"Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighted down with sleep, lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom!"- Troparion Hymn, Bridegroom Matins
We recently heard the true story of a boy whose father punished his misbehaviour by forcing him to stand outside the front door of his parish church during Sunday Liturgy. The story bears an interesting parallel to the practice of the early Church (reflected in the Canons) of requiring those who had committed serious sins to stand in the narthex entry of the church, asking the forgiveness of their brethren in Christ.
Of course, both cases have one ingredient in common: they both presume that the faithful want to be in Church for the services. This is one of the reasons that these Church Canons are hardly ever used today: our hardness of heart makes us take the act of missing a holy service about as seriously as missing a bus. If another one will come along eventually, what have we missed?
Of course, we have missed everything: the common prayers of the Church which are stronger than our prayers alone; the grace of the Holy Spirit; the Presence of Christ Himself on the holy altar; Communion with the Body and Blood of Christ.
It is not uncommon to find individuals today voluntarily excluding themselves from services, even when they consider themselves to be "present". Some will linger on the outside steps to have a cigarette. Others will spend time doing important service work for the church - counting money or preparing food - which is properly done outside the time of prayer. Still others will remove themselves to have a little "rest": a sit down, and a chat, during the long, demanding Liturgy. This is especially evident at Pascha and during Holy Week.
The Liturgy prepares us for eternity. It is hard work (indeed, even the word liturgy comes from the Greek word for work). One Orthodox writer rightfully said, if we do not like the holy services, we're not going to like heaven. Let's pray we have the opportunity to find out.