It’s a play on words, but I’m not playing around. As a priest, there is nothing more depressing than seeing the joyous faces of our youth in Church one week, and then NOT seeing them the next simply because Sunday school has ended for the school year. There is no such thing as a ‘vacation’ from Church!
There is the old adage, “Children are like sponges; they soak everything up!” This is true! What is a sponge? A real sponge is a multi-cellular organism with pores and channels, so when it’s dried, any liquid or dry material will be naturally soaked up into its crevices. A sponge will forever maintain the elements of that with which it first comes into contact. If our children are sponge-like, they will soak up the first thing they are exposed to, and it will remain with them for the rest of their existence. Can we look at our children and be satisfied with that which they have been ‘soaking up?’ What have they been exposed to? What is the first thing with which they may have come into contact?
We are products of our own environment. Our main environment should be our Church! Like the sponge, we must soak up Jesus Christ and His Church to our full capacity! Our entire lives should be immersed into the Church and we will maintain its elements, properties and fragrances. When we are surrounded by the beauty and love of Christ, we will be changed and affected for the better!
There is a danger when people want their Church only when it’s to their convenience. This inconsistency is a detriment to ourfaith and our growth towards Christ. The Church is constant and will last forever – but just because the Church is always available to us, does not mean that we should stroll in haphazardly. Summer vacation, for example, may be a time of rest and relaxation, but does not mean that we take a ‘vacation’ from our faith and prayer life in the Church. Vacation means the action of leaving something which preoccupies.
Does church preoccupy you? Is it something that causes stress? Our faith cannot stop or ‘take a break!’ Imagine if God took a break from answering our prayers and blessing us! Imagine if the Holy Spirit took a vacation from carrying out God’s will. Where would we be? Why do we come to church in the first place? People say, ‘I come because I was baptized in this church.’ ‘I come to church because I like seeing people.’ ‘I come to church because I have nothing better to do,’ etc. There are many misguided reasons for coming to church.
The correct reason we come to church is because the Church is the Body of Christ! The Church is our liturgical family. St. Paul says to the Corinthians: “When one suffers, the whole body suffers. You (the Church) are the Body of Christ!” (1 Cor. 12:26-27). You should not leave this body! Even if it’s during summer vacation, our place is to be in Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is the ‘work of the people’ and therefore when someone is missing the work is not complete!
Our priorities are often ill advised and incorrect. Sports, school, career, so-called ‘family functions’ all replace the Divine Liturgy throughout the year, and when it comes time for vacation, Divine Liturgy makes its way to the lowest point in the priority pole -- if it wasn’t there already. We are all sponges in the presence of Jesus Christ, through His Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We are products of His Church. We are a result of the work and sacrifice of the Saints. We are the continuation of this ministry and faith!
As parents, it is our responsibility to expose our children to our precious Orthodox Faith but exposure is not enough. Our children will also be soaking up our attitude towards our faith and Church. If our opinion of the church is that it’s only a ‘place to congregate socially’ and something that we can take vacation from, our children will grow up with the same mindset.
This summer, SOAK UP JESUS, AS THE SON. I’m not saying don’t enjoy the time with family, enjoy them and thank God for blessing your with this precious time together. I’m not saying you will be in church every waking second of the summer, but I am asking you to make it the foundation on which your summer is planned. Church attendance should be constant, meaningful and prayerful whether we are at our home parish or an Orthodox Christian parish where we are vacationing (see www.assemblyofbishops.org to find canonical Orthodox Christian parishes throughout the United States). Surround yourself with the beauty that is the Orthodox Church! Be a part of the Body of Christ’s Church and grow in the Church as part of your parish family! Be in the presence of Christ and His Church and soak up the SON!
Fr. Kazakis is the presiding priest at St. Nicholas Church in West Babylon, N.Y.