January 28, 2011

On Church Attendance and Understanding What Is Being Said

By St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite

Why Go To Church If You Don't Understand What's Going On?

The devil, wanting to prevent some Christians from not going to church, puts even this supposedly blessed thought into their heads: "Why would you want to go to church? Even if you go to church with your body, you are not in there with your mind, but outside."

You, however, should not listen to this evil thought, but willingly go to the church of God and strive as much as possible to gather your mind and do not let it run to things of life outside it, so that the following hymn does not apply to you:

"Often, when I stand to sing the hymns, I am found to be committing sins. With my tongue I am singing praises, but with my soul I am considering inappropriate things. But correct both through repentance, O Christ God, and save me" (Aposticha of Sunday Vespers).

If, however, you are in the church with your body, and your mind is scattered outward, do not be upset, but still return to the church and to yourself. And if it runs outside again, then again have it return and gather it in your heart, and do not let it leave from the church.

Beware also, my brethren, of the thought which says: "You're uneducated and ignorant and do not understand the things being said in the church; why then should you go?" An Abba from the "Gerontikon" answers saying that if you do not understand what is being said in the church, the devil understands, and this frightens and scares him, and will leave you.

I leave you with this, that even if you do not understand everything said in the church, yet much of what is said you do understand and of this receive benefit. I will also add that if you frequently go to church and hear the divine words, this frequency will in time make you understand that which you did not understand before, as Chrysostom says, because God, Who is watching your willingness, will open your mind and illuminate it to understanding.

How Can We Guard That Which Benefits Us By Attending Church?

In what way can you guard immaculately outside the church that pure thing which you received within the church? I will tell you: if you always remember that which you heard and learned in the church.

Indeed in this way you can guard all the pure and pious things you received from the church if you attend often and refresh yourselves with new teachings leading you towards the good, illuminating your mind with the light of divine knowledge, warming your will and your heart with the love of the Lord's commandments. For as clothing is not dirtied the more often it is washed and as plants are not dried up as long as they are watered, so also the Christian, the more often he goes to the church of Christ and is washed and watered with the spring of divine instruction, he will keep clean and not be contaminated, nor will the fruit of his virtues and piety dry up, but will increase day by day bearing immortal fruits worthy of the warehouse of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Therefore, do not imitate, my brethren, that crow which Noah sent from the Ark to see if the flood waters stopped and it did not return because it sat on the corpses and ate. No, but imitate the dove which he sent and returned again to the Ark because it did not find rest anywhere, since there was much water left upon the earth.

Today also the entire world is filled with the flood waters of sin and passions and the suffering Christian soul cannot find rest outside the holy church, which is a place of refuge and salvation.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos