I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord (Psalm 121:1).
People often ask priests: “Why should we go to church every Sunday?” and then they begin to justify themselves.
“We need our sleep, we need to spend time with the family, do things around the house and you want us to get up and go to church. What for?”
Of course, in order to justify one’s laziness one can come up with various objections. But we have to understand the meaning behind going to Church every Sunday.
The requirement of frequent church attendance is one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11). In the Old Testament, violation of the fourth commandment was punishable by death, as was murder. In the New Testament, Sunday became the greater holy day because Christ, having risen from the dead, sanctified that day. According to the church rules, whoever violates this commandment is subject to expulsion. As stated in the 80th canon of the Sixth Council: “In case any bishop, or presbyter, or deacon, or anyone else on the list of the clergy, or any layman, without any graver necessity or any particular difficulty …, fails to attend church on Sundays for three consecutive weeks, …if he be a cleric, let him be deposed from office; but if he be a layman, let him be removed from Communion”…
The eyes of the Lord are always directed towards God’s temple, the church. In the church, He Himself is present in His Body and Blood. In the church, He revives us in the Baptism, therefore the church is our lesser motherland. In the Church, God forgives us our sins in the Mystery of Confession, He gives us His own Self in the most Holy Communion. Where else can we find such sources of incorruptible life? According to the word of an ancient ascetic, they who throughout the week fight against the devil, hasten on Saturdays and Sundays to Church to partake from the sources of the living water of Communion, in order to quench the thirst of their hearts and to be cleansed of the filth of their defiled conscience…
As Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-bearer said, “Try to gather together more frequently to celebrate God’s Eucharist and to praise him…People forget that only Church prayer can save man from the devil’s attacks, for he is trembling before the power of God and is unable to harm the person who abides in Divine love…
Besides the fact that in His temple the Lord protects us and gives us strength, He also teaches us, for the Divine Service in its entirety is a true school of Divine love. In God’s holy temple, we hear His word, we bring to mind his marvelous acts, we learn about our future…
In the heart of our festal Divine Service is prayer and contemplation of the Holy Scripture, the reading of which in the church possesses a unique power. One ascetic saw tongues of fire rising up from the mouth of the deacon reading the word of God at the Sunday Divine Service. They were purifying the souls of the praying people and were ascending to Heaven.
Those who say that reading the Bible at home is sufficient and, therefore, they do not need to go to church to hear the Word of God are mistaken. Even if they do open the Book at home, their distancing themselves from the assembly of the faithful in the church will prevent them from fully understanding the sacred text. It has been confirmed that those who do not partake of the Holy Communion are practically unable to understand God’s will. No wonder! The Scripture is nothing other than instruction on how to receive Heavenly Grace. But if we simply read a set of instructions and do not try to, let us say, put a bookcase together or use a computer program, the set of instructions will remain unmastered and will be soon forgotten. It is well-known that our mind quickly filters out any unused information. Therefore, the Scripture is inseparable from the church community, for it was given solely to the Church.
And vice versa, those who attend the Sunday Divine Liturgy and then read the Scripture at home will comprehend meaning in it that they would never have comprehended otherwise. Often, it is precisely on the Church Feast Days that people learn the will of God about themselves. According to the words of St. John of the Ladder, “Although God always endows His servants with gifts, He does even more so on the yearly feasts of the Lord and the Mother of God” (To the Pastor, 3:2).
It is not surprising that those who regularly attend church are somewhat different, both in outward appearance and in the disposition of their souls. On one hand, to them virtues become natural, while on the other hand, frequent confessions prevent them from falling into serious sins. In the life of a Christian, passions can intensify, for Satan does not want us—who were made from dust—to ascend to Heaven from which we had been cast down. For this reason Satan attacks us as his enemies. We, however, should not fear him; we should fight him and overcome him, for only he that overcometh shall inherit all things, says the Lord (Rev. 21:7).
If the person says that he is a Christian but does not pray with his brothers, what kind of Christian is he? In the words of the greatest expert on Church canons, Patriarch Theodore Balsamon of Antioch, “Such a person either does nothing regarding fulfillment of the Divine commandment about prayer and singing hymns to God, or he is not a believer. Otherwise, why would he for twenty days not want to be in church with Christians and have communion with God’s faithful people?”
It is no coincidence that the New Testament directly forbids one to neglect assembling in church: We shall not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but we shall exhort one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day [of the assembly] approaching (Hebrews 10:25).
All the best things which made Russia holy, and which sustain other Orthodox Christian nations, are provided by the Divine Services. In church we are delivered from the yoke of our vanity and we can break through from the shackles of crises and wars into God’s peace. And this is the only correct decision: not curses and revolutions, not malice and hatred, but church prayer and virtues can change the world…This is not cowardice but wisdom and courage. Only a fool is going to try to stand up by himself against the onslaught of the evil of the entire world, be that terrorism or a natural disaster, revolutions or wars. Only the Almighty God can defend His creation. This is why a church has always been considered a place of safety.
Indeed, a church is Heaven’s embassy on the Earth where we pilgrims looking for the Heavenly city, receive support…
I think it is clear that love for God is the reason for one’s striving to frequently visit the house of the Lord. But the second commandment demands the same—to love our neighbor. Where else can we give our attention to what is most beautiful in a person? In a store, in a movie theater, or in a hospital? Obviously not. Only in the House of our common Father can we meet our brothers. Our communal prayer is going to be heard by God sooner, too, than a prayer of a proud loner. For Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself said: If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18:19-20).
In church we distance ourselves from the hustle and bustle and are able to pray both about our own troubles and about the entire universe. In church, we pray to God asking Him to heal the diseases of our relatives, to free the captives, to preserve the travelers, to rescue to perishing. In church we are also in communion with those who have left this world but have not left Christ’s Church. Whenever the departed visit the living they beg them to pray for them in churches. They say that every such a commemoration is like a birthday to them, but we often neglect that. Where then is our love? Let us imagine their condition. They have no bodies, they cannot receive communion, and they cannot do any good deeds (alms), either. They are waiting for support from their friends and relatives, but what they are getting are just excuses. It is the same as saying to your hungry mother: “Please forgive me, I am not going to give you anything to eat, because I badly need a nap”. Do we not know that the church prayer is true food to the departed?
Besides, holy righteous men and women, worthily glorified, await us in the temple. Holy icons allow us to see them, their words are proclaimed during the service, and they themselves often visit the house of God, especially on their feast days. They pray together with us to God, and their powerful hymnology like eagles’ wings bring up the church prayer directly to the Divine altar. And not only people but bodiless angels also participate in our prayer.
People sing angels’ songs (for instance, “Trisagion”), while angels sing along with us (“It is truly meet to bless Thee, O Theotokos”). According to the Church Tradition, an angel always stands over the Altar in the consecrated Orthodox church, sending the prayer of the Church up to God, while a blessed spirit stands at the church entrance, watching over the thoughts of people entering and exiting the church. This presence is rather palpable. For it is not without reason that many unrepentant sinners do not feel good in the temple—it is the power of God rejecting their sinful will and the angels punishing them for their lawlessness. Such people, instead of ignoring the church, must repent and receive forgiveness in the Mystery of Confession and then remember to thank the Creator.