A small audience, no problem in Orthodoxy
photo by Simon Webster, under the Creative commons licence
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So I walk I get out of the car in the Church parking lot and I see nicely dressed people just leaving Church. Now, I know I am not late for Vespers but then I remember that Father Gary sent out a mass email stating that there was to be a special service for one of the newly departed Faithful. As I remember it, it was supposed to start an hour before Vespers.
I walked into the Nave with only one minute left till 7pm. The place looked virtually empty. There was Reader John, some other man I didn't know and the choir director in his usual place without a choir. Yet, at precisely 7pm, Fr Gary opened the Royal doors and began with "Blessed is the Kingdom," I thought, where is everybody? After Fr. Gary finished chanting, the choir director alone responded. There seemed to be no one here but the show must go on, as the saying goes. Christ said, "Where ever two or three are gathered in my Name, there am I in the midst," and that reminded me what we were doing. We were NOT doing a show, that we could delay in the hopes of more people arriving in the audience. No, we were gathered to worship the Holy Trinity and the Audience wasn't in the Nave; the Audience is God!
Protestant churches would cancel services so poorly attended saying, rationally, that the service obviously wasn't meeting the people's needs because the people were not showing up. But in Holy Orthodoxy, the focus is different. The Divine Services, instituted by the Church, aren't designed to be seeker friendly. Instead, it is all God-centered, I quickly made sure that I added my voice to the choir directors and I also heard Reader John lend his. I am happy to say, that minutes later, the choir grew by a few people and some other people joined in the Nave. We were still a small group but not as much as when we began.
Fr. Gary's homily was excellent. Short and sweet. I didn't treasure it because it was short but rather because, after an illustration from his own life, he dived right into the Gospel Lesson. It was about the paralytic who had no one to move him into the healing waters so, instead Christ healed him. The invalid was asked a direct question by Christ- Do you want to be healed? - and he really didn't answer the question. Instead, the man went into excuses as to how it really was impossible for him to get healed because every time the water was troubled by the angel someone else got there first. To him, it seemed hopeless. Jesus healed him anyway.
Also, in his short homily, Fr Gary brought up a point that I had never considered before in my life regarding this passage. Keep in mind, that I have been familiar with this story since I was 16 years old (I am now 53) and I have read it numerous times. Fr Gary commented that as Jesus encountered the now healed man in the temple, He admonished him to Sin no more, less something worse happen to you. I had always thought, reading that, that Jesus meant that sinning would result in a worse aliment than just being lame- and I wouldn't be surprised if I heard a sermon or two saying that- but Fr Gary pointed out that Jesus meant the something worse would be that man being shut out of the Kingdom of God. Sin will always leave us on the outs when it comes to the Kingdom. Leave it to Holy Orthodoxy to teach me something new, even at my age!
Good news! It is now Sunday morning and today I plan on attending Divine Liturgy instead of my protestant church. My wife is visiting my daughter out of town and, since I really only attend my protestant parish because of her, I decided to go Eastern Orthodox today! I, of course, will blog about it soon!
Christ is Risen!