"Standing in the temple of thy glory, we think ourselves to stand in Heaven, O Theotokos"
By the Ever-Memorable Archbishop Averky
THE PIECE below is translated from the second volume of the “Homilies and Speeches” of the Ever-Memorable Archbishop Averky (published by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, in 1975). It is undated, but was obviously first delivered in Great Lent. However, its message is fundamental to our spiritual well-being at every season. One hears much concern these days, and perhaps especially from Christians who are spiritually aware, about the state of the world, - economically, politically, environmentally, societally - in every aspect. However, our great concern - and perhaps the concerns for the world distract us from this - should be the deplorable state of the Church today. In our article, the Archbishop begins by addressing a few aspects of behaviour in church - seemingly rather inconsequential things, but then he goes on to address something which, since his blessed repose in 1976, we have observed accelerating alarmingly - the draining away of the “soul” of the Church, and its replacement with an outer order, establishment, - institutionalism, - what the Archbishop repeatedly refers to as “organization” and “administration.” He shows a profound wisdom in linking the first things relating simply to conduct in church to the later great matter. Orthodoxy is like a beautiful tapestry, and one cannot simply pull threads from it, willy-nilly, without destroying its beauty. At some point the whole beauty of the tapestry will be lost, and all that will be left is the literally threadbare canvas - the “organization” and “administration,” - institutionalism devoid of spirit.
IN GREAT LENT, we often hear these very significant words in our churches, for they are read at every Matins service.
“In truth the church is an earthly heaven,” our great righteous one and man of prayer, the ever-memorable pastor of Kronstadt, Father [now Saint] John emphasizes: “where God’s altar is, where the awesome Mysteries are celebrated, where the Angels minister with men, where there is uninterrupted glorification of the Almighty - there heaven truly is, and the heaven of heavens.”
And in fact, our church with the celebration therein of the Divine services for us, who still live on earth, is, as it were, the portal, as it were the earthly preparation for that heavenly Supper of the Lamb of God, of which all the Christians in the future life, who await us there in heaven, are called to be participants.
“Let us lift up our hearts” we hear, a bidding addressed to us by the celebrants of the Divine service. And we, while standing in church, as it were actually breaking away from the earth for a season, with mind and heart offer ourselves up there “on high,”- to heaven, where God dwells with the countless hosts of Angels and Saints.
Everyone praying in church, if he is really praying, must consider himself as not being on earth, but in heaven. He must leave outside the walls of the church all his earthly thoughts, feelings, desires and worries, all his usual worldly habits, manners and ways.
This is why it is wholly inappropriate and inadmissible for one, coming into church, to conduct himself as if he were with guests, in a worldly gathering - to approach his acquaintances, wish them good heath, and inquire or chat about this and that.
Such behaviour, even if it is allowed [not corrected], is a breach of reverence, an insult to the unearthly, heavenly sanctity of the church!
In church, everything is different: there one’s particular world is not earthly, but heavenly; there one’s rules, customs, one’s regulations and customs are prescribed by the church order. And he who loves the church, for whom it is the way to heavenly sanctity, such a one must know all this, and, if he does not know it, he must strive to learn it.
But our entering the church and our standing therein must be with the very greatest reverence and with the fear of God. As you come it, you should sign yourself three times with the sign of the Cross, doing this on feast days with bows from the waist and on ordinary days with prostrations to the ground.* To those already standing in church bow very slightly to the right and to the left, and then take up the usual place where you stand and pray. Men must stand on the right side and women on the left, leaving a clear path between the Royal Gates and the exit. This is an ancient custom, hallowed by the centuries, which those break who do not observe it.
All those who come into church - this “earthly heaven,” - must, even in their outward appearance, imitate the celestial ones, with whom they are entering into converse there, and they should not by any means cause them, or the other people praying there, any visual offence. Their clothing should be modest and decent, and not in any way frivolous, modish or loud. In particular, it is inadmissible for women to come into church bare arms and legs, in dresses which are extremely short and insufficiently covering, which only serve to suggest that they have unchaste dispositions; nor with their heads uncovered or with made-up faces and painted lips. To come in God’s church so indecently attired is tantamount to swearing blasphemously against its heavenly sanctity.
Stand in the temple, stand in Heaven
Shepherd July 2010