The divine services of the Church are words in which we converse and speak to God with our worship and with our love. The hours spent closest to Paradise are the hours spent in church together with all our brethren when we celebrate the Divine Liturgy, when we sing and when we receive Holy Communion. Together we all follow the divine services - the words of our Lord. With the Gospel, the Epistles, the hymns of the Book of the Eight Tones, of the Lenten Triodion, of the Offices of the Saints, we achieve our union with Christ.
But the snares of Satan are many for those who worship God. Temptation manages very successfully to ensure that we pay no attention in the worship. We go to church frequently, only to continue our sleep. As soon as we hear the readings and hymns, we close our eyes. We enter into a state of languidity and we are unable to follow the words of the hymns. It is a satanic thing, this soporific state, and very obviously so.
Think what we are missing when we are in church in this thoughtless state! Although before you go to church you say to yourself, "I'll pay attention, I won't doze off again, I'll be alert," yet you don't succeed. All these exhortations, "I'll pay attention," and so on, are attempts to compel ourselves, which provoke a negative reaction within us. And with compulsion we achieve nothing. On the contrary, the state of sloth overtakes us and ridicules us: "Concentrate hard now, force yourself, do what you like, but I, your old self, have you in my hand and I'll keep a tight hold on you, and now, if you can, let me see you make your spiritual progress!"
Whatever you do under compulsion and whatever causes your soul to kick instinctively and protest, causes you harm. This is something I've said many times. I have seen monks and lay people of every age leaving the Church and abandoning God entirely, because they are unable to bear the inner pressure and the pressure from other people. Pressure causes a person not only to react negatively against the Church, but not to want the Church at all. It does not have a positive effect. It bears no fruit. He does whatever it is, albeit reluctantly, because his elder or spiritual father told him to. He says to himself, for example, "Now I must go to Compline." Yes, he does the thing, but whatever is done in a mechanical way is harmful and not beneficial.
You are often forced to do what is good. But it mustn't be done under duress; it's not beneficial, it's not spiritually edifying. Take, for example, the Jesus Prayer. If you force yourself to say it, after a time you will weary of it and you will throw it away; and then what happens? If you do it as a chore, the pressure builds up inside you until it bursts out in some evil. Pressure of this kind can even make you not want to go to church at all. Go to church in a different spirit, not with pushing and shoving, but with pleasure and joy. For this to happen, you must pay attention and take pleasure and joy in the services, in the hymns, the readings and prayers. Listen to each word and follow the meanings. You see?
There is, however, another great danger. If we don't pay attention, we may listen to and sing everything mechanically. We read the words and hear them because we must. For example, the monk goes to Vespers and hears the words [from Ninth Hour]: "How lovely are Your dwelling places, O Lord of Hosts; my soul longs and faints for the courts of the Lord . . ." We hear it today, we hear it tomorrow, we hear it the day after and all the year round. The same thing again and again. When a person hears it without participating, he wearies of it, he dozes off, he doesn't enter more deeply into the words, he becomes bored and then reaction sets in. Thereafter he finds no benefit and no joy. Despair sets in and the devil doesn't miss the opportunity to work harm.
The divine services are a very great affair. They are everything. I have experienced this. The precondition is for everything to be done with eros [intense desire and longing], with interest and with a sincere disposition to worship Christ - not as a chore and perfunctorily, but with eros and divine enthusiasm. If we do not feel like this, the services are without value. Not only are they valueless, but they are harmful. "Then," you will say, "let's stop doing them!" No, not at all. But as far as you can, avoid simply following the book and look to the substance of the matter. That is, take pleasure in prayer and conversation with God. Boredom is disaster for the monk.
For my own part, I am never bored. I have always enjoyed the services. I didn't put any pressure on myself and I never did anything as a bounden duty. On the contrary, if possible I want to hear the same things today and every day. Over and over again. That's what's of value. I cannot be satisfied even if I repeat the words all day long. And I believe that all these things benefit us greatly. There is so much juice to be extracted which refreshes and nourishes our soul. You, too, should in this way give yourselves with all your heart to Christ.
The liturgical prayers which seem perfunctory become your own when they are said with meaning and care. When even the most sinful person reads the Prayers of Preparation for Communion [in this manner], he is greatly sanctified.
In this way the soul is cultivated without our realizing. Bloodlessly. That is, the old self is rendered useless. It is rendered useless without a fight. It is not provoked, but it is rendered useless and the new man grows and develops.
- Elder Porphyrios. Wounded by Love, pp. 165-167.
Published by Denise Harvey, Evia Greece.