In one of the retreats that I give around the country, I have a particular presentation about how to heal the weaknesses of our modern age. I use examples from sociology, psychology, science, and even religion. But then I get down to the timeless and purposeful answer from Orthodoxy: GO TO CHURCH! It usually gets at least a smile from folks, but it’s meant to be a wake-up call for us all.
You see, the timeless faith of Orthodoxy has been making saints for centuries. The methodology isn’t complicated but it isn’t easy either. Before there was Sunday School. Before there were multimedia presentations. Before there was an internet or sound system or videos or other technological marvels. Before there were any of the modern conveniences of transportation and communication; there was the constant method of shaping persons into God’s eternal companions: The rhythm of the Church! The Church Year, a robust liturgical schedule, and the intentional community of people being committed to one another in good times and bad times that shaped men and women, boys and girls, rich and poor, into being “like” Christ!
In other words – Go to Church!
Look at our lesson in Luke 5:12-16:
At that time, Jesus was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and besought him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And he stretched out his hand, and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. And he charged him to tell no one; but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to the people.” But so much the more the report went abroad concerning him; and great multitudes gathered to hear and to be healed of their infirmities. But he withdrew to the wilderness and prayed.
Jesus heals a man from leprosy, but He doesn’t send him home. He sends him to the Temple. And that is exactly right because being healed from a horrible disease must be recognized by the Community! Why do you think God gave these regulations to Moses for the People? Because we need the Community to be fully who we are! “Lone Ranger” spirituality always leads to weak theology. Always. We need the Church to be fully Christian. As St. Cyprian said, “He cannot have God as his Father who does not have the church for his Mother.”
This is why every time gathering together wanes among us Orthodox, all manner of spiritual illnesses grow! A recent study found that less than 25% of all Orthodox Christians attend liturgy weekly! That’s why it’s silly for us to decry our kids disconnecting from the Faith when they are simply following the example left for them. But, when Church attendance increases, all manner of spiritual growth occurs. In the same presentation I mentioned above, I give folks the three main reasons for the growing Orthodox parishes in this country and two of the three reasons are 1. Lot’s of Church Services, and 2. Lot’s of Religious Education! All of that translates into going to your Church building a lot! There simply is no excuse for not prioritizing being a purposeful church attender!
But what about when you can’t go to the Church building? Well, there’s precedent for that too! Especially as we live through this weird time with a pandemic, it’s important to remember that your home is “the little church.” And all the wisdom of the hard work of being healed needs to be experienced there as well. Whether you are able to attend the church building or you are at home with your family, being in communion and being Church together is indispensable to spiritual maturity!
Today, is your occasional Christianity letting you down? Don’t be surprised! The spiritual leprosy of our hearts can be cured by God’s grace, but never forget He will then turn to you and send you to His Church for that healing to grow and be maintained. The three word answer to most of your spiritual challenges today is simple (not easy): GO TO CHURCH! It’s the ONLY way to be Orthodox on Purpose!
Excellent post as always Fr.
My friends who struggle with Christianity or depression have this one obvious resounding theme to their lives, lone ranger Christians who don’t really go to church.