In The Pilgrim Continues His Way, the sequel to The Way of a Pilgrim, one of the monuments of 19th century Russian spirituality, written in an age which, like ours, was hungry for authentic religious experience, the pilgrim talks with a schismatic Old believer, who had once joined the Orthodox Church but left it again. Explaining his dissatisfaction with the Church, the schismatic says, "The readers mumble the service all anyhow, with things missed out and things you can't understand.... And the people ... talk while the service is going on, turn around and stare about, walk to and fro and give you no peace and quiet to say your prayers. What sort of worship do you call that?"
We must always be conscious of how we appear to guests and visitors. When visitors come to a Russian Orthodox church, they often come prepared for an "other-worldly" experience they have never found in their own churches. How odd it must appear to visitors when the children of the parish keep silence in church, while adults are chatting during parts of the Divine service. These conversations, Sometimes quite lengthy (which I have indulged in myself) are not about any urgent musical problem directly associated with the next liturgical text to be sung, but are very often simply rehashing or, what is worse, joking about mistakes made in the previous chant. Worse still, they sometimes concern non-church matters, some of which should not even be discussed on church property.
The devil seeks every opportunity to turn our hearts, minds, thoughts and especially our lips from the praise and worship of God to purely mundane affairs. We have to leave all -- and I mean all our worldly business at the door of the church, however urgent or intimate, however joyful or sad it may be This is especially important during the most solemn part of the Liturgy, during the Eucharistic Canon or Anaphora, when the priest calls upon the Holy Spirit to change the offerings of bread and wine into the very Body and Blood of Christ.
While it is true that external piety is not necessarily or always an indication of internal piety (and I know this too at first hand), attention to the proper externals is one area in which our fellow Orthodox of other jurisdictions have always looked to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia wistfully and nostalgically Let us not forget, in this era when we have to put up signs in our churches that the non-Orthodox may not receive Holy Communion, or that people should not come to church wearing clothes which their own parents would not have dreamed of wearing to their own non-Orthodox churches, that our conduct in church is going to be scrutinized with equal severity. Let us be proud of our heritage and our Orthodoxy .... There are few enough witnesses to Orthodoxy in the modern world without our helping to extinguish some of the proudest elements of living tradition.
-- Dennis Brearly
(Excerpted from Prikhodskoi Vestnik, the parish newsletter ut St Xenia of Petersburg Russian Orthodox Church, Kanata, Canada, March 1997)
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