Word Magazine June 1965 Page7/9
ARE WE AS ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS
DOING OUR SHARE
Rev. Theodore E. Ziton, Pastor
St. George (Eastern) Orthodox Church
The smugness with which many of us are settling down into our particular mode of living and the complacency with which we are viewing world affairs is growing alarming. Our country has produced so many new inventions to give us leisure, and such an endless variety of entertainment to save us from thinking, that we are accepting these comforts as a matter of course. Unfortunately we are adopting this same attitude toward our religious feelings for we are fast growing to where we take that for granted, it seems, also.
By reason of the nature of the rituals of the Eastern Orthodox Church many seem to think that they can sit back and be wafted along by its precepts. We attend the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and Holy Days with the same demeanor that we wash our face, comb our hair, or shave, and often in the same spirit, that it is a “must” to be performed. Many have grown to feel that merely because they sit in their seats in Church at the appointed times that their portion of the requirements have been met and it is now up to the Priest to do the rest! And that after they have complied with that ordinance, they are then free to do as they please — whether it be speeding on the highway to the detriment of human lives, or to pursue some other reckless manner of living.
Why have we reached such unpleasant conclusions? Surely our mere presence at any religious service does not proclaim us free lancers to commit anything short of murder, until the next designated Liturgy or Divine Service. Even our attendance at the Liturgy is often fraught with a sort of indifference.
The Priest offers up the Liturgy for us . . . “Thine own of thine own we offer unto thee, in behalf of all, and for all” . . . while many sit through the entire service with their mind on their golf score, or the fish they are going to catch, or the sort of dessert they will have for dinner. We appease ourselves with the fact that because we are sitting there in the pew and the Priest is praying for us, that we can lean back and relax with a “let George do it” shrug of our shoulders. We consider ourselves fixed up spiritually for the week, much as we take vitamin tablets to fix us up physically.
Perhaps some folks have even pondered over the fact that with our progress and modern embellishments, it is too bad that no one has yet invented a capsule or injection which will speed up or raise the morale of our religious life. But that is something we will have to embrace for ourselves; it can never be perpetrated through any form of mechanics regardless of the number of Divine Liturgies that may be offered up for us. Unless the prayers of the Priest strike a responsive chord within our soul. and unless we spiritually participate in the services with him, the entire drama of the Liturgy is of little avail to us merely because we are sitting there at the Service. Neither the Priest, nor anyone else, can hand us our religion on a silver platter or live it for us anymore than he can eat our meals for us.
What about the “meat of his sermons” week after week? It is up to us to appropriate that too, the Priest can not live his sermons for us. And surely we can’t expect him to expound all those great truths merely for our listening pleasure. He gives them as a recipe for better living, and if we would incorporate those suggestions into our daily routine, then the sermons prepared for our edification would not be in vain. There are three outstanding sermons which I have heard by as many Priests at our recent Archdiocesan Convention, the quintessence of which could be used to advantage right now — where we are — and would comprise a big step toward world peace.
One Clergyman brought out the fact that we are each of us Temples of the Living God. That a temple is something sacred and should not be defiled in any way whatsoever. But do we respect these bodies and treat them as temples of God? If we did we certainly would not gorge our Temple with unfit foods and drink, nor saturate our minds with unclean thoughts or literature, nor tolerate filthy speech. A single sentence uttered by that Clergyman in his sermon has merit. . . . “Only kindness and good words should pass from the lips of a Temple of God so that his works will then reveal his heart and his real thoughts.” …That is a big order. And who could hear that sermon, believing, and then depart from the religious gathering feeling that they are privileged to do or think what they choose for the rest of the day, week . . . or until the next Divine Service?
This is why I ask if we are not expecting too much of our Priests? We go to the Liturgy, hear such a sermon as depicted, and then march away and leave its import in the pew. Maybe some have the idea that it is too flowery, or impractical. But it isn’t. Surely a Temple of the Living God is no myth.
Another Priest touched on the prevailing World Chaos and the subject of good citizenship right where we are — not over in Europe or some other far-off part of the globe, but right in our own home and community. He spoke of the selfishness of man, how he wants praise, compliments, consideration, but doesn’t want to give the same. He desires to be well thought of, but doesn’t take the trouble to think well of the other fellow! That Priest went on to say that if every man would start with himself and in his own home; start by giving his wife and children some long over-due praise and compliments, he would find his own standards being raised immediately. From there he should follow this procedure with his nearest neighbor, then on and out to others. They all need it and some good can be found in every human being. By commencing to praise and think well of your family and neighbors, it won’t be long before they are thinking well of you. Soon the entire community will be aware of your good standing, your family will be proud of you, and your neighbors will consider you “just tops.” Your elevation as good citizen and friend will soon know no bounds.
How is it possible for any individual to sit through a sermon like that and forget it the moment they have left the portals of the religious gathering? If that missive doesn’t give one food for thought and an inspiration to follow, their attendance at the Liturgy might be considered a kind of farce. Aren’t all our wars being propagated by anti-citizens? No one, who is a GOOD CITIZEN at heart could or would perpetrate such atrocities. Hence the Priests are endeavoring to imbue the individual with the solid foundation of good citizenship.
A third sermon which impressed me deeply was on the subject of prayer. The Priest stated we often become too much like automatons praying with our lips and hands only. He outlined that to make prayer of real benefit to the individual, we must learn to pray from our hearts — from our very souls. He said that the prayers of the Eastern Orthodox Church are powerful and teach one to concentrate and to become steadfast, but even that prayer is of little value if the thoughts merely pass its meaning, and, perhaps, rest on some business deal, or on the housework or other subject entirely foreign to the prayer itself. Unless one’s heart and soul is in it, the prayer becomes a mere form of words forming a sentence which we don’t live by. Further he suggested that we learn to incorporate our own thoughts and words into our prayers as our soul inspires us. Then will our prayers extend beyond the mere surface rituals, and our thoughts will take them deep within us, to the very core of our being.
To sum it all up, if we would commence to use the materials at hand, listen to and follow the suggestions of our Priests, conduct ourselves as Temples of God, sell ourselves in the matter of good citizenship, and then pray from the heart we would become the forerunners — religiously — in this wonderful Atomic Age we live in, and no longer take that phase of our existence for granted.
“When the Son of Man comes will He find, do you think, faith on earth?” Who can tell to what extent the reply to this query depends on our cooperation in checking the tide of religious indifference which would submerge the modern world?