When we pick up our Bible and begin to read, we are faced with a challenge from God. The challenges are sometimes simple statements, but if we are genuine in our love for God, they are most often a conviction that we are not living quite like we should. He commands us to love, but we know we could always love more. He commands that we should not judge others, and we find ourselves standing in judgment just about every day. He commands us to feed, visit, clothe, offer a drink, house, cure, teach, baptize, etc. We may ask ourselves, is every word meant for me?
More often than not, when I am discussing Church participation with others I hear some variation of, “Not as often as I should.” It rarely matters what aspect of Church participation we are discussing, the response is often the same. Then there are the few that respond with, “I don’t really think we need to come to Church. I believe. The Church has too many rules to follow. God said, ‘Just believe’ and that should be enough.
If you have lived more than a few years of life, you know that life has its storms. There are times in our life when things just don’t work the way we would have hoped. Sometimes due to our own miscalculations, and at other times the storms come from circumstances beyond our control, we find ourselves in the midst of serious struggle thinking we may not survive to see the end. We begin to panic.
There is an old saying, “Just because you sit in the garage doesn’t make you a car.” Well, I don’t really know if it is an old saying, but I heard it a long time ago, and I’ll admit I always heard it along with, “And just because you sit in Church doesn’t make you Christian.” There are many who profess to be Christians, even Orthodox Christians, who seldom if ever find themselves in Church or living the Christian life. Have you ever wondered if it is even possible to be a Christian in “name only”?
I remember one time I was asked why we fast for the Feast of Annunciation. I responded, “We don’t. We eat fish!” If every time you fast, you simple don’t eat meat, then you would never appreciate the depth of my response, because on the Feast of Annunciation, we feast by eating fish while still not eating meat, dairy or eggs.
As Christians we are called to live in the world but not be of the world. We are expected to live without being weighed down by the physical blessings that surround our lives. We are invited to be willing to leave it all behind to follow Christ. We are called to be saints!
On the Feast of Pentecost, the Church recalls the promise of Christ to send the Holy Spirit to guide and protect the Church in all truth. If we believe in Christ and His Holy Spirit, life will flow from our hearts like rivers of living water. Two thousand years ago some chose to deny Christ and trusted their own truth, but Christ is the Truth and the Holy Spirit has guided the Church to maintain this truth. It is a truth we can trust.
During this period between Ascension and Pentecost, when the Church is “waiting” for the coming of the Holy Spirit, we are reminded that the Holy Apostles were anxious about the wait. We must keep in mind they thought the coming of the Messiah would mean the end to their suffering. They thought (this explains Judas’ fervor for rushing the process) that the oppression from the Romans would end now that Christ had arrived. They were wrong, and they were anxious.
There is a very good book that I encourage anyone who is concerned with church attendance to read, and to read it with an open mind to your own faults. It doesn’t take a scientist to discover our churches have fewer people today (in MOST cases) than fifty years ago, and for those who are attending church on a regular basis, the average age is at or above retirement. Statistics bear this out. The Church celebrates more funerals than baptisms and weddings, and many clergy report rarely if ever seeing parishioners in church after their wedding or baptism. There is a problem.
When we contemplate such horrific instances such as the most recent school shooting by a Greek Orthodox young man, we wonder how such things can happen. Some even turn to blaming the Church for not doing enough to help people in their struggles. The truth is, painfully enough, that people can choose to use their free will to love God or to hate Him. The difference comes down to knowing about God vs actually knowing God. The only cure for our cultural pain is for us take the opportunity to know God, which is only possible in the chalice through Holy Communion.