This past Saturday, our Church opened its doors for the local “Saints and Sinners Tour”. People from all over our community and the surrounding area have the opportunity to visit various churches, learning about their faith and practice.
We have been a part of the “Saints and Sinners Tour” for many years and it continues to grow in numbers each year. This year we hosted many, many people as we gave tours continuously for around 5 hours.
As in the past, people begin to comment on our Church as soon as they enter it. I hear the same comments each year: “Wow, I feel the presence of God in this place!” “Oh my, what a holy place this is.” “Being in here takes my breath away.” All that before any tour ever begins.
I confess that I have those same feelings every Sunday as I enter the Church long before our services begin. I have been here many years, but the feeling never changes. What is amazing is that I have a similar feeling when I enter other Orthodox Churches. I remember entering one small Church over in Greece and immediately had the overwhelming desire to get down on my knees and pray.
This feeling of being in the presence of God, of being in a holy place, should be the norm for a Church. Our spirit ought to be moved without anyone else being there, no music, no preaching…just the presence of our God. Our spiritual eyes are opened to the beauty of His House…our spiritual ears are opened to the peace that passes understanding…we smell the smell of the holy…all our spiritual and physical senses are suddenly made aware of where we are the holy ground upon which we are standing.
This feeling that comes over people as they enter a Holy Orthodox Church is not something new or different. As most of you know, Orthodoxy is not into change… it has remained the same Faith for centuries. The Faith that was handed down from Christ to His Apostles was then handed down to their disciples and they in turn handed it down to their disciples…and so on through the generations until today. You may have heard the joke: “How many Orthodox does it take to change a light bulb?” The answer from the Orthodox perspective is: “Change…what’s change?”
When it comes to the very Church itself being a Holy place… that too is nothing new…it hasn’t changed through the centuries. In 1 Corinthians 3, St. Paul describes the Church as being a sacred place and as being the very Temple of the Holy Spirit. (He is not referring to individual believers but to the Church. He discusses the individual believer being the Temple of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 6.)
Listen carefully to these wonderful words from St. John Chrysostom in the 4th Century as he describes the Church:
“Just as a calm and sheltered harbor provides great security to the ships moored there, so does the Temple of God. When people enter it, it snatches them away from worldly affairs as from a storm and gives them the capacity to stand and listen to God’s words in calm and security.
This place is the bedrock of virtue and the school of spiritual life. You need only set foot on the threshold of a church and at once you are liberated from the cares of daily life. Go on into the church and a spiritual dew will envelop your soul. The stillness there moves you to awe and teaches you how to live spiritually. It elevates your thoughts and prevents you from remembering things or matters belonging to the present life. It transports you from earth to heaven.
And if there is such great gain from simply being in church when no service is going on, then how much more benefit will people derive from being present when the holy Apostles proclaim the Gospel; Christ stands in our midst; God the Father receives the Mysteries that are performed; and the Holy Spirit gives His own joy.”
Notice that he writes about simply being in a Church when no services are even going on. That is the way it has always been. One senses the very presence of the Holy and we are moved from deep within. Without a word being spoken, some people have their hearts experience a peace and joy unspeakable. Some find themselves desiring a closer walk with our Lord. Others may begin to form tears in their eyes as they know they have been doing things that are not pleasing to the Lord. All of this and more takes place without any sermon being preached. A person simply knows that they are in the very presence of Almighty God.
God’s blessings to each of you throughout this week and as you enter your Church on Sunday morning!! If you don’t have one…perhaps you should consider entering an Orthodox Church this Sunday and see what happens.