As Orthodox Christians we often hear others declare, “I don’t have to go to church to pray,” or “Jesus never said we had to go to Church.” Even worse…It doesn’t say in the Bible that we have to go to church to be saved. In fact, He did say, “Go to Church,” and He even commanded us to “Show the priests” that we have been healed.
Since the creation of humanity, we have struggled to see the world as God sees it. The Scriptures are filled with stories of our ancestors failing to see the world through God’s eyes, even to the extent of not recognizing Christ when He appeared just over two thousand years ago. Sometimes we look at the world, and our situation within it, and think God must be angry at us and is punishing us. Reality is different. In fact, God is saving us, and has been saving us ever since Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden of Eden.
Ever since Adam and Eve walked in Paradise, humanity has struggled to see the world as God sees it. He created everything so that we might enjoy eternity with Him, and “everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.” (Genesis 2.31) He made creation to lead us to Him. But there was danger lurking in the Garden, and the serpent began to tempt our ancestors, just as he tempts us. He tricked them into seeing God’s creation through selfish eyes rather than God’s eyes.
Just days after Christ was born, the world began to fight against Him. Herod sought out to kill Him, just to maintain his power and influence over the people. Not much has changed in two thousand years. The world still hates God and His Church and is still trying to kill our children. An angel sent Joseph to protect the newborn Christ and His mother. Our job is to protect our children, bring them to Church, teach them to love the Lord and feel God’s love and protection.
For weeks leading up to the Feast of Christmas, the Church has been singing the hymn “Christ is Born; Glorify Him. Christ is come from Heaven; Encounter Him!” Now that Christmas has arrived, everything is reading for our encounter with Christ. The only thing that remains is for us to accept the invitation and have a real living encounter with Christ, not just on Christmas Day, but every day.
Each year on the Sunday before Christmas, the Church invites us to recall a long list of names which represents the human ancestry of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is much more than just a list of names, as the names call our mind to a long history of God’s prefect timing to rescue his people. Whether it be Adam in the Garden or Noah and the flood, God has never abandoned His people. Always at just the perfecting timing, He comes, and He will come again, to save us. (see complete transcript below)
Christmas is now just days away, and many of us are frantically scurrying around town doing our best to get all our preparations for Christmas moved from the “to do” list into the “I’m finally ready for Christmas” list. There’s only one thing missing. Many, if not all, of us have forgotten our spiritual preparation for Christmas, the feast which St John Chrysostom called, the Queen of Feasts.
As Orthodox Christians living in America, we are faced daily with the reality that the average Christian doesn’t distinguish between denominations other than by name and location, except in the way they worship on Sunday morning. It seems to me, the average American Christian is just looking for a Sunday experience they enjoy, one that makes them feel good about themselves, and one that lifts them up. However, if you take the time to look deeply, we are all quite different, and the way we worship on Sundays is a reflection of what we believe.
Each year I find myself reminding people, and quite frankly becoming exasperated, about the truth of Joseph and Mary. As Orthodox Christians we teach that Joseph was a righteous old man in his seventies when he, by lot, was blessed to be the caretaker for the Panagia, the Theookos and Ever-Virgin Mary.