Why Go To Church Every Sunday? Part 3

Fr. Daniel Sisoyev




“I do not understand what goes on during the church services.”

Photo: G.Balayants
Photo: G.Balayants
Let us paraphrase this statement. A first-grader comes to school and overhears a lecture in the algebra class, then refuses to go to school, saying: “I did not understand anything there.” Those who refuse to study the Divine science because they find it “incomprehensible” show the same lack of common sense.

If everything were easy then education would be meaningless, because you would already know everything the specialists are talking about. Believe me: the science of living with God is no less difficult and refined than mathematics; therefore, please allow it to have its own terminology and its own language.

I think we should not abandon the church vestments but rather realize what exactly it is that we do not understand. With that we must keep in mind that the Divine Liturgy is not given to us for missionary work among the unbelievers, but for the faithful. Thank God, if we pray attentively we will begin to understand everything in the Divine services after about a month or a month and a half of regular church attendance. But we can discover the true depths of the Divine services only after many years. This indeed is a wonderful mystery of the Lord. What we have is not a Protestant preaching where everything is on the horizontal plane, but, if you wish, a life-long university where the church service books are textbooks and the Lord is the Teacher.


“I believe in God but do not trust priests. That’s why I don’t go to church.”

Nobody asks the faithful to trust their priest. We trust God, whereas priests are merely His servants and instruments for fulfilling His will. Someone said: “Electric current travels even through a rusty wire.” So also the grace of God is transferred through His unworthy servants. As Holy Hierarch John Chrysostom says truly, “We ourselves, who sit on the cathedra (the bishop’s seat in the church) and teach, are entangled in sins. Nevertheless, we do not despair of God’s loving-kindness and do not attribute hard-heartedness to Him. And this is why God allowed even His priests to slave under the passions—so that they would learn by their own experience to be lenient to others, as well.” Imagine that it is not a sinful priest but the Archangel Michael serving in the church. After his very first conversation with us he would flame up with righteous wrath and we would be reduced to a small pile of ashes.

Photo: V.Kornjushin
Photo: V.Kornjushin
In general, this objection to going to church is very much like one’s denial of medical aid out of the notion that modern doctors are only after our money. Although the doctors’ financial interest is obvious, people do not refuse medical assistance. But whenever we talk about a far more important thing—health of one’s soul, people come up with any kind of nonsense in order not to go to church.

Here is what once happened. A monk lived in a desert and a priest would come to commune him. One day he heard that the priest who was coming to commune him was lecherous. Therefore, the monk refused to receive communion from that priest. The same night he saw a revelation: there was a golden well with crystal clear water and a leper dipping water from the well with a golden bucket. The voice of God said: “You see how the water remains pure although it is distributed by a leper. So also the grace does not depend on the person through whom it is given”. After that the desert-dweller started receiving communion from the priest again, not reasoning within himself whether the priest was righteous or a sinner.

In all seriousness all those objections are totally worthless. How can anyone ignore the direct will of the Lord God, using a priest’s sins to justify himself? “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own Lord he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up, for God is able to make him stand” (Rom. 14:4).


“The Church is not a steeple, the church is the people”, some say, so I can just as well pray at home.”

Photo: A.Pospelov
Photo: A.Pospelov
This saying, although it might make sense, has its origin with sectarians who have separated themselves from the Church despite the word of God. It is true that God abides in the bodies of the Christians, too. But He enters those bodies through the Holy Communion that the faithful receive in churches. Besides, prayer in church is greater than prayer at home. Saint John Chrysostom says: “You are mistaken; of course you can pray at home, but to pray there as one would pray in church, where there are so many fathers, where all the faithful with one heart send up a song to God, is impossible. You are not going to be heard as speedily when praying to God at your own house as when praying with your brethren. There is something greater here, that is: unanimity and concord, a union of love and the prayer of the priests. This is why priests stand before the altar: so that people’s prayers, being weaker, would join with the priests’ stronger prayers together ascend to Heaven… If the prayer of the Church helped even Peter, this pillar of the Church, and let him out of prison (Acts 12:5), then tell me how dare you ignore its power and how can you justify yourself? Listen to God Himself Who says that He is pleased with the reverent prayers of many people (cf. Jonah 3). In church, it is not only people who raise their cry unto God, but even angels fall before the Master and archangels pray. Even time is on their side and the sacrifice facilitates them. Just as when people take olive branches in their hands and shake them before kings, reminding them through the branches about mercy and love for mankind, so also angels present instead of the olive branches, the very Body of the Lord, beseeching the Master on behalf of the human race, as if saying, “We are praying for those whom Thou Thyself hast found worthy of Thy love, and for whom Thou didst give up Thy soul; we are pouring out our prayers for those for whom Thou didst pour Thy Blood; we beseech for those for whom Thou didst offer Thy Body as a sacrifice” (St John Chrysostom. Against the Amonians. Third Homily).

Therefore, this objection is totally groundless, for as the house of God is holier than your own house, so the prayer offered in temple is loftier then your prayer at home.


“I would go to church every week, but my wife or husband, parents or children do not let me.”

Photo: Y.Kostygov
Photo: Y.Kostygov
Here we have to recall our Lord’s uncompromising words, which people often forget: “He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37). We have to make this frightful choice—between God and man—all the time. Yes, it is hard. Yes, it can be painful. But if you prefer a person, even in something little, God will reject you on the Day of Judgment. Is your relative going to be able to help you then? Does your love for your relative justify you when the Gospel tells you otherwise? When we are at the Judgment, are you not going to bring back to mind—with sadness and bitter disappointment—the day when you rejected God for the sake of imaginary love?

Besides, life has proved that he who chooses a person instead of the Creator will be betrayed.


“I am not going to go to this church because it has negative energy. I do not feel good there, especially because of the incense.”

In fact, every Orthodox church is filled with one energy—the grace of God. All Orthodox temples are sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Christ is present with His Body and Blood in every church. Angels of God stand by the entrance into every Orthodox church. It is not the church but the person who has the problem here. There may be a perfectly natural explanation for what you are feeling. On feast days, when the “visitors” stop by, the temples are filled beyond capacity, and it is no wonder that some might start feeling sick when there is very little air to breathe. But sometimes people feel sick in an almost empty temple. Christians know very well the spiritual reasons of this phenomenon.

Photo: Y.Kostygov
Photo: Y.Kostygov
The evil deeds a person does not want to repent of keep away the grace of God. What some people call “negative energy” is nothing other than the resistance of their evil will to the power of God. However, it is not only man who turns away from God, but neither will God accept an egoist, for it is said: God resisteth the proud (James 4:6). We find examples of this in antiquity. St. Mary of Egypt, who was a harlot, tried to enter the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem to venerate the Life-giving Cross, but some invisible power pushed her away from the church’s gates. It was only after she repented and promised to never commit the sin of fornication again did God let her into His house.

Even now we know of cases when professional killers and prostitutes could not stand the smell of incense and fainted. This happens especially often with those who practice magic, astrology, ESP and other kinds of devilry. Some power ties them in knots at the most important moments of the Divine services so that they have to be taken away in an ambulance. However, there is yet another reason.

Not only does the person himself have no desire to meet the Creator, those who are behind his sinful habits do not either. Those beings are rebel spirits, demons. These impure beings are what hinder the person’s entry into the temple. It is also they who steal strength from those standing in church. Some people can lift weights in the gym for hours but cannot spend ten minutes in the presence of the Creator. Only God can help those who are possessed by demons. But He helps only those who have repented and have a desire to live according to the will of the Almighty Lord. The very terminology of your question is borrowed from practitioners of psychic powers (the Church knows that they all serve the devil), who talk about people charged with certain energies, as if they were talking about batteries and not about the children of God.

Here we see symptoms of a spiritual disease. Instead of loving the Creator, those people try to manipulate Him. This is nothing other than an indication of demonic possession.

The last objection, akin to the previous one, is encountered most frequently:


“I have God in my heart and I do not need your church services. If I do good deeds, do you think God will send me to hell only because I do not go to church?”

What do you mean when you say “God”? If you are talking simply about your conscience, then of course this voice of God is heard in the heart of every man without exception. Neither Hitler nor Charles Manson were deprived of conscience, and all villains know what is good and what is bad. The voice of God tried to keep them from committing lawless acts. But does the fact that they heard the voice of God make them saints? Besides, conscience is not God—it is only His voice. If you hear the voice of the President on tape or on the radio, does it mean he is in your house? Neither does the presence of a conscience mean that God is in your heart.

But if we think about it, Who is God? He is Almighty, Omnipresent, Omniscient, Righteous, Blessed Spirit, Creator of the Universe, Who is not contained by either heaven or by heaven of heavens. Then how can your soul contain Him—Him at Whose face angels dare not gaze?

Jesus Christ Pantocrator (Detail from deesis mosaic) from Hagia Sophia
Jesus Christ Pantocrator (Detail from deesis mosaic) from Hagia Sophia
Does the one who says that God is in his heart sincerely think that this Boundless Power abides within him? Allow us to be skeptical, or else show us manifestations of that Power’s might. Phrases like “God in my heart” are more potent than an attempt to retain a nuclear explosion within oneself. Can you conceal in secret the explosion of a nuclear bomb in Hiroshima or a volcanic eruption? Therefore, we demand from the “container of God” some proof: let him work a miracle (for example, raising the dead) or manifest Divine love, offering his left cheek to him who hit him on the right one. Is he able to have one hundredth of the love for his enemies that Our Lord had for His when He prayed for them before His crucifixion? Indeed, only saints can say that God is in their hearts. Therefore, we demand holiness from those who make such a statement; otherwise, it will be a lie, whose father is devil.

They say: “I do good deeds. How can God send me to hell?” Please allow me to question your righteousness. What are we to consider a criterion of good and evil according to which we might determine whether we are doing good or evil? If the person himself is the criterion (as people often say: “I decide for myself what is good and what is evil”), then the notions of good and evil lose any validity and meaning. If Beria, and Goebbels, and Pol Pot thought they were doing right things why do you think their actions are blameworthy? If we ourselves have a right to determine the standard of good and evil, then this right cannot be denied to all killers, perverts, and rapists. Yes, following your logic, please allow God to disagree with your criteria and to judge you not by yours but by His standards. Otherwise, it is not fair—we claim the right of choosing the standard, but we do not allow the Almighty and Free God to do the same and to judge by His own laws; and by His laws the person who doesn’t repent and who doesn’t receive Holy Communion heads straight to hell.

Let us be honest: what are all our standards of good and evil worth? Our body, soul, mind, will, senses are not created by us. Everything we have is a gift (or even not a gift but something that belongs to Someone else, and has been entrusted to us for safekeeping), but we, however, have decided that we can with impunity deal with it as we please. Doing that we deny the One Who created us any right to demand an answer from us about how we have dealt with His gift. Don’t you find this demand somewhat insolent? Why would you think that the Lord of the Universe would do your will, which is corrupted by sin? We have transgressed the Fourth Commandment and firmly believe that He owes something to us?

Look, instead of dedicating Sundays to God we give them to devil. On this day, people often get drunk, they swear, commit lewd acts; if they don’t do that, they entertain themselves in various godless ways: watching questionable TV shows and movies where sins and passions are abundant. It is only the Creator Who appears to be out of place on His own day. Does not God, Who has given us everything, including time, have a right to demand from us only few short hours?

Therefore, hell awaits those who with scorn ignore the will of God. And the reason for that is not God’s cruelty, but the fact that such people, having abandoned the water of Life, are trying to dig their own empty wells of justifications. They refused to receive the Holy Cup of Communion, they deprived themselves of the Word of God and now they are wandering in the darkness of this evil age. Having walked away from Light, they find darkness; having walked away from Love, they obtain hatred; having discarded Life, they rush into the embrace of eternal death. How can we not bemoan their stubbornness and wish that they come back into the house of our Heavenly Father?

As for us, we shall say together with King David: But as for me, in the multitude of Thy mercy shall I go into Thy house; I shall worship toward Thy holy temple in fear of Thee (Psalm 5:8). For We went through fire and water, and Thou didst bring us out into refreshment. I will go into Thy house with a whole-burnt offering; to Thee will I pay my vows which my lips pronounced and which my mouth had spoken in mine affliction (Psalm 65:12-14).

Fr. Daniel Sisoyev
Translation by Priest Sergii Alekseev

8 марта 2013 г.

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A Devoted Reader11 марта 2013, 02:00
Thank you for these very edifying talks! Certainly I will try harder to get to God's House as often as I should. PLEASE translate more of Fr Daniel's homilies; especially his many talks, ideas and suggestions on the Holy Scriptures and Bible reading. We have MUCH need of that here in the Orthodox West! I hear he spoke of how we Orthodox Christians ought to read the entire Holy Bible (not only the selections from the New Testament) and taught both why and how we should do this. Can you provide these lectures? That way we here will have an alternative to Protestant teaching and methodology. Thank You!
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