What is the Church?
Ah yes that elusive question asked by far too many these days. But a good question none-the-less, and this weekend the point was AGAIN (yes I know we’ve all heard it) that the Church is a hospital. But this time, the speaker added: “not a massage parlor.”
Now this struck me as interesting because it got me thinking about how a not-yet Orthodox friend of mine complained about Orthodox services being in dire need of change. More flare! (Like a waiter’s shirt at a TGIF resteraunt I suppose?) Something to make Orthodox services more appealing. Curiously, few people WANT to be in a hospital, but virtually no one would turn down a massage.
But you know when you do want to be in a hospital? When you come to realize how sick you really are. Massages make you feel great…but they don’t do much for healing serious diseases. I have been considering the hospital analogy even further and it seems to me that the Catechumenate is more akin to a hospital (in the ancient Church it was usually a 3-year period of indoctrination and preparation!) and then once you enter into the Church it becomes more like a rehabilitation center. The critical care is passed and now its time to start working toward full healing.
When I weighed about 140lbs more than I do now (yes, I know, hard to believe given how big I am now!), I had severe problems with an old back injury. Some 15 years ago or so I severely herniated four discs in my lower back and since I did not have health insurance at the time I received little or no care for the injury. (Looking back I did have options but I think pride prevented me from investigating them). But sometime later I had a relapse that was so bad that I landed in the hospital and then once I was stabalized I ended up in a rehab wing.
Rehab is a better analogy for the Church because it requires effort on the part of the patient. Example: Physical therapy sucked. I hated the Physical therapist because so much of what she made me do was terribly painful – even though I was drugged with powerful medicines including methadone. I agonized each time I sat up in bed, but then later that was okay. I agonized each time I stood to my feet, but then later that was okay. I agonized each time I took a step, but then later that was okay….and on and on it went, slowly but surely I was getting better.
A massage parlor would not have helped me. And so to my friend looking for flare: no, I have enough flare in my everday life. I do not need the services to change, anymore that I needed that damn physical therapist to rub and massage me. I needed her to hurt me (in a way), I needed her to encourage me to struggle, to help me to come to the point where I wanted to stretch and strive, to push to envelope of what I felt like I needed. And even on days when I could see no progress and was tempted to despair, she kept badgering me to work. In a sense, to change myself and not the service.
Furthermore, nobody likes to go on a diet. If left to my own sense of need, attraction, and desire I’d likely eat nothing but deep-fried chimichangas. And I’d die doing so. McDonald’s is a far more successful franchise than McVegans. Think about it.
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What is the Church?