Word Magazine June 1961 Page 3
BEHAVIOUR IN CHURCH
By METROPOLITAN ANTONY
What is written here may seem quite elementary to some people, but there are a few Orthodox Christians who could very well learn something if they thought about it carefully. At every celebration of the Divine Liturgy we hear these words: “For this holy House, and for those with faith, reverence, and fear of God enter therein, let us pray to the Lord.” In this petition the worshippers who come to God’s House in piety and reverence are especially prayed for. Of course it is taken for granted that all the people who have come to worship the Lord and Saviour have come with piety and reverence. It is for this reason that there is no special prayer for those who enter the House of God rudely, noisily, and with disrespect. Perhaps there should be a prayer for such people. They need it more than those who act with reverence in the Lord’s House!
Churches are not like other buildings. They look different. They exist for different purposes. Every building has its way of being treated. One knows how to enter a hospital, or a school, or a court house. We enter those places differently than a gymnasium, a supermarket, or a railroad station. A church, however, is different from all such buildings. It requires special treatment from us. It asks our respect, our reverent attitude towards it. Unfortunately, there are people who do not differentiate between various buildings. When a person behaves in a court house like he would in a gymnasium or a billiard parlor, he is considered a boor, an uncouth person. But there are people who enter a church building as if they were entering a hardware store, or a bus station.
The purpose of this article is to try to impress upon such people that the church is a holy place and that they must act in a holy way when they are in it. Orthodox Christians believe that the Lord is present in each church. Orthodox people believe in His Real Presence in the Body and Blood of Christ which is kept reserved for the sick on the holy Altar. In every Orthodox Church a perpetual light is kept burning before the Altar or Royal Doors to remind the faithful of the presence of Christ. The flickering red light of this lamp ought to serve as a warning and a reminder to us. In church, the light seems to say, “Don’t act rude or loud; act with reverence and devotion.” The perpetual lamp seems to say: “The Lord is in His Holy Temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him” (HAB.2:20).
Everything in a church is blessed and sanctified. Our Lord is there invisibly present. In church we should not behave indifferently to these holy things. We should not be rude to Christ. It is for these reasons that we always avoid making a commotion when entering church; not only for fear of disturbing the devotions of others, but because we are entering the presence of God. In church we never carry on worldly conservations or discuss everyday affairs. We have meeting halls and homes for this purpose. The House of God is for quiet prayer, meditation, and devotion. It is for the worship of Almighty God. And when we leave church we should not make any noise or be in a great rush, for we are leaving the presence of the King of kings. If we were to visit the President of our country, we would not stomp rudely out of his office. We would have far more respect for him than that. How much more respect ought we to have for the King of Glory!
Some people behave better in a theater than in church. In a theater they walk in on tiptoe; they find a seat without disturbing others. In church, however, these same people often barge in like “Bulls in a china closet.” They raise their voices and talk loudly. They laugh and joke or, what is worse, they argue and quarrel and thus sin doubly: they disturb the prayers of others and they offend God.
Some misguided people think it is alright to speak in church if there is no service. The church, however, is the House of God at all times — not just when there are services being celebrated. We must be quiet in church at all times — not only when the priest is there to see and hear us. If the priest is not there to see, God is! We are quiet in church for the same reason men remove their hats when entering church. We do not wear our hats or smoke cigars when the priest is not there to see.
Many Orthodox Catholics need to cultivate better church manners. In the House of the Lord let us think of heavenly things. The walls and ceilings of our church buildings are covered with icons, religious murals and mosaics to remind us that we are in the presence of the Saints and God. “Lift up your hearts” from the things of this earth to those of God. Enter into the House of God as if you were entering into Heaven, and leave behind all that savors of worldly vanities: Holiness becometh Thy House, O Lord” (PSALM 92:5).