The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 1.
When we visit different places, if we pay attention, we can usually tell to what purpose a certain place is dedicated, and what different people find most important or interesting. At a library, we see shelves with books and comfortable chairs with lamps—this place is designed for storing books and allowing people to enjoy reading them. At a university, we see large rooms with many seats and a lectern in front of them—this place is designed for allowing professors to lecture students. At a concert hall, we also see many seats and a stage in front of them—this place is designed for allowing musicians to perform for spectators. And at a friend’s house, we may see posters of a famous actor on every wall—this tells us that our friend likes this actor, finds him interesting, and spends time reading about him and watching his films. It is much the same with Orthodox Christians: by observing how we build our churches, how we decorate them, and what we do, we can learn a lot about what we see as most important to us, what we are most interested in. It does not at all mean that we are not interested in anything else—quite the opposite: we enjoy good books, good music, and good films. But our relationship with our God is more important than all other things put together, and we express our understanding of this relationship in church.
For many of us, going to church on Sunday is the focal point of our encounter with the Orthodox faith; it is the experience that often best expresses our understanding of Orthodoxy. And when we enter an Orthodox church, if we pay attention, we notice that everything in it is specifically designed for one particular purpose—the service of the Holy Eucharist. We see a large room called the sanctuary where people gather for the Eucharist, we see the Altar and the Holy Table inside it where the Holy Gifts of the Eucharist are consecrated, we also see people who serve at the Holy Table. The Eucharist, which is at the heart of the service that we call “the Divine Liturgy,” is the highest expression of the Orthodox faith—it shows what we believe about God’s relationship to us and our relationship to Him. And because the Eucharist is so important to us, and because it is often the primary way in which we interact with the Orthodox Church, its life, and its teachings, in this course, we shall study the service of the Eucharist—its history, meaning, language, and how it expresses the very foundations of our Orthodox faith.
Questions for discussion:
- If someone looked at your room or your house, what could they guess about your interests or about what is important to you?
- Can anyone guess anything about you by the way you are dressed or by the way you act?
Why do we go to church on Sunday?
The question of why we go to church on Sunday consists of two questions: 1) Why do we go to church, and 2) Why on Sunday? We will try to find the answer to the first question at a later time, but let us now examine the second question: why do we go to church on Sunday and not some other day?
As we read in the Scripture, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the “first day of the week.” And those who are in the Body of Christ which is the Church also rise together with Him from the death of sin to eternal life with God. In celebration of this new life, Christians have been gathering together on the first day of the week in order to give thanks to their Savior. The word Eucharist comes from the Greek word which means thanksgiving. In the Jewish calendar—our Lord and His Apostles were Jews—the week begins on the day which we now call Sunday. Thus, from the very beginning of the Church, Christians gathered together on Sunday in order to take part in the Eucharist.
The day on which Christ rose from the dead—the first day of the week—also signifies the first day of the New Covenant established between God and us. It is the first day of the new world, in which sin and death no longer have power over people, because Christ conquered both; and in His Body, the Church, we also can be free from the bondage of sin and death. This is why Sunday is so important to us, and this is why we devote this day to God and give thanks to Him—take part in the Eucharist.
Early Christians even chose to call this day the Lord’s Day instead of Sun Day. In Russian, we call this day the Resurrection Day, and in Slavonic we say the No-Work Day in order to remind us that on this day, our earthly cares must be laid aside because our Lord is calling us to come to His house.
Of course, we can thank God on any other day of the week as well. If fact, very soon after the Church was established, Christians began to celebrate the Eucharist every time they came together to commemorate the life of a saint or an event from the life of Christ. Those were the origins of the Church holidays which we celebrate. Nowadays, in most parishes, we celebrate the Eucharist on Sundays and on major Church holidays, and in monasteries, divine services may be celebrated almost every day. In later lessons, we will learn about various other services of the Orthodox Church and how they relate to the most important one—the Eucharist.
Questions for discussion:
- How do Christians honor the day of Christ’s resurrection?
- If for some reason you cannot come to church, what do you usually do on Sunday morning?
 See Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; and John 20:1
 See Eph. 5:23 and Col. 1:24
 Rom. 6:4
 See, for example, Acts 20:7, also Didache 14 and Justin Martyr, First Apology 67 (ca. 160).