A Sunday Only Experience
I often say that Orthodox Christianity is a 24-hour life. There is never a time when we are not Orthodox Christian. Our faith is not limited to Sunday morning and Feast Days. Our faith is lived daily for Christ. Unfortunately, the Church in America has become in too many cases a ‘Sunday only’ experience. There are a lot of reasons for this transition. None of them should continue.
Today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple. According to sacred tradition, she was brought by her parents Joachim and Anna at the age of three to be consecrated to God and live at the Temple. She lived there until she was ‘of age’ and betrothed to Joseph. Today is Monday, so it’s too bad most Orthodox Christians will not attend Church services to celebrate such an important feast.
I understand that many are scheduled to be at work. I’m not suggesting we stop working. If we do not work, we do not eat. I get it, but the ancients worked also and still found ways to worship more than just on Sundays. According to the Acts of the Apostles they gathered daily. (see Acts 2.46-47) The members of the ancient Church were lawyers, merchants, shepherds, doctors, farmers, etc. They all found ways to be in Church more than just on Sundays. Think of all the reasons we use to take a day off work or to come in late. I often wonder why we don’t use the same options to call in late so we can attend Divine Liturgy for an important Feast Day.
BRETHREN, the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. For a tent was prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence; it is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain stood a tent called the Holy of Holies, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, which contained a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go continually into the outer tent, performing their ritual duties; but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people.
Today’s Epistle Reading, chosen to teach the connection between the Panagia and the Temple, reminds us that the main job of the Clergy is to celebrate services. In the ancient Temple, and in the early Church, this was done daily. We have evidence of the daily liturgical life dating back beyond the 4th Century. In the holy sites around Jerusalem, services were constantly being offered for the people. People would come and go as needed, but there was always a chance to worship. It wasn’t only on Sundays.
What changed? I think the single most significant change was when the Church was no longer the center of our lives in America. In the early decades, immigrants would live within walking distance to the Church. Church bells could be heard throughout the day and faithful could be seen walking to Church. Then the people moved away from the Church. It was no longer possible to walk and no longer convenient to attend during the week. Churches began to be empty during the week and clergy stopped offering the services.
Here’s what bothers me most about this transition. When attending Church is about convenience, we lose the Cross. Most now attend Church, if at all, when it is convenient. That doesn’t even include most Sundays anymore. The danger isn’t that the Church will be empty. Coming to Church is our opportunity to spend time in God’s physical presence. The less we attend Church, the less we are in His presence, and that’s dangerous.
The fix is basic, but not simple. Now more than ever, we need the Church to be center of our lives. We need to be surrounded by likeminded faithful. We need to be in God’s presence to defeat the constant attacks from the devil. We need to find ways to live closer to the Church, so we can be at the Church more often. We need clergy who understand the job is about celebrating the services, not attending committee meetings.
The more the Church functions liturgically during the week, the more chances our faithful have, to be in the physical presence of God. Think of all those practices that have been ‘moved’ to Sunday. We celebrate memorials on ‘the closest Sunday’ instead of the actual memorial date. We celebrate 40-day blessings for babies on ‘the closest Sunday’ instead of the actual 40th date. I suspect if the government made Christmas no longer a paid holiday, we would move that to Sunday as well.
It won’t happen overnight, but it needs to happen. We cannot be Christians if we have a “Sunday only experience. Our faith demands an “Everyday Faith” and we can make it happen.