The Work of the Church: Worship

The Work of the Church: Worship

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Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

I Corinthians 11:26

Today the Prayer Team celebrates its FOURTH ANNIVERSARY!  The first reflection for the Prayer Team was written on February 20, 2015, a few days prior to the start of Great Lent.  I never envisioned that it would become what it has become, a daily connection with thousands of people.  Thank you to all of you who are part of this ministry.  Most of all, thank You God for continually inspiring me to write, and for His blessings and your prayers which give me the strength to do this ministry!  Thank you!

Love is at the core of all the core values of our Church.  We get nowhere without love and love permeates every ministry and everything associated with the Church.  At our parish, we have identified four other values which we consider core values.  Without all of them, we can’t function properly as a Church.  Each one, however, is different.  And unlike love, these four are separate in their function.  The first of these is worship.

The most important thing that happens at an Orthodox Church is worship, specifically the Divine Liturgy.  Central to our practice of the Christian faith is our receiving the Eucharist and receiving it on a regular basis.  There are a lot of other programs and activities that happen in a church community, some of which we will touch on when we examine the other core values.  Some of these activities and ministries are very worthy of our time and effort.  But none of them takes the place of the Divine Liturgy and our receiving Holy Communion.

In fact, the only unique thing that happens in the church context is the Divine Liturgy and the receiving of the Eucharist.  Bible studies can be done off-site.  Youth groups can meet off-site.  Fellowship events can be held off-site.  None of these things necessarily needs the involvement of clergy.  The Divine Liturgy requires the presence of both priest and people, and is the only way (save for a visit to a hospital or a shut-in) that one can receive Holy Communion.  It would not be a stretch to call our churches “Eucharistic Assemblies”, i.e. St. John Greek Orthodox Eucharist Assembly of Tampa, because this is the primary purpose for which they exist.

The intention of Christ when He instituted the Eucharist was for us to partake of Him often.  Hence the verse from I Corinthians 11:26: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”  The emphasis in this sentence is on the word “often.”  Partaking of Christ is something we should do often.  However it should be done with preparation, we reverence and with joy.

Partaking of the Eucharist only once a year is not appropriate.  If that were correct, it would only be offered once a year.  Partaking without preparation or forethought is not correct either.  Receiving Communion is a gift each time we do it, a gift that should be preceded with purposeful preparation, and a gift that we should walk away from with gratitude.

The Eucharist is to be received in the context of the Divine Liturgy, presupposing that the communicant has been present and worshipped at the Divine Liturgy.  Walking in at the moment of Holy Communion or shortly before and then receiving is also not correct.

When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, the prevailing thought was that Holy Communion was so austere that we should only receive a few times a year, and very few went on a given Sunday.  In current times, the prevailing thought is that everyone should go every time Holy Communion is offered, so we see long lines at the chalice in each church each Sunday.  I often wonder how or if people prepare for Holy Communion or if we are just checking off a box so to speak when we receive.  Do people fast properly?  Do they go to confession at least once per year?  Do they abstain from food the morning of the Divine Liturgy?   This ties in to “learning” which will be one of our other core values.

Suffice it to say that worship is the most important thing that happens in the church community.  Receiving the Eucharist in the context of worship is the most important thing that happens in the life of an Orthodox Christian.  This is why in naming a few core values, that worship is one of them.

There is one other point I want to make on this subject.  If we are seeking to improve our Churches and help them to be the Church that Christ envisioned, we have to address the subject of those who come to the church property but who do not worship.  There are a few people in every community that go from their car to the hall.  They don’t actually set foot in the church.  They start coffee hour early, wait for the meeting of their group (AHEPA, GOYA, Philoptochos, etc.)  There are those who come to the church to work—perhaps they are integral to the festival, or teach Greek dancing, or make the coffee for coffee hour or even serve on the Parish Council—but they don’t worship.  There are those who even go in the church building but who do not worship—perhaps they come to pass the tray, or they greet everyone in the narthex—but they never actually come into the nave, stand in a pew or worship.  Worship should be an integral part of everyone’s involvement in the church community.  Thus we should encourage, and if necessary, gently correct those who do not come to church to worship that worship is the most important thing we do on the church property.  It is the only unique thing we do.  In fact, it’s the primary reason that the church exists—for us for worship Christ, receive Him in the Eucharist, and enjoy a foretaste of heaven in so doing.

O Son of God, receive me today as a partaker of Your mystical supper.  For I will not speak of the mystery to Your enemies, nor will I give You a kiss, as did Judas.  But like the thief, I confess to You: Remember me, Lord in Your Kingdom.  (Pre-Communion Prayers, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Translation of the Divine Liturgy, 2015)

Make worship and receiving Holy Communion a weekly priority for you and your family!

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0