Fr. Orthoduck, aka Fr. Ernesto, a long time friend and fellow priest, although we walked different paths, has a humorous and illuminating post on Being On Time. I was raised by a father who believed it was respectful to never be late. Being early was always preferable. Thus we have arrived while our hosts were still dressing. Ouch.
Fr. Ernesto is an Antiochian Orthodox priest presently on loan to the Orthodox Church of America (OCA). I wound up an Anglican priest, a member of The Missionary Society of St. John (MSJ). We both have permission to reprint articles from the other‘s blog. You may access his blog from my blog roll.
I found this cartoon from England to be quite funny. There is a perpetual joke in both Greek and Antiochian circles about Greek time or Arab time. I have not heard quite as much of it among the OCA folk, but it is there as well. Before anyone comments anything, NO NO NO do not make lists of the people who fit into each category. But, I did find that the categories above are quite descriptive. But, it did lead me to a couple of thoughts.
First, be aware that being not simply on time but slightly early is a particularly Anglo-Saxon/Germanic cultural viewpoint. Let’s face it, the “just-in-time” person is just that, “in time.” That person is not late, though we can come up with many cultural rationalizations as to why a person should be there earlier than the start time. I call them cultural because my wife and I lived in South America for 10 years. We can verify that in those cultures, if you show up to a party five minutes earlier than the assigned time, you are likely to catch the host and hostess still getting dressed.
That is, in South America it is commonly understood that if you are invited to a party, you are not expected to show up on time, and you are most definitely not supposed to show up early. Interestingly enough, church will always start on time. But, it is very common to begin with an empty looking church yet finish with a full one. Nevertheless, people do need some guidance. I am convinced that this is how the rule came about in those countries that one must be there before the reading of the Gospel in order to be considered to have attended Mass.
In this culture being on time is such a high cultural value that it is considered sinful in this culture to arrive late to church, even if you are just slightly late. The problem is that there are no clear Scriptures that speak directly to how early one must arrive in order to be “properly” at church. Neither are there clear conciliar pronouncements. Is there an expectation that one be present for the full service? Yes there is. But, are there actual rules that clearly define arrival time? Well, no. That is why there was such a thing as Greek time and Antiochian time and Latino time. Arriving even a few minutes after the official start time of the service is not considered sinful in those cultures. It is only when it goes overboard that it is considered sinful, and that is how the Gospel rule got started in the Roman Catholic Church.
So, we need to be cautious how we address the issue of time. Though it is appropriate in this culture to insist that people must be present at the start, let us be careful not to phrase this as though arriving five minutes early were God’s direct request. Let us not word our pastoral directions for this culture as though they were for all times and all places. For instance, I know that in some Communist countries (before the fall of the Berlin Wall) people would deliberately arrive at different time in order to evade the watchful eye of the local authorities. That was their local pastoral direction in their cultural circumstances. So, be cautious in your speech and thoughts about the issue of time.