Day Seven – The Holy of Holies


Our parish has been holding services in the hall for the past year.  Not an easy thing to deal with, especially for those who grew up in our old building, with its wonderful acoustics, iconography, and architecture.  It is hard for some people to feel the presence of God in the hall.  I sympathize with them.  They are not the first to face this dilemma.

Being in the midst of God’s glory is an awesome and transformative event.  Isaiah was humped and “undone” by it.  It is the place where God’s holy angels continually surround His throne and proclaim His glory.  Think about how men reacted when they met even one of those angels here on earth – they were moved to fear and adoration.  Now imagine the awe generated by the innumerable angels in His throne room… and then begin to contemplate that they are completely dwarfed by the majesty of the uncreated God whom they glorify.  

The Divine Liturgy is the perfect worship.  Through it, God condescends to us, heaven and earth are united, and we join the angels in their praise.  We are drawn into the midst of the glory of God during the Divine Liturgy even more surely than the high priest during his annual rites in the Holy of Holies.  His transforming brightness surrounds and illumines us, His Body and Blood perfect us.  The eyes of our heart, purified by repentance and granted sight by His mercy confirm the reality of this.  We are completely humbled and “undone” by this experience.

Unless we are not.  Unless our eyes have not been opened and our pride limits our vision to the walls of our humble surroundings.  Instead of angels, we see the irritating and all-too familiar faces of the sinners who stand with us; instead of the topography of the heavenly throne room, we see the cheap paneling and second-hand carpets that adorn our hall; instead of the illuminating and transformational light of the Triune Sun, we are distracted by the halogens that flicher and glow far less gloriously than our old chandeliers; instead of the perfecting grace of the Body and Blood of Christ, we see the priest going through motions that really belong in a better place; instead of enjoying the satisfaction of having our desire for a deeper relationship with the wellspring of holiness realized through our perfect worship, our far more tangible longing to return to a specific building only increases. 

In short, our love of our previous church – and icon of the throne room of God – has become the very thing that separates us from entering into the real thing.

As I wrote above, we are not the first to suffer in this way.  The Jews of two-thousand years ago knew of the glory of God.  They had read the Law and the Prophets and knew the awesome brightness that  continually shines from God.  Then this Jesus – a humble man of flesh and blood – appeared in their midst claiming to be the Son of God, One with the Father from before time began.  Had their spiritual eyes been opened through repentance and kenosis (spiritual self-emptying), they would have seen what Isaiah saw and benefited from their encounter.  But their eyes only saw the carpenter’s son, and their desire for something better came between them and the salvation that was right there in front of them.

When we celebrate the Divine Liturgy, whether we do so in a humble strip mall, tent, or parish hall; or in Hagia Sophia in the height of its glory, we are in the presence of the glory of God.  It is important that communities build the best temples they can, but the most beautiful temple is just an icon of the worship that takes place within, when heaven and earth are united.  

To miss this is not just a problem of proportionality, but a problem of salvation.