This article is one I wrote a few years ago.
Finally debunking the big secret as to how to benefit from the divine liturgy
Do you ever get bored during the Divine Liturgy? Do you ever feel church is just incredibly dry and routine? Do you ever think to yourself that you are wasting your time in going to church? Or that it is extremely useless and yields 0 profit to your life whatsoever? Please admit you have had thoughts along these lines before.
Maybe you ponder to yourself, “Oh, I could be at home studying for my exams, or I could be catching up on lectures and tutorials” and those aren’t even sinful alternatives, right? I mean by all means, shoot for the stars in terms of your studies and career. I really admire seeing hard working people and if you didn’t know, two great modern day Coptic saints that all of Coptic people dearly love and are inspired by – Fr Pishoy Kamel and Pope Shenouda III – were known to have been extraordinarily successful in their studies.
So the question remains: why do we attend masses frequently when the benefit is less than the cost?
Simple but true answer – need to work on prayer life
A holy Russian bishop once wrote to an abbess of a convent the following:
“The Inward Temple. There is no need to weep much over the destruction of a church; after all, each of us, according to God’s mercy, has or should have his own church—the heart; go in there and pray, as much as you have strength and time. If this church is not well made and is abandoned (without inward prayer), then the visible church will be of little benefit.”
Kindly re-read the quote a few times and let it sink in as it holds profound spiritual guidance… “If this church [that is our hearts] is not well made through inward prayer then the visible church will be of little benefit”.… then the visible church will be of little benefit? What could this line possibly mean?
Does it actually imply that attending church is utterly useless to me, if I don’t master the art of prayer or at the very least make some sort of significant progress in my prayer life. Oh my goodness, what a revolutionary and phenomenal piece of wisdom! Oh my. This quote can finally explain so many years of mundane and dry church attendance and help us finally figure out just exactly what is going on.
Doesn’t this makes sense? Let me try to use an analogy to help get the point across.
University student will not succeed without studying at home
Take for example a university student. Perhaps this said student is very diligent in attending the lectures for his course and rarely misses any. However, this particular student becomes quite busy at home and cannot seem to make the effort nor the time to study at home.
What do you think? Do you think such a student will be successful in his studies? He attends the lectures – an integral component of succeeding in one’s university studies, ok? Isn’t that enough for him to do well and perhaps even reach a stage where he enjoys the subject itself because when we become successful in things we much more tend to enjoy them?
No, it is highly doubted that the student will ever succeed in that subject. Moreover he will probably hate the lectures and become frustrated in attending them because he would fail terribly to comprehend what is going on in the lecture. Additionally, there is no mental connection between his brain and the study of the particular subject.
We do the exact same thing spiritually. Yes we attend the liturgies regularly, perhaps even twice or more a week. However will we benefit if we don’t pray and don’t fulfil our element of struggle and striving at home? Will we feel joy in the liturgy? Or won’t we rather feel frustration and boredom?
No we definitely will not receive any of these things which our most treasured church offers us. Instead we will regard the liturgy in the same way as the slothful and indolent university student who hates his work, is repulsed and frustrated by it and wants to cease attending lectures. And all of this is simply because he didn’t put in the effort and time at home.
Try to deeply internalize
So readers, we are who are very blessed to be born into the saving church of Christ and where no other greater joy can be found. Let us deeply internalize the importance of prayer in the spiritual life, and having done this, then when we come to visit the holy church, we will sing out with ecstasy alongside the psalmist saying “How lovely is your tabernacle, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the LORD” (Psalm 84:1-2).
For another quote that adds to this concept, refer to this by the amazing Russian author St Theophan the Recluse.