Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Let’s Face it.....Liturgy is EVERYTHING

This December will mark twenty-three years in parish ministry, both lay ministry and ordained ministry, and I continue to find the same root disease in the Church. People just don’t like Liturgy. It’s boring. It’s too long. It’s old fashioned. It’s in a foreign language. I’ve heard them all! What I also hear over and over again is complaints the Church isn’t doing enough to retain members. There aren’t enough activities. There aren’t enough volunteers. There are enough resources to pay the bills. I’ve heard those too!

Alone, these complaints are nothing more than excuses, but combined they reveal the real disease. When you begin to remove the layers of these excuses, you arrive at the true irritant. Most people want to be entertained in life. Everything must be fun. Even education has become “fun” with computer games replacing multiplication tables. Teachers, thinking they are helping children learn, cry out, “Learning must be fun, or they will tune out!” Everything is a game. One popular children’s program created the “Clean up” song.... “Clean up, clean up, everybody clean up. Clean up, clean up, everybody does their share.”

The problem with the ‘everything has to be fun’ model of child rearing is that the fun eventually runs out. Eventually you just have to be willing to clean your room. Eventually you just have to learn your math tables. The same applies for the Church. Eventually you have to want to be in the Church for Liturgy. You can’t pass out basketball trophies to forty year-olds in an attempt to lure them back to Church. The best performing students are the students who love to learn. So....the best performing Christians are those who love Liturgy. Let me explain.

As Orthodox Christians our entire “Purpose Driven Life” (to borrow a phrase from a popular Protestant pastor) is to become one with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, what we call Theosis, or Sanctification/Divination. The Sacraments, the Holy Scriptures, the writings of the Holy Fathers and Mothers of the Church, prayers, fasting, almsgiving; are all meant to shape our soul to become more like God. At the core of the entire process is Holy Communion which takes place during the Divine Liturgy.

Consider the typical Church dinner-dance, the Church family getting together for fellowship. It is supposed to be a joyous celebration, but one group complains that the party has to end too early “just because” there is Liturgy the next day. Another group complains the cocktail hour had to begin too late because “it had to wait for Vespers” to finish. A third group arrives late after eating dinner at a fancy restaurant, and leaves early to “go out to the night club” for the rest of the evening. A fourth group, enters the Church for Vespers, lights a candle and venerates the Holy Icons, and then after Vespers makes their way to the Church hall for the dinner and a bit of dancing. Which group do you think considers the Church dinner-dance a success? For three-fourths of the Church the event was nothing more than an excuse to complain.

Now fast-forward twenty years. Which group do you think is still involved in the Church? Correct! The group that attending Vespers was the only group that was not continually searching for “more fun” and eventually found it outside the Church. You see...the Church CAN NEVER compete with the world in the business of fun. For the Church, Liturgy is our business. It is the only thing we do “better” than the world, and it is the only ‘activity’ that will keep someone connect to the Church. Let’s face it...Liturgy is EVERYTHING!

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