Sunday, April 18, 2021

Letters to My Children - Letter 9 - The Divine Liturgy

Hopefully, you have seen your priest by this time, have found a way to begin a disciplined activity of daily prayer, and are reading a little Scripture each day. These are not difficult things and don’t take a lot of time, but they can have a significant impact on your daily life. All that is necessary is a desire to be united with Christ. As I mentioned earlier, the awareness of these simple steps I am sharing with you did not come to me until I was almost fifty. It’s never too late to begin this search for the true God which you all have within you since your baptism. 

The next basic activity I want to share is not difficult either, but is also essential. This is making a commitment to attend the Divine Liturgy every Sunday. This is one of the Ten Commandments, but it’s best to do this out of your love for Christ and your desire to commune with Him. Being able to participate in the Divine Liturgy is a real blessing.

An Orthodox mind understands that the Church is the body of Christ on earth.

It is much more than a building. It’s a sacred space. When we all gather together for worship, we are uniting with the angels and saints in our prayers to worship and glorify God. It is a union of heaven and earth. When I enter the church and look up at the dome and see the face of Christ, and then I see all the images on the iconostasis and smell the lingering scent of incense, I know that I have entered a divine space; it feels like this is heaven. The physical church is meant to lift our heart and soul to heaven. It’s a space quite different from any other I experience during the week.

When I enter the church I feel humbled, being so insignificant and yet seeking to be with Christ. I do so knowing that I am not worthy of this, but I enter with a strong yearning, with zeal, to receive Him. I enter with the knowledge that through the sacraments, His teachings, and the practices of the Church, I will grow spiritually. I enter with my mind and heart wide open to the mysteries of the spiritual realm. I am in awe of this space and filled with joyful anticipation of what is about to take place.

When I enter, I have to stop and pause in the narthex to remind myself that this is God’s house I am entering. Realizing that this is a sacred space where we commune with Him, I along with most Orthodox Christians feel it’s important to light a candle before entering the nave and offer a little prayer as I do so. This helps me make the transition from a busy and hectic secular world to a peaceful and sacred one, one where the Holy Spirit dwells with strength. It’s where the sacraments take place to nurture and heal my soul. I enter  even in my unworthiness knowing that soon I will participate in a mystical union with Christ when I receive the Body and Blood of Christ into my own body. Afterward I feel renewed, cleansed, energized, and stronger to take on the trials and tribulations of the coming week’s activities.

The Orthodox church is a space totally different from the Methodist church I experienced in my youth. After embracing an Orthodox mind it is difficult for me to go back to the church of my youth. There it feels more like a lecture or concert hall. In the Orthodox Church, when the service begins, I feel its mystical nature while at the Methodist church I feel like the mystical nature has been stripped away.

I encourage you to come every Sunday to enter this sacred space and participate in the Mystical Supper. When you do come to the church, make sure you enter before the service starts. You don’t want to feel rushed in entering. Make this time on Sunday, from your awakening to your arrival at the church, a more peaceful time than you experience on a work or school day. Make it a special time dedicated to glorifying God. I have noticed that many parishioners have a habit of coming late. Don’t be like them. Show your commitment and love for God, and your desire to commune with Him, by coming at the beginning or earlier when there is a service called Orthros or Matins taking place. Show God your respect, honor, love, and desire to be close to Him. You would not think of coming to work or school late. Honor God with your discipline, your love to be there with Him. Come seeking to bring peace to your soul. Once there, set aside all your worries. Listen to the beautiful hymns. Keep an open mind to be instructed by the Scripture. Follow the prayers in the pew book provided, or one of your own brought with you, trying to understand their meaning. It’s a commitment of less than two hours, no more than a full-length movie. Come to hear the first words of the priest who exclaims, “Blessed is the kingdom of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Participate by singing the responses and the hymns you know along with the chanters or choir.

While we may find social benefits in joining a church, this social activity is not the purpose of the Orthodox Church. It is better described as a “spiritual hospital” where we come as individual members of a special community of believers in Jesus Christ, who are all in need of spiritual healing. For a long time I was not able to see that I am a sinner nor recognize my need for help or to be healed to become more capable of living with love by the example of Christ. By joining the assembly of Orthodox believers in Jesus Christ, I discovered this healing and was shown a step-by-step process whereby I could receive God’s help and come closer in union with Him. I found regular attendance inspired and offered spiritual nourishment to my soul, much more than anything I experienced in my years of meditation.

The Holy Spirit is alive and active in the Church and provides spiritual nourishment through its sacraments. I discovered how important it is to come prepared to participate each Sunday in Holy Communion. Previously, I would only take communion several times a year and did not feel a commitment to be there every Sunday. (This is a misguided habit that too many follow due the past times in Greece where regular worship was difficult because of the occupation by the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years.) I realized I was lost and turned away from the church, failing to seek help from my local priest. I sought other ways to nourish my inner craving for the divine. This led to a regular practice of meditation. I eventually learned that these so called “new age” approaches only reinforced my ego centeredness. I feel I wasted many years. I don’t want you to do the same. The gift to do differently is in your hands. I am showing you the simple but true path to inner peace.

Knowing the benefits of regular attendance and participation in the sacrament of Holy Communion from experience, I encourage you to make a special effort to set aside Sunday as a day to commune with God by participating with other Orthodox Christians in this most beautiful, heavenly, and mystical, Divine Liturgy.

Here is an excerpt from a sermon by one of my favorite elders, Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simeopetra:

Each time we come, let it be in order to take hold of Christ, and pull Him mystically and invisibly within ourselves. And when we leave, let it be with souls rejoicing, and let us “entrust our souls, and deliver our life to Him.” Let us entrust our souls to Christ, whom we have seen, and let us dedicate our life to Him, and “let us set our hearts ablaze with the fire of His love.” Let us set our hearts on fire with the flame of His love, with a fire which burns up within us everything that is rotten, and which will cleanse us in preparation for eternal life. 

From The Church at Prayer.

I would feel I have accomplished my mission in writing these letters if you do no more than have a talk with your priest, ask for his help, say a short prayer each day, and attend the Divine Liturgy every Sunday. I know from experience that your soul will be nurtured in this way and your love of Jesus Christ will grow. However, there are still two more topics I want to cover before I end these letters: confession and fasting.

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