Dear Parish Faithful,
St. John Chrysostom writes: "The Church is the foundation of virtue and the school of spiritual life. Just cross its threshold at any time, and immediately you forget daily cares. Pass inside, and a spiritual ray will surround your soul. This stillness causes awe and teaches the Christian life. It raises up your train of thought and doesn't allow you to remember present things. It transports you from earth to Heaven. And if the gain is so great when a worship service is not even taking place, just think, when the Liturgy is performed - and the prophets teach, the Apostles preach the Gospel, Christ is among the believers, God the Father accepts the performed sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit grants His own rejoicing - what great benefit floods those who have attended church as they leave the church."
With his wonderful gift of rhetoric, St. John conveys his passion for life in the Church and the actual attendance of church as an ongoing experience of spiritual renewal and refreshment. As we approach the summer months, these are words to bear in mind with the hopeful result that they will continue to inspire us to be present in church with regularity for the Lord's Day Liturgy, whether we are home or away. (A little bit of careful planning should be able to get most everyone to another church on a given Sunday when away from our parish). To continue using an old expression, there is no such thing as "summer vacation" away from church - at least not for Orthodox Christians! The Lord's Day begins with the Liturgy - rain or shine - and then departing with the peace of Christ in our minds and hearts, we can disperse to whatever activities we may have planned for the day - realizing, of course, that it is all "downhill" from that point on!
Everyone may also want to think about - and plan appropriately - about making it to church "on time." We always begin with a small group for the beginning of the Liturgy at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays. All things considered, much too small. There may be in some instances good reasons for this, but there is always the ever-present temptation of carelessness and negligence. Habits are habits, and they are always difficult to change. Once a routine has been in place for a long time, it is hard to break even when domestic circumstances themselves change. Please bear in mind a long-standing pastoral directive: If you arrive in church after the Gospel (and that is late!), you are not prepared to approach the Chalice for Holy Communion.
One advantage of the summer months is that things may actually "slow down" a bit. Here is a good time to spend further time learning the Faith. We would not want said of us, what St. John said of his own urban-centered parishioners:
"If you ask them who Amos or Obadiah is, or how many prophets or apostles there are, they can't even open their mouths. Yet they can tell you every detail about the horses, the singers and the actors. What kind of state is this?"
At Christ the Savior/Holy Spirit we will continue to preach the Gospel "in season and out or season." Our goal is then to live it as well as possible.
I am attaching a short list below of items to bear in mind as the summer months approach. Hopefully you will find some things that will prove helpful in maintaining your spiritual vigilance in the approaching months.
Things to Remember for the Summer
There is hardly a good reason to be less “Church-centered” in the summer than during the other seasons of the year. There is nothing “seasonal” about God: If God withdrew His presence but for a moment, we would simply cease to exist! Here are some suggestions meant to maintain our vigilance with the approach of the summer months:
+ Inform Fr. Steven if you are traveling, so that we can pray for your safety and well-being in the Liturgy.
+ Make a point of trying to be near an Orthodox parish on a Sunday for the Liturgy when you are out of town. (Use Orthodoxy in America to locate parishes when traveling.)
+ Think of making a pilgrimage to an Orthodox monastery. If you are “on the road” there is the possibility that a monastery may be in “striking distance” at least for a brief visit. (Use Orthodoxy in America to locate monasteries when traveling.)
+ Remain vigilant in preparing for Holy Communion: respect and keep the weekly fast days of Wednesday and Friday; keep a total fast (no food or drink) from at least midnight on the eve of the next day’s Liturgy; periodically confess your sins, etc. Make your evening before next day’s Liturgy be peaceful. Come to Vespers!
+ Be aware of, and keep the Dormition Fast in August (1-14). There is also the beautiful Feast of the Transfiguration and the blessing of fruit on August 6. This year we will continue to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the glorification/canonization of St. Herman of Alaska.
+ Participate in the Summer Bible Study, preceded by Vespers. An excellent opportunity to meet and get to know either longstanding or relatively new parishioners on a much closer basis. It is about fellowship as much as it is about learning the Scriptures.
+ Choose another quality book related to the Faith for summer reading. We now have a very good parish library with Orthodox literature at many levels.
+ Do not let your daily rule of prayer lapse during the summer months. Perseverance, according to the saints, is one of the keys to an effective prayer life.
“The joy of anyone who rejoices is preserved in the Church.” St. John Chrysostom