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The Orthodox Ethos Podcast
Episode 12
May 2nd, 2020

The "House Church," the Divine Liturgy and Us

In this episode of The Orthodox Ethos Podcast the idea of the "House Church" is discussed, as well as "participating" in the Divine Liturgy via Live Stream.

00:29 The House Church in the Ancient Church
02:23 What Makes the House a Church?
03:32 Is it ok to Stay Home for Church now?
04:43 Hell is Separation, Heaven Communion
07:33 Depart Catechumens & The Doors, The Doors
09:36 The Enemy Strives to Do Away with the Mystery
11:12 Egeria the Pilgrim and Her Message to Us
12:55 Keep in Mind the Endgame
15:13 Keep the Mystery Inviolate 

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May 3, 2020

Episode 12

The “House Church,” Divine Liturgy and Us

Today on the Orthodox Ethos podcast: The “House Church,” Divine Liturgy and Us

During this whole crisis, we have been hearing from different quarters as a way of consolation for the faithful, who are unable to go to the services and to the Church and to commune, that we are going to make our house into a church, we are going to have a “House Church.”

And there has been even encouragement, especially here in Greece, with stories from the Gerontikon, the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, the Life of St. Mary of Egypt, that don’t worry, you are not going to commune for a long time, neither did St. Mary of Egypt. Or, don’t worry, in our house we are going to make our house into a Church.

And of course that is all well-intended, but there is a danger here that is hiding in this whole encouragement without a lot of discernment. We have to be really clear what we mean by the “House Church. This is of course mentioned in Holy Scripture. If we go back to the Church in Corinth, with Priscilla, or the Church in Rome with the Apostle Paul, there is mention of the Church in the house of Priscilla.

What does that mean, though, in practice? You remember now, this is the time when there were no Churches built. The Church existed essentially underground. It was persecuted by the state, the Romans at the time, the pagan Romans.

And they were forced to find places, houses, in order to do the Divine Liturgy. Now, they would go out and preach, they would witness, but for the Divine Liturgy, they needed to have a private place, because only the initiated would be allowed. And so, in the houses of the faithful, and usually large houses, wealthy Christians would house everyone.

And Paul would talk about greeting the people in the house Church of Priscilla, etc. And so the key here, though, is that the house became a Church because Divine Liturgy was celebrated there, not because people were gathered for prayer alone, but because of the Divine Liturgy, which makes the Church, and the is made, and we are initiated into the Church through the mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation, and Holy Communion, all three mysteries initiate us into the Church, make us members of the body of Christ.

And so the Divine Liturgy is the heart of our identity, and that is when the house becomes a Church, in the true sense of the word. So, a serious Orthodox theologian would not speak without great clarification of the houses becoming Churches, lest they give the impression to those who are uninitiated or not very knowledgeable about Scripture and Church history, and the many Christians in Greece who are not catechized, that it is OK to stay home for Church.

In addition to that impression, now we have the Church saying stay home and watch Divine Liturgy at home. This is contrary to the very living tradition and experience of the Church, though, to watch Divine Liturgy from home. We will talk about whether that is even blessed and something that we should be watching.

But, it is much better for the Church, instead of encouraging and trying to console faithful in this way, the message should be - should have been and should be now: repent. Repent and find ourselves. Go back to what, obviously, we have lost, because a part of the reason why the Churches are closed, we are not in them, is because of our sins, because of our falling away, because of our communing without the presuppositions, because of our worldliness, and going without the fear of God and faith and love to the Holy Mysteries.

Now, not all of us, perhaps, but many Orthodox Christians, especially in places like Greece, where many go without proper preparation, and catechism. It is truly ironic that in a state where we are not with one another, we are not embracing one another, we are not venerating the icons, we are not communing, we are talking about a House Church.

Do you know what it means to be separated from all of that? It is hell. That is what hell is. Hell is not to be in communion.

And communion is when we are together in the Synaxis, in the gathering of the faithful, when we are communing of the mysteries, when we are embracing one another in love, when we are kissing the images, the icons, of the saints and of our Lord, and of the Mother of God, who are real and perhaps more real than this world. They are in heaven with God.

So that holy embrace, whether it be with those of our brothers who are in this world and are struggling Christians, or rather it be those who are in the triumphant Church, that embrace is heaven. That is what it will be like in heaven. We will be together around the one alter, communing of the same cup.

Now that we are separated from that, it is a great danger to talk about the “Home Church.” We should be saying to the faithful: watch and pray and repent. Watch and pray, instead of: Watch television, watch on the television the Holy Mysteries. Sure, it is a certain consolation to watch the Divine Services. Sure, there is a connection there.

But it is a far, far cry from what the Church is really all about, and what we experience. And of course we know this. I am not telling you anything you don’t know. But there should be a warning, do not relax at home. Do not sit in front of the television. Do not think that from the television you can have your spiritual life sent to you and you can participate.

Let’s not forget that it is going to be through that means, the media, television, Internet that the Antichrist is and will continue in the last days, to gain the devotion and the following of millions and millions of people.

It is through those means that we will see the assignation of the prophets Elias and Enoch when they preach repentance to the people in Jerusalem. And so that means is going to be, not a path of our communion with God, and we should not become complacent and accept that this is a possibility. This is an extreme anomaly that we should be repenting of this situation and quickly bringing about its end.

So what should we do? Fine father, OK, I agree, what do we do? Well, first of all, for Divine services, of Vespers and Matins, one could participate as much as possible, through prayer. For the Divine Liturgy it is not possible. We should at least, at least at “the doors, the doors” shut the television off. But I would say after the Gospel, where it says “depart catechumens,” we should shut the television off.

And along with the ancient tradition of the Church, that should be going on in every Church anyway. That is the tradition of the Church. In a missionary setting like the Western world today, where Orthodoxy is a missionary Church, we should be reinstituting the departure of the catechumens, the non-initiated, the visitors. And even those who are not going to commune, it would be very didactic and helpful for that initiative to be reinstituted. For those who will commune to be those who remain for the second part of the Divine Liturgy, at least for the catechumens and the non-Orthodox to depart.

And you will say this is very rude, this is very… No. It can be done in beautiful way. It can be done showing the greatest respect for the catechumens and the visitors to depart at that point in the Divine Liturgy. They can be catechized by someone who is assigned to that. And the visitors can be shown great respect until the Divine Liturgy ends.

It is all possible. It is not impossible, but we have to be serious about our own Orthodox way of doing things and return to the roots, our own roots. We have gotten away from them because we have been in Orthodox countries that have been all Orthodox for hundreds and thousands of years.

Well, we are not that anymore. We are definitely in a missionary setting. And it is a great service to the catechumens when they are not served everything up front, but on the day of the baptism they are initiated into the mystery of the Divine Eucharist. You see, the devil is working hard to do away with the mystery.

That there will be no more mystery. That there be no more initiation, that everything be out there on television and everything be profaned. And people can sit in front of the television and look at Divine Liturgy and do sinful things, or do things that are not at all bringing them into communion with God, or even contrary.

So this is a very problematic situation that we are in. We should not be happy or complacent, or encouraging the faithful that this a solution spiritually. It would be much better if they turned the television off, especially as I said, from the catechumens [depart] onward, or from “the doors, the doors” at the very least.

And take in their hand the prayer rope and with deep repentance we all call upon God’s mercy. The tradition of the church, up until very recently, and even in Russia (where [unfortunately] now they show Divine Liturgy on television) up until recently, at least into the 80’s and 90’s, that was not the case. It would be unheard of for the Divine Liturgy to be shown on television.

And certainly, even on Mt. Athos, where tradition is kept, those who are not Orthodox ([at least] in many of the monasteries) are asked to leave at that time. That is a key aspect of the Divine Liturgy, its mysterious aspect, that it is an initiation for the faithful who will commune.

If we go back into Church history, we see a confirmation of this in the famous text of the pilgrim, Etheria or Egeria who came from Spain in the 380’s and went to Jerusalem and Constantinople, and she describes her whole pilgrimage, quite in detail. What does she not describe? Any of the Divine Liturgy, no description whatsoever. It simply says, as it is known and ordered to be taken and to be carried out.

There is no description whatever. So it was clearly understood in the 4th century that the uninitiated do not, are not exposed to that deep mystery of the Church. That distinction between the kerygma, that which we preach, and the esoteriki zoi, the internal life of the Church, has really been lost today because of these means, and we have not been disciplined to keep that door, that curtain, before the Holy Mysteries.

We even have, in many places, cameras in the Holy Alter. It is unbelievable. It is unconscionable for us to have cameras in the Holy Alter. There is a reason why there is an icon screen. There is a reason why there is a curtain. There is a reason why, in the ancient Church, there would be a curtain around the actual alter itself. And the holy bishop would go in without even others in the alter seeing. Some witnesses give us that picture of the ancient Churches devotion to the mystery.

So we, on the one hand, respect the mystery, on the other hand, [and] avoid all kinds of impiety, understanding that the enemy’s intention to make everything profane and there be no mystery left. All of this leads us to keeping in mind the end game, the end game being that the enemy wants to do away with the Divine-humanity of the Church, and of Christ, and wants to make it common, wants to make the Church as if it is one religion among many, wants to make everything on a human level, to be something not mysterious.

What is the present war against the Holy Communion in Church, in Greece right now? Many saying that you can get sick from the Holy Communion. What is that, but a part of the mystery of iniquity, the war against the Divine humanity, the Divinity of Christ Himself. This is another example.

So we, having all that in mind, having it in mind, especially where this is leading, we have to be much more careful about when we talk about the House Church, the Home Church. We are not protestants. We do not believe that you can gather in the Church in your home and simply have prayer and that is the Church.

The Church is not present unless the Divine Liturgy is served and we commune of the Holy Mysteries. Unless that is happening in the houses, and that is very possible that that will be the case going forward if we enter a time of persecution, then we do not have a House Church.

We are not talking about the Church in the home. We are talking about individual Christians praying and making it … - yes we talk about the Home Church but not in that light. We talk about making the house, the home, into a monastery, a Church, a place of prayer. And that is what we mean by that. We do not mean that the Divine Liturgy is taking place there. There can be no substitute for that as Orthodox Christians.

So we pay attention to the signs of the times, pay attention to what is happening around us, be on guard, be watchful and prayerful and repent continually. This is the job of every Christian, especially during these difficult times.

We know the Alpha and the Omega. We know how history ends. Let’s be on guard, that we not be a part of the machinations and the mystery of iniquity, which wants to make everything profane and everything common.

Keep that mystery. Turn off the television at the time of the second half of the Divine Liturgy, at the very least, and be on guard spiritually, for the mystery. Keep the mystery, even in spite of all the means at our disposal. Let’s keep the mystery.

We will talk more about the attack on the mystery, the struggle against [the Mystery], here in Greece, which I’m sure when the Churches are open, we are going to be facing new temptations. We will talk about that in our next episode.

I hope you will join us.

Christ is risen!

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