A tradition in most Serbian dioceses in America is the Lenten Deanery Vespers. Each Sunday, with the exception of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, Vespers are served in one of the churches of the deanery. It’s a nice tradition that has been suffering, like most things, with smaller attendance and less and less general interest. And the people that do show up are, as is typical of such things, the same ones that come from one year to the next.
Anyway, last Sunday we were scheduled to go to the church in Akron. After liturgy a young parishioner stopped by the parish home for something or other and, as I was getting myself ready to go, he said he was thinking of going himself but wasn’t sure. Since he knew my humor I was able to look at him and ask, “You want to go? Why?!?” (Wow, a priest asking you why would you want to go to church?) After he gave a little chuckle he shrugged his shoulders and admitted that he didn’t know why, he just liked it. I should admit though, I kind of thought he was just being polite, after all it’s always nice to tell the priest you’d like to go to church.
Needless to say, I was little surprised when I looked out the altar that evening and saw him standing next to his dad. Guess he wasn’t joking.
But seriously, why would people – young people at that – want to go to church? There’s a group of people out there in our churches convinced that we need to work on getting people to come to church – attract them, offer different things (I don’t know what), but just get them to start coming. I think I’d prefer those who shrug their shoulders and come to church out of different reasons – you know, the ones you can’t put into words.
I suppose we can try to find a parallel in Scripture. We read in the Old Testament with some frustration about these people, chosen by God, who are constantly forgetting the Lord God who delivered them out of Egypt, chasing after other, false gods. They’re given a set of commandments to follow, the main one being quite simple and straightforward: worship just the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! And no one else! And don’t go with strange woman “neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods…” (1 Kings 11:2). Going through the Bible a person can’t help but feel utterly baffled, frustrated, mystified – can’t you guys just worship God; He’s given you so many signs, you fall into the hands of your enemies and then He delivers you and gets you out of the jam!?!
But perhaps there was something about worshiping Baal and the other strange gods (demons) that appealed to them; maybe there was more of an attraction there. Maybe. But regardless of how great of an attraction it was, how many people it was able to draw, at the end of the day it still proved to be empty of anything real and salvific, and certainly devoid of the true God. In the end all it was and could ever be was an attraction.