Is the summer meant to be a time of vacation from church? It is a natural question to ask, since many people are, in fact, away, and church attendance is definitely way down during these hot summer months. Most priests would answer “of course it is not!” and yes, I do not think that summer should be vacation from church. But there is, as always, more to the story…
It is not just people who are away who are not coming to church. Many take the summer off, for various reasons. And this is to some extent understandable. This may sound weird, but going to church at St. Spyridon can be very hard work, especially if you have children. The church is crowded, everyone is talking to everyone after church, and a typical Sunday, even in the summer, often has lots of stuff happening. Going to church can be stressful. It is natural for people to seek a break from this. The Cathedral also inadvertently encourages the vacation mentality. Ministries like GOYA and Philoptochos largely go on hiatus during the summer months because they are so active that indeed a break is needed. We also all sort of take for granted that “it is summer, everyone is away, etc.”, and don’t really blink an eye that attendance is down.
The flip side of this is that church is great during the summer. It is more relaxed, and there is more of an opportunity, I think, to have a fulfilling spiritual experience than a typical raucous fall or spring Sunday at the Cathedral. The weather is nice, so everyone is happy, and there are many cool saints and events celebrated – the blessing of the grapes on August 6, the saints we celebrated last week, the feast of the dormition which is many people’s favorite, and so forth. Also, going to church is part of our normal life as Orthodox Christians. Sunday liturgy is foundational to our lives, and to take off for 3 months is to equate church with school and work and other things that are not, perhaps, our favorite things. Do we want to send the message that church is just something we do when we have to? Will our children come to church when they are older if they see it is not a huge priority?
So, where to go from here? If you generally skip church in the summer, try to come. I always advise people who don’t go to church but want to to start coming once a month, invite family and friends, and make it a fun day with brunch after service. If you normally come faithfully but take the summer off you can make it more than just once a month – I think you will find yourself pleasantly surprised at the service. If you are away, seek out a local Orthodox church. It is fun to go to a new place where you don’t know anyone and meet the locals. Most places in the US will have a church nearby, and if you are in Greece, well, there you go. Tomorrow is August 1, and we begin our services leading up to August 15. A month after that is when things “start up again” at the church, with the feast of the Holy Cross. Get a head start on coming back from vacation – start now!