It is interesting to watch how people enter the church each week. I am really referring to what happens in the narthex, that vestibule or hallway area just outside the nave or what most people commonly think of as the church. Traditionally, the narthex was a “part of the church building, but was not considered part of the church proper.” It was a place where penitents and catechumens, those not yet admitted into the church, could stand and still hear the liturgy.
Today the narthex is mostly viewed and used as a gathering place, a place to talk and visit, before going into the church. Most people, I suspect, simply walk through it or stand in it and talk without much awareness of its history or purpose. It is usually a busy, crowded, and noisy place. Greeters and ushers, acolytes, choir members, parishioners visiting with each other, and the occasional guest trying to find their way in. There is nothing wrong with any of this but what if the narthex is more than physical space? Could it be for a place of preparation and prayer? We tend to pray after we enter “the church building.” Maybe we need to pray before we enter so that when we are inside we can be truly present. Perhaps the way we enter the church affects how we experience Church.
Today is the Feast of Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester, 1626. Andrewes was a deeply devout man. The Private Devotions of Lancelot Andrewes is a collection of scripture, ancient liturgies, and prayers he compiled for his own devotional use. Here is his prayer entitled “On Entering Church.”
But as for me, I will come into thine house, even upon the multitude of thy mercy: and in thy fear will I worship towards thy holy temple.
Hear, Lord, the voice of my humble petitions, when I cry unto Thee: when I hold up my hands towards the mercyseat of thy holy temple.
Let us wait for thy loving-kindness, o God, in the midst of thy temple. Remember, o Lord, the brethren that stand round about us, and are praying prayer with us at this hour, their earnestness and ready mind. Remember wihtal them that for reasonable causes are absent, and have mercy on them and us according to the multitude of thy mercies, o Lord.
Let us felicitate religous kings, orthodox pontiffs, the founders of this holy mansion. Glory be to Thee, o Lord, glory be to Thee: glory be to Thee, which didst glorify them, in whom we also glorify Thee.
Let Thine eyes be open and thine ears be attent to hearken unto the prayer which thy servant prayeth toward this place, where Thou hast put thy Name.
Lord, I have loved the habitation of thine house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth: that I may shew the voice of thanksgiving, and tell forth all thy wondrous works.
One thing have I desired of the Lord, which I will require, even that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the fair beauty of the Lord, and to visit his temple.
My heart hath talked of Thee, I will seek the Lord: I have sought Thee and thy face: thy face, Lord, will I seek.
Open me the gates of righteousness, that I may go in and give thanks unto the Lord.
– The Private Devotions of Lancelot Andrewes, pp.256-257
Lord and Father, our King and God, by your grace the Church was enriched by the great learning and eloquent preaching of you servant Lancelot Andrewes, but even more by his example of biblical and liturgical prayer: Conform our lives, like his, to the image of Christ, that our hearts may love you, our minds serve you, and our lips proclaim the greatness of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
– Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2006, p. 397.