One man asked a priest: "If God is everywhere, what do I go to Church for?” To which the priest replied: "The whole atmosphere is filled with water; but when you want to drink you have to go to a fountain or a well."
I’m sure at some point in your life you have asked yourself this question, or you have been on the receiving end of it, riddled with what to say. After all, church can be a struggle even for the best of us and sometimes the true experience of the Holy Services can only be captured by a feeling that doesn’t always translate well when describing it.
In order to answer this question, we must first understand what the Church actually is. Put simply, the Orthodox Church, founded by Jesus Christ, is The One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that operates with a richness of tradition that has kept safe throughout many ages—sanctified and Holy.
The word ‘Orthodox’ itself translates to ‘true teaching’ or ‘correct teaching’ - meaning that the embodiment of the Holy Scriptures act as the life source of the faith. The Holy Traditions are what keep this faith alive; The Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Saints, Martyrs, Miracles, Fathers of the Church, the Holy Spirit operating in the Church Councils and the discernment of the Patriarchate—all which direct the faithful in blessing, praising and glorifying the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Overall, the Church is a vital living organism that continually reveals Holy wisdom that is necessary for our salvation - to reach ultimate communion with God.
So…does it have to be a church building? Why can’t we just pray at home? God knows how much I love Him…He knows what is in my heart.
“Brothers and Sisters! The all-merciful God desires happiness for us both in this life and in the life to come. To this end He established His Holy Church, so that she might cleanse us from sin, sanctify us, reconcile us with Him and give us a heavenly blessing.” — St. Nectarios of Aegina.
Great question! We're sure we have all thought of this, or have had this asked of us. Let us consider that The Church acts not only as a building, but as mentioned, an organism. It is ordained by Christ in the Holy Scriptures as the household of God. “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” -1 Peter 4:17. Saint Paul says in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This oneness, this community is the Church of Jesus Christ.
Christ instructed us to have faithful communion (The Eucharist) and prayerful communication (The Holy Liturgy). In order for this to be made possible, The Apostles established many Churches to spread the word of God, instructing the faithful to gather for this communion and communication with Him. We can not come to know someone unless we are in communion with them. Just in the same way we are in the household of God and participating in the services, we enter into this relationship with Him. Christ will reveal himself to us here, developing our trust. Church is not merely a system of rules and regulations, ritualistic without meaning and adorned with the greatest beauty - it has been established for our benefit so that we may come to know Him.
“Orthodoxy believes that the Christian Faith and the Church are inseparable. It is impossible to know Christ, to share in the life of the Holy Trinity, or to be considered a Christian, apart from the Church. It is in the Church that the Christian Faith is proclaimed and maintained. It is through the Church that an individual is nurtured in the Faith.” — Reverend Father Thomas Fitzgerald.
In a similar way, we do not have faith without works. “If you love me, keep My commandments.” — John 14:15. We can not say that we love Christ with all our hearts and all our minds if we make no conscious or physical effort to gain communion with Him while we are here on earth. We can’t rely on knowing Christ in our mind alone in seclusion, that is, reading the scriptures while we are at the same time denying ourselves of communion with Him and with each other. It is not just about cultivating a relationship with Christ, albeit most important, but it is about obtaining relationship with others. The church is a community of people with Christ at its head; “And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.” — Colossians 1:18.
When we enter into this special relationship we become part of His body - in the church where the Holy Spirit dwells and operates. We are reborn, made anew and cleansed. This is the place where we receive the Holy Eucharist, sacraments, pray, sing and most importantly love. God has bestowed a stewardship upon us - we are his servants in his household with a purpose not just to grow close to Him, but to evangelise outside of the church so that we may spread the joy of the Gospel throughout all places. The Orthodox Church has developed a Liturgical cycle so that we gain the fullness of the truth in order to develop spiritually.
To conclude with St. Nectarios of Aegina: “The embrace of the Church is always open to us. Let us all hasten their more quickly, we whose consciences are burdened. Let us hasten, and the Church will lift the weight of our burdens, give us boldness before God, and fill our hearts with happiness and blessedness."