by St. John Chrysostom
Churches are spiritual ports
Churches resemble ports in the ocean, which God has placed in cities—spiritual ports, wherein whoever of us takes refuge finds indescribable calmness of soul, made dizzy from worldly business. And precisely as a calm and waveless port offers safety to the boats docked there, so also the Church saves from the storm of earthly cares whoever hastens to it, and grants the believers to stand securely and listen to the word of God with great calmness.
The Church is the foundation of virtue and the school of spiritual life. Just cross its threshold at any time, and immediately you forget daily cares. Pass inside, and a spiritual ray will surround your soul. This stillness causes awe and teaches the Christian life. It raises up your train of thought and doesn’t allow you to remember present things. It transports you from earth to Heaven. And if the gain is so great when a worship service is not even taking place, just think, when the Liturgy is performed — and the prophets teach, the Apostles preach the Gospel, Christ is among the believers, God the Father accepts the performed sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit grants His own rejoicing—what great benefit floods those who have attended church as they leave the church.
The joy of anyone who rejoices is preserved in the Church. The gladness of the embittered, the rejoicing of the saddened, the refreshment of the tortured, the comfort of the tired, all are found in the Church. Because Christ says,
“Come to me, all who are tired and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
What is more longed for than [to hear] this Voice? What sweeter than this invitation? The Lord is calling you to a Banquet when he invites you to church. He urges you to be comforted from toils and He transports you to a place of comfort from pain, because He lightens you from the burden of sins. He heals distress with spiritual enjoyment, and sadness with joy.
Why don’t you attend church?
Despite all this, few people come to church. How grievous! We run eagerly to dances and amusements. We listen with pleasure to the foolishness of singers. We enjoy the foul words of actors for hours without getting bored. And yet when God speaks we yawn, we scratch ourselves and feel dizzy. Most people would run rabidly to the horse track, although there’s no roof there to protect the audience from rain, even when it rains heavily or when the wind is lifting everything. They don’t mind the bad weather or the cold or the distance. Nothing keeps them in their homes. When they are about to go to church, however, then the soft rain becomes an obstacle to them. And if you ask them who Amos or Obadiah is, or how many prophets or apostles there are, they can’t even open their mouths. Yet they can tell you every detail about the horses, the singers and the actors. What kind of state is this?
We celebrate the memories of saints, and almost no one appears in the church. It seems that the distance sways the Christians to negligence. Or rather, not the distance, but just negligence prevents them. Because, as nothing can deter him who has a good disposition and zeal to do something, so also everything can deter the negligent one, the indolent one and the one who puts things off.
The martyrs shed their blood for the Truth, and are you concerned about such a little distance [to the church]? They sacrificed their lives for Christ, and you don’t want to toil even a little? The Lord died for your sake, and are you too bored to come to church, preferring to stay at your house? Nevertheless, you must come, to see the devil being defeated, the saint winning, God being glorified and the Church triumphing.
“But I am a sinner,” you say, “and I don’t dare gaze at the saint.”
Precisely because you are a sinner, come here, to become righteous. Or maybe don’t you know that they who stand before the sacred altar also have committed sins? For this reason God provided for the priests also to suffer from some passions, so that they understand human weakness and forgive others.
“But since I didn’t do something I heard in church,” someone will tell me, “how can I come again?”
Come to hear again the divine Word, and try this time to implement it. If you put medicine over your wound and it doesn’t heal the same day, won’t you put it on again the next day? If the wood cutter who wants to cut a cherry tree doesn’t manage to knock it down with the first strike, won’t he hit it a second and fifth and tenth time? You also do the same thing.
But you will tell me that poverty and the need to work prevent you from attending church. However, this excuse is not reasonable. The week has seven days. God shared these seven days with us. And to us He gave six, whereas for Himself He left one. So for this one day only won’t you agree to stop working? And why do I say for a whole day? What the widow of the Gospel did in the case of charity, you do the same for the duration of one day. She gave two mites and received much grace from God. You lend two hours to God also, going to church, and you will bring to your home gains of innumerable days. If, however, you don’t agree to do something like this, consider that with this attitude of yours, you might lose the fruit of many years of toil. Because when He is scorned, God knows how to scatter the money you gather by working on Sunday.
Even if you found a whole treasure house full of gold and on account of it you were absent from church, your harm would be much greater—as much as spiritual things are greater than material things—because material things, even if they are many and flow abundantly, we don’t take to the next life; they are not transported with us to Heaven, and they won’t present themselves at that dreadful judgment seat of the Lord. Many times, even sometimes before we die, they abandon us. On the contrary, the spiritual treasure we obtain in church is not a possession that can be taken away, but rather it follows us everywhere.
Someone else says,
“Yes, but I can pray at my house.”
You deceive yourself, O man. Of course it is possible for you to pray at your home also. It is impossible, however, for you to pray as you pray in church, where there is a multitude of fathers and where cries of petition are sent up to God in one voice. The Lord doesn’t hear you so much when you ask Him on your own as when you beseech Him united with your brothers. Church is more spiritually conducive than home. In church there is one mind, the agreement of the believers, the association of love, the prayers of the priests. For this reason, furthermore, the priests preside over the services—so that the weaker prayers of the people are strengthened with their stronger prayers, and thus all together they ascend to Heaven.
When we pray each one separately, we are weak. When we gather all together, however, then we become stronger and draw God’s compassion to a greater degree. The apostle Peter once was bound in chains in prison. However, the gathered faithful prayed fervently, and immediately he was freed. Consequently, what could be stronger than common prayer, which benefited even those pillars of the Church?