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