“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a voice as loud as a trumpet, saying, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,’ and ‘what you see, write in a book and send to the seven churches which are in Asia’” (Revelation 1:10-11).
Here for the first time we find a reference to the most precious day of the week, the day we in English call Sunday—the Lord’s Day. Many wrongly speak of Sunday as the Sabbath; but Saturday is the Sabbath. The day of rest, on which the Lord God Almighty rested from His six days of creation (Genesis 2:2). A remarkable transition occurred in the early Church. Sometime in the earliest years after Pentecost, Christians began to celebrate the overwhelming gift of life in Christ which transcended the day of rest, the Hebrew Sabbath. The early Christian community understood themselves precisely as a fellowship of those who are forgiven and given a new life. They have been saved from sin, death and corruption by the life, death and resurrection of the God-Man, Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah. By His atoning death, all persons are offered the opportunity to be at one with the One Who has redeemed all humanity.
As He predicted He would, He indeed ascended the Cross to draw all persons to Himself. He came to redeem humanity. With His coming a new day has dawned. The old way of reckoning time has been superseded by this gracious opportunity to celebrate the end of one phase of existence and the beginning of a new way to live by the Holy Spirit. This is the day of resurrection. In fact, the Russians have even through this melancholy century of godless communism continued to call what we term Sunday, “Resurrection Day.” Each Sunday is a celebration of Pascha, a “little Easter.” It’s why we do not kneel during the consecration of the Holy Gifts and the Lord’s Prayer, as we do on normal week days. The true Orthodox Christians realize that he and she belong nowhere else but among the new Israel, the people of God assembled at the Divine Liturgy. We need not compel them with threats of spiritual punishment in order to force their attendance, we call on their consciences to remind them of God’s great love. They are baptized into Christ, they have “put on Christ,” they live in the Spirit of God. They are aware that on the Lord’s Day, we hold a family gathering. We celebrate life, and life everlasting.
We gather as a parish, yet that parish extends beyond the boundaries of our real estate, far outside the temple walls. It includes the churches of the deanery, the diocese, the national Church, the Orthodox Church in the hemisphere and throughout the world who come together to the party of adoration, celebration, and joy in the Lord. More, the Church is not just all who are alive on earth, but includes as honored guests those who have fallen asleep in the Lord: The hierarchy and clergy, the martyrs and confessors, the evangelists and teachers, monastics and preachers from all generations past. Who else? Surely the nine ranks of angels who are so popular among the contemporary faithful.
How is it possible to recognize them all, especially for us humble sinners, bound as we are by the limits of a civilization whose value systems have little place for spiritual edification? We must acquire the same attitude as did St. John that traumatic Lord’s Day on Patmos Island. In a word, it’s imperative that we also be “in the Spirit.” If we rise to the challenge of the liturgical hymn and “lay aside all earthly cares,” we then have made a fresh beginning.