One of the things that folks often mention when they’re making their confession is inattention during the divine services. So, I thought I would use this month’s column to talk about that important subject.
If we want to be focused during the services, one thing we can do is prepare adequately. And even if we can’t do all the prayers that the Church encourages us to do leading up to the Divine Liturgy, we can at least avoid over-stimulation from media. For example, if we stay up late Saturday night to watch an exciting movie and then read the paper or check out our favorite web-sites before we leave for Church—and then listen to music or text our friends right up to the very moment that we get out of the car and walk into the nave, then we’ll probably spend most of the Liturgy processing all those experiences and all that information instead of attending to what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are trying to say to us. Another thing we can do is spend more time in the Divine Services. In fact, one of the main reasons why our services are so long is because the Church understands that it takes most of us a good while just to relax and calm down before we can ever get around to actually praying. A good rule of thumb that works for most people is one hour in the Divine Services equals about two minutes of genuine interaction with the Most Holy Trinity. Of course, that two minutes can be lifechanging and world-changing. However, if we never actually spend a full hour in the Divine Services, then we’ll never experience that two minutes of authentic prayer. So, the more time we invest in the services, the more focused we will be.
But what if you have an infant or a small child, and you’re constantly in and out during the Divine Liturgy? What if you are an usher or a chanter or you sing in the choir? Does that mean that you’re never going to be able to really communicate with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Of course not, because there is a special grace that accompanies each of those roles. Folks who are raising young children or helping with the service are performing important tasks, and the Most Holy Trinity is going to make sure that they get what they need while they are doing their jobs. But we’re not going to receive any special grace if we just wander in and out of the nave because we’re bored or because we don’t like to be still.
Still another thing we can do to stay focused during the services is to be honest about who we are. For example, if we are concerned about our health or stressed about our job or anxious about a family situation, it’s not going to do any good at all to pretend like we’re not thinking about those issues. But rather than just obsess over those things, we should turn them into prayers. And there are lots of ways to do that: we can light a candle for each of those problems when we first go into the nave; we can make the sign of the cross or make a metania every time one of those subjects pops up in our mind; we can touch the priest’s vestments during the Great Entrance and attach all those topics to his intercessions; we can raise all of those issues up to the Most Holy Trinity when the deacon elevates the Holy Gifts over the altar. It may take quite a while and a lot of effort, but, eventually, we will clear all that stuff out of our hearts, and then we will be able to hear what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are saying to us.
Worship is hard work—there’s no doubt about it. But it is the most important work that we do all week long, because it’s how we are getting closer to the Most Holy Trinity, it’s how the people we love are going to get closer to the Most Holy Trinity, and it’s how this world is being transformed through the love of the Most Holy Trinity. And the more attentive we are during at that work, the more those incredibly important goals will be realized.