Because Life Happens Seven Days a Week
Many of us might be surprised to know that only a minority of members actually attend Sunday morning services on a weekly basis consistently. On a typical Sunday morning, about half the crowd are our once-a-weekers, another quarter are those who aren’t weekly attenders (your once-every-two-to-three weekers), and the last quarter is a mixture of occasional or infrequent attenders and visitors.
So when once-a-weekers are the minority, imagine how hard it is to convince folks to come even more than once a week. For this reason, one of the hardest things for a priest to do these days is to inspire parishioners to attend services other than on a Sunday morning. But, oh, what the 90% of folks who never come to a midweek service are missing!
Let’s face it: going to mid-week services outside of Lent or Holy Week is not something many of us are used to, and for some good reasons. While some of the required liturgical texts were translated into English as early as a century ago, some of them have only been published for a few years. So we should be merciful to ourselves if we find ourselves not understanding why there are services other than the Sunday morning Liturgy, but let’s not leave it there.
Why is it so important to go to church at a day and time other than Sunday morning? Basically, it’s because life doesn’t happen sporadically or weekly. Life happens daily, and even more accurately, moment by moment. The choice we face in our religious life is really just that: is it our life, or just one aspect of it? We miss out on the life that God is trying to give us–all of the time–through celebrating the various people and events that define our Orthodox Christian life. It is through our participation in a fuller liturgical life that we accept God’s invitation to draw near to
Him, “with the fear of God, with faith and with love.” Those who miss participating in these services didn’t just “miss church.” Just “missing a service” may sound like not participating in an aspect of our life that may or may not be related to the rest of it. What it really means is missing out on being informed and formed by the greatest source of truth, meaning, and life itself that God has given the world, after His Son and His Spirit: the Church.
As an example, we are currently between two of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Eccelesiastical Year. The Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ was celebrated last Tuesday, and the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos is celebrated tonight and tomorrow.
In the Feast of the Transfiguration, we got a glimpse of the life that all of us hope to find when our time in this life is over: seeing the Light of the radiant Christ who lights the Holy City in Paradise by the Light that shines from His holy face. We learn that Peter, James and John, who were invited by Jesus to climb that mountain and see that glorious vision, could only behold it as much “as they could bear it.” We are encouraged to prepare ourselves through living a righteous life in Christ, so that we, too, can be enabled to behold the Light of Christ.
The Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos offers a different but just as invaluable gift (among countless others that I will not address today). We live in a day and age which is so terrified of death that we avoid facing the reality of it at every turn. We are so fearful of it that we deny its power through the science of embalming and the miracle of makeup (“She looks so good!”). Within our Orthodox Faith, funerals are where we “think upon death and behold our beauty, fashioned after the image of God, lying in the tomb: disfigured, dishonored, bereft of form” (from the Canon of the Funeral Service). Outside the Faith these remembrances of death have become “celebrations of life” and cremations now outnumber burials as we want a clean break. By the way, our Orthodox Faith is against the practice of cremation as a disrespect to the holiness of the body. Anyone considering cremation for themselves or a loved one should seek to understand both the Church’s teaching on the topic, and also what “cremation” actually entails. See this linked article to understand what the process actually entails (and why the remains of a cremation aren’t really ashes).
The Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of our God reminds us that death itself is not to be feared as it once was, but has instead been defeated by the One Who “trampled down death by death. The ultimate exit has now been remade into a glorious entrance into Heavenly life. In the icon of the Dormition, we see our Lord receiving the soul of His mother, as He lovingly cradles her in his arms. It is the absolute opposite of the sorrow and tragedy of Michelangelo’s “Pieta” which depicts the Virgin Mary heartbroken as she cradles the body of her dead son after His crucifixion. The 12 Apostles mourn her passing, surrounding her lifeless body while her soul “rejoices in God (her) Savior.”
Hopefully, it’s now clear in these two examples how much we miss by limiting our liturgical life to Sunday mornings only. When we do so, the celebrations only come around once every seven years. What a tragedy that would be!
So we are all encouraged to push past any old resistance and to avail ourselves of the wonderful treasures given to us in the services of the Church. When you see a service scheduled, instead of either ignoring it or asking yourself if you’ll decide to go, pick a better default and make the question, “Is there any good reason I can’t go?” Father Andrew Honore and I, Pastors of two churches with a long and beautiful relationship, are committed to increasing our liturgical offerings to ourselves and our parishioners. Beginning next month, will be adding a weekly Liturgy every Thursday morning, alternating locations between our two parishes. While attending these will be impossible for a few, it will merely be a challenge for the rest of us. So let’s challenge ourselves! Why can’t we attend one of these each month, if not more? Why can’t we make Saturday evening Vespers a staple of our week? Why can’t we decide this is the year I begin to attend Liturgy EVERY Sunday (and of course, on time!)?
When we don’t, we’re not just “missing church.” Every time we miss a service–even when it’s a good reason–we’re still missing out on some of the sweetest, most beautiful and most inspiring moments in life. Some of those moments happen on Sundays. But since life happens seven days a week and not only one, let’s really work at living; let’s work to receive more of the priceless gifts God gives us, in the Divine Services of the Church.