bread and fish

“You are God’s temple”

A Word easily forgotten echoes profoundly in our scarcely populated temples

The global Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically shifted both our usage and conception of physical space. What were once airy and feasible open ­­space offices have become the stuff of nightmares for social distancing. Beautiful conference halls have gotten used to an eerie silence as most gatherings shift online. As more time spent is at home, our once cozy apartments have become almost claustrophobic while everyone tries to sleep, eat and work in the same confined space.

What has happened to our liturgical spaces? Statistics have been showing us for years a steady decline in participation in the liturgical life of the Church. This pandemic has had a catalytic effect and the graph has taken a heavy dip downwards, taking us in a few months on a journey that was projected to take a few more years. Is it possible that the physical perimeters of our liturgical spaces are called to become wider and more spacious in view of the declining numbers of Christians in the temples built in stone? Could this pandemic give voice to a Word so easily forgotten: 

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple
(1Cor 3,16-17)

In a sermon given in 1906 on the occasion of the consecration of the Church in Tolpygin, Pavel Florenskij reflected upon these words from St Paul. In the context of a brewing Russian political and social revolution and also in the presence of a Church still not up to speed with the signs of times, the as yet theology student who would be later killed in the gulags goes on to say:

What would you say if someone desecrated this temple built in stone? Would you not protest at the profanation of this sacred space? Nonetheless each one of you is worth much more that this temple of stone, in fact the temple was made for man [sic], not man for the temple…Disciples of Jesus! You are the Lord’s friends because He himself has called you His friends. However, you who have been bestowed with such high honor, remain careless of each other. If the theft of an icon (the image of God painted on wood) from this temple of stone is a grave sin, then how much more serious is the theft of the image of God from the living temple, from the heart of man?

One has to ask if the sudden emptiness of our liturgical spaces has triggered the imagination and perhaps the awe that the true and definitive temple has already been destroyed and rebuilt in three days. The definitive liturgical act on the Tree that was once cursed, blossomed early like the almond tree. According to the suggestive image of the Syriac Fathers this Tree was watered by the blood of the perfect offering which made fruitful again the soil made sterile by the sin of bloodshed. At the definitive liturgical act, the Son breathed His last, an early Pentecost that pumped new Life into that heart of stone, making it the Temple of the Spirit. 

Could there be an underlying prophetic sign around the image of our scarcely populated liturgical spaces? Is it perhaps the right time to rediscover the dignity of that temple that is each one of us at a time when the temples made of stone demand much less of our attention and presence? Would not the daily gestures of care for one another in these challenging times become an eloquent liturgy, a prayer that goes up to God like a pleasant incense, a sacrifice pleasing in God’s sight?

While cleaning and washing this temple, all the more should we strive to purify the other temple; while praying in the house made of stone, we remember that this inner temple is even more a house of prayer. And guarding the temple of stone, all the more should we strive to protect this temple from possible threats

Citations from Pavel Florenskij are taken from his sermon “The Temple of the Holy Spirit” found in the book Il Cuore Cherubico: Scritti teologici, omiletici e mistici. Translation from the Italian is ours. 

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