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Homily for 5/13/12 - Pascha 5 - sacred places

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  • Fr David Moser
    John 4:5-42 Last week, we talked a bit about the idea of a sacred or holy place – a particular place where the grace of God is especially manifest in the
    Message 1 of 1 , May 13, 2012
      John 4:5-42

      Last week, we talked a bit about the idea of a sacred or holy place – a
      particular place where the grace of God is especially manifest in the
      world. Today in the story of the Samaritan woman we again note that
      there are sacred spaces mentioned. The well at which she met Jesus was
      blessed by its association with the Patriarch Jacob who originally dug
      the well. Also, during their conversation she spoke about Mt Gerazim
      where the Samaritan people worshipped the One true God. This too is a
      sacred place which is only made more sacred by the prayers of the people
      offered there. The woman, who is named Photini (or Svetlana in Russian)
      said to Jesus, “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say,
      that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” wanting him
      to say which was better. Jesus replied, “Woman, believe me, the hour
      cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem,
      worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we
      worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is,
      when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in
      truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and
      they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” In
      saying this Jesus acknowledged that the temple at Jerusalem was the
      better place to worship, for there the worship of God was offered in its
      fullness, but that the true worship of God is not linked to a place, but
      rather occurs “in spirit and in truth” that is in the hearts of men. And
      today when a Christian visits Jerusalem, he will visit many sacred
      places – but he does not always visit the temple. Rather, first and
      foremost on his list is the Holy Sepulcher. Here where our Lord rose
      from the dead trampling down death by death is the most sacred place for
      Christians. No longer do we worship at the temple in Jerusalem, but at
      an empty tomb, the place where our Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled the
      worship of the temple, freed us from sin and death, and lifted us up
      with Himself into the presence of God.

      We come to this place, this parish church, to worship God together,
      however, there are those who worship in other churches and some who feel
      that they can worship God at home or in nature and they don’t need any
      particular place. It would seem that the answer of Jesus to St Photini
      would support this idea that we don’t really need churches, that we can
      worship God anywhere and that is indeed true, if, in our hearts, we
      commune with God, then we can and do offer Him worship no matter in what
      place we might be. Why then is it important to come here, to the Church
      and to pray here.

      While it is true that we can pray anywhere, the Church is a place built
      and designed for prayer. It is a space that is set aside for the sole
      purpose of worshipping God and it is made sacred by our prayers that we
      offer here. A surgeon, who was properly trained and who was resourceful,
      could perform even a difficult surgery anywhere – at his home on the
      kitchen table or in the back of a truck or at the scene of an accident.
      He could practice his trade anywhere, but he more often than not chooses
      to do so in a hospital, in an operating theater, with all the
      specialized tools and personnel there to assist him. He does this
      because there in the operating room his skill is at its peak, he can
      work more effectively there than anywhere else.

      An athlete has to continually work out to stay in shape to play his
      sport. He can do this work out almost anywhere – in his home gym, out of
      doors (I recall reading about a college football player who worked on a
      farm baling hay all summer as his off season workout), or almost
      anywhere, and yet he most often chooses to work out at the team’s
      training facility. There his workout is tuned and focused to develop his
      particular skill, there he has the equipment and direction to train his
      body to its maximum potential. He has access to his coaches, his
      teammates, the playbook, the tapes of his play as well as that of his
      opponents and all these things help focus his training to the fine point
      enabling him to play his game at its peak intensity.

      As Orthodox Christians we can pray and worship God anywhere – out in
      nature, at home in our own prayer corner, at any number of other
      churches – but our most effective prayer, the worship that we offer God,
      is best offered here in the Church. Here is our sacred place, the place
      which is dedicated to no other purpose than the worship of God. In this
      place we are surrounded by the saints and they pray with us. In the
      place we are gathered with our brothers and sisters in Christ and our
      prayer is joined with theirs, each one of us fulfilling and
      complementing the prayer of his neighbor. In the Church we are
      surrounded by the grace that accumulates over the years with the prayers
      of generations (and for this reason we always pray not only for
      ourselves but also for the founders and benefactors of this holy
      temple). Here we have the sacraments offered to us. Here the Holy Spirit
      descends upon the Gifts and upon us as those Holy Mysteries of the Body
      and Blood of Christ are received by us. Here our worship takes on a
      fuller and more complete form. We are not saved alone, but as a part of
      the one Body of Christ, united with all those who love God and worship
      Him in spirit and in truth. Here in the Church that unity is made real
      to us and we join ourselves not only to Christ but to the saints and to
      our brothers and sisters who pray with us and together we ascend into
      the presence of God.

      We have, therefore, this sacred place – this little parish Church. We
      can and should pray anywhere and everywhere at all times and in all
      places, but it is to this sacred place that we come to pray most
      effectively, most deeply, most fully in the presence of God. But this
      isn’t just an isolated place for spiritually when we pray here our
      worship is joined with the eternal worship of the angelic host before
      the throne of God along with the prayers offered in all the Orthodox
      Churches throughout the world and through all of time. Here we pray
      alongside the Virgin Mary and the Holy Apostles, alongside St Nicholas,
      and St Seraphim, alongside those who pray in Jerusalem at the Holy
      Sepulcher, or in Russia at the many Churches and sacred places there, or
      with the monks on the Holy Mountain of Athos. This place is joined, in
      spirit and in truth, to all those other places and our prayers here are
      joined to the prayers of all those who pray in all those places so that
      with one voice we offer to God our common worship. Here we truly become
      the one Bride of Christ, offering ourselves to our Bridegroom and
      worshipping Him. This is indeed our purpose, our calling our destiny and
      here in the Church that is fulfilled every time we come here to pray.

      Jesus told St Photini as she was asking about the proper place to pray
      that we who worship God do so “in spirit and in truth”. To worship God
      in this way does not mean that we abandon our sacred places or that we
      do not gather together in them to pray – but what makes our prayer real
      and holy, what makes the place sacred in the first place is not simply
      the sacred place, but the prayers of those who gather there without fail
      over and over again to pray together to join themselves and the place
      that they are to the worship in heaven before the throne of God. In this
      sacred place we ascend into heaven and there we are joined with all the
      saints and the heavenly host as we offer our prayer with one voice and
      one heart glorifying God. This parish Church is our “sacred place” and
      it is made sacred by the grace of God which flows into it and permeates
      it by our prayers.

      --
      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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