Sunday, January 23, 2011

Why we SHOULDN'T worry about who's there and who's not

Omaha got hit with yet another snow storm, this time dumping about 6-9" in the metro area. The storm started last night at around 4:00 and lasted into the early morning hours. Fortunately, by the time I got up to leave for church, the snow had ceased, the sun was shining and the roads were not in really bad shape. You know I have to give credit where credit is due and the men and women who operate the snow snowploughs around here have been doing excellent work these past few weeks!

Last night at Great Vespers, there were only four of us besides the priest (2 of us being chanters). This morning, only about six or seven got to Orthros prior to the Great Doxology and then when the last person arrived, we had about 25 or so parishioners. That's not bad on a Sunday when you consider that most area churches had canceled all or some of their Sunday services and a great many people just decided not to risk the roads when the snow had only stopped a few hours earlier.

Nonetheless, it is very hard to NOT take a headcount of who is there and who is not. Even when weather conditions were optimal, I cannot recall the last time 10 people (besides chanters and the priest) were present at Great Vespers or Orthros prior to the start of the Divine Liturgy. It just never happens anymore and I'm sure that is just due to the fact that many people who have been Orthodox their whole lives were never taught by their parents or priests that Vespers and Orthros were just as integral to their spiritual lives as the Liturgy, the Eucharist and even their own private prayers. Others simply don't come because Saturday is social time and Sunday morning is the only time they can sleep in. I used to care about this a great deal. Now, I don't.

Why the change? Because the church is never empty. Yes, we miss our brother and sister parishioners when they are absent, but even when they are absent, the church is even more full. Too many people worry that more people in the pews automatically translates to greater praise of God. I can assure you that one solitary monk on Athos probably puts more effort into his daily worship and prayer than many of us do for our entire lifetimes! But God is still worshiped and the appropriate honour due Him is given even if done by a quarter of our normal attendance. Because the bodiless powers, i.e. angels are always singing the praises of God. Such is their nature. Such is their job. They sing "Holy, Holy, Holy" 4-7-365. We should be reassured that no matter how many of our fellow Christians are absent from the church that day, the angels will worship with us.

It took me a very long time to come to grips with this. Sometimes, I felt that this excuse existed to let us off the hook for not doing a better job of bringing more people into the church who could be there on any given Sunday. But, it we are to really examine what worship is and what it isn't, the more doesn't equal the better. We have a lot of passive worshipers and I'm not talking about the ones who don't/can't sing (they pray mentally). I'm talking about the ones who come only to see friends and talk during a great part of the service. Usually, it's days like this that weed them out. But even with the absence of our choir and the absence of a great many people, there can be no doubt that what took place at church this morning was the worship of God in purity and in truth with a great many of the heavenly host to help out.

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