Fr. Pimen's Notes- December 2013
Since I’m on Thanksgiving break from teaching, I wanted to use this extra time I have to share some thoughts that I usually don’t have time to write out:
1. For a decade or so after restoring priesthood and Liturgy to the parish, we used to have a very large majority present for the Liturgy on that second day of Christmas. But in recent years I have been noticing that the participation level has been dwindling. I know that many parishioners will excuse themselves and their children from attendance because of school or work obligations, but we have an obligation to preserve our Orthodox Christian traditions, and also to preserve our constitutional rights as citizens of this country to maintain our unique religious practices. And for the parents who often get very nervous about having their children miss a day or two of classes, I, as a college professor, never hesitate to excuse my students from a class for various and sundry reasons, and I know that missing a class or two is not going to destroy their educational development or ruin their grade. So if that is the case in college where each class really does have much more content than most classes in elementary or high schools, please don’t use the schoolwork as a reason to destroy an important part of our youth’s spiritual year. And even for working parishioners. I realize that some jobs simply mandate that employees must be there each working day. But when I was a lawyer, I would look at my day calendar and make sure that I didn’t schedule appointments on the major holidays of the year (or at least until after services were completed on the morning of the feast). So please try to do that if possible on the really major feasts of the year which includes the second day of Christmas and Theophany which follows shortly thereafter.
We are going to make sure that we include some activities in the parish breakfast that everyone enjoys. Remember, the Nativity of Christ is OUR “престольный праздник” (literally, “alter feast”). Let’s celebrate it for both that reason and, of course, because it is the celebration of the coming of the Christ for our salvation!
2. Several years ago we tried a couple of experiments to see if they would enhance the liturgical celebration of the Nativity (and also of Pascha), while also enhancing the practical family traditions of our parishioners. First of all we moved the Christmas Eve Vigil from 7:30 pm to 6:30 pm in order to follow completely the Church rubric for the services, while also finding a way to complete the services somewhat earlier – especially since most people do have to work or go to school on Christmas Eve. This enables us to finish the Vigil and Christmas “Midnight” Liturgy by 1am, which is a manageable hour to complete the services on this great feast day. This has accomplished the goal of increasing the number of parishioners who stay for Liturgy, who partake of Holy Communion on this great feast, and who are present as we “bless” the church with the hymns of the Nativity at the conclusion of the services. I fervently hope and entreat that you will continue to stay for Divine Liturgy on our parish feast. This is no longer an experiment, but now part of our established parish tradition that has worked well for the parishioners, and also allowed us to be faithful to the services called for on Christmas Eve and morning.
Secondly on both Christmas and Pascha, we have moved up the services for the second day of the feasts (the Sobor of the Mother of God on Christmas and Bright Monday services at Pascha) from approximately 4pm to 1pm on both days. This enables parishioners to actually observe the obligation to liturgically celebrate the services scheduled, and then to return home after faithfully doing so to family dinners or related gatherings that are also part of the celebrations following the long fasts and preparations for the feasts. This has also worked well with almost unanimous approval of the attendees at the services on these two days. My only regret is that I don’t think it has actually brought any increase to church attendance on those days. It is a common concept in Orthodox Christianity, that if there are services held later on a day on which an Orthodox Christian communed of the Holy Mysteries, he (she) should be present at those later services as a continual thanksgiving and doxology to God for His Charity that has allowed us to receive the most holy gift of His Body and Blood on that day. Vespers on Christmas afternoon is only about 35 minutes long, and Matins is about 2 ½ hours long, meaning that the services on Christmas afternoon end by about 4pm, allowing families ample time for dinner, fellowship, and present opening, if that has not already been done. And attending those services (or at least a significant portion of them) allows one to again receive Holy Communion at Divine Liturgy on the second day of the feast. Preparing to receive Holy Communion before Christmas and Pascha should be with the goal of continuing to receive Holy Communion regularly at least through Theophany during the Christmas - Theophany season, and at least through Thomas Sunday during Pascha and Bright Week. I sincerely hope that you will try to do this during the upcoming season of Christmas and Theophany and again at Pascha and during Bright Week.
3. In order to follow the Church’s rubrics for the required services, we will begin the actual Christmas services with a Vesperal Liturgy at 1pm on Christmas Eve afternoon. Later in the evening the Vigil begins (6:30 pm) with Great Compline, since Vespers has already been served. Although many parishioners disregard the Vesperal Liturgy, it is the service at which the most famous Christmas Gospel is read which begins with the words of St. Luke:
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child…..
I encourage all of you to come for this beautiful Vesperal Liturgy which lasts only about 2 hours. We will be finished with Vesperal Liturgy at the latest by 3:15 p.m. giving you until 6:30pm when the Vigil of Christmas begins.
4. Finally, it so sad to see many of you, who so faithfully attended divine services on a regular basis for many years, have now disappeared from church life except perhaps on Palm Sunday, Christmas and Pascha (and even some of you can’t motivate yourselves to attend even those services). I understand how easy it is to get out of the habit of church attendance. And I know that like almost all things that we do in in life, church attendance is a habit learned, or abandoned, and it is difficult to get yourself back into coming to church services once you have abandoned them. But I leave you with these excerpts from a book entitled: “WHY AREN’T YOU IN CHURCH?” written by one Archimandrite Haralambos Vasilopoulos. I hope you will bother to read the following:
I don’t know what relationship you have with the Church. Perhaps you go to church regularly, and perhaps you have been separated from the Church for a long time. Perhaps you don’t attend the Liturgy at all, or come very infrequently, as a special blessing. Possibly, you come only on Great Feastdays: on Pascha, the Nativity, or on Theophany, to get some Holy Water. Yes, perhaps you will have before you weeks, months, and years in which to go to church, and having missed one Sunday service, you may hope in going “later” – or perhaps, robbing yourself [of the opportunity] and finding yourself separated from the Church, you will delay so long that you will not come under your own power, but instead will be carried in… Can you really believe that you will be able to solve your problems on your own, without turning to God? If you but knew what you are denying yourself! But you do not know, and that is the source of all of your woes. (...)
Have you ever heard thoughtless people or people antagonistic to the Church assert that churches are things that priests have invented as a source of profit for themselves? Nothing could be more stupid! By that same logic, ovens are inventions concocted by bakers, hotels are inventions of their managers, and water is an invention of businessmen as a source of making money. However, dear one, if we had no need of food, drink, or sleep, we would not avail ourselves of bakeries, wells or hotels. If we had no need of going to church, people would not build them. It is to satisfy our primal need that churches exist.
Throughout history, people of all nationalities have had a need to attend church. That is why temples, altars, and shrines were erected all over the world, in the most picturesque places on earth. In city centers, on mountain peaks, on lofty banks, on hills and in fields, and on islands – everywhere biblical archaeologists discover magnificent churches. And in those places where human civilization has left its mark, the most magnificent structures are the temples. The Parthenon, the Temple of Solomon, Hagia Sophia, and many others will remain for the ages as architectural marvels.
In our times, there stand, and continue to be erected, countless numbers of churches. Everywhere you see their cupolas, big and small, and you encounter monasteries and chapels. (...) Why? Because we have an unquestionable need of them. They are as necessary to us as is water and air to life. Moreover, as the water and air which we have in such abundance around us are fundamental requisites for our physical existence, so a multitude of churches is a fundamental source of strength needed for one to live life.
Our faith is known as “Orthodox,” which is to say “correctly praising” God. Even our enemies so characterize us, thus conceding that we correctly confess Him. That correctness is something assiduously protected against alien influences, against attempts to mix even a single drop of falsehood into the Truth. We inherited that resolute standing in our Faith from our ancestors, and they knew what it meant to thank God, for they themselves partook of those fruits, and willed them to you and me.
But who are they that do not attend church? Are they not people? Do they not have legs, ears, and heads? My friend, of course they have eyes, legs, and all the rest. Animals also have heads, ears and legs, and [some] much larger [than do people], but that does not make them human beings. One can distinguish a person from an animal not only by external appearance, but by church attendance. If a person does not attend church, he is (no offense meant) like an animal. Consider for yourself: Just like an animal, all week, he is constantly occupied with a search for food, laboring to feed himself and his family. He sleeps, and so does a beast. He eats, and so do dumb creatures. He rests. Four-legged creatures also need to rest. What is the difference between them? The difference is seen on Sunday. A person goes to church, and there stands before God, something animals do not do (…).
We miss many of you who have ceased attending the divine services of the one Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church. We will rejoice to see you at Christmas services, and will pray fervently that if you can make that first step, you can renew the strength and determination to return to active participation in the beloved fellowship of your Christian brothers and sisters.
May God bless you and your families in the coming joyous holy days of the Lord’s Nativity and Theophany!