Sunday, February 2, 2020

Why do we go to Divine Liturgy?

What are we looking for? A universal state of being within the Church; an inward state of being “conferred by Jesus,” experiences, feelings, longings, and visions.
Elder Aimilianos 

Elder Aimilianos points out that going to Divine Liturgy is a “movement from one place to another.” What are we to do when we leave the outside world and enter into the church?
To enter the church means to leave outside all those things that make up out life in the world...that which is ours and which belongs to us, our sin, our self will, and our desire... we leave behind not simply the things we see but even things we hope for.
He calls this a kind of “exile.” We enter into a clear free space that is like pure air. We should feel like we have entered into heaven, are standing there in its pure air. We have made a movement from one place to another. We are now in a place that contains no worldly pleasures. We feel we have been led to a foreign place where there is hope in a peace from all the cares and tribulations of an earthly life. We sense we have moved to a place that is closer to God.
When we enter into the open spaces of the church, we immediately experience a particular feeling, a feeling which confirms for us that here, in this place, our Helper is at hand. He is invisible, but you feel Him, as if He were rushing toward you, as if you could hear the sound of His breathing. He is your Helper, the One Who can deliver you, Who can redeem you, Who can satisfy your insatiable soul...
We come to Divine Liturgy to be close to God. Therefore we should go longing to see Him, to somehow feel His divine presence, to be united with the One we love above all else. When we do this our soul will be filled with a divine grief, recognizing what it lacks, yet desires. It will try to cry our seeking mercy, realizing that it cannot see God.

With this infilled longing we begin to pray. The Liturgy with all its hymns and prayers leads us in prayer. Our mind, being cleared of all our worldly cares begins to think about God. As the Liturgy progresses we begin to experience Him. We desire to taste Him, to receive His nourishment. Then in the Liturgy a divine table is set, beginning with the great entrance. With the whole choir of angels and the Saints joining in, the heavenly and earthly church becomes united. We call on the Holy Spirit and the gifts we brought as bread and wine become mystically transformed into Christ Himself.

We became aware of our separation from God before we entered the church and our sins that separate us from Him. We realize that the reason we came was to free ourselves from all the passions that cloud our heart. We see how difficult, if not impossible, it is to root these tendencies out. We acknowledge that it is only with God’s help that we can overcome our condition. We cry for forgiveness and repentance as we approach the Chalice to be joined with Him in Holy Communion. As we approach, we are in awe at the sweetness of God.

God is no longer the great absent one, but is greatly present and we begin to see His sweetness.

We also experience the pleasure of our soul as it becomes a participant in this union. When we participate in Communion our soul is nourished and we are given strength to help us overcome our worldly passions when we return to our earthly daily life.

But what is the reality for many Orthodox Christians? The elder tells us,
Most people go to church, present themselves to Christ, and leave without ever drawing out any of His strength, without experiencing His power, the way the woman with the flow of blood did (cf. Mt 9:20). And then say: “So what did I get from Christ? I came back from church the same person I was when I went.”
If we come to the church longing to see God, to experience Him, to receive strength from Him, we will leave a different person in some small way. Each time we are healed of our sinfulness bit by bit. 

The elder says, 
“This is why God has established this liturgical assembly. This is why He arranges for angels, archangels, and saints to be present here with sinners, so that each can give something to the other. The saints are here so that they can give their saintliness to the sinners. And sinners are here to convey to the saints their desire for their holiness, so they too, may be found in their company. We find all of this within the church, provided that all is still and silent within us, and that our gaze remains fixed solely on the drama unfolding before us.
When we come to church we are seeking an experience with God. Setting aside our worldly care and opening our heart to Him we will experience a renewed state of being conferred by Jesus. Everything comes from Him. Without our willing surrender, our recognition of our sinful state, we will gain nothing and return just as we were. All this has been established by Jesus for our healing, our perfection, the satisfaction of our spiritual seeking.

Reference: The Way of the Spirit, “On the State that Jesus Confers”, by Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, pp 55-69

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