by: Archpriest Geoffrey Korz, originally from Pravmir.com
In the last few months, Orthodox faithful around the world have experienced the closure of our churches, the prohibition of the public celebration of Holy Week, and the effective ban by bishops and civil authorities in different places on the reception of Holy Communion. In most places, churches have now reopened (at least in part). Yet formal studies and informal observations show that about one-third of those who regularly attended holy services at the start of this year have now become accustomed to staying home on Sundays and feast days, and have not returned to church.
Perhaps good habits have been broken. Perhaps laziness has set in. Or perhaps the lure of Sunday breakfast in bed has proven seductive. But the root of this spiritual falling away traces back to one single self-deception.
“I will return to church when it is safe again.”
Curiously, we don’t hear this same phrase repeated in relation to the purchase of groceries. Grocery stores seem somehow protected from all sicknesses, and remained so throughout the recent worldwide crisis. It seems only churches suffer from this unique level of danger, making them more risky than public transport and dollar stores combined.
Being a Christian has never been safe
At every liturgy in the Orthodox Church, just before the Nicene Creed, the priest shouts, “The doors! The doors!” This dates back to the earliest times, when the doors had to be barred shut to prevent Roman soldiers from entering the churches. This call prevented them from witnessing those who confessed the faith, seizing them, and killing them.
Centuries later, under the Muslim Turks, Crypto-Christians (Muslims in public, Orthodox Christians in secret) attended Liturgy in churches often hidden beneath doors in the floors of their own homes, or in caves. In rural villages, Orthodox priests sometimes posed as Muslim imams just to maintain their cover. If such a village was discovered, everyone – from the old people to the infants – was put to the sword.
Under Communist regimes, faithful Christians would meet in concrete apartment blocks, where priests would baptize children who had been brought by their grandmothers, without the knowledge of the parents – a legitimate excuse for the parents to give to the atheist authorities if the family was ever caught. In the most severe regimes, a handful of faithful would gather outside a city or town for a secret nighttime Liturgy, served by a priest brought in from far away to avoid the prying eyes of local authorities. In all these cases, the faithful knew, if they were found out, the punishment would be a swift execution. Or worse – a slow and painful death in a concentration camp.
Being a Christian was never safe.
“Safety” will never come
In the current climate of madness, many Orthodox Christians have not only shifted from realistic medical precaution to social hysteria. But it seems they have also found social hysteria to be a most convenient cloak for avoiding anything inconvenient or difficult. Have to visit a relative? Not until it’s safe again. Have to finish some difficult job? Not until it’s safe again. And how about going back to church every Sunday morning…?
Brethren, attending the holy services of the Orthodox Church has never been safer than it is today. The truth is, however, it has never been safe to be a Christian. In the catacombs around Rome rest the remains of more martyrs for Christ than live in my home city – over half a million martyrs. Being a Christian and going to church was always a risk for them – and so it will be for every generation of Christians, unto ages of ages.
So please, kindly set aside the idea that you will return to the holy services “when it’s safe”. That day will never come. You will either make up your mind to live as a Christian and return to church, or you won’t.
Read More: Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen?