You know how some churches have a sign out front that says, “Come as you are”? I think it’s usually sort of code for, “Don’t worry, you don’t need to dress up.” But really, “come as you are” should mean just this. Come as you are–not only in your external appearance but in the core of your being. How beautiful it is that the Church truly means this when she says it! The Divine Liturgy does not require you to be in a good mood or to be happy with God or for you to completely understand every teaching of the Church or for you to be a “good” person.
But I know how it works. We listen to all sorts of excuses that pass through our minds of why we can’t or won’t or shouldn’t go. Well, to counter those temptations, I’d like to give you some reasons to come, of why the liturgy is for you.
Did something wonderful just happen in your life? Come, rejoice! The liturgy is for you.
Are you having a horrible week? Come, and like the psalmist, ask God, “How long will you forget me, Lord?” The liturgy is for you.
Are you struggling to concentrate during prayer? Come, breath in the incense even if the words rush pass you. The liturgy is for you.
Have you overcome temptation even once this week? Come, give thanks to God for giving you strength. The liturgy is for you.
Are you bearing a heavy cross or a deep fissure in your heart? Come, let your weight be lightened by Christ’s love. The liturgy is for you.
Have you been at church every week? Come, let your heart beat in sync with the rhythm of prayer. The liturgy is for you.
Has it been a long time since you’ve come to worship? Come, let your heart be reformed by the patterns of praise. The liturgy is for you.
Do you feel like you can never be or do enough? Come, to Christ you are precious and beloved, and He desires to make you whole. The liturgy is for you.
Is your life hectic and busy? Come, set aside all earthly cares and just for a moment, enter into the eternity of the Kingdom. The liturgy is for you.
Have you experienced loss and are grieving? Come, Christ joins you in your sorrow and weeps with you at the tomb. The liturgy is for you.
Are you lonely? Come, surround yourself with the great cloud of witnesses, both those who stand before the throne and those who stand beside you. The liturgy is for you.
Are you sick? Come, our Lord comforts and heals the weak in body and spirit. The liturgy is for you.
Don’t really understand what’s going on during the service? Come, for Christ desires all of you, not just your understanding, and in time, He will reveal to you His fullness. The liturgy is for you.
Have you sinned? Come, be reoriented towards the Orient from on High. The liturgy is for you.
I feel as though I could go on forever–there is not one emotional state or level of holiness or amount of intellectual understanding that is required for you to enter into the liturgy. The only requirement is that you are willing to actually face yourself, to let your heart be vulnerable and let Christ’s light reveal the dark corners–that you are willing to walk the journey of repentance and are open to being joined to Christ in love. So come as you are. The liturgy is for you.
I had two of my best friends in my 11th grade physics class, which was a lot of fun. One day, we came in and our teacher presented us all with paper and some masking tape. Our teacher was going to drop eggs from different heights, our task was to build something that we could drop the eggs onto that would prevent the eggs from breaking. My approach was to build a tower and put crumpled up pieces of paper inside of it to absorb the fall.
But one of my friends had a different idea: he built a much smaller tower, about 8 inches tall, and put a curved ramp on the inside with an opening in the tower wall at the end of the ramp. It looked like a quarter-pipe, that you would find in a skate park. The egg would be dropped in the tower, go down the ramp and roll out of the side of the tower. He explained that instead of using his resources to try to stop the egg’s energy, he would simply redirect it into horizontal momentum, which is not harmful for the egg. His tower did better than mine did.
Here’s the bad news: the devil knows well the power of redirection. He sees the gifts that God gives us, and he tempts us in a distinct way. He tempts us to use that the very gifts God gives us, not to move toward Him, but to make us drift further from God. He sees the momentum that our gifts can give us toward spiritual progress, and so he redirects our momentum so it draws us away from God.
Here’s the good news: this means our approach to “fighting” sin doesn’t have to be as complicated as we often make it. We can, through prayer and God’s help, figure out the hidden good concealed in our sins.
For example, if you find that you are too concerned with what people think of you and it is preventing your spiritual growth, there are so many good qualities hidden in this sin that are simply being misused. For instance, if you are simply worrying what people think of you instead of God, redirecting that back to God can help. Also, it shows concern for how your brothers and sisters around you are feeling, which in itself is good, but you are expressing it in a way that is harmful to you. So instead of fighting against this passion directly, your new task is that whenever you find yourself being concerned with what others think of you, try to keep your concern about them, while caring only for what God thinks of you.
More good news: God also knows the power of redirection, and He likes to use the bad things in our lives–whether or not they are brought about by our own doing–for our benefit. When we think back to the worst times of our lives, we often see so many blessings that have come out of them, sometimes because beautiful situations were born out of them, other times because of personal growth. Regardless, it is critical that we recognize these blessings and even thank God for them, because then we can make the most of these redirections.
I pray that we can all look more deeply into the things in our lives, and that we can see them in the ways that will be most beneficial to us. How we see things has a massive effect on what we do about them, so may God help us to see them in the right way.
Paul Murray is a senior psychology major and Spanish minor at Franklin & Marshall College, and he attends Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Lancaster, PA. His home parish is St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in New Kensington, PA, and he has spent the past three summers serving as a counselor at the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh Summer Camp and the Antiochian Village. In his free time, Paul ties prayer ropes and writes descriptions of himself in the third person for blog articles.
Each household has its own set of routine chores that needs to get done. Vacuuming, sweeping, making the beds, doing the laundry, and so on. However, many families will set aside a time for a deeper and more thorough cleaning of the home. Spring cleaning. Spring cleaning is a time to undertake the chores that we don’t make time for on a day-to-day basis.
Great and Holy Lent is the Spring cleaning of our interior lives.
In its eternal wisdom, the Church calendar gives us a yearly preparatory time to take a richer and more holistic examination of the entire universe that is within us.
Each of us has wounds that stretch down deep inside of us; painful experiences, insecurities, fears, jealousies, and many other things that keep us from the eternal Joy of God’s Kingdom. These things can debilitate us, rendering us unable to be as joyful, as loving, and as compassionate as the Lord calls us to be. We make poor decisions, we find it harder to love those that hate us, we stress out and have anxiety, and we miss out on the glory of the Kingdom.
St. Andrew of Crete puts it better than anyone:
I fell beneath the weight of the passions and the corruption of my flesh, and from that moment has the enemy had power over me. Instead of seeking poverty of spirit, I prefer a life of greed and self-gratification. Therefore, O Savior, a heavy weight hangs from my neck.
And this is where it gets really good…
I persist in caring only for my outer garment, while neglecting the temple within me, one made in the image of God.
How much time do we spend worrying about the external world? How much do we care about nurturing social images and external appearances? Unfortunately, our obsession, and I daresay addiction to these things, never strikes us as being abnormal because all around us people are doing the exact same thing.
While we keep busy trying to manipulate everything going on around us, and spend so much energy on our “outer garments”, we completely neglect the temple made in God’s image, that is divinely placed within us.
“The Kingdom of God is within,” the Lord tells us in Luke 17:21. Ask almost any Christian what the goal of the Christian life is, and they will almost certainly say, “heaven.” If Christ, our Lord and our God, says that the Kingdom is within us, why don’t we go there?
We are scared.
We keep our headphones plugged into our ears, we spend hours mindlessly scrolling through pictures and videos of other peoples lives, and we avoid our inner life at all costs because we are uncomfortable with what goes on inside of us. There are thoughts we don’t understand, feelings we cannot articulate, and an entire universe that we do not know how to navigate.
When those things are brought to the surface, we mistakenly think that our problems are outside of us. We blame other people and lash out at them, we spread gossip, and we try to change everything outside of us without ever considering that maybe the problem lies within.
Lent is our time to reorient ourselves and to remember that there is quite possibly more work to be done inside of us than there is to be done outside of us. Maybe a better way to say this would be say that without the internal work of Lent, our external work will be meaningless. St. Paul says it like this:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. –1 Cor 13:1-2
Without the internal work of Lent, we will be unable to love perfectly. If we are unable to love perfectly, then nothing else matters. So we must dig deep, and begin the journey within.
How do we do this? 2,000 years worth of spiritual literature covers this topic. Some of my personal favorites are The Kingdom Within by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, The Roots of Christian Mysticism by Olivier Clement, and Into The Silent Land by Martin Laird. Read up!
Also, making time for silent prayer and reflection is an integral part of our spiritual practice. St. Basil the Great calls silence “the beginning of the purification of the soul.” Turn off the TV, close Snapchat and Instagram, and simply take time to be still. The Psalms tell us to “be still, and know that I am God.”
Just as a family takes the time to clean their home more thoroughly, we as Orthodox Christians take Lent as a time to be more intentional in our spiritual practice, so that we might find deeper healing for our infirmities.
May this Lent be to our spiritual edification and enlightenment. May we answer the Church’s call to dig deeper within ourselves. May we seek the everlasting Kingdom of God within ourselves.
Mark Ghannam is a Junior at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor pursing a degree in economics, and serves as the Vice-President and Head of Clergy Relations for his OCF chapter. In his free time, Mark enjoys reading, rock climbing, and long walks on the beach while discussing Liturgical theology.