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.
It’s a question that has bothered me, over my time as a young adult making the effort. You all know that kid in your one discussion class? The one who has an opinion about, um, everything? Always dropping unnecessarily big words that they don’t even properly understand? Convinced they have great insight worthy of sharing at the drop of a hat?
Sometimes, that’s how I felt about reading the Scriptures at a personal level. I don’t think I’m nearly as good at reading and understanding the Scriptures as, say, the priest I see every Sunday who went to seminary and learned how to interpret the Bible. I mean, if understanding Scripture were easy, there wouldn’t be a big talk right after the Gospel reading to unpack what was just said. I didn’t want to become the “that guy” who reads through something incredibly complex and fools himself into thinking he understands it.
And, funnily enough, that fear has shaped a lot of my experience reading through the Scriptures so far. If you flip through my copy of the Bible, you’ll find way more question marks in the margins than anything else. Focused on my lack of understanding, I’ve had the experience of learning some while reading the Bible, but asking and wondering even more.
But it’s not a bad wondering. I’m not at the place where I feel I don’t understand my faith or that the Bible is saying things that surprise me and shock me. It’s a good wondering–it proves that my faith is dynamic, layered, and alive. Sure, there are question marks in the chapters and verses not read in the Sunday cycle of Bible readings, but there are plenty of question marks in the familiar parables as well.
Also–and this may shock you–reading something daily is better than reading something weekly. Honestly, it surprised me–my experience reading the Scriptures consistently has helped color in the gaps between the Gospel narrative provided by only a weekly dip. I promise you, I had no idea how often Jesus “got on a boat and went to the other side” until I started reading Matthew every single day of the week.
But that’s just a casual example: reading the full narrative elucidates the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees, Jesus and his disciples, the people and Jesus Christ. You come better to understand how immediately Jesus starting challenging the law and foreshadowing the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
If you’re like me, you’re reading something for class every single day. If you’re reading something for Classic English Lit on the daily, and you’re not reading Scripture on the daily, which is important to you? Which will have a greater influence on your life? You’re getting to class every day (at least, you’re telling your mom you are)–but you can’t get to church every day, can you?
Me? I watch football literally every. single. day. If I’m not finding a way to actively, intentionally, hungrily engage with my faith on the daily, I’m losing spiritual ground to a game. That’s not good.
So I read the Scripture because I’m quite fearful of what might happen if I don’t. I’ll distance myself from my Lord, keeping Him at a distance and keeping my faith as a static, placid entity that I’ve fooled myself into believing I fully understand. That sounds lazy, irresponsible, and scary. And I want to avoid things like that.
I use MyBiblePlans.com to create my schedule (it’s fully customizable). It uploads directly to my Google Calendar, so I can get handy little notifications on my phone.
11 times in the Morning Prayers; 12 in the Evening Prayers. 5 times in the Trisagion alone.
We throw the word ‘glory’–and it’s kin, glorious and glorified and glorify–around a lot in the Church. That’s not bad–but all too often, we become desensitized to it. I mean, think about how many times during one church service you say, “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.” It’s a big number, folks.
But what does it mean to give glory? So often we see it paired with worship, like in the Evening Prayers: “O Christ our God, who at all times and in every hour, in heaven and on earth, art worship and glorified…” We see it so often at the conclusion of prayers: “…for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”
I think this leads us too easily to lumping ‘glory’ into that with which it’s paired. Worship is a more concrete concept than glory–I know what it looks like to worship something, I can picture it my head, so glorifying something probably looks just like that. God has the kingdom–yep, with God is the kingdom, is Heaven–He has the power–yup, God’s powerful–and He has the glory–well, that’s probably just another big impressive thing that God has.
Iconography Painting Transfiguration Of Christ
But glory has more layers than that. I mean, if someone were to ask you “What’s glory? I don’t know this word,” you wouldn’t be able to respond with “Well, it’s a big impressive thing that’s kinda like power and being worshiped.” Not unlike beauty or love, glory tends to be one of those aspects of God that is best understood when you see it, experience it. When you try to define it, you find that you actually know it intrinsically. Glory is essentially “Um, that.” points at glorious thing
Then how can we pray these words, at the beginning of the Trisagion: “Glory to thee, our God, glory to thee?” How can we answer the call of OCF this year, and glorify God in all things (#glorytogod), if we cannot easily construct for ourselves an image of glory, of glorifying?
We must recognize, I think, that our closest attempt to glorifying God is often our helpless outpouring of thanks to Him. The Akathist of Thanksgiving service, rife with glories, typifies this effort for us. Each Ikos has within it a serious of petitions meant to glorify God. From the first Ikos:
Glory to You, Who called me to life,
Glory to You, Who have shown me the beauty of the universe,
Glory to You, Who have opened before me the sky and the earth as an eternal book of wisdom,
Glory to the eternity of You, in the midst of the world of time,
Glory to You, for Your hidden and evident goodness,
Glory to You, for every sigh of my sadness,
Glory to You, for every step of my life, for every moment of joy,
Glory to You, O God, unto ages of ages.
It is a thanking of God, but a transcendent thanking; the capstone of all thanks that can be given. Consider the things for which God is glorified: giving the speaker life itself, moments of joy, sighs of sadness, the beauty of the universe, all goodness. Can proper thanks be given for these things? Likely not. So, glory is given.
God is glorious, magnificent, beautiful–there’s nothing in that realm of glory that we can give Him. We give God glory because we need to thank Him, to honor Him, as the pinnacle of deference and gratitude. And again, God doesn’t need that from us–He doesn’t need anything from us. It is for our sakes that we give glory to God.
If we did not, there would be no purpose to our lives, no meaning to our breaths. Our world, a product of happenstance and coincidence and cosmic mush, would act upon us, and through our misguided and feeble human attempts to interpret it, we would fall into damnation and hopelessness.
Glory to God, for communion with Him is the purpose of our very existence. Glory to God.
Sup team! My name is Benjamin Solak, and I’ll be your Publications Student Leader for OCF 2017-2018!
Wait…didn’t you do this job last year?
And they gave it to you again?!
I’m as surprised as you are, dear reader.
Okay, so what’s the plan for the blog this year?
A lot of super cool stuff. After our Blog Contributor program went super well last year, we look to be reviving that this year, starting in October, with a couple familiar faces, and some new ones too. If you’re interested in being a Blog Contributor, or if you’re unfamiliar with the program, you should email me at email@example.com.
We’ll be looking to engage the community in an even bigger way this year. The loveliest part of the OCF Blog is that it is an ongoing, national effort of OCF. It allows OCFers from Nebraska and New York to connect with those in Nevada and North Carolina. Anytime there is a College Conference, Real Break trip, Regional Retreat, District Retreat, Day of Prayer activity, Day of Light activity, OAM challenge–anything–I want to hear about it! If your chapter has done something cool and you think the blog should know, you should email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you just thirsty for emails because they make you feel important?
Oh, most definitely.
Do you have anything else in the works for us to know about?
Okay, what else CAN you tell us?
I’m a third-year student at the University of Chicago (which is in Chicago. Sometimes people ask me that.) studying Comparative Human Development. I’m an unhealthy football fan, and I cover the Philadelphia Eagles for a site called Bleeding Green Nation, and college football and the NFL Draft with NDT Scouting. I run when my knee doesn’t hurt and complain when it does. Sometimes I pace myself, and eat the entire package of Chips Ahoy Chewy in two sittings.
I can also tell you that the mission of this blog is to magnify exposure. Whether it’s something done in the OCF that merits the eyes of the national body, or if it’s you, and how the OCF blog can assist your spiritual growth and enrich your college life. The four pillars of OCF are fellowship, education, worship, and service–and all four of those will be highlighted throughout the year, that the multiple and international efforts of OCF may always present to you a full body of the church.
I run the blog, but the blog isn’t about me, it’s about you–and, not unlike Horton the elephant, I mean what I say and say what I mean. As your OCF year enters full swing, I’m excited to be right there with you.
What a guy.
Oh stop, you.
Read on for a post about chapter meeting and activity ideas that incorporate the four pillars of OCF!
Surprise of the day: university is a challenging experience. For some people, these years are the most trying of their life so far. We all know that balancing countless assignments, family responsibilities, a social life, extra-curricular activities, a part-time job, figuring out future plans, etc… can bring us to a breaking point.
So, when Sunday morning comes along, I know many of us are tempted with the possibility of sleeping in, or taking a few hours for a much-needed break. I know! I have to force myself out of bed on a Sunday morning, exhausted from a week’s worth of schoolwork and thinking about how unprepared I am to sing in the choir and teach my Grade 1 and 2 Sunday School class.
But, through it all, those two hours on a Sunday morning give me hope. Those two hours on a Sunday morning, if I allow them, shift my focus and bring it back to where it needs to be. Those two hours are worth far more than any earthly obligation.
The joy that we receive each Sunday when we meet Christ at the chalice cannot compare to any earthly responsibility, accomplishment, or treasure. Liturgy is the closest we will ever get on this earth to heaven. You and I both understand how important this is.
Why then, do we arrive to Liturgy late and leave early? Why do we shove it somewhere on our weekly to-do lists? Why do we go to church and think about other things the whole service, barely noticing that the great Mystery that is unfolding before us? I, for one, am so guilty of everything on that list. Life is difficult, and no one is perfect.
I pray that even, during all the busyness of this world, we will never forget that the Liturgy is a great gift that God has given us. The priest, during the anaphora, says these words that always catch my attention: “We also thank You for this liturgy which You are pleased to accept from our hands, even though You are surrounded by thousands of Archangels and tens of thousands of Angels, by the Cherubim and Seraphim, six-winged, many-eyed, soaring with their wings.” May we never forget to thank God for the church services He has given us.
I think that the first step to thanking Him is being there, not only being physically present but also present with our whole being. Next time you attend Divine Liturgy, I encourage you to consider the words of the Cherubic Hymn, a hymn that many of us have heard our whole lives. It begins with the following words: “We who mystically represent the Cherubim.” I have also heard: “We who mystically image the Cherubim.” Regardless, when you pray this hymn you understand that what happens during the Divine Liturgy is absolutely awe-inspiring, and beyond comprehension.
There is nothing on earth higher, greater, or more holy than the Divine Liturgy; nothing more solemn, nothing more life-giving.” – St. John of Kronstadt
I don’t want to pretend that I am perfect, or have my life completely figured out, because really I don’t. For now, the best advice I could honestly give you, from one typical student to another, from one Orthodox Christian to another, is this: church should not be one part of our life, it should be our life. Maybe it seems like a very basic reminder, but sometimes we all forget that church needs to be our number one priority, because someday that party isn’t going to matter, the grade you got on that midterm isn’t going to matter, but your faith will.
Finally, for those of you right now who are struggling with studying for midterms (I know I am) or facing any other trials, I would like to leave with you one of my favorite Bible verses:
Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. – John 14:27
Anastasia Lysack in her third year of her Music degree at the University of Ottawa. She attends Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church in Ottawa, where she teaches Sunday School and sings in the choir. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, volunteering, and visiting just about any coffee shop in the city of Ottawa.