“Home”—the word brings to mind a flood of thoughts, memories, and experiences. Where is your home now? Think about this for a moment… Is it here in the Portland area? Or are you a transplant who still has deep roots elsewhere? Perhaps you have two locations—a state or a continent away—which share the title of “home.” Or perhaps the thought of home brings up unresolved questions of identity and belonging.
Where is your home? If your answer to this question comes quickly, that is a blessing. If not, that’s OK as well, because in truth we are all “sojourners and pilgrims” (1 Peter 2:11), longing for our homeland.
“They [the saints] were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. … They desired a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13, 16)
During Great Lent, there is a Sunday communion hymn which echoes this theme, with words taken from Psalm 136 (137), written during the Jewish people’s exile in Babylon: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. … How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth—if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy.”
We sing this hymn—and read it during the Lenten Presanctified Liturgy—to remind us that our home is in God. Our longing is not for a human home, but a divine one. Especially in Lent, we are striving to constantly redirect ourselves toward the one true home: being in the presence of God, returning to the One Who created us. This true home has an eternal aspect, when we depart from this earthly life and enter into heavenly life. However it also has a temporal aspect, in that we can be in the presence of God here and now. God dwells among us. In the person of Jesus Christ, He has made His abode in humanity.
The Church is our “home away from home,” also called the Ark of Salvation because it is bringing us to our final harbor. On earth, our only true home is in the Church—not simply the mystical invisible entity, but in the physical church structure, where we receive everything that we need for our earthly life.
The place where God dwells most concretely is within the sanctified, consecrated space of His churches. Just as He dwelt in the physical structure of the temple in Jerusalem, so He dwells in the physical structure of His churches throughout the world.
Here at St. John, as a community without a consecrated permanent church, we have been, in some sense, homeless. Our spiritual home has been transitory, created within buildings that were built for other purposes.
Today, by God’s grace and mercy, we have now come to the time when we as a community will seek out our church’s permanent location, a plot of land where the church building will reside perpetually, remaining for generations to come. This sanctified, set-apart space will one day be consecrated by our hierarch. (The consecration service mirrors the sacraments of baptism and chrismation, thus symbolizing that a specific church building has entered into the community of sanctified consecrated churches everywhere.)
Simply put, the community of St. John is seeking its home, its place of final rest, where it can put down roots and blossom forth to the glory of God, as a beacon of God’s grace in a region that desperately needs it.
This is a time in which fervent prayer is all the more necessary! Each of us must engage actively in the spiritual life, so that we can remain united despite the machinations of the evil one. It is fitting, in God’s providence, that we are starting this search at the beginning of Great Lent, when vigilance and ascetical effort are brought to the forefront. Spiritual vigilance is needed now. The effort which we are embarking upon is monumental—a milestone within the history of this community. (And our enemy is not unaware of this!) It will only be accomplished if we cling closely to God, seeking that His will be done. He must increase and we must decrease (to paraphrase our beloved patron saint).
One day in the not-so-distant future, we will say to each other, “Welcome home!” May this be blessed!