There is a very good book that I encourage anyone who is concerned with church attendance to read, and to read it with an open mind to your own faults. It doesn’t take a scientist to discover our churches have fewer people today (in MOST cases) than fifty years ago, and for those who are attending church on a regular basis, the average age is at or above retirement. Statistics bear this out. The Church celebrates more funerals than baptisms and weddings, and many clergy report rarely if ever seeing parishioners in church after their wedding or baptism. There is a problem.
When we contemplate such horrific instances such as the most recent school shooting by a Greek Orthodox young man, we wonder how such things can happen. Some even turn to blaming the Church for not doing enough to help people in their struggles. The truth is, painfully enough, that people can choose to use their free will to love God or to hate Him. The difference comes down to knowing about God vs actually knowing God. The only cure for our cultural pain is for us take the opportunity to know God, which is only possible in the chalice through Holy Communion.
During a conversation recently, I was asked to explain how we determine the truth among all the different teachings in the world. How do we know the Church is teaching the truth? I believe this question haunts many today in the Church who are seeking to know the truth. With the availability of the internet and a different church on ever street corner in America, it can be quite confusing to determine the truth about God.
Today is the Leavetaking (that’s a fancy word for end) of Pascha. That means today is the final day we sing and say Christ is Risen for another year. Our Churches will undecorated today in anticipation of the Feast of Ascension which begins with Great Vespers this evening. The Resurrection Banner is put away, the Epitaphios Icon is returned to it place of storage, and the last few remaining flowers are cleaned out. Some may even say the Church is “back to normal” because it will look like it does the rest of the year again.
Take a moment, right now, to step away from your computer and go outside and look around. Then come back, If you’re on your phone, put it down for a moment and look around. I’ll wait……
We began this week’s theme of blindness with the healing of the man born blind. (see John 9.1-38) No matter how many times the man had given his witness to how Christ healed him, many refused to believe, even calling Christ evil because He healed on the Sabbath. The man’s parents and many in the crowd preferred to remain blind to God’s blessings rather than risk the secular comfort of their Roman society.
When we look into our mother’s eyes for the first time, we see her love and learn to trust that she is will protect and guide us through life. In the story of the man born blind found in the Gospel of John 9.1-38, God’s healing is revealed in our ability to see and believe in His Truth. Many in the Gospel refused to believe, just as many today work tirelessly to deceive us into not trusting our own eyes, but the Church is a mother we can trust to teach us the truth.
We’ve all heard the saying before, “seeing is believing”. Saint Thomas had to see Jesus raised from the dead in order to believe. The Myrrhbearing women saw Jesus and believed. The Apostles saw him and believed. Jesus appeared to hundreds after His resurrection, but still some never believed their own eyes. For many who are spiritually blind, seeing is not believing.
A friend of mine had a birthday the other day. After we joked about his age for a few moments, and I reminded him that he had “many more” years behind him than I did, he said, “May you have many more ahead of you!” It was a kind gesture between friends, but it caused to pause and think. I pray I have just enough to “get it right” before I die.
Today is the feast of the Prophet Isaiah who arguably was known as one of the great prophets who prepared the world to understand and recognize Christ when He finally appeared. The Church reads daily from Isaiah during Great Lent for this reason. We also get a glimpse of heavenly worship when we read the opening verses of chapter six (see below), which guides to understand that our Orthodox worship is a preparation for heavenly worship.