There is no substitution for corporate, congregational worship. I have gone seeking such, for I am fairly introverted on a good day and misanthropic on a bad day. And there is no substitute for meeting together. So, when I was sitting listening to friends describe how a couple now “just don’t bother going to church” I woke up from my post Christmas slumber.
Said something like you have to worship together. If the place you are at does not work, find one that does. If you are a minister and not fed, find a place you can sit your tail in a pew and listen. Find fellowship.
Because you can’t expect to do this by yourself. You are not asked to do it by yourself. Christ has adopted us. May the holy Spirit today and every day renew us.
who hast given us thy only-begotten Son
to take our nature upon him,
and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin;
Grant that we being regenerate,
and made thy children by adoption and grace,
may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit;
through the same our Lord Jesus Christ,
who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit,
ever one God, world without end.
The text today includes a prayer said by Anglicans in particular in the evening. The old Book of Common Prayer is part of our treasury, and at this time, we need to recall that once we have Christ, we can say this with sincerity. All that follows is witness and service.
LORD, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations.
62 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
and her salvation as a burning torch.
2 The nations shall see your righteousness,
and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons”. 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
33 And his father and his mother marvelled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.[b] She did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favour of God was upon him.
I should praise God more. Despite the fear, despite the propaganda, I was able to worship with face uncovered on Christmas Eve and I was able to meet with my friends today. The social distancing rules are relaxed. But in other places this is not the case. And there we must stand up, and say we are not sheep, we are not vectors of infection, but we are children of God. And we worship him by his rules, not ours.
Those rules, as this Priest pointed out when his local ordinance demanded masks during worship, are not made by man.
When we come to church to attend the Divine Liturgy, we come to the House of God, to participate in the Lord’s Supper that He so graciously provides for us every time. And the Greek word “Eucharist” literally means “thanksgiving”. Once we cross the threshold of the church, we exit the world of the profane and enter into another reality – into the world of sanctity. Once we hear the words “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit….” we are no longer in Omaha, Chicago, or New York, but we are in the Heavenly Jerusalem – in the presence of the Living God, at the Supper of His Only-begotten Son, and in the Communion of the Holy Spirit. Our Loving God has invited us to the feast, and if we come to His Supper with fear that He will infect us with any kind of disease, and we demonstrate it by wearing a mask (like robbers do), we will insult Him in front of everyone, like that germophobic guest insulted you in front of your relatives and friends on Thanksgiving dinner.
When we come to church, we are called to stand before God face to face, like “the Lord spoke to Moses face to face” (Genesis 33:11). After Moses spoke to God, his face started glowing, and it was not easy for the people to look at its radiance. That is why Moses wore a veil over his face when he would speak with people. “But when Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he took the veil off, until he came out” (Gen 33:34).
This phrase “face to face” is used very often in the Holy Scriptures and it always signified openness, sincerity, trust and acceptance. Even today when we speak about an important, decisive meeting we say: “We will meet face to face.”
The emphasis on a face in the Scripture is always an emphasis on a personhood. Our face is the most important feature of our person – of who we are. We are recognized by our face before God and before people. We are created in the image of God, and that image must stay unaltered for us to be who we are. When we cover our face, we are just one of the crowd (from the submissive heard) and we lose our personhood, which is in direct contradiction to God’s image in which we were created.
Almost every litany in the Orthodox Church ends with petition: “Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us O God, by Thy grace”. If we still fear we can get infected at church after saying this, then we outright deny it. I always asked myself, why did our Savior say those words: But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Matthew 18:8). But now I see that it is not an exaggeration at all. Millions of Christians have surrendered to the “new normal” without any fight and they demonstrate their spiritual desolation and allegiance to the new COVID religion by their behavior.
As I’m writing this, social media is full of bombing and despair. It does not matter. What matters is that we are Christs, and if we live or die we will give him the glory.
And this elite, who can’t organise anything good? Do not be them, do not be like them.