For everyone unaware of that on which I am working, I’m taking The 55 Maxims for Christian Living, as posed by Fr. Thomas Hopko, and I’m focusing on one a day. It should be noted that this is a holistic process–I’m not completely ignoring the other 54, nor do I intend on forgetting that which I discovered about Maxim #11 tomorrow, when I hit Maxim #12. Merely, I am taking every day to be a little more focused, direct, and purposeful in my exploration of these maxims.
And today is the 11th–that’s 1/5th of the way, people! How time flies…
Go to liturgical services regularly.
Well, this one minces not a word–and is, obviously, spiritual in nature. But, following in the theme of the previous maxims, I want to take my experience of attempted adherence and use it to expound upon a general principle by which I think we could all live our lives. As I’ve explained previously, these maxims, while inherently Christian, are not exclusively so. You and I can both learn from these in totally different ways–that’s what makes them awesome.
And today’s maxim speaks to me about growth. Growth in a very unfamiliar, interesting, and exciting sense.
Liturgical services are exactly the same, week to week. Okay, that’s not entirely true, but every Saturday evening we have Vespers: a preparatory service that settles our mind, puts to rest our worldly concerns, and readies us for Holy Communion coming on Sunday morning.
And indeed, on Sunday morning, the Orthodox celebrate the Divine Liturgy, a service that, at its pinnacle, holds the Eucharist and Communion with God. It is an extraordinary experience.
Now, those services never change in structure–only the Scriptural readings vary from week to week. However, those readings are on a yearly rotation–the reading heard on the fifth Sunday after Easter this year will be the same reading heard on the fifth Sunday after Easter next year. So while there is variance, there is also consistency.
Feast days call for extra services, surely–many Orthodox parishes are also lucky enough to have daily services throughout the week, that the faithful may attend. But for my purposes, regular attendance consists of Saturday Vespers, Sunday Liturgy, Saturday Vespers, Sunday Liturgy…
Regular attendance to liturgical services has been invariable in my life. My father is a priest in the Orthodox church, and as such, it was not only tacitly understood, that church was to be attended regularly, but it was a blessing, that I be able to attend church more often than a peer, who perhaps, due to occupational constraints of their childhood chauffeurs, could not worship as consistently as I.
So this maxim, to attend regularly the liturgical services, was not a particular effort for me…but it did cause me to look back, upon eighteen years of attendance.
And I realized something. I realized that, every Sunday morning, when I attend Divine Liturgy and partake in Holy Communion…it is, as I said before, an extraordinary experience. It is transcendent and incomprehensible. It is the greatest of all conceivable gifts. It is my hope and my salvation.
And every Sunday, I partake in Holy Communion. And every Sunday, it is an extraordinary experience.
Easily, we are fooled into believing repetition implies devaluing. To do something over and over and over again robs it of its novelty, and in that robbery, some worth is accidentally stolen as well. This holds occasionally, but true value? Deep-seated and undeniable worth? These cannot be pilfered so easily.
So what instead occurs, when something of great value is repeated so consistently?
As steel is tempered by constant hammering and sharpened by constant whetting; as plants are grown by regular watering and defended by regular weeding, so is the soul tempered and sharpened by that constant intake of that which is wholesome, true, and just. Every time I go to church, my experience is different–be it a struggle or a joy, it varies and it…affects me. My regular participation allows for regular evaluation, re-evaluation, and metacognition.
When steel is hammered, its disconformities are straightened; when it is sharpened, its nicks are smoothed over. When plants are watered, they receive sustenance; when weeds are pulled, the plant finds sunlight. Regular attendance to the liturgical services weeds out the worldly nonsense that weekly, inevitably invades our soul; hammers out the preconceived notions we project on the teachings of the church.
A regular intake of that which is good…well, it engenders and promotes goodness. It sounds obvious, but sometimes we forget that too easily. I mean, did you eat perfectly healthy today? Well, why not? Because a regular intake of that which is good will promote goodness in your life, yet you elected to consume something…less than that.
So regularly attend the salad bar. Regularly attend conversations with your loved ones–not just endure, but attend. Regularly attend liturgical services. Regularly attend eight hours of sleep. Consume that which is good, that you may be made good through it, by it, in behalf of it, and for it.