This note was posted on the discussion forum, Monachos.net, during Pascha 2007. I repost it here because it is full of excellent thoughts, especially as we approach Pascha 2008.
Last night I went to Matins to find my priest looking tired and overwhelmed, and even heard him say, “I feel old.” This made me sad and brought me to the realization that if he is pained to see his flock wandering away, how much more does it pain our Heavenly Father when we wander straight into harms way by walking into the lion’s den?
My friends – we have a lot to be accountable for. This Church is OUR church. WE are the next generation – but where is everybody? Last night, not including our priest, the choir made up about 9, and the parishioners made up about 5. If there were no choir, there’d be hardly anyone left in Church. Again, where is everybody?
We spoke to an older lady who tends the lampadas faithfully from day to day, week to week. She mentioned last year during Holy Week, she had no one to help her, so was there until midnight tending and changing the lampadas in order for us to feast.
Some of my fondest memories as a child were when I would help my Aunty in the small Church the family used to attend, to “change everything from black to white” on Good Friday evening. I remember the smiles and the smell of silver spray paint outside, as the boys tended to their candlesticks, shining them and making them look as new as possible for the upcoming feast. The women inside would be cleaning, sweeping the floors, dusting the icons, and arranging big, fragrant white flowers. The men would be behind the iconostasis putting up the XB sign, making sure the light bulbs and electricity worked. Others would be ironing the vestments, but most importantly everything would be changed from the deathly black, to silvery clean white. And every year, my Aunty would faithfully tie the floral embroidered white cloth around Christ’s waist on the Cross, in devotion almost as if she were standing before the real Christ Jesus’ body Himself. All this was done with such love, fervency, and mostly with such sweet anticipation of the coming feast of victory over death, and the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
My friends, the old ones who do these jobs are not going to be around forever. Plus with people leaving due to the political nature of the Russian Church’s reunification and the discomfort with that (which is entirely another matter all together), I now realize it is time for us young ones to step up and help. If we don’t, do you think the generation coming behind us – our children, and our children’s children – will follow? Unlikely. If we don’t take action now, the Church will become an empty morgue, and the Saints who so faithfully and lovingly stare down at us from the walls above, will shake their heads in shame and sadness at having no one to serve Christ Jesus with them.
Please, please if you can, stay and help tend the Church – yes during Holy Week (and I know we’re always tired after such long services, but …) – and carry this on throughout the rest of the year as well. It may not seem like much, but every little bit helps. And God will greatly bless you for your faithfulness in serving Him.
In many ways I could have authored this letter. Many a Saturday I, too, spent at church with my aunt. She and other ladies would dust and clean the altar area (she was Roman Catholic), change the altar linens, and put away all the cleaned linens in the closets and drawers. I was given a dust rag and the direction to “dust the pews”. Let me assure you, there were a LOT of them to dust! And dust I did!
Then we would truck home to Aunty’s house, wash the soiled linens, hang them to dry, starch and iron them, then repair holes or torn hems as needed. When new ones were needed, Aunty made them and I embroidered the little red crosses in the center. I have wonderful memories of these days of service.
Now I find myself doing much the same in my own parish. Just today I cleaned off spots, ironed off wax and pressed the white altar vestments in preparation for their use for Pascha. The gold altar vestments have been dry cleaned at home (with the awesome Dryel product – try it out!), pressed, hung on hangars and taken to church in preparation for after Pentecost.
Certain times I find myself on hands and knees wiping up wine droplets from some dear one’s shakey hand when they receive it after Communion or plucking up antidoron crumbs and tucking it in my pocket in order to toss it to the birds outside or even picking out the melted wax from the candle holders.
Too often the only bodies in the church for Vespers are those 3 or 4 of us in the choir and Father. Too often I see Father’s eyes filled with sorrow when he opens the Royal Doors for Liturgy and finds the Nave half full. Perhaps a dozen or less come Friday nights through out Lent for the Akathists. Where is everyone? Where is the struggle? How can one experience the joy and fullness of Pascha without the struggle of Lent? Without the service? I don’t know.
As Father said today in his sermon, it is not too late to join those on the road to Pascha. There are two weeks remaining. God accepts us at any hour. Two make the hard journey easier to bear. Won’t you come along and link arms with me or another pilgrim and journey to Jerusalem together?