I am going to share a sermon by Father Thomas Moore (great name for a covert priest, no?). It is a bit long but may be germane to this topic. (BTW, contrary to Father Thomas I find church attendance to be way above normal).
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I have been reflecting lately why so many members of Holy Apostles only come to Church on Sundays, and then often late. It is easy for me to get resentful and feel rejected or that what is so important to me is unimportant to you. It feels like putting a lot of time and energy into giving a gift to someone and seeing the disappointment on their face because it is not the gift they want. My reaction is a good example of our continuing self-centeredness from infancy, and the perception that the world revolves around me. I ask for your forgiveness for my personalizing this as if I was the reason you might come to Church.
Obviously the only reason to come to Church is to know God, and therefore the truth about ourselves in relation to Him and each other. This is salvation: “Love God, and your neighbor as yourself”. This gives me more insight and hopefully compassion on why we may consciously or unconsciously stay away from the services of the Church. It rattles our cage. There is something about all real relationships that reveal the world does not revolve around us and we need to make room for the other. In my experience each of the services of the Orthodox Church confronts the comfort of our little worlds, and demands us to break out of them and be transformed.
However, we spend a lot of time convincing ourselves and others that our way of perceiving the world is the correct one, and if everyone else would just realize it and would just listen to us, everything would be ok. Thus we spend so much energy attempting to control our world and everyone else that comes into our orbit, that we resent any efforts that might make us realize how systemically wrong we are, and that we are the ones who need to change at a very fundamental level. Yet in that very act we know deep in our hearts that it leaves us utterly alone, isolated and miserable. Thus we chose to be lonely rather than vulnerable. We chose “the certainty of misery over the misery of uncertainty”. We chose control over love. Since God is love, we have a kind of push/pull relationship with Him and His Body, the Church. We know we need love so we are willing to “try” being loving up to a certain point which each of us decides is our comfort zone. Real spiritual life, as any real relationship, continually confronts and pushes us out of our comfort zone and into the reality of relationship with the other who is always uncontrollable and a deep mystery-just as we are to ourselves.
Thus, I am more and more convinced that those who come to
church rarely or late are really conflicted about their relationship
with God. Initially we come to strike a deal in which we hope if we come and do something “He wants” He will return the favor by giving us what we want. It is obvious this is no relationship at all but rather another merchandise exchange like those which consume so much of our energy in relation to the world and each other.
However the more we enter into the reality of God, the more we realize the relationship is going to change us and although we know our lives are not working, we don’t really want to change, we want everyone else to. Thus the initial stages of attraction to the spiritual life disappear, and we are faced with a long term submission to a process of being healed ourselves. While we may give lip service to this, it really goes against our inner fallen passions and our adversary will give us all the excuses we need to avoid this confrontation with our own true reality. I very strongly urge you to push past this demonic temptation to comfort and sleep which is really the desire for death.
I am aware of the difficulty of keeping up this struggle to be truly alive. It is tiring, intense, and often painful. Thus the Church in it’s wisdom gives us alternating cyclical periods of intense personal confrontation and ecstatic joy. I want to encourage you to enter into the deepening seasons, or else we will not experience the freedom of love in the celebratory ones. One cannot eat candy all the time and live. Use this Lenten period to break out of your cage of self deception and desire to control others. Let us pray truly that God would “take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk” by having the courage to come to the services in which we are confronted with how each of these passions control so much of
our daily lives and keep us from the joy of His resurrection and our freedom. It takes planning, strategy, and commitment to defeat the adversary in ourselves. We will not enter His victory if we lackadaisically only come when we feel like it. It is not too late though.
Use this Lenten period to face yourself and to realize how much
we need our Savior to roll away the stone which keeps us dead in our prisons of self absorption. Your servant in Christ, Fr. Thomas"