August 06, 2010

Heaven on Earth

By Saint John of Kronstadt

The Divine Liturgy is truly a heavenly service upon earth, during which God Himself, in a particular, immediate, and most close manner, is present and dwells with me, being Himself the invisible Celebrant of the service, offering and being offered. There is nothing upon earth holier, higher, grander, more solemn, more life-giving than the Liturgy. The temple, at this particular time, becomes an earthly heaven; those who officiate represent Christ Himself, the angels, the cherubim, seraphim and Apostles.

The Liturgy is the continually repeated solemnization of God's love to mankind, and of His all-powerful mediation for the salvation of the whole world, and of every member separately: the marriage of the Lamb-the marriage of the King's Son, in which the bride of the Son of God is every faithful soul; and the Giver of the bride-the Holy Spirit. With what prepared, pure, elevated souls it is therefore necessary to assist at the Liturgy, in order not to be amongst the number of those who, having no wedding garment, but a garment defiled by passions, were bound hand and foot, and cast out from the marriage feast into utter darkness. Whilst now, unfortunately, many do not even consider it necessary to attend the Liturgy at all; others only go out of habit, and go away in the same state of mind as they came, without elevated thoughts, without a contrite heart. Some stand in church irreverently, inattentively, without any concentration of mind, without any previous self-preparation at home by means of meditation and abstinence; and many manage to drink and eat more than they should before service. Before the Lord descended upon Mount Sinai, the Hebrew people were ordered to prepare and cleanse themselves. In the Divine service, we have not a lesser event than God's descent upon Mouth Sinai, but a greater one: here before us is the very face of God the Lawgiver.

When the Lord appeared to Moses upon Mount Horeb in the bush, Moses was ordered to put off his shoes from his feet, but here is a greater manifestation of God than upon Horeb; there was only the prototype, here is the Typifier Himself. O, how we cling to earthly things! We do not even wish to devote one hour exclusively to God! Even during the Divine, most heavenly Liturgy we allow ourselves to think and dream of earthly things, and fill our souls with images and desires for earthly things, sometimes-alas-even with impure images; when we ought to be praying ardently, to be assiduously meditating upon this great mystery, to be repenting of our sins, longing and praying to be cleansed, sanctified, enlightened, renewed, and strengthened in the Christian life, and in the fulfilment of Christ's commandments; when we ought to be praying for the living and the dead; for the Liturgy is a sacrifice of propitiation, thanksgiving, praise and prayer. Great is the Liturgy! In it remembrance is made, not of the life of any great man, but that of God Incarnate, Who suffered and died for us, Who rose again ascended into heaven, and Who shall come again to judge the whole world!

Both learned and unlearned young men seldom go to church, and in general do not attend to their spiritual education, looking upon it as unnec-essary and giving themselves up to worldly vanity. Attention must be paid to this. It is the fruit of pride, of want of spiritual development. They consider attendance at church and Divine services as the business of the common people and women, forgetting that in the temple, angels officiate with trembling, together with men, and regard this as their highest bliss. Does not coldness towards public worship, towards Divine service, proceed from the fact that some do not understand it, and that others, although they have studied the science of Divine service, have been taught it dryly, without any examples, only according to the understanding? Whilst Divine service, being the high contemplation of the mind, is at the same time-and pre-eminently-the peace, sweetness and blessedness of the heart.

When you are in the temple, remember that you are in the living presence of the Lord God, that you stand before His face, before His eyes, in the living presence of the Mother of God, of the holy angels, and of the first-born of the Church-that is, our forefathers, the prophets, Apostles, hierarchs, martyrs, revered Fathers, the righteous, and all the saints. Always have the remembrance and consciousness of this when you are in the temple, and stand with devotion, taking part willingly and with all your heart in the Divine service.

In the Church we are freed from worldly enchantment and from the intoxication of worldly passions and desires; we become enlightened, sanctified, cleansed in our souls; we draw near to God, we are united with God ("Who, by Thy glorious childbirth, hast united God the Word with men"-Prayer to the Holy Mother of God at Compline). How worthily revered and loved should the temple of God be! How God's saints loved it! By means of its Divine services, the Orthodox Church educates us for the heavenly citizenship, by teaching us every virtue, exemplified by the lives of the Mother of God, and of all the saints, by purifying, sanctifying, and making us godly through the sacraments, and by giving unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness (II Peter 1:3). Therefore, it is urgently necessary for us to frequent intelligently, reverently, and willingly the Divine services, especially on feast days and to take part in the sacraments of penitence and Holy Communion. But those who withdraw themselves from the Church and the Divine services become the victims of their passions and are lost.

Those who attend the Divine services of the Orthodox Church, and study the science of Divine service, must bear in mind that the service here on earth is a preparation for all-rejoicing service to God in heaven; that in serving God with the body, it is still more necessary to serve God with the soul and with a pure heart; that in hearing the Divine service, they must learn to serve God as those saints served Him, whose lives and works of faith, hope, and love we hear of during the Divine service; that God should be above all served by deed and truth, and not only by words and the tongue. We are called to serve God by our very being: we are given an upright stature in order that we may continually look upon God, thank and glorify Him; our understanding, heart, will and all feelings are given to us for the same purpose.

Truly, the temple is heaven upon earth; for where the throne of God is, where terrible Mysteries are celebrated, where the angels serve together with men, where the Almighty is unceasingly glorified, there is truly heaven, and the heaven of heavens. And thus let us enter into the temple of God, and above all, into the Holy of Holies, with fear of God, with a pure heart, laying aside all passions and every worldly care, and let us stand in it with faith and reverence, with understanding attention, with love and peace in our hearts, so that we may come away renewed, as though made heavenly; so that we may live in the holiness natural to heaven, not binding ourselves by worldly desires and pleasures.

In the Church are all our sweetest hopes and expectations, our peace, our joy, together with cleansing and sanctification. It is there that the truth of the future resurrection, of the victory over death, is so often announced. Who that loves life would not love the Church with all his heart! Everything that is best, most exalted, most precious, holy and wise, is found in the Church. In the Church is the ideal of mankind; the Church is heaven upon earth.

Excerpts from My Life in Christ, the Spiritual Diary of Saint John of Kronstadt

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