It is always uplifting to see the multitudes filling the Church for the beautiful services of Holy Week and Pascha. At this time most of the Churches seem too small to accommodate all the people wanting to receive God's blessing. There is however one question that arises naturally: where are these people during the rest of the year?
I think this question, as uncomfortable as may be for some, is legitimate, because as responsible members of our communities we need to understand the reasons that prevent people that are Christians, even Greek-Orthodox Christians, from attending Church more regularly.
If we would ask any of the enthusiastic participants at the beginning of the Paschal Service if they believe in Christ they will all respond without hesitation: yes, we do! But if we continue the inquiry and ask also why they don't come to Church many will say I have Christ in my heart and I don't need to come to Church to be a Christian.
These people are technically Christians, they are baptized and carry the names of some of our greates saints; but withour realizing it they are not actually living their faith. They are happy with a theoretical faith, with a faith that is acknowledged mentally but is not practically expressed in any outward form like Church attendance or participation in stewardship.
The roots of this syndrome lay in a coarse misunderstanding of the Christian faith. For many faith is reduced to an intellectual acknowledgment of God, and, arriving at this stage, they believe they truly know God. They live with the idea that Christianity is a sort of philosophy or theoretical concept that once understood we can just toss it aside and maybe review it once or twice a year, for the sake of our grand mothers. From their perspective God can be anything: a generic supreme being, an energy, a force field, it doesn't really matter because it is too distant anyway.
But nothing is more wrong than this. Christianity is not a sterile philosophy about life, but is the very accomplishment of life's maximum potential. Christianity is lived not only acknowledged. Our God is not a concept or an obscure pagan energy, but is a personal God above anything else.
God is a Trinity of persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These three Persons relate to one another and love one another in the most perfect harmony that one could imagine. As humans we are called to participate in this relationship, to partake in the love of the Trinity and adopt it as a model for our lives. We are called therefore to actively participate in life and to relate with God and one another, not just to passively conceptualize a dry code of laws imposed to us from outside.
Jesus Christ is the greatest illustration of this fact, because He is the One that in His great love for mankind emptied Himself of His heavenly glory and became one of us, bearing flesh and living in the world. He came down to our level to live with us so we can develop a true relationship with Him, so we can call Him our Friend and our Brother.
He did not wanted to stay in Heavens, watching implacably the predestined faith of humankind; He wanted to give us the opportunity to know Him, to understand Him and ultimately to love Him in return. He walked on the earth to be with us and will be with us forever. He established the Church that holds His Mysteries, the Sacraments, that keep us close to Him and the Father through the Holy Spirit.
In this way God made Himself easily accessible to us. One thing however is left for us to do: to simply come and meet Him. If we choose to stay at home the whole year how can we develop a relationship with Christ? Can we be friends with someone that we only see once a year for Pascha with so many other people around? We can at best be acquainted to Him, but we are far from being His family. We need many more opportunities to meet until we reach this stage.
If we want Christ to be our friend we need to start now to visit Him regularly, offering Him the best we can, our lives, because He already did the same for us: He gave His life so we can live forever.
Christos Anesti! Christ is Risen!
Vasile Tudora pastors St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Euless, Texas.