When I converted to Orthodox I was initially shocked by the number of folks that come late to Church. I know that in Orthodox worship we have a free style of worship where there is a lot of movement. In Orthodox Churches in Eastern Europe pews are not present and it allows for far more freedom of movement in Orthodox Worship. I for one think pews are anathema in Orthodox worship and they should be removed from all Orthodox Church but that is the topic for another day.
I do find it interesting that people can be on time, if not early, for all sorts of things in their life but when it comes to church folks show up late. I am not talking about a few minutes late but some 20 minutes late!
At the start of Liturgy I turn and bow to those assembled and there are a few faces looking back. By the time I exit the sanctuary for the small entrance the place is usually full but I know not everyone is there yet. People come in just be fore we start or just after we start.
I was brought up Roman Catholic. You went to church early so you could kneel and say some prayers. I remember as a child kneeling there watching everyone else not really sure what to do, but the idea is you get in the position of worship. It would be like deciding to run the Boston Marathon the day of the Marathon itself, no stretching, no training, let’s just go run! Not really going to happen.
Worship requires us to be settled and in a frame of mind that we can listen a respond to the Word of God in our life. If you’re fumbling with your keys and looking around to see who else is there your not doing that. What’s wrong with coming say five minutes before the Liturgy starts and set your mind with an attitude of worship.
How do we enter an Orthodox Church? We begin in the Narthex with lighting candles for the living and the dead and venerate the Icons that might be there. Next we enter the Church and come forward to the Icons at the front of the Church. In venerating and Icons one approaches, makes two small bows from the waist and make the sign of the cross each time. Then we venerate the Icon and make one more bow, from the waist making the sign of the cross. We venerate the festival Icons first, of there is one, or we venerate Icons of Christ first then Icons of the Theotokos, then the saints in that order. Pretty hard to do all of that if Liturgy has already begun.
There is also the tradition in the Orthodox Church that is you arrive at Church after the Gospel has been read you should not present yourself for communion. We need to hear the Word of God and soak it in prior to receiving Him in the Bread and Wine. We need to be in the Church from the first blessing to the last. Not in the parish hall setting up for coffee hour or at home, but in the church!
Coming in after church has started in disruptive to those who were there on time. They become distracted as you find your seat and put your keys and what not away. It is disruptive to the flow of the service and I hate to put a fine point on it, it is just rude.
Coming into Church you are entering into the presence of the Almighty. You are entering the very house where God dwells. To show up late is just rude. I would be hard pressed to find anyone who comes late to a business appointment or to work. So I have to ask why is church so less important that we think it is okay to come after things have started?
If you are one of the chronically late out there, make it a point this Sunday to come a little early to make sure you don’t miss anything. Who knows there might be a give away right at the very start of Liturgy and you will miss it.