am I among them.” (Matthew 18: 20) “Of course – says archpriest Zivan Marinkovic – God is present everywhere, but we feel His presence the most in the temple during the collective prayer. That’ s why His blessings are felt the most in this place and the participants of the collective prayer can feel the gifts of His blessings the most. That’s why the collective prayer is more powerful than the individual one.
As John Chrysostom indicates: ” Some say, I can pray at home…. You are mistaken, man, of course, pray at home too, but to pray at home the same way as in church, where a unanimous song to God is raised, is not possible. Your individual prayer at home will not be as effective as the one said along your brothers in church. There is more to a prayer here: there is unanimity and harmony, and affiliation of love and priest’s prayer. That’s why priests exist, so that their more powerful prayers could merge with the less powerful prayers of the people, and then, as one, be raised to the heaven…One needs more courage to pray with people than to pray alone at home.” As a confirmation of everything said, he gives the example of St. Peter who was freed from prison and shackles by the warm and powerful prayers of the church of Jerusalem, and St. Apostle Paul who, in his epistles, begged the churches to pray to God for him (Romans 15:30, 2 Corinthians 1:10-11, Ephesians 6:18-19), If the prayer of the church helped St. Peter and freed him from prison how can you ignore its power, and what could your excuse be? John Chrysostom asked. Then he states that the collective prayer of the people of Nineveh saved their city from the punishment with which God threatened them through Jonah.
As per words of St. John of Kronstadt, collective prayers in church inspire mutual love among Christians by suggesting them that they are all part of one body of Christ, so they should live in such unity and love as that of the Holy Trinity (John 17:21), and help each other: the wealthy should help the poor, the wiser should help the ignorant, the educated should help the illiterate, the powerful should help the weak.
The individual prayer, if one limits oneself to it, separates him/her from the community and feeds selfishness within his/her soul, aside from being deprived of all those blessings that God pours over the faithful during their collective prayer. Separation from the community during the prayer leads to a spiritual death, in the same manner as the separation from the physical body would lead an arm or a leg into a definite death without the supply of blood that feeds the whole body and all of its cells. What blood is to our body, the blessings of the Holy Spirit are to the body of the church. The same way an arm or a leg could not live separated from the physical body, a Christian could not live spiritually separated from his/her church community, all on his/her own”, concludes archpriest Marinkovic.
“God I have tested the power of Your temple – sings Isidora Sekulic. Look, it is just a small house, like any other small house by the road, among a few trees. I had entered that temple when I felt bitter and grumpy, and worn out as a workhorse who wanted to die. I had entered it when I felt helpless and tired as a chased down sheep that could not even untangle its own legs, and even when successfully untangled the two front legs it would fall on its knees, and put its head down to the ground wanting to die, die, die. God, I have left the temple with my head up high and rested, of a clear sight, knowing exactly where I would go and what I would do that day and even the day after.”
Let’s test more often the power of the temple and let’s feed ourselves with the blessings of the Holy Spirit, in the community of faithful, to our salvation.