I was recently asked, “Can someone love their religion and not ever go to Church?” By religion, the questioner implied Orthodox. What a great time to address this question! During Great Lent our attention is on increased participation in Church activities and services. It is a clear implication that “good” members of the Church “do” Great Lent. In fact, I know many believers who only fast during Great Lent, and who only receive the Mysteries during Great Lent. Unfortunately, there are still those who don’t come to Church, some not even for the Resurrection Service on Pascha. So…..is it possible to love your religion and never come to Church?
I love my brother, but we haven’t seen each other in several years as he lives on one coast and I on another. I love visiting the mountains of Colorado but haven’t been in almost seven years. There are many things I can love without being in their presence. Does the same hold true for religion? The two examples I offered are examples of issues that are, more or less, beyond my control. There is over three thousand miles that separate my brother and me. I no longer live in Colorado making visits to the mountains extremely unlikely, but I live just down the street from the Church. I doubt anyone would place both in the same category.
What does it say about someone’s “love for their religion” if practice of the actual religion is not part of life? By definition “religion” is a system of practices that relates us to God. Faith drives religion. We act (religion) because we believe (faith) and not the other way around. By this understanding, I would say you cannot “love” your religion and not practice it.
In the case of Orthodox Christianity, our faith (what we believe about God) rests on our desire to be in communion with Him. Our Baptism, Chrismation, Holy Communion, Holy Confession and the remainder of the Mysteries, house blessings, Sunday School, youth groups, mission work, etc. are all based on living in Communion with God. As Orthodox Christians we believe that we experience Communion with God in the Divine Liturgy during which we receive His Precious Body and Blood. This is how we are alive. No Holy Communion = no life. (see John 6.53)
The ancient Church took this quite seriously. The Holy Canons outline certain penalties for those who do not attend Divine Liturgy and/or do not receive Holy Communion on a regular basis. I guess my answer would be, “It is possible to love the idea of your religion and not ever go to Church.” But ideas without action remain dead. That is why here at Be Transfigured Ministries our motto is Live A New Life In Christ.