Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why Orthodox Christianity? Worship.

Why Orthodox Christianity? Through the deafening din of noise in the modern age, Orthodoxy appears as just another voice in the babble, and just another flavor choice on the “what would I like today” buffet. (To clear something up from the start, Orthodoxy Christianity is not a denomination. Denominations are the result of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500's. Orthodoxy predates that by about one thousand five hundred years, placing it safely outside of denominational labels.) So, with the multitude of voices why should anyone listen to Orthodox Christianity, and in the proliferation of choices why come to Orthodoxy?

Worship. How we approach God says a lot about our understanding of God. There is and has been, at large, quite a bit of talk about Biblical or New Testament worship.
True Christian worship is an image of eternity. It is not man-centered, but God-centered, reflecting not the tempestuousness of earthly ages and existence, but rather the serene immutability of eternal heavenly living. Thus, true Christianity understands worship to be God revealed. God built the ladder by which humanity may once again ascend; He did this so that humanity may have a successful return.

In Christ Jesus, the Old Testament was fulfilled (Mat. 5:17). We now have, in Christ, the fullness of God as revealed to humanity (Eph 1:17). In the Old Testament, God gave to the Hebrew people a very concrete and definite revelation of how to worship (Ex. 35ff). Moses makes it clear, this is the revelation that he received from God on Sinai. This revelation was very particular. It was not Moses' own ideas, nor was it according to his likes or dislikes. Why? Because true worship is about humanity returning to God and being restored to His image and likeness. Worship has to be a revelation from God because only God knows the truest way for humanity to be healed and made whole.

The Jerusalem Temple
But, Christ came; surely in the book of Acts the apostles went from an intense Hebraic liturgical worship to sitting around at home having “free-form" worship? The answer is no. Even the book of Acts speaks of the nascent Church worshiping in the temple and then going to a believer's home to partake of Holy Communion (Acts 2:46, breaking of bread is known to be the Eucharist). The early Church's life was informed by Liturgical Temple worship. When the Christians were forced out of the Temple and Synagogues, this Mosaic revelation of worship became the foundation of Christian worship. St. James the brother of our Lord is credited with the first Christian Liturgy. Although one could elaborate more from the book of Acts, I want to shift to one of the most worship based books in the New Testament: the book of Revelation. In fact, only in revealed liturgical worship is Revelation truly understood. Outside of liturgy, it takes on a host of bizarre interpretations (our modern age has proven this).

In Revelation, we have a glimpse of heaven. There are the twenty-four elders with electric guitars on stage, jamming out some emotive chords. The four living creatures are casually milling about with some great java … well, maybe not. What we do see is a throne which is beautiful beyond words (Rev. 4:2-3) upon which is seated the Living God and incredible heavenly hosts falling down before Him in worship. The four living creatures sing a hymn, which they repeat, as do the twenty-four elders. Clearly, the phrase “they do not cease ...” (Rev. 4:8) denotes repetition. In our modern age and mentalities we might feel sorry for these creatures, stuck in eternity repeating the same thing; yet, one does not get the impression that this is the case for them. They are enraptured in their ritual worship because it is God-centered and is given by God. Further, we find censers, incense, lamp stands, an altar, hymns and unspeakable beauty (cf. Rev. 5:8, 6:9, 8:3-4, 16:7). There is an overall sense of extreme awe and veneration for God which is reflected in the mode of worship and the disposition of the worshipers themselves. There are distinct acts of worship, such as standing and prostrations (Rev. 4:10, 5:14, 20:12).

The book of Revelation reflects what was revealed to Moses on Sinai (the Tabernacle and then the Temple in Jerusalem had all the above elements), the conclusion is that Moses also glimpsed heavenly worship, which was then imaged in the Tabernacle/Temple (Heb. 9:23ff). In Revelation, the Apostle John was assuring the worshiping community of Christians: behold, your act of worship is an extension of the eternal reality of worship in the heavenlies. Your worship is not just some man-made thing, but it is the beginning of heaven on earth. It is part of the cosmic battle, in fact, it is a vital feature in the overthrow of the enemy. The Church of God on earth is an image of the Church in heaven, or we might say it is a continuous extension of it in time and space. Worship is one of the paramount unifying factors. One could go on, but this suffices to show that Christianity has always seen worship as an image of heavenly reality. If Moses and the Apostle had almost identical revelations of worship (we can safely call this the Biblical revelation of worship), when and why is it that some assume these models can be thrown out the window? 

When did heaven change its mode of worship?

Elsewhere in the New Testament the Lord Jesus Christ is clearly portrayed as a liturgist, St. Paul tells us of heavenly worship: “The chief point is: We have such a High Priest, Who sat down on the right of the throne of the majesty in the heavens, a Liturgist of the holies and of the tabernacle, the true one, which the Lord pitched, and not of man” (Heb. 8:1-2, the word “liturgist” is most often translated as “minister” which diminishes the clearly liturgical tone of St. Paul). This heavenly tabernacle, not of man, is the very one imaged in Orthodox Christian worship (which simply is the way Christians have worshiped throughout the ages). Undergirded by this clearly Biblical understanding of worship Vladimir Lossky comments: "Christ, who is both the Sacrificer and the Sacrifice, offers on the heavenly altar the unique sacrifice which is done here below on numberless earthly altars in the eucharistic mystery. Thus, there is no schism between the invisible and the visible, between heaven and earth, between the Head seated at the Father's right hand, and the Church, His body, in which flows unceasingly His most precious blood."
St. Paul says, “I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12). It is no stretch to contend that at the heart of the Gospel is true worship of God. St. Paul confirms that Christian worship is based on revelation, not the passing ideas of men.

Orthodox Christian Worship
When one enters an Orthodox Church these God revealed images are alive. There is an altar, beauty, incense, lamp stands, ritual hymns, petitions, a priest and so on. Everyone (priest and people) faces the altar, which has a host of meanings, among which is the throne of God. The focus is not a preacher, nor a band, nor a techno screen, nor a spinning globe, etc. We all face the throne of God (as they do in heaven). True Christianity does not reflect the mutable age (though it must work and live in it, engaging it on many levels) but the age to come: eternity. True worship reminds the worshiper that the paradigm of fallen earthly realities (no matter how innocuous) are not abiding (Jn 15:19). True worship reminds the world that it is temporal and passing away. St. John of Kronstadt says: “The church and worship are the embodiment and realization of all Christianity: here in words, in persons and actions is conveyed the entire economy of our salvation, all sacred and church history, all that is good, wise, eternal and immutable in God … His righteousness and holiness, His eternal power. Here we find a harmony that is wondrous in all things, an amazing logical connection in the whole and its parts: it is true divine wisdom accessible to simple, loving hearts.”

Modern "Christian rock worship"
Unfortunately many sectors of Christendom have abandoned the heavenly model of worship; opting instead for an earthly reflection, one that resonates with worldly likes and dislikes. Some even become indistinguishable from worldly events. Instead of being the image of heaven, Christianity is reduced to a fad of humanity; the worldly rather than the heavenly becomes the model. 

Lacking the heavenly image modern "Christianity" becomes a hollow shell, a mutable thing of this world rather than the eternal and immutable revelation of God.  A worldly model will never heal the world (though it may draw large crowds and be very entertaining, with a great emotional high), only the heavenly can (cf. Jn 6:33); indeed it must be light to the world (Jn. 8:12, 12:46).

Secular rock concert. Looks the same as "Christian rock"

When a Biblical standard is held to, one finds that Orthodoxy is living and worshiping accordingly. Of course, it was Orthodox Christianity that compiled the canon of Scripture (the Bible)…

Why Orthodox Christianity? Because true Christian worship is a revealed reflection of eternity centered around the throne of God. We invite everyone to come and worship the Living God as Christians always have.

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