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On the Temple

On the temple

By Arbp. Averky Taushev, of Blessed Memory

God’s temples and everything which takes place in them -the Church’s prayers, sacred actions, and grace-giving Mysteries - have as their purpose the cleansing of our souls from all sinful filth and uncleanness and their transformation into temples of God, worthy habitations for the Spirit of God.

Thus God’s temple is unconditionally necessary for us so that we can ourselves become spiritual temples of God.

This is why those people act foolishly who scorn God’s temples, who are lazy about attending services held in them, who do not participate in the common prayers of the Church and the Mysteries, and who think that they can get along without the Church - that attending church is an unimportant matter, not one of obligation.

Such people can with perfect justice be called spiritual suicides, since they deprive themselves of the very great joy of life in God and surrender themselves into the hands of the enemy of God - the devil, who in such cases unavoidably enters into their souls. Their portion will be eternal death - that “second death” of which Christ’s beloved disciple, St. John the Theologian, speaks in his “Revelation” - together with the devil and all his servants they will be cast into the “lake of fire” (Rev. 20:10-15).

The only way of salvation for us is to bring all our life into agreement with the Church. (1Tim 3:15; Fr. P)

But the life of the Church itself is unthinkable without the temple and the services performed in it, without the common prayer of the Church and the Mysteries. While the Holy Fathers call the private prayer of each individual believer the “breathing of the spirit,” the common service performed by the whole assembly of the faithful is, as it were, the breathing of the whole Church organism - the whole Body of the Church. As breathing is essential for all members of an ordinary bodily organism, for it gives them life through the blood which is continually being cleansed by the oxygen it receives from the air, so continual participation in the divine services is absolutely essential for all members of Christ’s Body the Church, for it, in precisely the same way, gives them spiritual life through the grace of the Holy Spirit received through the Church’s prayers and sacramental actions. Whoever is not participating in the divine services is dying spiritually by falling away from the Church*, just as a member dies and is cut off from the bodily organism when the flow of blood ceases in it, as the dried up branch is cut off from the vine in the Lord’s graphic comparison (John 15:6)

*As St. John of the Ladder, and St. Barsanouphius of Optina, echoing him wisely said, "A sure sign of the deadening of the soul is avoidance of Church services."

"St. John Climacus was asked if there are reliable signs by which it’s possible to know whether a soul is drawing near to God or moving away from Him. After all, regarding ordinary things there are clear signs as to whether they’re good or not. When, for instance, cabbage, meat or fish begins to rot, it’s easy to notice it, since the rotting object begins to give off a foul odor, the color and taste change, and its external appearance witnesses to its deterioration. Well, and what about the soul? After all, it’s bodiless and can’t give off a bad smell or change its appearance. To this question the Holy Father replies, “A sure sign of the deadening of the soul is the avoidance of church services.”

A man who is growing cold towards God begins first of all to flee attending church. At first he tries to come to services later, and then he ceases altogether to visit God’s temple. Therefore it’s mandatory for monks to attend church services. True, it’s sometimes permitted, due to urgent matters, not to go to all the services, but when possible, it’s regarded as a necessary duty. Here in the Skete we even make the rounds of the cells on feast days, so that no one evades church services." (Letter 04/12/1911)

St. John of Damascus, contrary to those who might complain about the services (for those who complain only see the Church through the eyes of their sin) speaks of his joy upon simply being present: "When thoughts are choking me, like so many thorns, I enter the Church, the hospital of souls. The beauty of the icons delight my vision like a verdant meadow, and without my noticing, it stirs my soul to praise God." - Fr. P

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