Patricia Anastasia Bartlett is the author of 'Glimpses of Glory', a collection of meditations published by Synaxis Press. Over the years, she has contributed to a number of local newspapers and magazines as a freelance journalist, humour, lifestyle and/or religion columnist. She, her husband and five children joined the Orthodox Church in 2000. She and her husband presently attend and serve at St. Aidan's Orthodox Mission in Cranbrook, BC.
I was so excited for Lent this year. During the 18 years we have been Orthodox, I have never been able to attend all the mid-week services because we have lived so far from the church. One pre-sanctified was usually all I could get to and not just because of the distance but also because every other activity was scheduled for Wednesday evenings.
We made a point of attending Holy Week. Most years we attended the services by taking time off work and staying with friends. We were always there for Friday, and occasionally we made it down for Wednesday, but with five kids, that wasn’t always easy to do.
But now, the kids have all flown the coop, and last year my husband and I moved to the same town wherein resides our church. Finally, my 18 year dream of living within walking distance to the church has been fulfilled.
This is important to me because I realized something shortly after our family became Orthodox: I need the church.
That particular Sunday I didn’t feel like going. I wasn’t sick, just kind of tired and out of sorts. I helped get the five kids ready, and the family left. I had the whole day to myself. It was bright and sunny and warm, and I was miserable. Ten minutes after they left, I had changed my mind. But this was pre-cellphone days, and I couldn’t ask them to come back and get me. I missed being with the family, and even though I dislike the long drive, we had a lot of interesting conversations. I also missed socializing with the people at the church. But most of all, I missed the service itself. I realized for me, the service had become like water to one lost in the desert. It nourished me, gave me strength and opened my eyes to God all around me.
There were subsequent Sundays when I didn’t go church, if I or if one of the kids was truly ill, or if there was something else I absolutely had to do. But as much as possible, I have not given into the malaise of ‘I don’t feel like going’ or ‘I’m just not into it today’ or ‘I don’t want to see so and so.’ Those are excuses for not exercising or avoiding social events. They should never be excuses for avoiding healing.
Christ’s Ongoing Invitation
Listening to Fr. John Behr gave me insight into why the time when I feel the least like attending church is the time I most need to go. According to the synoptic Gospels, the disciples didn’t really know who Jesus was. They knew he was special, but they didn’t know how. Only once were their eyes opened briefly when Peter declared Jesus to be the Son of God. Jesus told him this was spiritual knowledge given to him. But the knowledge didn’t stick. When Peter tried to stop Jesus going to Jerusalem in order to be killed, Jesus called him ‘satan.’ The ones who readily recognized Jesus as the Son of God were the demons He encountered.
Even at the cross and the empty tomb, the disciples didn’t know what was going on. Two of them met an apparently uninformed stranger on the road to Emmaus and told him about recent happenings. When they finished, the stranger began to explain the Hebrew scriptures. He went through all the passages which spoke of Christ. He opened their eyes to the truth, and they were so intrigued, they invited him to supper. When the stranger blessed the bread, broke it and gave it to them they immediately recognized Him as the risen Lord Jesus. Then He vanished.
I realized this is what happens every time we celebrate liturgy. During the first half, we sing psalms, read the Epistle and Gospel of the day. We hear passages from the Old Testament incorporated into every song and prayer. Then we listen as the sermon opens the scriptures to us.
In the second half, the bread and wine is blessed, broken and offered to all during the Eucharist. This is what strengthens us and heals us to become more like Christ to the world around us.
Every Orthodox Church throughout the world celebrates the service with the same hymns, scripture readings and Eucharist. When I attend liturgy, I commune with everyone who is part of the body of Christ, whether I know them or not, whether I like them or not. These are the people who shape me, stumble with me and pick me up. Together, we are the Body of Christ, the Church.
The church has become my life. Not just the thing around which my activities revolve but the actual source of my life. The church sustains me. She nourishes me. She provides me with comfort, with life-giving food. She IS the body of Christ and separated from her, I would sicken and die.
This is get so excited for Lent, a time of intense trial and self-reflection coupled with more opportunities for repentance, healing and learning who Christ truly is, in me and in those around me.
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