On Prayer XVI: Why Do We Need to Go to Church?

If one learns to live from Sunday to Sunday, in the rhythm of the church services, in the rhythm of the Divine Liturgy, then one’s whole life will change dramatically. Above all, it will become disciplined. The believer knows that next Sunday he will have to give an answer to God, and he lives differently: he does not allow himself many sins that he would otherwise allow himself if he did not go to church.
We continue a series on prayer, transcribed from television episodes presented on Russian television in the spring of 1999 by Fr. (now Metropolitan) Hilarion (Alfeyev) with the blessing of His Holiness, the late Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia. We hope to present three sections a week, each of which is relatively brief but substantial, for a total of thirty-two episodes.

Continued from part XV. 

Many people who rarely attend church have a kind of consumer’s attitude towards church. They come to church, for instance, before a long trip – to light a candle just for the sake of it, so that nothing would happen on the road. They come for two or three minutes, hurriedly cross themselves and, having lit a candle, go on their way. Some, entering a church, say: “I want to pay money so that Batiushka would pray for such-and-such” – and pay money and leave. The priest needs to pray, but these people themselves do not participate in the prayer.

This is a wrong attitude. The Church is not a machine for buying “sneakers”: drop your coin and candy falls out. The Church is a place to go to live and study. If you are experiencing certain difficulties or if one of your neighbors has fallen ill, do not limit yourself to going and putting up a candle. Come to church for the divine service, immerse yourself in the elements of prayer, and lift up your prayer for your need along with the priest and the community.

It is important that attendance at church be regular. It is good to attend church every Sunday. The Sunday Divine Liturgy, as well as the Liturgy on great feasts, is the time when we can, by giving up two hours of our earthly affairs, plunge ourselves into the elements of prayer. It is good to come to church with one’s entire family, in order to receive Confession and Communion.

If one learns to live from Sunday to Sunday, in the rhythm of the church services, in the rhythm of the Divine Liturgy, then one’s whole life will change dramatically. Above all, it will become disciplined. The believer knows that next Sunday he will have to give an answer to God, and he lives differently: he does not allow himself many sins that he would otherwise allow himself if he did not go to church. Moreover, the Divine Liturgy itself is an opportunity to receive Holy Communion, that is, to unite with God not only spiritually, but also physically. Finally, the Divine Liturgy is a comprehensive service at which the entire church community and each of its members can pray for everyone that troubles or worries him or her. The faithful during the Liturgy can pray for themselves, and for their neighbors, and for their future, bringing repentance for their sins and asking God’s blessing for their further ministry. It is very important to learn to participate fully in the Liturgy. In Church there are also other services, for example, the All-Night Vigil – a preparatory service for Communion. One can order molebens [supplicatory services] for the health of one person or another. But no so-called “private” services – that is, services ordered for someone’s specific needs – can take the place of the Divine Liturgy, because the Liturgy is the center of church prayer, and it should become the center of the spiritual life of every Christian and every Christian family.

To be continued.

Translated from the Russian

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