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Homily for 5/17/09 - Pascha 5 - worship in Spirit and Truth

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  • Fr David Moser
    John 4:5-42 When our Lord met this woman, their remarkable conversation began quite simply with a request for a drink of water, but it did not remain simple.
    Message 1 of 1 , May 17, 2009
      John 4:5-42

      When our Lord met this woman, their remarkable conversation began quite
      simply with a request for a drink of water, but it did not remain
      simple. The request for a drink of water was quickly turned into a
      discussion of the Living Water which is the grace of God by which we
      receive the Life of the Kingdom of God. The woman perceiving only a dim
      reflection of the light of Christ which illumines all mankind, took our
      Lord Jesus Christ for a prophet, a man of God (not realizing yet that
      she was speaking to God become man). She then turned the conversation to
      spiritual things, wanting to discover the true worship of God. How
      different from the Jews was this woman of Samaria. When the pharisees
      asked Jesus a question, it was not out of a desire to know the truth,
      but rather an attempt to trap him in some kind of error. But this woman
      asked simply out of a hunger for the truth. And Nicodemus when he came
      to our Lord at night seeking the truth, went away sad for the truth
      turned out to be difficult, but his woman embraced the sayings of our
      Lord eagerly. Because of her perception of the true light, and her
      fervent desire to know the light more fully, she was called Photini
      (Svetlana in Russian) and is considered among the ranks of the saints.

      One of the things of which they spoke was the true worship of God. The
      Jews held that the only true worship of God was in the temple in
      Jerusalem, while the Samaritans worshipped God on Mount Gerazim. The
      Samaritans were outcasts, halfbreeds, the descendents of Jews who had
      taken non-Jewish spouses. They were not allowed to participate in Jewish
      society, but they did believe and worship the One True God of the
      Hebrews and they too awaited the coming of the Messiah. St Photini asked
      about the proper place in which to worship God and received a surprising
      answer. Our Lord said to her that it was neither in Jerusalem nor in Mt
      Gerazim that God was properly worshipped, but rather in the heart. He
      instructed her in the true nature of God, which is spiritual and pointed
      out that He Who Is spiritual cannot be confined to any single place, but
      rather true worship must be spiritual in nature.

      Now there are those who wrongly interpret this instruction of our Lord
      to mean that our Churches and places of worship are unnecessary. They
      teach that we do not need to set aside a place such as this temple in
      which to worship, but rather that one can worship God anywhere. Others
      maintain that while the gathering of the congregation is good, because
      God is spirit, no great effort needs to be made to beautify the temple,
      but that the place of prayer should be unadorned, plain and simple. Some
      even go so far as to say that it is sinful to adorn the Churches with
      beautiful things. But these are all erroneous understandings of the
      words of our Lord.

      In answering the question of St Photini, our Lord did not condemn the
      temple and the worship of the temple. He did say to her that the Jews,
      because they were the chosen people, worshipped with understanding – in
      other words, they had a superior knowledge of God, however He did not
      condemn the worship of the Samaritans. Our Lord, Himself, went to the
      temple and prayed there. We read in the Gospel that He was often found
      in the temple preaching. Last Sunday we heard of how He was in the
      temple at the pool of Bethesda and there healed a man who was lame 42
      years. And so we know that He did not shun the worship of the temple.
      Rather this instruction about the proper worship of God was about how we
      should approach the places of worship.

      It is not enough just to come to the temple and be present during the
      divine services. It is not enough just to be physically present and
      watch as the priest and chanters perform the service. The Divine
      services are not entertainment, but rather they are prayers, and we,
      when we come to the temple are not spectators to someone else’s prayer,
      but are participants in that prayer. We enter into the public prayer of
      the Church and make that prayer our own. The temple is a place of
      prayer, a place where we gather together. The adornment of the temple
      and the ritual of the Divine services is all meant to become a part of
      our corporate prayer. The icons, the music, the incense, the movements
      of the clergy are not to provide decoration or entertainment, but rather
      they are themselves prayers. And the people are not here as spectators,
      merely to watch and listen while someone else does all the work, but
      rather the people are vital participants, participants in our corporate
      work of prayer.

      And so when we come to the Divine Services, it is essential that we
      enter the temple with a spirit prepared for prayer. We must not only
      engage our outward being in the prayer, by coming to the temple,
      crossing ourselves, venerating the icons, singing the hymns, etc, but we
      must also engage the inner man – our own spirit in prayer. St Theophan
      the Recluse teaches us that: “Prayers are spiritual because they are
      originally born in the spirit and ripen there and are poured out from
      the spirit. Psalms and all other oral prayers were not oral at the very
      beginning. In their origin they were purely spiritual and only
      afterwards came to be clothed in words and so assumed an oral form. … It
      follows from this that … you must act thus: enter into the spirit of the
      prayers which you hear and read, reproducing them in your heart; and in
      this way offer them up from your heart to God as if they had been born
      in your own heart under the action of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” He
      then goes on to teach us a little bit about how to do this: “Ponder
      carefully on the prayers which you have to read in your prayer book;
      feel them deeply, even learn them by heart. And so when you pray you
      will express that which is already deeply felt in your heart.”

      So from this you can understand that prayer is a spiritual work, it is
      something born in the heart and if we would participate in the prayers
      of the Church we must know those prayers. It is necessary to take the
      time to prepare for coming to Church. Before you even leave home to come
      to the Church, consider the saint whose feast is celebrated that day,
      consider the readings from the Gospel and the Epistle, consider the
      hymns that will be sung and the prayers that will be said. Meditate on
      these things, fill your heart and your mind with them. Too often we
      neglect this preparation for our participation at Divine services. On
      Sunday morning we sleep late, and then jump out of bed just in time to
      get washed and dressed and out the door. Or if we do get up early, we
      fill our morning with things which take our mind away from the worship
      of God. We turn on the TV or radio, we read the paper, we fuss with
      doing this or that little chore. And the we jump into the car and as
      soon as it is started turn on the radio to listen to the news or worldly
      music. None of these things are conducive to preparing the spirit to
      pray. Is it any wonder then that the moment you enter the Church it is
      difficult to pray – in fact it is often all you can do just to be there
      and let the prayer wash over you while you are passively taking it all in.

      This is neglect of our spiritual lives. In order to truly prepare for
      the Divine Liturgy, we must begin with the Vigil service the evening
      before where we sing the hymns praising the saint or feast of the day.
      Many of these hymns contain the deepest theology of the Church and we
      are instructed by them in the revelation of God. Then the whole evening
      following the vigil should be spent in doing things that constantly
      direct our mind and our heart towards God. Saturday night is not a time
      for entertainments and parties, but rather a time for prayer, for
      spiritual reading, for meditation on the Divine truths expressed in the
      Gospel. Everything, up until we sleep, should serve to focus our mind
      and heart towards God. Then arising in the morning, we continue the
      attitude of prayer, fixing our mind on Christ and our preparation to
      meet Him. Especially at this time, we should shun those things which are
      worldly and which pull our mind and heart away from Christ. If we do
      this, when we enter into the Church we are immediately ready to
      participate, there is no need to adapt, to “shift gears” but we are
      immediately a part of the prayer.

      When our Lord told St Photini that those who worship God do so in
      spirit, He brought out the importance of our own participation in
      prayer. The Church building itself is a part of our corporate prayer,
      but if that prayer is to be effective in kindling the fire of divine
      grace in our souls, we must participate in it. We must worship God in
      our own spirit, we must engage in the prayers that we say, we must be an
      active part of the worship of God, not just allowing it passively to
      wash over us. It is not our mere attendance at divine services that
      transforms the soul, but rather our participation in those services. The
      first step is attendance – not just physical attendance, but also mental
      and emotional attendance. Let your whole being be present here – not
      just your body. Do not let your mind wander elsewhere but rather engage
      it in the prayer. Then engage your heart as well, having prepared it by
      mediation and prayer at home, when you come to the Church it will
      naturally engage in the prayer and that prayer will then kindle the
      spark of Divine grace. Once that flame of God’s grace begins to burn in
      our hearts, it begins to transform us and to change us so that we become
      like God and so enter into His Kingdom.

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org
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