Drive-through Communion lines and drive-by home blessings with a super-soaker were standing jokes during Orthodox clergy retreats, as the priests vented a little about their busy liturgical and sacramental schedules. Recent news excerpts have robbed us of these punch lines forever. According to a recent newscast, a church in Massachusetts has actually used a super-soaker during mass to “bless” the attendants. Other news describe a growing trend of American churches that offer bank-like drive-through lanes for prayer needs. Some churches include ashes for Ash Wednesday and some even communion.
Aren’t you so glad we are Orthodox because we will never have these problems? But is that true? Are we not seeing these trends among our brethren? Let’s look at it more carefully. In your parish, does Sunday Liturgy start with a full house or it is more likely to start with a handful of people and then, suddenly, right before Communion, the church is filled to the brim? The latter seems more “Orthodox”, doesn’t it? How many of those who approach the chalice have actually thoroughly prepared themselves through prayer, fasting and regular confession? How many of these wait until the end to listen to the Thanksgiving prayers? How many other Orthodox choose Sunday morning sporting events over Church services? In how many parishes is the most attended service the Sunday Liturgy, while the other weekday services are attended by only a handful of parishioners? Should I go on? The numbers are alarming, and the trends are just as true in our Church as in any other part of Christianity. We have to be blind not to see it.
We are moving toward shorter and less frequent Church services as a norm, shorter sermons, less catechism, less personal prayer, overall less involvement in the life of the Church. Everything else takes priority over our own life in Christ. We are so busy doing “stuff” that the praying, fasting and almsgiving part is pushed into a corner, condemned to neglect and oblivion. Even when we get to it, it is rushed because something else, more important, is coming after it. What are we so busy with anyway? Our jobs? Who can guarantee we won’t be on the next lay-off list? Sports? Is mere entertainment going to give more meaning to our lives? TV? That’s really going to help! Family? Why are they not with us in Church? One by one, these false arguments bite the dust at a close examination.
Everything has to be instant and the lifetime engagement proposed by the Orthodox Church is just not fitting the bill of the current generation. We want it all and we want it now. That’s not what the Church teaches. St. Isaac the Syrian says: “For anything that is quickly obtained is also easily lost, whereas everything found with toil is also kept with careful watching.” Wow! This is really counter-cultural. But again, when was Church according to the times? Romans did not like it, Turks did not like it, Communists did not like it, yet, through the witnessing of the saints the Church stayed alive and thrived. The Church survived in those times in spite of the fact that it was hard to be a Christian; actually, the more Christians faced persecutions, the more they got to appreciate what they had. We, on the other hand, we are free to believe and do what we want; yet, most of the time, we keep this light under a bushel (Mt. 5:15) while complaining we can’t see.
The truth is that our faith is weak. There can be no other reason for us to so grossly neglect our life in Christ. It may be the time then to take our faith seriously, to realize that we are not getting anywhere by competing in the mad rat race that modern life is. The one who wins this race actually loses. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mt. 16:25) Resurrection is not possible without the Cross and the painful ascent on Golgotha. We have to learn through the aches of repentance, the discipline of fasting and the agony of self-sacrifice in order to really understand what Christ went through for our sake.
There is no easy way to eternal life, only the way of the Cross. But, just as the rich young man in search for eternal life turned down Christ when he was asked to give up his wealth, so we are turning down Christ’s offer because we have to give up the convenience we got so used to. ‘I’ll pray when I have time, I’ll give when I have money, I’ll fast when I’ll be healthier’, but in fact I never do any because they are all hard to accomplish. We’ll never have enough time, nor money nor health, because we’ll always want more. A true Christian gives from what he has now and does not wait for the perfect time of prayer but prays at all times. Consistency in the works is what attracts the Holy Spirit in one’s life, not random bursts of piety on a flat line of spiritual lethargy.
We will not understand our faith, nor our personal way in life, unless we fight these trends with everything in our power. St. John of Kronstadt said it best: “This battle with the strong and cunning invisible enemy plainly showed me how many infirmities, weaknesses, and sinful passions there were in me–how strong a hold the prince of this world had over me, and how I had to struggle hard with myself, with my sinful inclinations and habits, and conquer them, so as to be as far as possible invulnerable to the arrows of the enemy.” There are no shortcuts, we cannot buy our salvation at a drive-through window, we have to go “all in” and patiently work, in synergy with God, for the salvation of our souls.
Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network. You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.