What is the most important spiritual discipline? It may surprise some to learn that the basic, foundational spiritual discipline is simply coming to church for Sunday morning Divine Liturgy. Level one of the spiritual life is simply dragging yourself to church for Liturgy. In fact, it is so foundational, that many modern Orthodox Christians miss it because it is completely taken for granted in most of our spiritual guidebooks. It is usually not mentioned because most of our spiritual writers were monks for whom missing Divine Liturgy was incomprehensible. They went to church not once a week, but several times a day! And the Divine Liturgy and Holy Communion were the highpoint of the week.
Why is going to church, and especially on Sunday morning so important? Let's look at the Ten Commandments:
The first commandment is “You shall have no other gods before me.” Nothing before God. God needs to be priority number one in our life: above work, above our family, above our children, above everything. In fact, we owe it to our children to model for them a Christ-centered life. They will not seek God first, if we don't model it for them.
The second commandment is “You shall not make for yourself an idol (a false god).” So important is the first commandment that the second really says the same thing, just in different words. An ‘idol’ is anything in our lives that we put above God. What is the most important thing to you? (Think about this for a moment).
Whatever you answered is your idol. For many it is having fun, or financial security, or good health, or good looks, being popular, etc, etc. There are many. All of these things are good in themselves, and God promises to take care of all of our needs if we seek him first. “But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things (food, drink, clothing, etc, whatever you are worrying about) will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) But when we make an idol of anything, that thing no longer has a balanced role in our life, and we are no longer living according to God’s design.
The third commandment is “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.” Just as we shouldn't misuse His name, in like manner we should make every effort to use it rightly; to “hallow” (treat as holy) His name as we say in the Lord's Prayer. So this means we should pray in His name, worship Him, praise Him, give thanks to Him and glorify Him. We do all of this at the Divine Liturgy! Now we can (and should) praise God and give thanks to Him everywhere and at any time. But the type of worship that God desires most of all is what has been handed down in the Church from the beginning. The pattern of worship in the Divine Liturgy is as old as the Church itself, as anyone who studies the history of Christian worship can find out.
It is important to note that in the Old Testament, God actually gave the people commandments regarding how to worship him, including specific instructions. He wanted to be worshipped in a specific way, not just any way that we may invent. But the Old Testament was not complete, it was prophesying about and looking forward to the coming of Christ. The fullness of God’s revelation happens in the New Covenant with Jesus Christ. So Our Lord Jesus and the Holy Apostles and Fathers continued with the pattern set in the Old Testament but with some modification. So for example under the New Covenant, God reveals that he is to be worshipped as Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is only hinted at in the Old Testament, but revealed in the New. Another example is the weekly day of worship. Under the Old Testament this is the seventh day, the Sabbath Day, or Saturday. But under the New Covenant the day of worship is changed to Sunday. (More about this below.) The important point to note now is that the Divine Liturgy is our worship service par excellance. It is the way that God wants to be worshipped. It is the type of worship by far most pleasing to Him.
The fourth commandment is this: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the foreigner within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” As mentioned above, the Sabbath Day is the seventh day, which is Saturday. God wants us to devote one day of the week specifically to him. In the Old Testament the Sabbath Day was a day of rest, as well as the day of worship when people would go to the temple or synagogue. It was a remembering of the creation. Under the New Covenant Sunday replaced Saturday because it was the day of our redemption, the day of the resurrection of Christ, the day of the new creation, the day of the age to come. It is called by the early Christians “the Lord’s Day.” It is the day of Pascha, with each Sunday being a kind of Pascha. It is the day that the early Church set aside to worship God, to celebrate the Eucharist (the thanksgiving) in remembrance of Christ our God who commanded us to “do this in remembrance of me.”
Under the New Covenant, Sunday is God’s Day. It’s His, and He wants us above all to come to church and worship Him on that day! This is what it means to keep the day holy.
So we can see above that the first four of the Ten Commandments, which deal with our duty toward God, command us to go to church Sunday morning! The last six of the Ten Commandments deal with our duty toward our fellow human being. Putting them all together, the Ten Commandments can be summarized by the Two Greatest Commandments – To love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, and all of our mind (the first 4) and to love our neighbor as ourself (the last 6). On these two hang all the Law and the Prophets!