What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.
2 Corinthians 6: 16-18; 7:1 (Epistle of the 17th Sunday)
I want to revisit the Epistle lesson from this past Sunday. Truth be told, I made a mistake and scheduled the wrong Epistle lesson last Saturday, so you didn’t hear about this one. And second, I gave my sermon this past Sunday based on the Epistle, rather than the Gospel, and the subject was the four reasons we worship, which I’d like to share with you today.
First of all, Christians are different. We are supposed to be different. In 2 Corinthians 6:17, St. Paul writes, “Therefore come out from them and be separate from them, says the Lord.” This does not mean we are supposed to be elitist. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t allowed to have fun. It means, however, that there should be a difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. If one can’t tell the difference, then how committed is that Christian?
Christians are distinguished by three things. First, our priority is supposed to be the Lord. He is supposed to come ahead of our jobs, and even our families. We are supposed to live for Him and work everything else around that. Second, our identity is supposed to be based on Christian values, like love, forgiveness, repentance, service, and generosity. And third, our destination is salvation.
If the Lord is not our priority, if we don’t live according to God’s commandments and Christian values, and if salvation is not much of a thought in our lives, what distinguishes us from the non-Christians? Nothing.
In 2 Corinthians 6:16, St. Paul writes “we are the temple of the living God.” Which means rather than saying things like “my body, my choice,” we should instead be saying “my body, my temple.” In our church sanctuaries, we only allow worship and education. We do not take the pews out and play basketball, or put a band on the solea and have a Greek dance. The temple is reserved for very specific things and only those things. Similarly, our bodies are meant to be used only in specific ways. And the ways in which we are to use them, it to use our senses for God—to see God in the faces of others, to hear cries for help, to use our hands to help, and our mouths to encourage. Instead of this, we see opportunities for self-advancement, we hear filthy music, our mouths say ugly things, and our hands are used for harming rather than helping. Worship brings our senses into alignment with the Lord. We see icons of the angels and saints, we hear the word of God, we smell the incense that lifts our prayers to heaven, we taste Christ through Holy Communion, and most importantly, we venerate icons of saints as a reminder of what we were created to be, and we touch Christ in the most intimate way when we receive Holy Communion.
This brings us to four reasons why we worship:
1. Going back to the Epistle passage, in II Corinthians 17:1, we read, “Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.” In worship, and specifically in receiving Holy Communion, we are able to cleanse ourselves from the defiling things that the world tempts us with, and uniting with Christ in Holy Communion unites us with His holiness, even as we approach with the “fear of God.”
2. Worship gives us the opportunity to be with people like us. Most of the world is not like us. It is out doing all kinds of things on Sunday morning. If we were to come to church on a Sunday morning, and no one else was there, it would be discouraging, we might think there is no one like us. When many people are worshiping in church, it is motivating because we realize that there are others like us, who are making the same journey and fighting the same temptations as they make it.
3. Worship is a guided tour of the world through prayer. In other words, many of us don’t think of praying for our country, the president, civil authorities, and the military. We tend to pray for things and for people who are a little closer to home. Worship is a combination of mystical prayers offered by the priest, hymns that are sung by the faithful, and prompts (in the form of petitions) made by the clergy and responded to by the laity. And in this exchange, the petition is a prompt, and the response is the prayer. The clergy guide the laity through a tour of the world—peace in the world, our country, the president, those in public service, those who are traveling, those who are suffering, and those who are afflicted. There is even a guided tour of our lives, from a perfect, holy, peaceful, and sinless day (today) to a Christian end to our lives, and a good defense of them before the awesome judgment seat of Christ. Many of us don’t think about the end of our lives at all. This petition works this eventuality into our thoughts each time we worship.
4. Finally, worship is a reminder of who we are. At a recent GOYA retreat, I had the GOYAns each sit in front of an icon, with a verse I chose for them to write on. One of them was placed in front of the icon of Christ on the icon screen. His reflection on this experience was that the image of Christ dominated the icon. There were no other people, no buildings, no trees, and no distractions, and it made him realize that his life needed to be more like that icon, dominated by Christ with fewer distractions. Worship reminds us of who we are and whom we are supposed to be. (The above icon is the icon of Christ on our icon screen at St. John’s in Tampa, which the GOYAn was placed in front of.)
Lord, thank You for the gift that is worship. Thank You for the present You have for me at each Divine Liturgy, the opportunity to partake of You. Help me to not only understand why and how we worship, but to love worship. Help me to remember who I am, who You created me to be, and where I am going—to Your heavenly Kingdom—and to do those things that are needed so that I will be one day blessed to be there. Amen.
Worship affords us an opportunity to cleanse ourselves, to be with people like us, to take a guided tour of the world through prayer, and to remember who we are and where we are going. This is why it is crucial that we worship as often as we can.
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. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros 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
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