Monday, March 1, 2010

The Liturgy as a Family Reunion

We are now starting the third week of Great Lent and the Fast. It is now where I am beginning to struggle with the fasting and the additional prayers. It's not because I am bored with them or feel that they are ineffective but because I am genuinely tired and worn out. Prayer, true prayer, is a herculean effort and to compound it with fasting on top of normal daily activities and the fact that time has not increased for a given day only adds further to the struggle. But, of course, if we contend only as individuals, we are bound to be tired and worn out. Sinners are condemned alone, but the saved are saved communally. The Lenten struggle is ameliorated since all that we do and all that we should do is supported by our family, i.e. our fellow Orthodox least in theory.

This past week I had a brief discussion with a friend of mine who was noticeably disillusioned by the lack of attendees at the presanctified Liturgies on Wednesday. I could see that he was clearly bothered that no more than about 20 people have attended each service thus far. I, of course, tried to answer his negative assessment with some of the old tried excuses such as Lent began so early this year, it's still very cold out, people are still getting out of the Christmas mode, etc. I was really not trying to justify people being gone, but, every year, it is a fact taht most people simply do not want to come. It's not important to them. It's as simple as that. The conversation naturally steered to how we get more people to come out. It was at this point that I felt that the conversation would only exascerbate already disappointed feelings so it ended abruptly.

I'm sure that at this time, every church, at least every church that observes the Lenten season even in some reduced fashion, is wondering where everyone else is. It is a conversation that will always be held. To try and come up with solutions to this problem is too much to get into and I won't attempt such a feat here.

But in the conversation, my friend repeatedly referred to his St. Mary family. Now, this is by no means a unique or unheard of description about the church membership, but it got me thinking that the Liturgy is a family reunion. It is not a gathering of us Orthodox Christians and our brothers and sisters in Christ, but also the gathering of the saints gone before us who congregate together to sing with the angels the praises of God.

Every family reunion though has its share of people who cannot simply make it, for whatever reason. Yet the reunion goes on as planned. With our Liturgies, the prayers still go on, the Word is still preached, we are forgiven, we are encouraged and we are given the life giving medicine of the Eucharist. All these things still happen! And we rejoice that they do. We may take note of our absent brothers and sisters but if this becomes our focus, like it seemed to with my friend, then what is the purpose of participating in the work of the people in the first place? There is none.

Rather than be sad at the family members who are absent, we should all the more rejoice at those family members who are mystically there. Pray for those absent, but rejoice with those present. Do we only go to parties to talk about those people who aren't there? Why should we go to the Liturgy and do that same thing? We are in the presence of God, where the boundaries of Heaven and Earth mystically fade away so that we are enveloped totally by God. And that is completion enough.

We can proceed through the rest of the fast faithfully and with reverence knowing that we do have good support from our family that is present. We are encouraged by their prayers and exhorted by their examples. Thus, we persevere. There are always more than enough at the Liturgies and Offices to help and compensate for the many who are not present, for whatever reason.

To my friend, if you read this, I mean no disrespect. As I have said before, I am of like disposition, but I think we need to see the bigger issues.

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