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” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
The Journey to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ
Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20
Good morning Prayer Team!
With Lent about to start, there will be many more opportunities than usual to worship in church. In most parishes at least 2-3 Lenten services are held each week. At Saint John in Tampa, we will hold a service each Monday evening called the Great Compline. On Wednesdays we will celebrate Pre-Sanctified Liturgy and on Friday evenings we will offer the Salutations to the Virgin Mary. More detailed descriptions of these services will follow in future reflections. As you are setting goals for Lent, however, you should include additional worship as one of them. Today I want to talk about why we worship.
There are many reasons we worship. Holy Communion is not the reason we worship. It is something we do in the context of worship. In fact, there will be many services in Lent and Holy Week where Communion is not offered. So the reason we worship has to be more than to receive Communion.
We worship to express our love for Christ. In worship, we praise, glorify and exalt the Lord.
There are three kinds of hymns used in worship in our church. There are hymns that praise the Lord. There are hymns that supplicate the Lord, where we ask for specific things. And there are hymns that teach us. The overwhelming majority of hymns are in this third category. They teach us about our faith. Take the hymn of the Resurrection—Christ is risen from the dead, by death trampling down upon death, and to those in the tombs He has granted life. These words tell us the entire purpose of the Resurrection and indeed the entire purpose of the Christian life. So, another reason we worship is to learn.
We worship to share Christ’s love with others. This is why worship is a communal act. We learn together, we grow together. In worship, we encourage one another. That doesn’t mean we necessarily offer words of encouragement. Your presence at worship encourages others. When someone sees the church filled with people, and he is struggling with his faith, he can feel a burst of encouragement to be in a room filled with people who can encourage him, because they are going strong in their faith, or who can empathize with him, if they are struggling as well.
We worship to pray for others who are not in attendance. When we pray for peace in the whole world, as an example, as we pray in the petitions, we are praying for peace in our community, in our homes, for people that we know and for people across our nation and our world who we do not know.
Worship is actually work. It is holy work. On one recent feastday, no one came to worship—it was just me and my chanter. We still offered the Divine Liturgy, since only the priest and one other person are needed in order to offer the service. Sometimes only two or three people come to a service. But those people are important. When you come to the Liturgy, it is important, not just for you but for others. For those that come pray for the many who are not present. They pray for those who work and who are sick, for those who are in the military far away from home, from those in every kind of distress. Worship is work that we do for ourselves and for our community but also for our world. So, don’t think your presence is not important at worship. It is. And don’t think there is no point to celebrating services that are not well attended. There most definitely is.
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, who I have had the occasion to meet a couple of times in my ministry, told me that once he was celebrating a Paraklesis in his church in Oxford, England with two other parishioners who were in desperate need of prayers. The three of them held candles while praying. Two people walked by the church and looked in and saw the church filled with people holding candles, so many people that they didn’t go in for fear of not finding a seat. Later on, they came back to the church and asked the Metropolitan what kind of service he was having on a Tuesday night that was attended by so many people. The Metropolitan mentioned that only three people were in the church. When the people asked why the church seemed so full, the Metropolitan said “It was filled with angels.” He also told me that when I offer incense in the church, to cense every pew, even the empty ones, because the empty pews are where the angels sit. So, on that day when it was only my chanter and I present for the Liturgy, it was actually glorious, for it was me and him and a church filled with angels and saints. There are lots of opportunities to worship this Lent—I hope you’ll take full advantage of them.
Practically speaking, let me make the following recommendations for worship this Lent. In addition to Sunday worship at the Divine Liturgy, try one of two other options:
- Attend one additional service per week, or
- Attend each of the Lenten services at least one time—one Compline, one Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, and one Salutations.
This will give you 3-6 additional opportunities to worship this Lent. And since each of these Lenten services lasts an hour, we are talking an additional 3-6 hours of worship over 6 weeks, something that is very doable for everyone.
Lord, bless those who praise You and sanctify those who put their trust in You. Save Your people and bless Your inheritance. Protect the whole body of Your church. Sanctify those who love the beauty of Your house. Glorify them in return by Your divine power and do not forsake those who place their hope in You. Amen. (From the Divine Liturgy, trans. by Holy Cross Seminary Press, 1984)
Think about your Lenten worship goals today.
Photo credit: St. George Greek Orthodox Church
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