4/25/08

Good Friday...

It's been raining off and on, mostly on, for the last two days. The services go on but the attendance has been small. Four last night for the Passion Gospels, one left early, and then a handful today for Vespers. A part of me understands because travel can be tricky around here when the rain falls, and fall it has with flood watches up and down the river. A part of me is sad, though, that these wonderful services are being missed. I think and pray and wonder what can be done to help people see the significance of this week and why taking time out for holy things is important.

I have this feeling that if I'd been giving out Packer's tickets I would've had people crawl through ankle deep mud and stand in the rain to get them. Compared to that two hours of Passion Gospels doesn't seem that exciting. Now I have no intention of jazzing things up a bit, doing one of those rock concert church services, a mile wide and an inch deep with the nurtional value of sugar water, because those things don't work in the long run. But this Holy Week has helped me understand one thing.

Before we Orthodox can expect people to want what we've undeservedly been given we have to want it ourselves. I can remember when the only people outside the chanters at Matins were visitors sitting in a basically empty church. What must be going through their mind as they are searching for a sustenance of soul that even those who "belong" don't seem to want? If all of this is not important to us why should it be important to them? The sad truth is that many converts come to Orthodoxy not because of but in spite of the lethargy of the Orthodox.

This all, of course, sounds pretty bleak. But I've not given up hope. So many Orthodox were horribly catechized and so many have learned the motions of their faith without any of its spirit and joy. They've been accustomed to going through the rituals but the spark of life inside is dim. In a small parish that's spent years in struggle it's even tougher because one could at least justify on asthetic grounds the value of coming to a full church with a full choir and all the smells and bells. But when the rain falls something else must provide the impetus to slog through the wet to gather with a handful of people. And I believe that something is coming.

I see it in the tiny groups of people who do come. They really do want to be there and to sing and serve and worship. There is, within them, that intangible flame in various degrees that gives them grace and energy and hope. And its what I pray for when I think of St. Elias. Everything a church need to grow can be taught, there are libraries of books on evangelism and outreach and finances and strategy. One thing, though, needs to be caught, that undefined and real presence of God that touches hearts and transforms people from within.

Every Sunday before I leave I ask God for revival in the hearts of the people of St. Elias. That is a gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift given like, as Jesus describes it, the wind which blows from one place to another. All we can be is open to it and ready for its arrival.

Soon, Lord, soon...

2 comments:

Mimi said...

Father, bless,

My prayers with you and your parish on this most blessed of feasts!

H and S said...

Fr John, I am hoping to become Orthodox soon, and I go all alone (only occasionally when I am able) to Orthodox services where I don't understand a word (it's in Slavonic), where I don't know anyone, where I know most people are nominal Orthodox so they don't fast or do confession, and where sometimes I have turned up and been the only person there for a while apart from the priest and 2 chanters. Oh, and I'm not supposed to stand in the main part of the Church because I'm not yet Orthodox. I get to stand in or near the foyer. And it does not even slightly weaken my resolve to become Orthodox. I'm just so happy to be there.

This is a feeling so unlike my evangelical protestant denomination, where we'd have considered canceling the service if not enough people turned up, or where we'd be so desperate for new people (and where one new young person is worth five new old people!). When I'm in an Orthodox liturgy, no matter who else is there, I have a very strong sense of being part of a global Orthodox community, and of being in reality a part of the never-ending worship described in Revelation.

You mustn't worry what visitors think. The Holy Spirit has brought them there.

Have a Blessed Holy Saturday!