Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Why Do People Go to Church?

One of Gallup’s latest polls shows how far Christianity has degenerated in the States.  Here is part of their report:

Reasons for Attending Church or Other Place of Worship
Is each of the following a major factor, a minor factor or not a factor in why you attend church or a place of worship?

Major factor
Minor factor
Not a factor

Sermons or talks that teach you more about scripture
Sermons or lectures that help you connect religion to your own life
Spiritual programs geared toward children and teenagers
Lots of community outreach and volunteer opportunities
Dynamic religious leaders who are interesting and inspiring
Social activities that allow you to get to know people in your community
A good choir, praise band, cantors or other spiritual music
Based on adults who attend church, synagogue or mosque monthly or more often. % No opinion not shown
Gallup, March 9-29, 2017

Some things on the list are praiseworthy and needful for a healthy Christian life; others are more evidence of self-centered consumerism burrowing into churches more deeply than ever. 

But the fact that receiving Holy Communion, which is at the heart of Christian life and worship, did not make the list at all is telling.  This shows that there is grave confusion here in the States over just what the Christian life is about.  It is thought of by most as either an increase in one’s rational knowledge of God or an emotional feeling toward Him.

The South is as guilty as any other place in the Union of such misconceptions.  Miss Anne C. Loveland bewords some typical Southern ideas of Christianity, which sound very much like the above:

 . . . what was “termed Revival Preaching, is nothing more nor less than preaching the truth plainly, and bringing that truth home to a personal and practical application.”

Preaching was regarded as one of the ordinary means of grace.  Of the special or “extraordinary” means employed by Southern evangelicals in bringing about a revival, camp meetings and protracted meetings were the most important (Southern Evangelicals and the Social Order: 1800-1860, Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press, 1980, pgs. 71-2).

But the Orthodox Church, over against the Western denominations, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, does not limit Christianity to the possibilities of fallen human relationships, i.e., limiting it to external, sense-driven experiences (the beatific vision of God’s essence in Roman Catholicism, an eternal dialogue per Michael Novak, praising God forever with the mouth in Heaven (most Protestants), the flirtatious mysticism of Catherine of Sienna, etc.).  The Orthodox focus is rather on union with the Supremely Personal God through the Holy Eucharist, a union that nevertheless preserves the unique personhood of each. 

 . . . St John [Chrysostom] hears Christ speaking to him:  ‘I am not simply joined with you; I am interwoven, I am eaten, I am attenuated little by little, so that the mixing, the interweaving and the union can be greater.  For things that are joined preserve their own boundaries, whereas I am interwoven with you.  I do not want there to be anything between us.  I want the two to be one.’  Between Christ and the Christian there is no longer anything intervening.  Everything dissolves in the light of His love:  ‘We and Christ are one’ (Hieromonk Gregorios, The Divine Liturgy, tr. Theokritoff, Columbia, Mo.: Newrome Press, 2012, p. 24).

Other Church Fathers speak also of the awesome blessings of receiving Holy Communion, which makes its absence from the list above all the more astonishing:

Both the soul and the body of the Christian receive great benefit from the divine Mysteries—before he communes, when he communes, and after he communes. Before one communes, he must perform the necessary preparation, namely, confess to his Spiritual Father, have contrition, amend his ways, have compunction, learn to watch over himself carefully, and keep himself from passionate thoughts (as much as possible) and from every evil. The more the Christian practices self-control, prays, and keeps vigil, the more pious he becomes and the more he performs every other good work, contemplating what a fearful King he will receive inside of himself. This is even more true when he considers that he will receive grace from Holy Communion in proportion to his preparation. The more often someone prepares himself, the more benefit he receives. [93]

When a Christian partakes of Communion, who can comprehend the gifts and the charismata he receives? Or how can our inept tongue enumerate them? For this reason, let us again bring forward one by one the sacred teachers of the Church to tell us about these gifts, with their eloquent and God-inspired mouths.

Gregory the Theologian says:

When the most sacred body of Christ is received and eaten in a proper manner, it becomes a weapon against those who war against us, it returns to God those who had left Him, it strengthens the weak, it causes the healthy to be glad, it heals sicknesses, and it preserves health. Through it we become meek and more willing to accept correction, more longsuffering in our pains, more fervent in our love, more detailed in our knowledge, more willing to do obedience, and keener in the workings of the charismata of the Spirit. But all the opposite happens to those who do not receive Communion in a proper manner. [94]

Those who do not receive Communion frequently suffer totally opposite things, because they are not sealed with the precious blood of our Lord, as the same Gregory the Theologian says: “Then the Lamb is slain, and with the precious blood are sealed action and reason, that is, habit and mental activity, the sideposts of our doors. I mean, of course, by ‘doors,’ the movements and notions of the intellect, which are opened and closed correctly through spiritual vision.” [95]

St. Ephraim the Syrian writes:

Brothers, let us practice stillness, fasting, prayer, and tears; gather together in the Church; work with our hands; speak about the Holy Fathers; be obedient to the truth; and listen to the divine Scriptures; so that our minds do not become barren (and sprout the thorns of evil thoughts). And let us certainly make ourselves worthy of partaking of the divine and immaculate Mysteries, so that our soul may be purified from thoughts of unbelief and impurity, and so that the Lord will dwell within us and deliver us from the evil one.

The divine Cyril of Alexandria says that, because of divine Communion, those noetic thieves the demons find no opportunity to enter into our souls through the senses:

You must consider your senses as the door to a house. Through the senses all images of things enter into the heart, and, through the senses, the innumerable multitude of lusts pour into it. The Prophet Joel calls the senses windows, saying: “They shall enter in at our windows like a thief” (Jl. 2:9), because these windows have not been marked with the precious blood of Christ. Moreover, the Law commanded that, after the slaughter (of the lamb), the Israelites were to smear the doorposts and the lintels of their houses with its blood, showing by this that the precious blood of Christ protects our own earthly dwelling-place, which is to say, our body, and that the death brought about by the transgression is repelled through our enjoyment of the partaking of life (that is, of life-giving Communion). Further, through our sealing (with the blood of Christ) we distance from ourselves the destroyer. [96]

The same divine Cyril says in another place that, through Communion, we are cleansed from every impurity of soul and receive eagerness and fervor to do good: “The precious blood of Christ not only frees us from every corruption, but it also cleanses us from every impurity lying hidden within us, and it does not allow us to grow cold on account of sloth, but rather makes us fervent in the Spirit.” [97]

St. Theodore the Studite wondrously describes the benefit one receives from frequent Communion:

Tears and contrition have great power. But the Communion of the sanctified Gifts, above all, has especially great power and benefit, and, seeing that you are so indifferent towards it and do not frequently receive it, I am in wonder and great amazement. For I see that you only receive Communion on Sundays, but, if there is a Liturgy on any other day, you do not commune, though when I was in the monastery each one of you had permission to commune every day, if you so desired. But now the Liturgy is less frequently celebrated, and you still do not commune. I say these things to you, not because I wish for you simply to commune—haphazardly, without preparation (for it is written: ”But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the Bread, and drink of the Cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body and blood” [1 Cor. 11:28-29]). No, I am not saying this. God forbid! I say that we should, out of our desire for Communion, purify ourselves as much as possible and make ourselves worthy of the Gift. For the Bread which came down from heaven is participation in life: ”If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (Jn. 6:51). Again He says: ”He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him” (Jn. 6:58).

Do you see the ineffable gift? He not only died for us, but He also gives Himself to us as food. What could show more love than this? What is more salvific to the soul? Moreover, no one fails to partake every day of the food and drink of the common table. And, if it happens that someone does not eat, he becomes greatly dismayed. And we are not speaking here about ordinary bread, but about the Bread of life; not about an ordinary cup, but about the Cup of immortality. And do we consider Communion an indifferent matter, entirely unnecessary? How is this thought not irrational and foolish? If this is how it has been up until now, my children, I ask that we henceforth take heed to ourselves, and, knowing the power of the Gift, let us purify ourselves as much as possible and partake of the sanctified Things. And if it happens that we are occupied with a handicraft, as soon as we hear the sounding-board calling us to Church, let us put our work aside and go partake of the Gift with great desire. And this (that is, frequent Communion) will certainly benefit us, for we keep ourselves pure through our preparation for Communion. If we do not commune frequently, it is impossible for us not to become subject to the passions. Frequent Communion will become for us a companion unto eternal life. [98]

So, my brothers, if we practice what the divine Fathers have ordered and frequently commune, we not only will have the support and help of divine grace in this short life, but also will have the angels of God as helpers, and the very Master of the angels Himself. Furthermore, the inimical demons will be greatly distanced from us, as the divine Chrysostom says:

Let us then return from that Table like lions breathing fire, having become fearsome to the devil, thinking about our Head (Christ) and the love He has shown for us.... This blood causes the image of our King to be fresh within us, it produces unspeakable beauty, and, watering and nourishing our soul frequently, it does not permit its nobility to waste away.... This blood, worthily received, drives away demons and keeps them far from us, while it calls to us the angels and the Master of angels. For wherever they see the Master’s blood, devils flee and angels run to gather together.... This blood is the salvation of our souls. By it the soul is washed, is made beautiful, and is inflamed; and it causes our intellect to be brighter than fire and makes the soul gleam more than gold....Those who partake of this blood stand with the angels and the powers that are above, clothed in the kingly robe itself, armed with spiritual weapons. But I have not yet said anything great by this: for they are clothed even with the King Himself. [99]

Do you see, my beloved brother, how many wonderful charismata you receive if you frequently commune? Do you see that with frequent Communion the intellect is illumined, the mind is made to shine, and all of the powers of the soul are purified? If you also desire to kill the passions of the flesh, go to Communion frequently and you will succeed. Cyril of Alexandria confirms this for us: “Receive Holy Communion believing that it liberates us not only from death, but also from every illness. And this is because, when Christ dwells within us through frequent Communion, He pacifies and calms the fierce war of the flesh, ignites piety toward God, and deadens the passions.” [100]

 . . .

Source:  St Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/cfc_ch2.aspx, opened 24 April 2017

We know that many Southerners and others in the lands of Western civilization really do want to be as close as possible to Christ.  So in addition to listening to sermons, serving the poor, etc. (which are no doubt good for the soul and body), they should hurry into the Orthodox Church to receive the Grace-filled Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they might know Him, together with the Father and the Holy Ghost, in the deepest way possible. 


Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð!

Anathema to the Union!

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