Saturday, September 23, 2006

Are you ready?

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

From this morning’s Gospel Lesson (Luke 5:1-11) we heard our Lord’s famous invitation to the fishermen, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men”. When I was growing up, my Dad loved fishing and sometimes took me along. However, there was a rule in our house that said, “You catch it, you clean it!” No one was allowed to have the fun of fishing and then just come home and dump the catch in the kitchen sink for the woman of the house to clean. Come to think of it, it was probably my Mom who made that rule! At any rate, if you caught a fish, you were responsible for cleaning it and making it ready for the table.

The Church takes similar responsibility for her “catches”. When someone comes to faith in Christ, the Church assumes the obligation to “clean” that person and make them fit for the Lord’s Table. When you consider the “catch” she must work with (i.e. you and me), you realize what a tremendous work it is that the Church must accomplish over the course of our lifetimes! We come to Christ confused and darkened in our thinking, strangers to God, and in love with the lusts and pleasures of the flesh. Even within the Church we find ourselves reluctant to change that, and tend to resist our own healing. We must overcome that and allow the life of the Church to purify us and grant a measure of noetic illumination so that we might enter into a true communion with the Blessed Trinity, lest we forever remain strangers to God. The long and difficult work of the Church therefore is to help make us ready for heaven.

With that thought in mind, I have a question for you. How do you know if you are ready for heaven? Should the Lord appear at this very instant, would He know you as a friend of God ready to enter His kingdom, or view you as a stranger? Is there some way to find this out beforehand so that we might better prepare ourselves?

Actually, there is. According to many of our Holy Fathers, you can find out right now if your soul is ready for heaven. According to them, all you have to do is visit heaven and see. OK. How do we do that, and can I get a return ticket just in case I find out I’m not quite ready?

Well of course what the Holy Fathers are speaking of is the Church. The Church is the outpost of heaven on earth, and the place where the eternal divine worship of heaven takes place on our plane. What we do here is a mirror of what is continually happening in heaven. If you want to find out if you are ready for heaven, simply go to church and see how your soul reacts to the experience.

If you come to church with expectation and hope—having done the best you could in the previous week to glorify God in your life; actively denying yourself for the sake of obedience to God; preparing yourself with watchfulness and vigilance, with prayer and fasting—then perhaps you are ready for heaven, and when you enter into church, your soul will ascend into the heavenlies and will find itself right at home in the joy and contentment of the worship of your God.

However, perhaps this is not your experience. When I was a little kid I always wanted to fly like Superman and yet, despite having a really cool cape improvised from one of my Mom’s bath towels, I never seemed to get off the ground very far. I would leap and jump but in the end, gravity always seemed to win and I remained disappointingly earthbound.

Is this your experience in worship? Do you have trouble getting off the ground? Perhaps you wander in without any particular sense of expectation or direction, having not taken the time to prepare yourself for a heavenly experience. Rather than ascending into heaven, you many find yourself stuck here on earth, with your mind wandering all over the place, distracted by the children or the people around you, or thoughts of what you’re going to do this afternoon. If you have not properly prepared yourself, you may find that you become bored and restless, or feel like the services are simply way too long. According to the Fathers, these are the unmistakable indications that our souls are not yet ready for heaven.

The thing of it is, we need to pay attention to these indicators and realize that the problem is not with the Church’s worship but with us. We are the ones whose eyes are clouded by the cares of life, or fussy concerns with our comfort or convenience. We may not yet behold God in the way that causes the heavenly hosts to cry out to Him unceasingly, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come!”

Does that sound rather boring and repetitious? It is not, and I’ll tell you why. What the heavenly hosts are experiencing is the continual unfolding of God’s self-revelation. God is limitless, and with each new revelation of His love, His mercy, or the beauty of His divine being, the hosts of heaven are amazed anew and cannot help but cry out to Him with voices of praise never ending. They very much enjoy a dynamic experience of God, and their praise is spontaneous and genuine, not mindless like a broken record.

You see, if we are too inconsistent in our Christian life to pursue God, we are very likely missing out on seeing Him as the hosts of heaven do. We fail to behold His beauty and majesty. Because of this, we do not understand the worship of heaven and can’t relate to it. We find it tedious, monotonous, and boring. Perhaps then we skip matins, come late to liturgy, and can’t wait to leave. We may have become typical Orthodox Christians in that regard, but according to the Fathers, we are still very far from being true Orthodox Christians.

If we want to be able to enter into heavenly worship on Sunday, that work really needs to begin on Monday. It is important that we pay attention to the details of our Orthodox life all week long, learning to pray as the Church teaches us, keeping the fasts, praying over our meals, and building an awareness of the presence of God in our lives through daily thanksgiving to Him. It is important that we read the scriptures and Orthodox books so that we can have something else in our heads besides our own thoughts all the time. It is important that we be vigilant, lest laziness overtake us, and watchful, lest we succumb to secret or careless sins.

In other words, Orthodoxy should become for us a way of life; the guide and definition of how we experience God and come to know Him. By this way of life we can be cleansed of every impurity and be granted a degree of illumination that allows us to begin to see God in our lives and experience His living presence. When this begins to happen, the worship of heaven will start to reverberate much more within our being. The “work” of worship will become less tedious and more joyous. We will stop being indifferent or coming to church late, because we will be eager to enter into heaven itself in the divine services.

Let us not forsake this work, for brothers and sisters, God loves us and desires that we know Him and share in His divine life. Let us work toward that goal until zeal for the Lord’s house consumes us and we find true joy in His worship and develop souls that are right at home in heaven. Blessed be the Lord who graciously grants us this opportunity!

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


At 9/24/2006 4:46 AM , Blogger Trevor said...

In general, I agree with what's said here. One thing I'm still trying to figure out, though, is how the complexities of interpersonal relationships fit into things like worship, personal growth, and even salvation--things that as an Evangelical I used to understand primarily as individual matters. (Not that others were excluded from the process, but it was essentially a me-and-Jesus pursuit.

The most frustrating area where I'm trying to get a better grasp is with regard to my own conversion to Orthodoxy. One troubling dimension is the way that my wife's distaste for Orthodoxy complicates my own journey; the other is how my fate seems to lie in the hands of a priest, who chooses the timing of my conversion. I'm starting to get a better sense of how this all works together, but it's still frustrating.

Another area where this kind of thing happens comes to mind in relation to this homily. For a single person, I can see where all of this works well. But for those of us with families, it doesn't seem quite so straightforward. So, for instance, if I am spiritually prepared and long to be in the courts of my God, if I want to be waiting outside when the doors of the church open, well and good. But what if my wife does not feel the same way? What if I have small children who might do OK through all of DL but probably couldn't make it all the way through matins as well? What if my parish only has one service per week? What if, as in my situation, my wife wants nothing to do with Orthodoxy, so I divide my time between her Evangelical church and Orthodox services, even though I'd rather be Orthodox all the way?

Is this yet another case where God responds to the desire just as he would to the fulfillment?


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