“I’m not moving ANYWHERE!”
“I’m not moving ANYWHERE!”
No, this wasn’t the response from some snot-nosed teenager who was asked to move to another seat on a bus to make room for a senior citizen. It was actually a senior parishioner (truth be told more than one!) in response to the announcement of this upcoming Sunday’s “Open Seating Sunday” when we are encouraging everyone to sit in a seat other than their normal spot in church. As I mentioned in church this past Sunday, this event has been met with more anger, fear, and disdain than just about anything I’ve seen in my two years as the Pastor of St. Nicholas!
Now to be fair, there are some legitimate reasons people are attached to where they sit in church. There are emotional/sentimental reasons (“This is where I sat with my parents before they passed away”) and there are logistical reasons (“I can hear better from here” or “I sit here in case I need to take my child out quickly if he gets fussy”). So as I said last Sunday, we will not be issuing crow bars to the ushers and forcing anyone to move.
But there are also good reasons for sitting somewhere that we normally don’t.
OUR MODERN FOE—As you’ve heard about me rail about many times, we have to be aware of the presence in our lives of one of our most destructive modern enemies: rampant individualism, which is an over-inflated sense of our importance as individuals vs. who we are in relationship to each other. Is it possible something so destructive can enter in the church, and if so, how does it get in? Well, there are two main ways it enters into each Sunday Liturgy. First, we have some who consistently exercise their “individual right” to arrive late for services (I’m not talking about the inevitable arriving late once in a while), but also when we arrive to sit in what we flippantly call “MY seat.” Church is the place we should most clearly experience the reality that we are only ourselves, only whole, when we’re part of the whole Body of Christ, and recognize our need for each other.
“ANYONE SITTING HERE?”—We’ve all had the uncomfortable experience of being at a dinner or event and needing a place to sit but not knowing what’s available. A new visitor to the church doesn’t see the “permanence” of where parishioners sit, but a repeat visitor gets a clear message, sometimes even verbally, that the visitor is sitting in a spot reserved for someone else, and that means they are most certainly NOT welcome, at least not to sit where they thought they would.
SAME OL’, SAME OL’—Let’s face it, we all get in ruts. Don’t forget what the word actually means: being stuck in the track of a previous pattern that’s hard to get out of. Some habits are helpful, but some are just repetitions that take away the value of being aware of what’s going on. Getting out of a rut is literally moving to a place where you can see things from a different perspective, and that perspective offers NEW and IMPORTANT information that adds value and sometimes even corrects the old perspective.
So there are lots of benefits to a simple change like sitting in a new spot in church. But the best of all is that we recognize our resistance to change and then do something about it. Change (properly called “repentance”) is not just an aspect of the Christian life. It is the CONTENT of the Christian life. To be willing to change/repent is to be a Christian. To be unwilling to change/repent is to be unwilling to truly be a follower of Christ.
Tonight we celebrate the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross (Divine Liturgy at 6 PM at Holy Cross in Dorr, 1928 142nd Ave, Dorr). The theme of this Feast is that the Way of Christ is the Way of the Cross. We die to our old selves in order to live new lives in Christ. And that means we need to change.
So maybe we take a new seat this Sunday and maybe it’s a nudge toward the more important and bigger changes we need to make. In the meantime, we show we’re open to others seeking the life of change/repentance offered most clearly and fully in our beautiful Orthodox Faith.