Word Magazine November 2000 Page 21
RECLAIMING THE DAY OF THE LORD
By Very Rev. Jason DelVitto
Orthodox Christian families are hopefully well aware of the numerous distractions that our present day society presents to us with regard to that unique day of the week, Sunday, the Lord’s Day. Beginning with the earliest days of Christianity, Sunday is the day on which Orthodox Christians gather to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord with joyful thanksgiving through the Divine Liturgy. During the celebration of the Liturgy, we are called to “lay aside all earthly cares” in expectation of the coming of the Lord, whose presence brings peace and salvation to all who seek him.
Many of us may have memories of the times when the vast majority of Christians would set aside Sunday as the time in which families would spend the entire day together, perhaps eating a special meal, visiting extended family members and friends or those who are ill or homebound, enjoying one another’s company and reaffirming the bond of love that Christ calls us to nurture. I recall during my youth when department stores were closed on Sunday and, to a great extent, people were “forced” to spend time together and interact with each other. I am sure that this tradition of family solidarity continues in many of our homes today. Yet I am also certain that many of us have allowed this unique day of the week, the Lord’s Day, and all that is implied by that Day, to be taken away from us by the many distractions and temptations which pull our families in so many directions, especially on that Day which rightfully belongs to the Lord and to us.
We see, during the appointed time for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy on Sunday mornings, our children, and consequently parents and other family members, called to participate in sporting events, well intentioned walk-a-thons of all kinds, and numerous other activities which we permit to rob us of our task of witnessing to the Orthodox Christian faith on the morning which is like no other morning. I personally don’t see this trend changing in the near future with regard to the conflict of time and the challenges we all face in determining and recognizing “that which is needful.” Indeed, this dynamic of making choices is inherent within the Christian life, which brings us to an important point, that of choice.
Recall the Gospel account of our Lord’s visitation to the house of Martha as recorded in the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 10:38-42. Our Lord affirmed that Mary, the sister of Martha, made a fundamental choice in choosing that which our Lord identifies as “that good portion which shall not be taken away from her.” That “good portion” in our lives is nothing other than placing ourselves in the presence of the Lord and listening to His teaching as Mary did. Martha, being distracted by her concerns for showing kindly hospitality for our Lord, nevertheless substituted something else for that which our Lord set aside as the fundamental priority of the new life in Him, sitting at his feet and listening to Him. For this, there is no substitute no matter how well intentioned.
Sunday has always remained unique to Christians primarily because we, by God’s grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit, have made it so. As Orthodox Christian families, we need to take responsibility for reclaiming Sunday as the Lord’s Day, which the Church has continued to do and will continue to do until the end of the ages. We do have a choice in what we do in this life. We are called to responsible parenting and stewardship with regard to our time and activities in
our lives. Orthodox Christian families must have the courage to set our priorities straight and teach these priorities to our children by word and deed. If you find yourselves among those families who have fallen into the habit of participating in the Divine Liturgy sporadically during the year and seeing Sundays as a “fuzzy” day of the week, not knowing really what to do on that day with no clear direction, take time to sit with your family members and discuss what it will take to reclaim Sunday as a day for celebration in the Lord and for uninterrupted family time. There is no doubt that it is difficult and challenging to set straight priorities and break habitual patterns. Such an endeavor takes courage, fortitude and faith. As our Lord tells us, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). One of the meanings that we can take from these words of our Lord is that we Orthodox must fight, indeed war with the many temptations which surround our families within this society and within our own homes. We must have the courage to seize “that which is needful,” doing violence to those temptations which would have us do otherwise. The Christian task of living out the precepts of our Lord in this life even on a daily basis is a struggle and a battle which is both honorable and worthy of our efforts. How much more unique, then, is that day which we call the Lord’s day, to Orthodox Christians. Once again, if you find that your family has allowed the distractions of this world to take precedence over your calling to celebrate Sunday as the Church calls us to do, pray to God for courage and strength to make the decisions and to implement the necessary changes in attitude and behavior that will allow your family to reclaim that which is rightfully yours — the joyful Day of the Lord.