Pastoral Letter September 16, 2018

“Because of the Fall of man, the natural order of things has become chaotic. In nature, there is an order for all things, but with man there is chaos; everything is distorted and turned around.” – Elder Thaddeus

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The above-mentioned quote from Elder Thaddeus of Vitivnica (Serbia) is one of my favorites. It can be applied to a myriad of vices, foibles and weaknesses. It answers a lot of questions, explains a lot of issues. It sums up our entire existence in a short, pithy, little statement.

The Elder certainly has a view of mankind that can be considered dis-favorable, to say the least. But, really, the bottom line in this bumper sticker of a condemnation, is just that we have our priorities misaligned.

That’s it.

It means that we can do better.

And in that spirit, the only chaos I’d like to discuss is tardiness in church.

While coming late to the Liturgy may not topple the “natural order of things,” it is nevertheless, a loss of proper priorities and an introduction to chaos in the Divine Liturgy.

Firstly, I will say this: that I am thankful (for the sake of your souls) that you take the time to get up, get ready, prepare, and make it to church on Sunday. This, of course is not to be rewarded.

We are Orthodox Christians. Worship is the center of our very lives. Honoring the Lord, approaching His throne, receiving the Sacraments, hearing His Word, engaging in the fellowship of His Name, and seeking forgiveness of sins is…what we do, who we are, and what we are called to be.

But it seems that the age-old tendency of moving the personal, start-time of the Divine Liturgy is on the move. On the move backwards. Later and Later.

This, of course is not a problem unique to St. Anna’s.

Case in point: please read the following excerpt from the website of a Greek Orthodox Church on the east coast. This statement, this church policy statement would be laughable, were it not part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Entering the Church Late The time to arrive at church is before the service starts, but for some unknown reason, it has become the custom – or rather the bad habit – for some to come to church late. If you arrive after the Divine Liturgy begins, try to enter the church quietly – and observe what is happening. If the Epistle or Gospel is being read or the Little or Great Entrance is taking place, wait until it is finished to quickly find a seat. If Father is giving the sermon, stay in the back until he has concluded. If in doubt, check with one of the ushers to see if it is a good time to be seated. Try not to interrupt the Liturgy with your entrance. The best way to avoid this problem is to arrive on time, then you don’t have to wonder if it’s okay to come in or not. People who come late to the Liturgy should not partake of the Eucharist.

This little gem of church etiquette spends a great deal of time, politely dancing around the fact that coming into the church while the Liturgy is being celebrated is a great distraction to those who have already joined the assembly of worshipers.

Of course, the announcement in our Bulletin is much more direct:

Church Etiquette Reminder: Please remember that no one should enter the church during the Small Entrance, the Great Entrance, the Epistle Reading, the Gospel Reading, or the Creed. Please remain in the hallway, narthex or fellowship hall during these parts of the Divine Liturgy if you have not already entered the church. Thank you!

It is sort of a shame that we need to print such things at all. I ask, with humility that since you are taking the time to come to church, please do so more appropriately and make a greater effort to come on time.

Perhaps you’ve noticed, there are more and more visitors to St. Anna’s each Sunday. I welcome people into our home and am grateful that we are all gathered together, around the bountiful table of our Lord.

One of the greatest complaints that visitors and converts have of Orthodox worship is the distraction of people coming into the sanctuary throughout the entirety of the service.

It’s easy to identify the starting times of worship at St. Thomas More, our host community. The parking lot fills up instantly just before Mass begins.

Last Sunday, I believe there were about 20 people in in church when the Liturgy started. That number swelled to around 200 people by the time we started the Sunday School Blessing.

I realize that it is hard to get children moving in the early hours. And that many of us already live with morning chaos during the week. But I beg of all of us, we must make a more concerted effort to dignify the services and make a better attempt to be in place when the Liturgy begins.

I would also ask one other favor, while we are on this subject. If we find ourselves late for the Liturgy and come into the sanctuary, please refrain from greeting, kissing, waving and engaging people who are standing, chanting, praying and engaged in the service. We can greet each other with love, enthusiasm and Christian joy in the Narthex and in the Fellowship Hall. Its really not appropriate to engage in conversations, even friendly ones, while the Liturgy is being celebrated.

By the time we enter the church, we should have our “game face” on.

For the purpose of respecting everyone’s time, giving more structure to our Sunday School start/finish times, and dignifying our services without dragging them into the afternoon, we start the Liturgy about 15 minutes earlier than in the past. Please be aware of this start time and adjust accordingly.

Parents of Altar Boys, please have your sons and grandsons in the Altar by 10:00 am. Last week, we had kids coming to serve up until the Great Entrance. I hope you can see that this is not an acceptable way to approach ministry in the Altar.

We have started a new school year and anticipate a glorious season of worship, service, prayer, learning and growth in the Holy Spirit. Our precious Orthodox Faith affords us countless opportunities to participate in the life that Christ established for us and in hope that we could accept eternal life. So in this spirit, I ask that we pacify Elder Thaddeus and let him know that mankind has not “distorted everything” and “turned everything around.”

To be sure, we are created in the image of God. And yet, we are products of a fallen world.

Let’s recapture the full glory of the Kingdom and reach the height of our human potential…

…and come to church on time.

With Much Love in XC,

Fr. Anthony

And by the way…if this is our worst issue (which it is), praise God in the Highest!

Today is the Feast of The Universal Exaltation of the Holy Cross. I wish a blessed Feast to all who celebrate this Day as their own! Chronia Polla! Many Years!