I have been working ‘professionally’ in the Church for just about twenty-eight years. It has been the only professional work I have done since I was in college. I have served as a youth director, a parish administrator and now as a priest. In all these years, I have found one common denominator among ‘cradle’ Orthodox Christians. Most people do not know why we do what we do. It has been my core mission for twenty-eight years to help people learn the ‘whys’ of what we do, and appreciate how their origins have a purpose far beyond the excuse that it is our tradition.
The other night in our Orthodoxy 101 class, we were discussing the interior of the Church, and its purpose and origins in the ancient Jewish Temple. I have found over the years that while many people attend Divine Liturgy, most are in complete ignorance about why we come into the Church in the first place. Here’s a few reminders.
We come to Church to have an encounter with God. In the Church, we call that encounter being in communion with God. Ever since God commanded (see Exodus) the Temple to be built, He promised that He would meet his people there if they needed. Do we need God? Of course we do, so we come to Church and encounter Him in Holy Communion. Even if we are not in Divine Liturgy, His physical presence is on Holy Altar Table. If we could remember that we enter the Church to encounter God, we will be more likely to engage in the worship service.
The interior of the church was determined by God, everything from the precious medals and stones to the fines wood and linens. He did this to prepare us for heaven. We know that Isaiah saw God being worshiping in Heaven, and described it to us in Isaiah, chapter 6. He spoke of the altar, the throne, the incense, the golden candle sticks, and even the beautiful robes and processions during the constant sinning to God by the angels. Sound familiar? He commanded that Moses include all those items in the Temple, so that (in my opinion) we could be accustomed to heaven. When we arrive to see the a familiar place, participating in a familiar worship service, we will be more likely to experience it as the heaven that it is. If we could remember that we enter the Church to ‘get used’ to seeing heaven, we will be more likely to come to Church, and come with joy.
Brethren, to me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose which he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confidence of access through our faith in him. So l ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. For this reason I bow my knees before the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with the fulness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3.8-21
In today’s reading from Ephesians, while St Paul is not speaking directly worship, he does mention that God has an eternal plan to reveal His mystery to us. If we could remember that we attend Church for God to reveal His mystery to us, maybe we would pay closer attention to how we build Church, and how we behave in them. Churches are never ‘just peaceful places.’ They are always the presence of God.