Oct 1/Oct 14 2009 19th Wednesday after Pentecost.
Protection of the Theotokos
I am starting a series of articles on “Life Skills”. This term is used regarding simple and necessary skills needed to succeed in modern life, raise a baby, etc. For instance, young mothers may be taught to not put their baby to bed with a bottle (since this will almost surely cause serious ear infections and is a choking danger). Most of these skills are simple building blocks for an effective life. Another example is teaching a person to balance a checkbook, or about how to use (or not use) credit wisely.
There are many Christian “Life Skills”, and these are also simple building blocks – towards eternal life.
We all should have a humble view of ourselves, and consider ourselves simple and in need of improvement. Even the simple stuff has a place in the most experienced Christian’s life. St Paul even mentions this; when I get the time I will add in the scripture reference.
The first life skill is: being on time to church.
Like many things in life, this is a habit. Habits must be formed by long repetition. It is impossible to get into the really important good habits, such as consistent daily prayer, and the controlling of our thoughts and actions in a Christian way, if we do not do the smaller things.
It is very important for many personal and corporate reasons for a Christian to be a little early to church services.
When I was a layman, I always arrived early, because I could not come right off the street and concentrate. I still come early, even as a priest, because I do not want to be rushed (the preparation for liturgy takes about an hour, so I arrive at least a half hour before that).
Imagine running up the stairs to a business meeting. You are not ready to do your best at the meeting; your heart is beating fast, you are nervous from worry about being late, and you have trouble marshalling your thoughts. It is the same way with prayer. Arrive a little early, venerate the icons, and get yourself ready to pray. We need this time, because we are not always in a prayerful state.
This is especially important when you have young children. They need time to calm down, and who is going to teach them if it is not their parents?
If you do this all the time, you will find the liturgy and all services to be much more meaningful and you will improve as a human being.
That is the point, isn’t it?
We should go to the liturgy and every service, but especially the liturgy, in order to gain something. We come to be changed. We should always go away richer than we were before. It takes concentration and effort to achieve this change. If you arrive after the liturgy starts, you rob yourself of the preparation period so necessary for the soul.
Being on time to anything is an indication that we value it. We would rush to be in our seats before the kickoff or before a movie starts, because we do not wish to miss anything. We would not think to be late to an office meeting with our boss. By establishing the habit of being on time or better, early to services we are stating, as much to ourselves as everyone else that we value the holy services and do not want to miss anything.
My earnest pastoral advice to everyone is that they come on time and even a little early to the liturgy especially and all the services. As in all Christian asceticism (yes, this IS asceticism!) is that it takes time to see results. Be on time and be patient with the passage of time, and you will see that this habit is very salvific for you.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2009. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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