Sometime around 9 tomorrow morning a handful, just a handful, will be in Church. That’s a shame.
Busy with what a Sunday morning brings, much of which could have been handled on another day, it’s a mad rush to get things together and everyone packed in to the car. Many, maybe most, will find themselves skidding into the nave just seconds behind the beginning of Divine Liturgy and more than a few will try to sneak in the doors while the Priest’s back is turned during the Epistle.
So before you tell me about kids and stuff and getting everyone up in the morning please know that I’m not angry and I don’t have to judge. I’m just sorry you’re missing one of the best services of the Orthodox Church, a treasure right underneath your nose. A treasure which, for most Orthodox in this country, remains unclaimed.
Matins, Orthros, or morning prayer is a service that proceeds the Divine Liturgy. For the person outside the iconostasis there’s actually not much to do. You come in, take your place, and listen. There’s one procession to venerate the Gospel and in many parishes there is also time to make a good confession. For the most part its quiet an uneventful. Sit, stand, listen.
And that’s the beauty, the treasure of it. The world is busy, challenging, fragmented, and noisy. It’s nearly impossible for a person to come rushing in from that kind of world into the Divine Liturgy and, as the service asks us, “Lay aside all earthly cares.” The Orthodox Liturgy is not mindless, it requires thought, engagement, and time to instill the sacred in hearts that have been immersed in the world for most of the past week. There is no “microwave” version of this recipe and the Liturgy refuses to trade a quick sentimentality for lasting and deep transformation.
In Matins (Orthros) a person is given the gift of time. Time to be bathed in holy hymns, prayers, scripture, and most of all the presence of God. It’s a kind of decompression from everything outside the walls of the church, a time to slough off everything out there and prepare yourself to taste of heaven. This is crucial time, time of value to prepare yourself for the Divine Liturgy, time to reflect, confess, pray, get the noise out of your head, and be ready when the presence of the Kingdom is announced.
It takes, like many things in Orthodoxy, effort. You have to rearrange your schedule on Sunday morning to focus on the services of the Church. You’ll need to get the kids set up for Sunday on Saturday and make sure you don’t hit the snooze button either. Let Martha fuss over Sunday dinner, Mary has chosen the better part and so should you.
When you get there it might take some getting used to everything. We’re so used to constant noise and busy work that we’re often stunned, sometimes even traumatized, by holy peace. Give yourself time to adjust. Yet, when, over time you “get” it you’ll probably never want to go back. Because as the holy words, holy space, and holy Presence begin to find their way into your heart during the service of Matins you’ll understand why your fathers and mothers in the Faith took time to let the world fade away before they stepped into the light of the Kingdom of God.
I know, you’re busy, the whole world is busy. Yet no time in the presence of God is ever wasted, either now or in all the time to come. Come to Matins (Orthros) and begin to understand.