In Answer to the Question, Why Go to Church If I Have God in My Heart?
EACH ONE OF US has some acquaintances, or even relatives, who
regard our gathering in church with puzzlement. Profound lack of understanding
is written on their faces, even at times disturbance. Sometimes this pours out
in words such as these: "Well, alright, you've committed yourself to the
Faith, be that as it may. But why go to church, and waste all that time and
effort in doing so? Look at me, for instance; I also believe. But I believe in
the heart [literally. soul]. I have God in my heart, and do not need any outward
ritualisation. just remember how, not long ago, the satirist Michael Zadornov
remarked: No intermediaries are necessary for me to have communion with
How can we explain our behaviour to such people? As always,
there are two ways: that of the fall and that of defence. It is not hard to
counter this type of worldly "philosophy." When all is said and done,
a little healthy thought is sufficient to understand that the society in which
these clowns (or, in present-day parlance, these satirists) flourish as experts
in the sphere of theology and regarding the spiritual life, is completely sick.
At the very least, it has fallen sick through a loss of a sense of balance; it
cannot even laugh at itself, when it sees that now the joke has usurped a place
even in preaching from the episcopal cathedra.... Contemporary society is such
that it thinks those things are serious, which our forebears used to have only
as Carnival Week amusements.
There is no seriousness in the position and contention of our
critics that "God is in our hearts!" Of course, there is such a
condition in the most exalted paradigm of the spiritual life. And this the
Apostle Paul desired for us, when he said: "My little children, of whom I
travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you" (Gal. 4:19), "to
be strengthened with the might of His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may
dwell in your hearts by faith" (Eph. 3:16-17).
If the words, "God is within me," had been spoken
by the Venerable Seraphim of Sarov, these words would have had some weight, for
they would honestly bear witness to the fruit of his spiritual struggle. If a
desert-dweller had said that he had trained himself in continual interior
prayer, and for that reason he did not perceive [any loss] by his absenting
himself from church, which he only rarely attended, then those words, coming
from those lips, might be justified.
But when we hear these words from the man on the street, then
it is right for us to inquire: As a result of which particular spiritual
struggles have you achieved such progress? God is in your soul, you say? Then,
explain, what course of prayer you took? How frequently do you recite the Lord's
prayer? What? The "Our Father"? You can't remember it clearly?!
Alright, then tell us exactly, how is it that you abide with the continual
presence of God in your heart? What fruits of the gift of the Spirit have you
become aware of in yourself? Here, I'll prompt you: "The fruit of the
Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
meekness, temperance" (Gal. 5:22-23). Do you have
these feelings? No, they are not personal characteristics; they are gifts. A
gift is that which we formerly did not possess, but which through spiritual
regeneration has come into our life, imparting to it renewal. Do you have
any understanding of any such renewal?
Can you distinguish in your spiritual experience what is the
"presence of God," and what is simply a manifestation of various human
characteristics: an awareness of beauty, harmony, a pang of conscience, and
human fellowship? You cannot? This surely means that you haven't noticed the
moment that God, the Creator of the universe, came into your life and into your
soul? How could it not be noticed? Maybe, this means it didn't happen?
Maybe, again, you have become confused in distinguishing
between faith in God and the presence of God Himself? And, wait a moment, do
you have such faith in you? Faith is not simply a passive assent "Well,
okay, I agree that there must be Something Faith is a striving towards that
which appears right, to that which the soul has resolved to love. Faith is not
just a passive acquiescence to some distant authorities or lines of argument;
faith is an active thirst "I want what is necessary for me, that it
should be so."
Faith: this is active. It is a striving towards something
already perceived but not yet self-evident. A striving towards something which
already touches upon our lives, and throws its sheen across them, but which has
not yet entered them fully. Faith: this is a desire for new experience. But it
is hard to trust those who repeat, "I have my faith, and it is in the
heart," and who say this with lacklustre eyes, or believe that then or at
any time they have really experienced a striving towards God.
It is impossible to love, without that love showing, without
making any kind of advance towards the person whom one loves. Likewise, it is
impossible to believe, and not somehow manifest that belief in our outward
activities. The rose that one gives to one's beloved is in itself something she
does not need. This flower is not dear to her because of its exceptional beauty,
but because it has been given a certain lustre on account of the love of the one
who gave it to her. The way in which a bought flower stays in one's room is
completely different from the way in which one which has been given us does! If
a man professes that he loves someone, but doesn't do anything in the name of
this love, if he does seek to meet, if he makes no gifts, if he doesn't devote
some time for the beloved's company, if he makes no sacrifices all this
means that he must simply be boasting in front of those of his friends who are
close to him: "You see, I lack nothing, I've got a sweetheart too!"
So now, you who affirm that "God is in the heart,"
what have you done to cleanse your heart for this wondrous Presence? How do you
address Him, and what do you call Him? How do you keep Him within? How has this
Acquaintance changed you? Do you love that One, Whom you have met? And what do
you do for the sake of this love? If these questions throw you into a bewildered
silence, how is it so when you consider yourselves so exalted above all that you
abide with God? Perpetually standing still, you are not looking where you are
going, or even noticing if you are stumbling!
One can pose such questions to those people who excuse their
laziness by some imaginary "spirituality."
Nonetheless it is also important for us to establish why we
go to church. To listen to the sermon? But these days you can get that from a
radio presenter. To pray? But you can pray everywhere and at any time.
Furthermore, this is the very advice of the Apostle: "Pray without
ceasing!" Then, to make an offering? But these days there are numerous
collections on the streets. To make a note of the announcements?
But you can get that from an acquaintance. To put up a
candle? But you can put up a candle in front of your icons at home. And so, why
do we go to church?
Furthermore, some people say that if they want to go and
pray, they go off to a wood, or to a stream or the seaside, and there in a
"Church Erected by God" it is easier for them to be aware of the
Creator and to send up glory to Him. Why, they say, do we leave the boundless
temple [of creation] to place
ourselves under the narrow vaults of a church that is man-made? [This is, of course,
the argument of the so-called Blue Domers
Just as the pagans speak of the sacrifices people ought to offer their god,
so the Gospel tells us what sacrifice people must needs offer God: "The Son
of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a
ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28); "God so loved the world, that he gave
His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but
have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
The biblical offerings of sacrifice were not necessary to
God, but for the people. People simply must learn to be thankful. People must be
instructed that they must deny themselves albeit a portion of their life, of
their possessions and of their time (remember the teaching on the Sabbath), and
give it over to the Person of the Lord. This is not because God needs this
portion which is dedicated to Him, but because thereby people are instructed in
Only a tenth or hundredth part of religion subsists in what people
contribute. The principal part in religion is what God contributes therein. The
most important part is not what people do for God's sake, but what God does for
the sake of the people. The most important part is not what people bring as an
offering in church, but that which they take away from the church!
That which we offer God, we can offer Him in any place. All that is in the
world can thus be laid before Him. But there is that small portion of existence
in which God is well pleased to reign, not in Himself but in another. That is my
soul. This is that chamber within the limitless edifice of the universe, wherein
the Builder thereof will not enter without an invitation. And it depends upon us
at whose disposal we lay that freedom of ours, which was given us by God. Will
we serve God, or will we serve ourselves, our caprices and our lusts? The only
way we can augment the limitless power of the Lord is if we offer Him our own
free will.' For this reason, "a sacrifice unto God is a broken spirit"
(Ps. 50:17). And this sacrifice we can offer everywhere. And in this sense, each
one of us is a priest. This is the meaning that underlies the words of the
Apostle Peter, that the Christians are a people comprised of priests (I Peter
2:9). No one can, in my place, offer God in sacrifice my will. I alone have
power over it, and only I can offer it at the Throne of God. Swear an oath of
faithfulness and say, "Lord, Thy will and not mine be done! I thank Thee
for all that Thou dost desire to bring into my life. Grant me the ability to
serve Thee with my every breath!" And this can be done in any place!
So the possibility of offering sacrifice to God is always
with us. And we can always say to our ego, the very words which the philosopher
Diogenes once used to reply to the world ruler Alexander of Macedonia, who
wanted to fulfil some request of the wise out of his love for him: "Make
off, and do not block out the sun for me!"
Thus, that a Christian might offer sacrifice to God, it is
not necessary for him to be in church. But religion is not only concerned with
what we give. More importantly, it is concerned with what we receive. It is not
so important why we seek God. It is more important why He seeks us.
Why we often go to church and turn to God with our petitions
is well enough known. We turn to God, seeing Him as some kind of generator of
humanitarian aid: "Give us, O Lord, better health, greater success and an
increase in our wages!" Too often we seek the Lord, according to the saying
of the hierarch Dimitry of Rostov, "not for the sake of Jesus, but for a
crust of bread." But why does God seek us? Does He require something from
us? Or does He wish to give us something?
Why does His Word invite: "Come unto Me, all ye that
labour and are heavy laden" (Matt. 11:28)? This invitation has no such
corollary as "and ye shall give Me so
and so..." Rather this invitation ends with another promise; it tells of
that which God does for those who respond: "And I will give you rest ...
and ye shall find rest for your souls."
Thus, God calls us to Himself, so that he might present us
with something. Learning "Learn of Me" (Matt. 11:29): Spirit
"Receive ye of My Spirit;" Love, peace, joy "Abide in My
love" (John 45: 10); "My peace I give unto you;" "That My
joy might remain in you." But Christ grants us something further which the
mind cannot comprehend.
"Abide in Me, and I in you.... Receive ye this, this is
My Blood, which is shed for you...." Christ entrusts His whole Being to the
people; both His Divinity and His manhood.
In contemporary medicine there is a certain procedure: the
patient is given a transfusion of his own blood. Blood is taken from his body,
it is cleansed of various harmful contaminations, or alternatively enriched with
certain components, which the sick man's organism cannot itself produce in the
required quantities. And this purified or enriched blood is reintroduced into
the patient's system. Something of the kind occurs in our relationship with
Christ. God became man. He took on Himself our nature, which had fallen into
corruption, and in Himself healed it and saturated it with Divinity,
Eternalness, and Immortality; and it is His human Body, which has now already
passed through death and resurrection, that He returns to us. His human Blood,
vitalized by the Divine currents, He pours into us, that we might bear the seed
of Resurrection and be communicants of Eternity.
And so, we come to church, so that we might receive something
therein. The church it's just walls; but walls built around the Mysterion
[sacrament] of Communion The Mysterion consists in this: that to the people a
hand is extended with the Gifts. Therefore to visit church is not an onerous
obligation, but a wondrous privilege. To us there is granted the right to stand
as participants in the Mystical Supper. To us there is given the possibility of
becoming "partakers of the divine nature." To us there is granted to
possibility of contacting an Energy, such that not one of of the power stations
of the world could produce.
God sought us. And has found us. We simply need to go to that
place, where closer than anywhere else God approaches the people, to that place
where in an unprecedented way, through the Gifts themselves, He is distributed
to the people. If Christ presents us with the Cup with Communion through the
Royal Gates, does it behoove us to turn up our noses and affirm that "I
have God in my heart"?
Christ has said where He awaits us and what He desires to
give us. He, the Eternal One, desires to meet us and be united with us in this
life, so that in our future, everlasting life, we might not be irreparably
Would it be good manners for us, if we had received a message
to meet someone on Pushkin Square, to take a walk on Leo Tolstoy Street at the
time appointed? If the meeting was thus missed, who would be guilty? Well, quite
obviously, not me, Pushkin would be!!
Those, who declare that they do not need mediators in their
relationship with God, do not begin to understand that in church there awaits
them the Mediator, Who once offered sacrifice for them and freed people from the
necessity of destroying those fruits which feed the idols of this world. Surely
it is not so unbearably difficult to open your hand, so that the Gifts may be
Deacon Andrei Kuraev
From The Shepherd, Vol
XX, No. 10 (June, 2000), pp. 2-8. Translated from "VOSKRESENIE, " the
magazine of the Community of the Kasperov Icon of the Mother of God in Kherson.
A note mentions that it has been published in a shortened version and that the
full text of the article is available, in Russian, on http://www.kuraev.ru/.