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Homily for 5/23/10 - Pentecost - use the Church well

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  • Fr David Moser
    Today we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church in tongues of fire. The Holy Spirit did not only descend upon the
    Message 1 of 1 , May 23, 2010
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      Today we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, the descent of the Holy
      Spirit upon the Church in tongues of fire. The Holy Spirit did not only
      descend upon the Holy Apostles but He also descends upon us and fills us
      and lives within us, granting to us the life of the Holy Trinity. On
      this day, the apostles received the fullness of the power and presence
      of God – and so do we. For this reason the feast of Pentecost is
      sometimes referred to as the “birthday of the Church”. Now the Church
      is, of course the Body of Christ – that is you and I in mystical union
      with all the saints in all places and in all times. However sometimes
      when we think of the “Church”, we think of the “temples” in which we
      gather and we build structures in which we try to express this mystical
      heavenly union filled with the Holy Spirit but we must not confuse the
      inner reality with the external symbol. On this, the birthday of the
      Church, I would like to share with you a sermon by St Theophan the
      Recluse on how we properly use the external Church building that we have
      been given so that it strengthens and truly expresses the internal
      Church which is the unity of Christ and the believers filled with the
      Holy Spirit.

      +++

      God gave us a Church – We need to make use of it as we should

      So, your labors and cares in the construction of another needed church
      are complete. Thanks be to God for such a gift! I say a gift because,
      even though you had quite a bit of work, what could you have done if it
      had not been for God! In rendering help in unexpected troubles as well
      as in everything else, haven't you felt His imminent helping hand?
      Openly proclaiming the gift, what shall we give the Lord, our
      Benefactor, in return? Let us give what is due to His intent, by using
      the gift, namely:

      1. The church was not built to be an external, empty witness of good
      order, but to be always filled with those for whom it is designated. And
      this places on you the obligation to be present in this church for all
      services established by the rule [typicon]. Having taken vows to labor
      for God in prayer and ascetic labors, you, of course, do not intend to
      indulge your laziness in this regard. Don't be tempted by any of the
      attractive pretexts common to workers like yourselves, In the first
      place, don't allow the urge to miss this or that Divine Service tempt
      you because of a need to complete necessary work. Remember that any work
      cannot be successful if God's blessing is not upon it, and that blessing
      must be called down from Heaven. By which means? And where? Through
      prayer in church. When the blessing has been sought, one hour takes the
      place of a whole day's labor; but without the blessing everything falls
      apart and gets mixed up, and the day goes to waste. I think you have
      already had a lot of experience with this. Do not incriminate yourselves.

      Secondly. don't be tempted to yield to the artificially attractive idea
      of staying in your cell (or at home) while the others are going to
      church, out of the wish to pray with a little more fervency in solitude.
      Aren't there other times for solitary prayer than the hours set aside
      for common prayer? If so, then pray alone at those times. You must
      always go to the common service established by the rule. Here, in
      assembly, prayer is warmer and more fervent, and always more fruitful.
      Where two or three are gathered in My name, says the Lord, there am I in
      the midst of them (Matthew 18:20), and where there is God, there is
      every spiritual good. What a pity that some people deprive themselves of
      this treasure! Doesn't it happen that some who stay in their cells not
      only miss the common prayer but also don't manage to pray at home, and
      in this way do two wrongs – break the rule and harm themselves as well?
      Therefore, isn't it better to set yourself a rule once and for all,
      never to yield to such a thought?

      Thirdly, don't be tempted to indulge yourself in not coming to church at
      the beginning of the service or leaving before it is over. Remember,
      each service is a complete unit and it can provide its full benefit only
      in its entirety. Just as food is tasty only when it is fully seasoned,
      so the service can completely satisfy the spiritual taste only when it
      is heard in full. Thus, he who misses the beginning or does not remain
      until the end is laboring, but he deprives himself of the fruit of his
      labor – or, he creates with one hand and destroys with the other. So,
      having built, decorated and consecrated this church, go to it without
      fail, rejecting all false pretexts-and this is of primary importance.

      2. Further, one must go to church not inattentively, but as one should.
      It is always possible that one may go to church not in a way worthy of
      praise but rather of condemnation, i.e., by going and not receiving any
      spiritual benefit. Everything in this regard can be converted by the
      following rules: at the first stroke of the bell, you must drop any
      work, and prepare your soul for prayer in church, reciting the prayer
      "Virgin Mother of God, rejoice!" or "Heavenly King," "Our Father," or
      some other such prayer. Approaching the church, you must leave every
      care and worry about your affairs at the threshold in order to enter
      with a serene mind. Entering the church, you must put on reverence like
      a garment, remembering to Whom we are coming and to Whom we intend to
      address our prayers. Having taken your place in church (best of all, the
      same place each time), you should gather your thoughts and mentally
      stand before the face of the omnipresent God, offering Him reverent
      worship in body and spirit, with a contrite heart and in humble
      reverence. After this, you must follow, without wandering thoughts,
      everything that is going on – what is being sung and read in the church
      – all the way to the end of the service. That is all! In this way, we
      won't be bored in church, looking here and there and starting
      conversations, and we won't be wishing that the service be over soon.
      Instead, passing from one prayerful feeling to another and from one
      reverent thought to the next, we will be like those in a fragrant
      garden, moving from one group of flowers to another. Consequently,
      spiritual warmth, which is the fruit of attentive prayer, will fill our
      hearts with ineffable sweetness, which won't allow us to notice the
      physical hardship of standing and will make every service short. On the
      other hand, one who is inattentive to what is taking place in church,
      who dreams of empty things and activities, doesn't help those matters
      but wastes the time of prayer. He upsets himself and deprives himself of
      the fruit of prayer, which is, so to speak, ready to be put into his
      hand. May the Lord deliver you from this sin!

      3. Using church services as we should, we will gain, little by little,
      the main thing for which these visible churches are given to us - that
      is, continuous mental prayer to God in our heart, which makes of our
      heart a temple of God not built by human hands. The commandment to pray
      has been given us by the holy Apostles; all the holy ascetics have
      striven after it. We will be ashamed if, having established this
      external church, we don't take care to establish the internal Church for
      which the external church actually exists. What is the use of having a
      tool and not knowing how to use it to do that for which it is made? The
      one who comes to all the services without fail and listens to them as he
      should can easily attain this priceless spiritual good. ... He doesn't
      have to add much to this labor of uninterrupted attendance at church;
      but he must take care to preserve unextinguished the warmth of heart
      which is ignited in church through preservation of attention, by which
      his soul is blessed in church. And for this, he must enjoy [sitting
      alone in his cell (except for necessary work)], frequent worship of God
      [before the icons], [sometimes] reading the Word of God and patristic
      writings, and, most importantly, acquiring the habit of continuously
      repeating the short but powerful prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,
      have mercy on me" Through these labors, the soul will be sanctified more
      and more with the blessed presence of God, which raises the mind to God
      and lifts the heart with delightful sighing; this, really, is
      uninterrupted prayer.

      I wish you most of all this gift of God as a reward for your labor.
      Having established and decorated this dwelling place of God, be
      yourselves established within it, the spiritual temple, to offer
      sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (I Peter 2:4-5). Amen.


      --
      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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