Word Magazine April 1983 Page 23
IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE
Homily By Father James C. Meena
On the Fifth Sunday of the Great Fast, the Orthodox Church honors the memory of Our Righteous Mother, Saint Mary of Egypt, the prototype of St. Mary Magdalena who repented of her sins and became a deeply dedicated ascetic, going into the Egyptian desert and living there the rest of her life in piety and in prayer, offering prayers of repentance to Christ and of intercession for the people of the world. She is commemorated by the Church as an example for all of us. The life that is exemplified by people like St. Mary of Egypt, while carried to the ultimate of asceticism and almost a super monasticism, should be kind of a pace setter for those of us of the Orthodox Faith who usually make exceptions of things.
For example, this morning I was admonishing a young man who was talking in Church, and he asked, “What’s the difference! It isn’t important!” This seems to permeate our attitude until finally nothing seems to make a difference. It doesn’t make a difference if we fast, if we pray, if we go to Church regularly; and what’s the difference if we go to the hospital to visit the sick or simply send a fifty cent get well card or ask the relatives of the sick person, how that person is getting along. What’s the difference? The life of St. Mary of Egypt as the lives of all the great ascetics say there is a difference because these people have been glorified by God. Their memories live. Mary of Egypt lived centuries ago. The events of her life have long since been absorbed into history and yet here we are hundreds of years later talking about her because the virtue of her asceticism, the beauty of her understanding that it does make a difference in our commitment and devotion to Christ that her memory has indeed become eternal.
Now you and I don’t really care much whether the Church remembers us one hundred years down the road or not but certainly we care if God remembers us and that’s what we’re after, that we become an everlasting part of the Divine Memory. That He will inscribe our names in His Book of Life and that He will deem us worthy of receiving the gift of salvation that has been promised. But we can’t achieve that if nothing makes a difference. Giving alms to the poor, worrying about those less fortunate than ourselves, uplifting the Church, glorifying the congregation, being supportive of one another, praying for one another, loving one another. All of these things make a big difference. Above all, coming together as a community, praying together, offering and receiving the Sacraments regularly and in faith makes a difference.
The other day someone commented to me, “Hey Father, what about all these people who take Communion every time you have a Liturgy?” And I asked, “What about them?” He said, “Isn’t that a little bit much?” My reply was, “no it isn’t,” because that’s like saying, “what about these people who eat two or three times a day.” If your wife or mother prepares a meal morning, noon and night, she expects you to eat thereof. And when the people of God come together to offer up this Eucharistic sacrifice, this Lord’s Supper, the Lord expects us to partake thereof, frequently, regularly and in faith. Now there are people who have not taken the Sacraments in years.
I ask you then, what is your share in the life of the Church. Is it simply to pay dues or to come to Church picnics. No it is not that. Your primary function as members of the nation of God is to come and to partake of this Lord’s supper in faith that you might be sanctified. Out of this grows all other things. Receiving the Body and Blood of Christ strengthens us when received in faith and with repentance. Jesus said, “whosoever eats of my flesh and drinks of my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day”, (St. John 6:54). It’s quite clear and I think we ought to understand that Jesus is saying by these words, you bet your boots it does make a difference! It makes a difference if we come to confession! It makes a difference if we come to Church! It makes a difference if we receive the Sacraments! It makes a difference if we are a part of the praying, spiritual community because all of these other things that are required of us become empty vanities unless they grow out of the faithful reception of the Sacraments with understanding and with dedication.
It is for this reason that Parish Priests have struggled to restore to the liturgical life of the Church every possible opportunity for you to receive these Sacraments. It’s not because they feel like some important person when they come to Church on a Thursday to offer the Liturgy, or feel holier than thou because on Saturday morning they’re celebrating the Liturgy while you are playing golf or shopping for your families. It is because this spiritual food nourishes us spiritually and strengthens us that it does make a difference! Therefore we offer you, in the name of the Lord, every possible opportunity to the limits of our strength to come with fear of God, with Faith and Love and to receive the precious and life-giving Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Holy week will soon begin. We are now entering into the last days of the Great Fast. Wednesday evenings most parishes have the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. The Great Fast will soon be over and the fast of Holy Week will begin. Lazarus Saturday we will commence that fast with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy honoring the resurrection of St. Lazarus. Sunday morning is the Palm Sunday service. Sunday night, Monday night, Tuesday night, instead of simply having the Bridegroom Service some will offer the Bridegroom Service and The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, since one fulfills the other. Holy Wednesday is the Sacrament of Unction. Holy Thursday morning, Divine Liturgy celebrating the institution of the Sacrament. That is not a children’s Liturgy. It is for every faithful Orthodox Christian, adults as well as children. Friday is a most solemn day of services. Saturday morning all parishes should celebrate the Divine Liturgy proclaiming the Empty Tomb.
It is possible for us during Holy Week to receive the Body and Blood of Christ seven times, Saturday & Sunday morning, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evening (or Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday morning), Thursday morning and Saturday morning as well as for Easter. Seven or eight opportunities to make our Easter Communion at least once, and to make our confession early in the week so that you may receive the Sacraments as frequently as you wish during that week. It does make a difference, for by frequent reception of the Precious Sacraments, by centering our lives in Christ, in faith, we take a large step toward our own ascetic life style and soon learn why it makes a difference.