Matins at 6

May 28, 2008

Those who know me best know that I am at my best after the sun has set and night has fallen. I have often noted to family and friends that I was really “designed” to be a road musician. I am built for late nights, strange places, new hotels every night and–and this is what is germane to this post–sleeping in until at least 10AM. So it was with more than a little angst that I learned that Saint Peter’s holds weekday Matins at 6AM. Being new to the Orthodox Way, Barb and I are having a wonderful time immersing ourselves in as much of the Orthodox experience as we can make time for in our schedules. But there has to be a limit somewhere; doesn’t there? 6AM?

I had attended several Sunday morning Matins services at St. Luke’s before coming over to St. Peter’s, but those services began at a reasonable 9AM. Heck, even I can do a 9AM. I remember when I was on staff at the Vineyard and our Senior Pastor Tom, wanted to begin having two services on Sunday mornings. My first thought? Well it wasn’t, O how convenient for the congregation. No, my first thought was how in the world am I going to be able to wake up at 6AM in order to get to the church by 7AM in order to be ready to sing by 8AM? Anyone who is reading this and is a singer knows what a scary thing singing at 8 in the morning can be, let alone 6, but that’s a different story. My wife on the other hand closes shop around 9PM each night and springs out of bed to do her devotions and exercise before 5. That’s right 5AM! …I have no idea.

Last Monday was Memorial Day and as I usually do I began on Friday to look forward to a leisurely time lying in bed with Barb enjoying a holiday off and talking our time to enter into the day busying ourselves with activities. On the Sunday before the holiday I awoke feeling very odd. We’d been passing around some type of stomach aliment and I was beginning to wonder if perhaps we’d eaten something that was biting back. So, for the sake of all those in our Parish, I decided to remain at home and only share my discomfort with Minnie Mouse our Rat Terrier. As the morning bloomed I was surprised at how strongly I missed being with the Church that morning. I felt an emptiness as I laid there at it was not the result of the malady. So much so, that when Barb finally came home I blurted out “Maybe we should get up and go to Matins in the morning?” All right this has just gone too far! How deeply is this Orthodox thing going to infiltrate my mental faculties? Next thing you know I’ll be giving up Battle Star Galatica to pray Compline. Ha!

Well, Monday morning came and I dragged myself up, something I have to force myself to do even at 7 or 8, and we drove down to the Church wondering if perhaps Father Patrick might be taking a Holiday as well. Thankfully he was not and when Matins began there were exactly six of us and only three of us were congregation. As Matins began something was rousing my thoughts. I couldn’t quite pin it down, but something was not quite right. Oh the singing was wonderful and the prayers as rich as ever, but something seemed so strangely odd to me. And then just as we stood and Father began to cense the Church I began to sense what it was that seemed so puzzling, so odd. You see in all of the ministries in which I had been involved over the years, I dare say that had three people shown up for a “service”, well I doubt there would have been any service at all. I mean, three people, it’s hardly worth the effort. And then it hit me–WHAM–it wouldn’t have mattered one wit to Father Patrick or to Doug or to whom ever was serving the Matin prayers and reading the Matin Psalms because nothing, absolutely nothing we were doing that morning had anything to do with US, it had everything to do with doing unto God. I have been so indoctrinated into a way of doing church that is all about the attendee. The music caters to the taste of the attender, the sermon is delivered for the sake of the hearer, the decor and comfort of the building are geared to attract the “seeker”. But the seeker of what? The True, Mighty, Holy God before whom we should fall on our faces as though dead? Or are we seeking a our selfish notions of what a god is and what he can do for ME?

Yes, if it had been Father Patrick alone, Matins would have been “served” and it would have been man, serving the God of all, as should be; as it must be; as it WILL be. Lord have mercy!


  1. Missed you Sunday!

    I had a similar experience a couple weeks ago. I walked in late to matins, and Doug was the only one there, but he was there, reading the service. It really does happen even if no one else shows up.

    You’re right. In the types of circles we’ve been in before, one, two, three people would have been considered not enough. Not enough to justify running the electricity, for one thing, not to mention finding people to prepare and put something on for those three people. If the preacher or the guy with the guitar alone showed up, he would sit around waiting for fifteen, twenty minutes, then headed off to Starbucks. The thought of carrying on without a “congregation” wouldn’t even cross his mind.

    It’s so refreshing to be in a church where the numbers really don’t matter, because it really isn’t about us.

  2. Orthodox worship is worship the way it was meant to be. Before attending a service, I had read and heard that Orthodox worship was reflecting on earth the worship that is taking place in heaven. I never understood that fully until I experienced it. It really is worship on earth as it is in heaven. And you hit upon an important aspect of how it reflects heavenly worship — the creature is serving the Creator. I don’t think the angels are concerned about which song should be sung next in which key and with which arrangement. It’s completely and absolutely about God alone. Thanks for giving words to this important aspect of Orthodox worship.

  3. All that you say is right, from my way of viewing things. Bishop KALLISTOS (Timothy Ware) has a wonderful story regarding this. He was tonsured as a monk at the Orthodox Monastery (name unknown to me) located on the island of Patmos. The monastery has been in use since sometime in the first millenium, and marks the spot where St John received the vision of Revelation, whence the last book of the New Testament comes.
    Anyway, the monks were serving the Divine Liturgy–there were only three monks that day and all were serving. No pilgrims or other visitors were present. During the Great Entrance, when the chalice and diskos are borne out to be placed upon the Holy Table, the hierarch will intone the remembrances of the living and the dead, ending with the words, “the Lord God remember in His kingdom, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.” Well, as His Grace looked out on the empty nave of the monastery catholikon, he say three little mice on the floor looking up at him. He was tempted to say, “all ye mice, the Lord God remember…”
    The point is that the liturgy is a cosmic event, not a performance. And the daily services are a continual remembrance of God, not mere instruction for us, although we certainly gain that. So, Mark, you have it exactly correct with regard to attendance.
    A final note is in order. We may serve any of the divine services alone, if need be. However, the Divine Liturgy is another matter. There must be at least one Orthodox Christian present to serve with the bishop or priest who is presiding. The ministry of the laity is essential here: “if two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst.”
    Thank you for your fine, very personal and warm reflections on the theme of your spiritual renewal!

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