October 19, 2011 + Form Without Substance


by Fr. James C. Meena
from The Word, November 1986

If one wishes to join a private club or an athletic association one must submit an application, be approved by the membership committee and, in most cases, by the membership at large. St. Paul may have had these things in mind two thousand years ago, when he said:  “Thank the Father who has made it possible for you to join the saints and with them to inherit the light,” (Colossians 1:12).

If belonging to organizations is so important to us, how much more urgent is it that we may be joined unto the saints? Being aware that it is possible to be part of an eternal order, joined by the love, the compassion, the sacrifice and the Resurrection of Christ, we should strive always to become part of this union. Our club membership can be rescinded if we do not pay our dues. We might even be so busy that we can’t attend and take advantage of the facilities. But when we join the Saints, somehow, by God’s Grace, a transformation occurs within us that makes it very difficult to separate ourselves from Him.

The Kingdom of God is not like a country club with limited membership, but it is so widespread that if the chosen do not respond to the Divine invitation, God will reach out into the world and elect the seemingly unelectable, and still there will be room. How immeasurable the Kingdom of God! (St. Luke 14:16-24).

So often, those who live sinful lives will say: “Gee, I went to church every Sunday when I was a kid. I come from good people. And we had the whole Jesus thing. Yet look how I am living”. It’s because for many, going to Church is a meaningless, empty ritual. It is a form of religion without substance and the form of religion without substance is like a dead body without a beating heart. There is no life.

Father Vladimir Berzonsky of Cleveland, Ohio, once wrote about young people who came to him for pre-marital counseling, and I paraphrase, “I get the impression that these young people are so zealous that they’re going to build the Church with their bare hands, but after they’re married we never see them again until their children are old enough to come to Sunday School”. They want to conform to certain standards of society, and by bringing their children to Sunday School they superstitiously “protect” their children from evil. But observing the form of religion is not enough! It doesn’t make it! It’s like taking a bath with your clothes on! It’s not until you are stripped naked before God and confess your sins and commit yourself to Him totally and completely and reiterate that commitment every day of your life, giving Him thanks for every blessing and for every tribulation by which you are burnished that you observe not only the form of religion but its substance as well.

Think about why Godly children emulate Godly parents. It’s not because their parents simply came to church, although that’s part of it. It’s not because their parents simply read the Scriptures 

or say their prayers, although that’s a part of it. It is because they witness in their parents an example of dedication that will not be denied, a witness to Christ that is not merely verbalized but one that is activated in the whole style of their lives. It is religion with substance as well as form.

Religion has form and no substance when the Church calls out for workers and no one replies; When the Church says that the poor of the city need help and the organizations which are striving to help the poor need volunteers from our Parish and no one responds; when the Priest of the parish says that the Food for Hungry People project needs a volunteer to supervise it and no one comes forward. That means, then, that our community has the form of religion but has little or no substance.

To put food on the table, to educate our children, to buy nice clothes, to pay the mortgage, to go on vacations, we are so filled with these needs that we turn a deaf ear to God’s Voice when He says, “Remember the poor; feed the hungry and clothe the naked”. That’s also what I mean when I speak of the form of religion without substance.

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Holy Apostle James, Brother of the Lord - October 23

Troparion of St. James, Tone 4

Thou hast received the Gospel as a disciple, thou art invincible as a martyr, and bold as the Lord's brother, thou dost intercede as a hierarch. O righteous James, pray to Christ our God that He may save our souls.

Kontakion of St. James, Tone 4

God the Word, only-begotten of the Father, came to us in the last days. He has made thee first shepherd and teacher of Jerusalem and a steward of spiritual mysteries. We honour thee, O Apostle James.