We have only had this wonderful weather for a week or so, yet so many of us are already thinking about our holidays (myself included). Given the demanding climate we live in, our beautiful short summers are something to be cherished and fully lived out, regardless of whether we stay at home, or travel. After all, the summer is a time when we tend to take things a little easier, and it should be so.
As we consider easing our schedules with holidays, picnics, and time with friends and families, the temptation is to put our life with Christ in the same pot as we put our work and those other responsibilities that we relax from.
The Lord doesn’t take a holiday from offering His saving love for us, from us any more than demons take a holiday from weighing us down with temptations and condemnation. The challenge is to take our relationship with Christ with us, regardless of whether we’re on vacation, or just taking it easy in the back yard with friends. There are a few ways we can do this.
Our prayer life.
Many of us have a rule of prayer. (If you don’t have one, talk to me, or your priest!) This daily devotion should be as natural as getting that first cup of coffee in the morning. However, as the routine of life is changed (for the better in most cases) over the holidays, it is important to cling to the habit of setting aside a bit of time every day to thank God for His merciful love, and to ask for His mercy. It might mean that this is done at 12 noon as opposed to 7:00 a.m., or it might be done not in front of your icon corner, but rather in front of a little Icon card that you have in your wallet or purse while away from home. It is not important how it is done, or where it is done, but rather that it is done.
Our sacrifices and offering.
Given that when people are away on holidays it is hard for them to make an offering on the donation plate, it is helpful to prepare the monthly offering in advance of any vacation time. This kind of attentiveness helps your home parish keep functioning even if many people might be away. Also it is good to offer a contribution to a parish you might be visiting while on travels, as if you are offering it to God at your home parish.
Our fasting (those darn fasts).
It is hard to consider keeping the Apostles’ fast (June 8th – 29th) and the Dormition fast (Aug. 1st -15th) when we are in the middle of BBQ season (let alone the Wednesday and Friday fasts). But it is these fasts that set us apart from a world that seeks its own pleasures and desires, and only those. Much has been written about why we fast (so I won’t go on about it), but setting aside these days strengthens our relationship with the Lord, so that we might see Him more clearly, and more importantly see the joy and the salvation He pours out for us.
We might at times be put in situations that necessitate breaking the fast, and if this is the case, our next recourse is to be humble and to restrain from overindulgence (i.e.: having seconds), asking the Lord to bless even this humble offering of restraint. Remember that when we join our spiritual work of prayer with the practical work of restraint, we join body and soul together, that by Holy Spirit we might see the Lord working to saving us.
Our attendance at Church.
Attending Church services should never be seen in the light of fulfilling an obligation or as work, but rather should be experienced as a blessing and a joy. For this reason taking a holiday from Church should never be entertained. Yet in some cases, making it to Church on Saturday night or Sunday morning might just be an impossibility (like when you’re at a family function out of town, or at a cottage in the middle of nowhere). But if you happen to be in a place where there is an Orthodox Church, take advantage of the opportunity to visit it regardless if it is for a weekday service, or on Saturday night or Sunday morning. There are some who build holidays around these kinds of opportunities (like myself) but others who would rather take the time off. But visiting other Orthodox Churches not only keeps one connected to the life of the Body of Christ, but also provides a beautiful witness to the unity to our Faith, regardless of what calendar they might serve on, what language they might serve in, or even what kind of singing they might do. If one is planning to attend Church while on vacation, it is always best to contact the parish priest, introduce oneself, and find out what the local customs are about receiving communion (if it is for a Liturgy). Some (but not all) priests would like a personal reference noting the status of those wanting to attend, and this can be easily provided.
The summer is meant for fun, family and friends, and the life of the Church should never be seen or lived as somehow contradictory to this. The Lord has blessed us with warm summer days, tempered breezes, sweet produce and flowers, and the cherished times we share with loved ones.
But trying (maybe not succeeding but at least trying) to keep a normal life with Christ through our participation in His Body, is the best and most beautiful way to offer honest thanksgiving for this time of year, and the opportunities we have been blessed with.
This is what it is to be a Christian in our most beautiful summer days.