On not disdaining the Church of God and the Holy Sacraments

31 August 2022

On 8 August 2022, we published an article entitled ‘Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord’. In it, the author says: ‘We might wonder whether we’re worthy to ascend Mount Tabor at all’. This is a feeling dealt with- among other things- by Saint John Chrysostom in his ninth discourse on church attendance, an excerpt from which follows.

The churches which God has established in cities are like harbors in the sea; spiritual havens where we find indescribable spiritual peace when we reach them after having been tossed about by the turbulence of the world. And just as a harbor with neither wind nor waves offers safety to the ships moored there, so the church saves those who visit it from the storm of life’s cares and enables the faithful to stand safely and listen to the word of God in great calm.

The church is the foundation of virtue and the school of the spiritual life. Just step over the threshold, at any time at all, and you’ll immediately forget all your daily concerns. Go in, and a breath of spiritual air will envelop your soul. This calm induces awe and teaches the Christian life. It sets our thinking straight and stops you dwelling on the things of the present; it leads you from earth to heaven. And if there’s such gain when there isn’t even an assembly for worship, just think of the benefits with which the congregation is inundated when the liturgy’s celebrated and the prophets teach, the apostles preach the Gospel, Christ is in the midst of the faithful, God the Father accepts the sacrifice performed and the Holy Spirit grants his own joy.

In church, the joy of those who rejoice is retained. In church, you find the cheerfulness of those who’ve been hurt, the gladness of the sad, the relief of the tormented and the rest of the tired. Because Christ says: ‘Come to me all of you who are tired and burdened with problems and I’ll give you rest’ (Matth. 11, 28). What more can you desire than that voice? What invitation could be sweeter than this? When the Lord invites you to church he’s offering a banquet, he’s urging you to rest from your labors, he’s bring you relief from your pain. Because he lightens  the burden of your sins. He cures worry with spiritual contentment and sorrow with joy.

There are not many people here today. Why is this? We celebrate the memory of saints, and almost nobody comes to church. It appears that the distance leads people astray into negligence. Or rather, it isn’t the distance but negligence alone that prevents their presence. Because, just as nothing can stop those who are well-intentioned and zealous from doing something, by the same token everything can stop those who are negligent, lazy procrastinators.

The martyrs shed their blood for the truth, and you’re concerned over such a small distance? They lost their heads for the sake of Christ and you don’t want to make the slightest effort? The Lord died for your sake and you disdain him? We celebrate the memory of saints and you can’t be bothered to come to church. You’d rather stay at home?  And yet you have to come, to see the devil defeated, the martyr victorious, God glorified, and the Church crowned.

‘But I’m a sinner’, you say, ‘and I don’t dare look at the saint’. Precisely because you’re a sinner, you should come here, to become righteous. Tell me any person who’s without sin… Or perhaps you don’t know that those who stand before the holy altar have also committed sins? This is why God arranged for priests to suffer from certain passions, as well: so that they can understand human weakness and forgive others…

What madness and irrationality it is that if we hear of a harpist, dancer or some such we’re all more than happy to hurry off  and be entertained. And we spend half our time attending only to them. It’s only when God talks to us through the prophets that we yawn, scratch ourselves and lose our train of thought. And at the horse-races, even though there isn’t a roof to shelter the spectators from the rain, most people run there like mad, even if it’s pouring with rain, even if the wind’s blowing it in their faces. They don’t care about the storm, the cold nor the distance they have to go. Nothing will keep them at home. But if it’s about going to church, rain and mud are an obstacle. Ask them about Amos or Obadiah, how many prophets there are or apostles, and they can’t open their mouth. Talk about horses, though, or charioteers sophists and orators and they’ll tell you all the details. Tell me, how is that acceptable?

I’ve urged you time and again not to go to the theater. You heard but didn’t listen. You still go to the theater, ignoring my words. Don’t be ashamed; come back and listen again. You’ll say, ‘I heard but didn’t do as I was told. How can I now come back  and listen?’. You didn’t listen? All the more reason to comeback. Come, listen again and this time, try and apply it. If you put ointment on a wound and it doesn’t heal it, will you not put more on the next day? If a wood-cutter wants to cut down an oak and doesn’t manage to do so with one stroke, won’t he strike it a second, fifth, tenth time? Do the same.