THE WORD/MAY 1992, Page 10
THE DUTIES OF CHURCH MEMBERS TO THE CHURCH
Part 2 — Attend Church
Every Orthodox Christian is duty-hound to join at specified times in the public worship of God, especially on the Lord’s Day (Sunday). We attend the celebration of the Liturgy to give to Almighty God the adoration, praise, and thanksgiving which is His due. Some people who do not “feel the need” of the religious help that can come to them through the Church services, conclude that it is right for them to stay away excusing their absence from public worship on the grounds that they “get nothing out of it.” But worship is a giving of ourselves to God, rather than a getting something from Him; it is a sacred duty, not merely something that we do to fulfill our own need. It is, of course, true that we do secure real help from God when first we have drawn near to Him; but the honoring of God is the primary thing, our own satisfaction secondary. For Orthodox Christians, worship is only complete when we join ourselves with the sacramental offering of Our Lord in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Our motto ought to be, “The Lord’s own service, on the Lord’s day”.
The reason we usually care for anything is because it has something to do with someone we love. We do not have to be told to do it. We just do it. Those who love God go to church to worship Him. The Divine Liturgy is the one really thrilling thing in all the world. It is the one undimmed truth and the one unfading splendor on earth and in Heaven. It is the one symphony that is celestial. It is the one drama that is divine. It is the one great, gleaming, golden arch that spans from earth to Heaven. The pontiff who built this Bridge is God. And over it walk men and angels.
The truth that the Liturgy contains is simply astounding. The act which expresses that truth is astoundingly simple. It is astounding because it announces that God came to earth and was Incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and dwelt among us, and suffered and died for our sins, and rose from the dead to restore to us everlasting life, and ascended into Heaven to prepare a place for us. But the supremely astounding climax in the Liturgy is the moment when God, Who did all this, appears in person. sacramentally veiled, and offers Himself as Nourishment for our souls.
The Liturgy is astoundingly simple. So simple that it shows forth in one act things which if they should be written every one, even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. So simple that old men and children, young men and maidens, virgins and matrons, the learned and the unlearned, may hear each in their own language of their own hearts, the wonderful works of God, and see with their own eyes the mighty thing which has come to pass.
When all the world is mixed and muddled and distracted, and willful and wanton and soiled, and mad and sad and wistful, the Liturgy is the massive miracle of truth and light and joy and hope and comfort and peace and sanity and stability the one thing on earth that shall not pass away.
Besides going to church to honor God, we go in order to help ourselves. It is difficult to make one coal burn alone, but together with other coals it burns readily. Who can resist the spirit of Christmas? It gets into the very atmosphere. Even Scrooge capitulated. And so with the spirit of corporate worship. It has been said that ordinary people at all levels help each other to be a little more supernatural than each could have been alone. This is another way of saying what Christ said: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
We need to worship because life proves too much for us, or not enough. Sometimes life terrifies us and again it bores us. We need reinforcement in order to meet its tragic moments and we need zest to meet its monotonous ones. Whether life proves too much for us or too little, sooner or later we succumb to spiritual weariness. And then public worship is our salvation.
Life may have proved too much for us, imposed on us a task too great, a sorrow too deep, a defeat too crushing, a temptation too dangerous. Or life may not have proved enough, so that we find ourselves “filled with a weariness of all that is old and habitual,” find “ambition’s sails drooping,” and come to a bitter doubt of the worth of all our efforts. In either case, public worship proves our spiritual self-preservation; it renews the spirit as sleep renews the body; it cleanses, sanctifies, and leads us along the road to salvation. Whether it be the “too-bigness” of life or its “too-littleness” that distresses us, church worship brings us the experience of God which lifts us out of our burdened lives or out of our bored ones. “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fail: but they that wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.”
There is more to being a Christian than going to church, but if you unnecessarily stop going to church, your interest in the Church will very probably die. You will in all likelihood become dead wood on the church roll, and it would be better had you not been Baptized and joined the Church at all. Recall your vow of allegiance to Christ at Baptism spoken by your sponsors, attend church worship resolutely, and strive to bring your life into conformance with what Christian worship implies. Every true Christian will, without fail, be present in church every Sunday and Holyday.
Attend the divine service of your church in worshipful attitude. Make your contribution to that corporate spirit a helpful one. Pray for the worship when you have entered. . . for yourself, your fellow worshippers, and those who minister. During the Liturgy give your whole attention to the divine drama being reenacted; pray with the priest as he prays; let the Liturgy be your prayer. Especially during the opening minutes of the Liturgy, take care to maintain an attitude of desire and expectation.
THE WORD/JUNE 1992, Page 15
THE DUTIES OF CHURCH
MEMBERS TO THE CHURCH
Support Your Church Financially
Jesus did not care about money for its own sake. “His only purse was a fish’s mouth.” But He cared about money tremendously for the sake of mans spiritual welfare. It has been claimed that one verse in seven in the Holy Gospels refers to money. Christ was a skilled physician of souls and He knew how avarice preys on men like a spiritual cancer, and how their niggardliness toward God and their fellows proves their own great spiritual hindrance.
In the Liturgy we repeat that great old Creed. “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. . . . And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God … And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord.. In one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church . . . one Baptism. . . the Resurrection of the dead, and the Life of the world to come.” And then, on the instant when our lips prepare to say, “Amen,” away below the level of our conscious thought an inexorable conscience asks: ‘‘Do you believe it? How much do you believe it? How much have you given to it this week? As much as for that entertainment, that dinner out, that unnecessary luxury?’’ Or in some “date with adversity,’’ when we desperately need help and kneel to
pray for it, our conscience will mock us if it can. It will ask us what right we have to pray. Some deep ingrained honesty within us sits in judgment on our prayer, and if we know that we have not played square with God, and have refused God the support his Kingdom needs, that prayer is stifled on our lips. We may not know what has discounted the Creed, or hindered our prayer. We may only know that our ‘‘Amen’’ reverberates in our mind as if it had been followed by a question mark. We may sigh to ourselves that prayer has never seemed very real to us. But the real difficulty is that deep within ourselves we know that we have no right to lift our souls to the earnest God who waits on our laggard loyalty. An Old Testament prophet said that when men quit robbing God, God would pour them out a blessing such as there would not be room enough to receive. This is not because God sells His blessings, but because His richest blessings can come only to those who are loyal to Him.
So, when that deep-seated conscience sits in judgment on our worship, or our prayer, if we can answer, “Yes, I believe – by this old coat, by the hat I went without, by the old car I still am driving,’’ then the question mark changes into an exclamation point. We have witnessed our belief at the judgment bar of our conscience. We have proved it to ourselves. And also, we might add, to the world, for the world is not looking for a religion the expansion of which is worth to its devotees the present average of only three cents a day.
‘‘Give, and it shall he given unto you: good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over… For with what measure ye mete it shall he measured to you again.”
Every Christian is expected to give to his church, and to give regularly and in proportion as he has been prospered. ‘‘Upon the first day of the week.’’ wrote St. Paul. ‘‘let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper.’’ The only safe way to take care of such a duty is to systematize it. Except for those few of us who receive our income in one yearly sum, the only way we can possibly pay what we ought is to pay it in small installments: so that if we pay our church moneys only once or twice a year it is proof positive that we have not come near the line of sacrifice, and are only ‘‘tipping the Lord.’’ We ought to give a sum we could not pay in one yearly contribution!
‘‘Let each one of you lay by him. . . as he may prosper.’’ Jesus cared more about proportion than about amount. It took His eyes to see the widow’s little coins larger than all the payments of the rich who had passed that same treasury box (Mark 12:41-44). And still He sits over against the treasury and beholds how we cast money into it! We are not to give what is left. We are to give in proportion as we have prospered. What proportion? The Jews, we often hear, give a tenth . Actually they gave a good deal more than that. Are we less indebted to God than the ancient Jews? Some of our gifts will go, of course, to other welfare causes, not to the Church. But a generous share of them we owe to the Church.
It costs money to operate the church in which we worship. We do not want to be slackers. Once a year, in most well-organized parishes, every member is asked to subscribe for its support. Your duty as a member is to make your subscription loyally and sacrificially.
You also are asked from time to time to subscribe to the benevolent budget of the diocese, from which payments are made to support the national enterprises of the Orthodox Church, to its work of Christian education, and to various other undertakings.
Young Parishioners should begin to support the Church as soon as they begin work or receive a regular income of some sort. Their subscriptions may not be large, but they are important subscriptions because they will continue for a long time, and the challenge of Christian stewardship is far better faced in early years than at that most difficult time of all, when the establishment of a home makes perhaps the heaviest drain of a lifetime on one’s income.
“ . .Let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may
THE DUTIES OF CHURCH MEMBERS
TO THE CHURCH
Grow in Grace and Christian Knowledge.
Just as water cannot rise above its own level, So you cannot contribute to the Church more than you really are. One of your duties to the Church, then, is to grow, yourself, in grace and Christian knowledge.
We have a positive duty to spend some time in private prayer each day. Our daily private devotions afford us as indication of our spiritual condition. They are reliable tests of spiritual vitality. If they are normal, our morning and night prayers will be regular. If they are irregular, there is something wrong somewhere. It will be well to provide ourselves with a book of prayers to form a scheme of prayer. We need a model form which will illustrate the scope and content of private prayer. In time, undoubtedly, we will color our own prayer life: we will pray more and more in our own words. But we will retain the outline, and the structure will be the lasting legacy of our book.
We will need a visible sign to serve us as a reminder of our duty to pray. We ought to have an Icon hanging on the wall of our sleeping room. Bring the Icon to the church to be blessed. Then pray your way through life before it.
The spirit of private daily prayer is this. In the morning you renew your life vow to continue as Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto your life’s end. Give thanks that you were allowed to awaken to a new day. Ask God’s blessing on your day’s activities. The Christian signs himself with the sign of the Cross to show that he intends all through the day, wherever he may be, whatever he may do, to be loyal to God. Loyalty is the watchword by day.
At night you commend those for whose well-being you are responsible to God. You pray for forgiveness for your failures. You return thanks for your mercies. You pray for blessing. Then in simple faith you take your rest. Trust is the watchword by night.
Private prayer ought to include not only vocal prayers, but also some time (perhaps only five minutes per day at the start) for mental prayer, or “meditation.” The latter word is apt to suggest something strange and forbidding to those who have never tried it. Actually, mental prayer is the simplest and most natural, as well as one of the most rewarding forms of prayer. While various formal schemes or “methods of meditation” have been used, and have been found helpful by many, mental prayer, in its essentials, requires only a quiet place to retire to, and some sort of a time-keeper, so that we may give the full time
we intend to this coming apart with God. We may kneel, or sit, or take any other posture that is helpful to us; not too comfortable, lest we fall asleep; not too uncomfortable either, lest our thoughts he centered more on our own physical distress, than on God. We try to make ourselves quiet, to “calm down” inside; we try to remember that God is with us. We think of His love and goodness, and praise Him for them; we ask His help; we thank Him for His many blessings; we tell Him of our sorrow for our sins and failures; we resolve with His help to carry out His holy Will more perfectly in the future; perhaps applying our resolution to some very definite situation which may present itself to us that very day. All these prayers are mostly in thought, rather than in words. We may use, as a help to get started in our prayer, some words taken from the Gospels, Epistles, or Psalms, or a few words from one of the great devotional classics, such as “My Life in Christ” by Father John of Kronstadt.
We also have a duty of prayer for others; the duty of intercessory prayer. How this duty will be carried out is something that must be determined by the individual. Many people find much help in compiling personal lists of intercessions, with the names of relatives, friends, the sick, the departed, the needy the work of the Church, its local work, and world-wide activities, noted down. They can then go through this list, in whole or in part, every day lifting up these persons or objects to God, asking His blessings on them. Such unselfishness will lend wings to your prayers. For most of us are lamentably self-engrossed in our praying. If your experience of prayer is disappointing, the priest will be able to suggest helpful books, and perhaps some prayers which may deepen and enrich your own.
Take care, also, of your Bible-reading. Stake out certain areas from time to time for intelligent study, and pursue such study with the aid of handbooks or introductions, about which the priest, again, will be glad to advise you. We ought to have the following intentions for Bible reading: learning, patience, comfort, hope. We are to learn to know God and Jesus Christ whom He sent. The Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth, speaking through the Church, the infallible interpreter of Holy Scripture. We are to learn to glory in tribulation, knowing that tribulation works patience. We are to learn to find our comfort in friendship with God. We are to learn, from our experience in God’s friendship, to hope all things.
The Bible is our best collection of lives of the Saints. As to making a rule about reading the Bible, we ought to read it daily. We may safely resolve to read “a few verses daily.” This would mean two or more verses. We can always do that, no matter how rushed a day may be. We may have enough time and freedom to give five or ten or fifteen minutes. A good time for reading the Bible is at supper time when the whole family is together.
Books on religious subjects, written for laymen, are pouring from the presses today – such books as will deepen your faith, broaden your religious horizons, answer many of your questions. Excellent church journals are published, concerning which your priest will be glad to give you information. It would be well if every parish possessed a library of the excellent Orthodox spiritual writings which have appeared in the past few years. Do not depend on the pastor’s sermons alone for the enrichment of your Christian knowledge and experience. Strike out for yourself. Study your Bible and read religious books and lives of the Saints.
The best way to grow in grace is by approaching the Sacraments more frequently. Periodic self-examination, accompanied by real purpose of amendment, with the help of God’s grace, is necessary for spiritual progress; and this is most fruitful and effective when accompanied by sacramental absolution which is received in the Sacrament of Penance. The promise of the Gospel is that Our Lord will give us power to become the sons of God. He makes us His children in Baptism. He gives us the power of children of God in Holy Communion. The power is renewed with every Communion. It is developed by filial devotion.
When we stand with hands crossed over upon our breasts at the Altar, we offer and receive a gift. Our gift to God is ourselves, our souls and bodies, our understanding, memory will and affections. God’s gift to us is Himself. His sacred humanity unites our own with Him. The fire of His love consumes the evil that is in us and releases the good which He has made possible for us. That good is rightly called virtue or power. It is the power of the sons of God. It is the energy released by the action of Divine fire upon human nature. It is stronger than any force opposed to God. It prevails over every enemy of the sons of God. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him.”