The canons of the Orthodox Church declare that one who “has no very grave necessity nor difficult business so as to keep him from church for a very long time, but being in town does not go to church on three consecutive Sundays—three weeks,” he “should be repelled from communion”. “If he is a cleric (clergy) let him be deposed, but if a layman, let him be cut off”. What are we to make of this?
The canons are not missiles which we hurl at one another, but rather exist for the good order of the church. It is also important to note that the canons are typically given not as preventative measures, but because there is some abuse of Christian living being acted out.
The regular life of a regular Christian should be regular! It is assumed that the baptized love God and would do anything for him, mainly ‘keep his commandments’. Of the two which Jesus summarized as the greatest, “Love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind” comes first, and this is what we do together, in worship. It is true that we are to love God at all times and in every place, but we do have a specific way of loving him and thanking him with reference to his Holy Resurrection, and that is Sunday worship.
In the old days—when these canons were penned—“difficult business” surely included days of travel by foot, on an animal, or by boat, and possibly to areas where there was no church. Today, there is very little excuse. In Charleston, most of us are within 25 minutes of the church. And even if I travel regularly on the weekends for business, every major city and many good-sized towns have an Orthodox Church, even in North America.
Difficult business did not mean, “I work too much.” or “I am tired”. Working too much is a personal/spiritual problem, perhaps an addiction. And if I am tired, let me hear the words of our Savior, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Surely “very grave necessity” included sickness and disease. Then and now, there are those to whom the church goes since they are unable to come to church. In fact, this was one of the tasks of the first deacons.
The question remains, “Do I love God?” If the answer is yes, what will I do to be in church and on time? As I mentioned in church two weeks ago, we may not know the day and the hour of Christ’s second coming, but the day and the hour of our services are always the same, and written in every publication of our parish! Everyone misses church for some reason sometimes. But regular tardiness and regular absence require attention. Reading the canons, apparently this problem is centuries old. Now as then, returning to communion in these cases requires repentance and confession, since it is by our own will that we keep ourselves from God.