Next week we will have the great blessing of two major events in the life of this mission, and indeed in the life of the Church.
On Saturday we will have the consecration service for the church building. This of course coincides with the other great blessing which is that we will receive His Grace Bishop Nicholas for his first visit to our mission, and this is actually the first time any bishop has visited us since we began nearly 21 months ago.
The consecration of the church is important because it reminds us that everything in this life, everything, is to be offered to God. But this is not simply our act of dedicating the building to God. It is in fact God’s act of pouring out the Holy Spirit and making this place radiant with His Grace and presence.
You’ll notice some familiar elements within the consecration service such as the procession that we will take around the building 3 times. The Bishop will stop in front of the closed doors of the sanctuary and he will start a familiar dialogue as he beats on the doors of the church and says “lift up your gates O ye princes, and be lifted up ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall enter!” This reminds us of the special Pascha (Easter) services as we open the doors of the church and remember that Christ our Lord has ultimately made it possible for us to have an open door not only into the church, but into the kingdom of God.
After the Bishop and the people enter the church, the bishop will focus on the altar table for a while. This makes sense as the altar table is the center of Christian worship. It is upon the holy altar table that the holy gospel book sits. And it is upon the altar table that we place bread and wine and ask God to transform them into His sacred and mystical body and blood. The life of the Church revolves around the altar table because it is at the altar table that Christ returns to us and offers us salvation through union with Him.
The Bishop will take the relics of St. Raphael, our beloved patron saint, and he will seal those relics into the center cavity of the altar table with hot wax. He will also seal in a list of the names of all of the parishioners of this mission. The relics of the martyrs remind us of the fact that the early Church used to celebrate the liturgy on the tombs of the saints. It also brings our minds to the words of Revelation (the Apocalypse of John) who writes “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:” (Rev 6:9). The life of the church is vibrant because of the witnesses who boldly proclaim the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, no matter the cost. This same boldness is required of us as we consecrate this church building to God. It’s not enough to say to people, come and see. Sometimes we have to actually do the really difficult work of being witnesses or martyrs of our faith in Jesus Christ.
The bishop will then wash the table and anoint it as well as vest it with new garments. This process should remind each of us of our washing in the holy waters of baptism. At baptism we all died and were buried with Christ and we were raised again to live life in a new way. We are meant to understand life as a new reality when we actually are born again and come into the life of the Church through baptism. Church is not what we do on Sundays, it is what we do every day as Christians. Everything about us has to change as Christians. As St. Paul writes, because of our baptism we have to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2Cor10:5). The church building is then anointed with the oil of Chrism which was used to anoint every person who was received into the Holy Church. This anointing is a sign of the laying on of hands from the Apostles and a sign of the reception of the Holy Spirit.
When the church is anointed, it belongs fully to God. When we are anointed with Chrism, we belong fully to God. It becomes the task of our life to present ourselves as worthy of the name and the blessing that we have been given as Christians. It also becomes our task to bring this church building to life through the way that we use this place. Not as a place for pride, or gossip or laziness. But as a place full of love and joy and service, first to the Lord and also to the people who come here looking for God’s love and healing presence.
These are just a few of the momentous aspects of this coming week. We give glory to God who has given us every blessing and allowed us to come together and to work prayerfully, with love, to build up this holy community. To Him be the glory with His only begotten son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages AMEN.