On not going to Church

 

The following Homily by St. John Chrysostomos, Archbishop of Constantinople (circa 400 A.D.), has as much meaning in our day as it had in his!

On the Respect Due to the Church of God and to the Sacred Mysteries



Very few have come here today. Whatever is the reason? We celebrated the Feast of the Martyrs, and nobody comes? The length of the road makes them reluctant; or rather it is not the length of the road that prevents them from coming, but their own laziness. For just as nothing stops an earnest man, one whose soul is upright and awake, so anything at all will stand in the way of the half-hearted and the lazy.

The Martyrs gave their blood for the truth, and you are not able to think little of a brief stretch of road? They gave their life for Christ, and you are reluctant to make a small journey for Him? The Martyrs' Commemoration, and you sit in sloth and indifference! It is but right that you should be present; to see the devil overcome, the Martyrs triumphant, God glorified, and the Church crowned with honour.

But, you will say to me, I am a sinner. I cannot come. Then if you are a sinner, come, that you may cease to be one! Tell me, who is there among men without sin? Do you not know that even those close to the altar are wrapped in sins? For they are clothed with flesh, enfolded in a body: as we also who are sitting and teaching upon this throne are entangled in sin. But not because of this do we despair of the kindness of God; and neither do we look on Him as inhuman. And for this reason has the Lord disposed that those who serve the altar shall also be subject to these afflictions: so that from what they too suffer they may learn to have a fellow feeling for others.

How absurd and foolish is it that should a harper, or a dancer, or any one of these kind of people, invite us to his house, we would go there with all haste, and thank him for having invited us, and spend almost half the day there; paying attention only to him. But when God is speaking to us through His holy Prophets and Apostles we yawn, and we scratch, and we turn this way and that!

And at the circus, without a roof above them to keep off the rain, the crowds stand there crazy, the rain pouring down on them, and the wind blowing it in their faces, and they think nothing of the cold or the rain or the distance, and nothing will keep them from going there, and nothing will keep them at home! But to go to the Church, a shower, or the mud on the road, is a serious obstacle!

And if they are asked who were Amos or Abdias, or what was the number of the Prophets or of the Apostles, they cannot open their mouths. But if it is a question of horses, or charioteers, their eloquence surpasses that of the poets and orators. And how, may I ask you, are we to put up with this? I have warned you time and again that you should not go to the theatre. You heard me, but you have not obeyed me. You have gone to the theatre, and taken no notice of my words to you. Are you not ashamed to come now and hear them again?

But, you will say to me, I have heard, and not obeyed; how can I come again and listen? Well this you do understand, that you have not obeyed; and now you are ashamed, you blush, and though no one has corrected you, you have corrected yourselves, you know what I say is true and certain and even without my presence my words yet troubled your conscience. You have not obeyed me? So much the more reason have you for coming to Church, to listen again; and then you will obey.

If you take a medicine, and it does not purify you, will you not try it again another day? Suppose, O Man, a tree-feller wishes to cut down an oak. He takes an axe. Then he cuts the roots. And when he has one blow, and the tree does fall, will he not add another? And a fourth, and a fifth, a tenth? Let you do the same. I am saying these things to you, to not make you still more lazy, make you more alert.

You have entered the Church, O Man; you have been held worthy of the company of Christ. Go not out from it: unless you be sent. For if go out from it without being sent you will be asked the reason; as if you were a runaway. You spend the whole day on things which relate to the body, and you cannot give a couple of hours to the needs of the soul? You go often to the theatre. And you will not leave there till they send you away. But when you come to the Church you rush out before the Divine Mysteries are ended. Be fearful of Him Who has said: He that despiseth anything, shall it be despised (Prov. xiii. 13).

Were you to stand in the presence of the king you would not even dare. But when you stand in the presence of the Lord of all, you do not stand there in fear and trembling, you laugh, provoking him to anger? Do you not see that by this conduct you provoke Him more by your very sins? God is not wont to be as angry against those who sin as against those who, when they have sinned, feel neither sorrow regret.

And you, O Man, standing about in the Church, with a mind only for attractions of the women, are you not horrified, offering such an insult to the temple of God? Do you regard the Church of God as a house of ill fame, and of less repute than the market place? For there you would be ashamed, and afraid, to be seen staring at a woman so curiously. But in the very temple of God, while He is speaking to you, and threatening you with punishment, you dare to do such things during the very time in which you are hearing that such things are not to be done? And are you not shocked, or troubled in your soul, at making your eyes and your heart the workshop of evil doing? Better for a man to be blind than use his eyes to do this.

Think, O Man, of Who it is Who is close to thee in this tremendous sacrifice, and of who it is with whom you are to call upon God; that is, of the Cherubim, the Seraphim, and the other heavenly powers. Remember who are celebrating, together with you, the worship of God. This will suffice to make you recollected in spirit, when you reflect that while enfolded in a body, and clothed in flesh, you have been made worthy, together with the incorporeal powers, to praise the common Lord of all.

Do not then take part in this holy praise, in these sacred mysteries, with a dissipated soul. Let not your thoughts during this time be occupied with worldly things. Rather, casting all earthly things from your mind, and being wholly turned towards heaven, and as though you were raised on wings as the Seraphim, and were standing at the very threshold of His glory, offer your holy praise to God for all He has done.

Because of this are we bidden to stand worthily during the time of the divine sacrifice, so that while still on earth we may raise to heaven our dragging thoughts, so that shaking off that dissoluteness which comes from the affairs of this life, we may be enabled to awaken our souls to the presence of God. It is not a question of the hands and feet of the body, for we are speaking here not of runners or gymnasts; but we desire by these words to raise up the powers of our inner thoughts, brought low through temptation. For at the time of the Divine Supper, Brethren, it is not men alone who raise that tremendous cry, for even the Angels are bowed down before the Lord, and the Archangels are in prayer; for them too it is a fitting help, and a helpful Offering.

And as men spread branches of palm before kings, meaning by this to remind them of mercy and compassion, so likewise the angels, bearing before them instead of branches the Body of the Lord, pray to the Lord on behalf of mankind, and all but saying: We beseech Thee on behalf of those whom before Thou didst deign to so love, that for them thou gavest up thy own spirit! We supplicate Thee for those for whom Thou didst shed Thy Blood! We pray to Thee for these for whom Thou hast given Thy body in sacrifice!

Let each one consider within himself what faults he must remedy in himself, what good work he may yet do, what sin he may wipe out from his soul, so that by this he may become better. And if he finds that he has made progress in this excellent market, through fasting, and is aware that there is need for much care for his wounds, then let him draw near. If however he remains neglectful of himself, and has only his fasting to show, and makes no progress in other directions, then let him remain outside, and let him return only when all his sins are cleansed. He who does not fast, offering as a reason the weakness of his body, may fittingly receive pardon. But he who will not correct his evil ways cannot be excused in the same way.

And what shall we do if the Lord requires of us an account of this neglectfulness of conduct in our assemblies? For well you know that oftentimes, while the Lord Himself is speaking to us through the mouth of His prophet, we turn away to hold prolonged and frequent conversations with our neighbour, and on things that have nothing to do with us. Putting aside all ou