There is an important passage on churchgoing in Hebrews 10:25-25: “Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the Day approaching.”
In these days of tension and confusion there is a tendency for even the most sincere Christian to be so occupied with temporal things that they deprive themselves of the encouragement and spiritual uplift that comes from getting together with other Orthodox Christians. But these times are when true believers need the encouragement of each other’s company and prayers even more.
But the ultimate reason for attending church regularly is that it is specifically commanded by God. Even in New Testament times there were those who yielded to the temptation of absenting themselves from the worship services of the local church. The writer of Hebrews points out that the members of the local church have an obligation to one another. They are to provoke one another to good works and to exhort one another to live consistent lives worthy of God. This can best be done within the context of a local parish, so believers are commanded not to miss church services when the people assemble. Participating in services is not optional. It is imperative and yields eternal benefits.
Blessing of Home
The tradition of blessing homes is being ignored by many. The statement is usually made that they had the house blessed once, so it should not be necessary to have it blessed each year.
We bless our home each year because we rededicate it to God. We recommit it to His Glory and to make His Kingdom present. The blessing is an aid and means by which this dedication can be made. It is an ongoing process of recommitment and rededication.
Our sins affect not only ourselves but those who live around us. It also affects the environment. (Think of people who talk to plants.) Our houses have been tainted during the year by our sins, our quarrels, our bad language and thoughts. We need to have this stain of sin removed. We are given a unique opportunity in our tradition of having our home blessed to remind ourselves of our Christian beliefs.
Welcome the priest who comes to your home with the water blessed on Epiphany. This water is traditionally called the Jordan water by our people. Have a bowl, a candle and an ikon or cross set on a small table. Help in the singing of the Tropar and Kondak of the Feast if you are familiar with them. And after the initial prayer, when the priest hands you the candle, go to the rooms or places which you want blessed.
“May the Jordan water serve as a purification of the souls, bodies and homes.”
Call Your Priest - When?
Before: You go to the hospital or when you’re sick enough to miss Divine Liturgy several Sundays. The Sacraments of forgiveness and healing were given to us by Our Lord for just such times. It is your right as an Orthodox Christian to receive them. Ask for them.
When: There’s trouble at home. Call your pastor when things first go wrong not as a last resort.
When: A child is born. Your Christian family, the Church, wishes to rejoice with you and plan for the child’s entrance into the Church family through Holy Baptism and Chrismation.
When: You first plan to get married. Don’t hire a “wedding coordinator,” a hall, catering service and then see the priest to make arrangements for the Sacrament of Marriage.
Before: Going off to college or the military. You don’t have to go into a far country and a strange situation alone or as did the Prodigal Son. Your priest can prepare your way with information, introductions and prayers.
Get to know your priest. He is your friend in times of need and in joy. Know him before the “going gets rough.” He’ll also get to know you and will be better prepared to help you.
Flowers of June
Flowers have always been used to decorate the Church. In Orthodox Churches we do not have flower arranging committees whose members take turns in arranging beautiful bouquets for the altar and foyer of the Church. Most commonly we see vases filled with garden flowers placed before ikons in the ikonastas or individual flowers placed on the ikons. It is not an uncommon sight to see a pious woman heading into the Church carrying a few prize blooms from her garden or indoor plant which she places on her favorite ikon before venerating it.
However, in many of our churches this custom is dying out. This gift to the ikon is discouraged. Bouquets of silk flowers sit week after week in the same spot only to be removed during Great Lent.
There are two Holy Days in June when, traditionally, the church building and its ikons are decorated with flowers and branches. The Holy Day of Pentecost is even called “Green Sunday” by some. The greens symbolize new birth, growth and life. The Apostles were given new life by the exhilarating presence of the Holy Spirit. The custom of using green branches and flowers to decorate the church comes from the Old Testament and can be found in Lev. 23:10-17 and Numbers 28:16.
Flowers, especially daisies, which were once considered to be the personal flower of St. John the Baptist, and herbs are often made into a wreath or garland and placed on or near his ikon on his feast day of June 26/July 7.
How much our young people and converts to our church miss by our giving up so many of our colorful and meaningful traditions!
Exaltation of the Cross
You may come to the church one day this month and find the cross on the small table in the center of the church. It will be decorated with flowers or basil. What should you do? You must venerate it in the following way. You make what is known as a full prostration. You kneel and then touch your forehead to the floor. Make the sign of the cross. Stand and go forward to kiss the cross.
The summer vacation season is here. As the years go by, fewer and fewer people attend Church on Sunday mornings. To reverse this trend many churches change their schedule and many have spent much money to air condition the Church. But families still take a vacation from Church during the summer.
One thing that has not changed is the teaching that Sunday is the Lord’s Day, for it is the day of Resurrection, the day of man’s restoration as a child of God. One way to "keep Sunday holy" is to worship God in Church. Jesus Himself kept this schedule. It is true that there are other ways which help us to keep the day holy, such as rest and recreation or re-creation, which implies renewal of our physical and spiritual strength. But at the core of the very meaning is worship.
Nothing is said in the Law about exception for the seasons of the year. The Commandment does not read: "Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day, except in summer!" Does that mean that we ought to be in church for worship every single Sunday? Yes. Common sense tells us that when serious illness comes, or necessary work for a livelihood, then we must absent ourselves temporarily. But this is far different than slicing off a quarter of the year.
Something precious dies within us when we stop treating Sunday as God’s day. Animals treat the Sabbath exactly like any other day. But we are not animals, we are human beings, made in the image and likeness of God. And it is worship on Sunday that reminds us of our destiny, or our potentiality, of our true calling as children of God.
The sign of the Cross
Are non-Orthodox Christians allowed to make the sign of the cross in an Orthodox manner even though they are not Orthodox?
One of the reasons that the Orthodox cross themselves in the precise manner in which they do so, is to identify them as Orthodox Christians. We would prefer that those who are not Orthodox not sign themselves in this manner. However, there is no one who can "allow" them to do it, nor is there anyone among the Orthodox who can prohibit them from doing it. They are free to act as they wish. In any case, making the sign of the cross is an important religious and spiritual act because it indicates assent to what is said; it is a witness and confession of faith in the Triune of God; it marks and identifies the believer publicly as an Orthodox Christian; it is a blessing of one’s self with the name of God.
Sitting in Church
We should sit very seldom during church services. Perhaps, during the sermon or when we do not feel well or able to stand. During the Divine Liturgy we hear often the instruction to stand but never to sit. The Divine Liturgy is so holy that even the angels who concelebrate this sacrifice stand with fear and trembling.
All who come to church should stand before God as soldiers before their King, with fear, trembling and piety. A sitting position tends toward general spiritual and physical relaxation. Our prayers require a special inner effort of all our forces: joyfulness, attentiveness, concentration and alertness, no half-attention or the dulling of these forces.
When you do sit in the Church, it is improper to cross your legs. Both feet should be kept on the floor. There are many reasons for this. Crossing the legs conveys an attitude of casualness and an air of waiting for something to happen, as the start of a service rather than an involvement in prayer and meditation. It is not appropriate to the worship of God and is a sign of disrespect to God and the saints.