The Eternal Liturgy: Worship in the Orthodox Tradition by Metropolitan Jonah
Over a thousand years ago, when emissaries from the Russian prince Vladimir went to Constantinople and stood in the Liturgy at the Church of Christ the Holy Wisdom, Hagia Sophia, they did not know whether they were in heaven or on earth. The grandeur of the cathedral, the unearthly music, the choirs, the majestic iconography, the rites of worship, the elders in white vesture falling before the Throne of God and singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” with all the angels and an innumerable company of saints, altogether bore them to the heavenlies. So it is today. The worship of the Orthodox Church is meant to be nothing less than participation in the eternal Liturgy at the Throne of God in heaven. It is the earthly type, symbol, and image of the heavenly reality; and through these earthly types, by the Holy Spirit, we actually participate in the heavenly. This is the same model as the Temple in Jerusalem, where it was God who first gave directions on how to build the Tabernacle and conduct worship. And for its restoration, direction was again given to Ezekiel and the other prophets. Isaiah and Daniel were given entrance to the heavenly Liturgy. Their vision was partial, for it was yet to be fulfilled in Christ. So also John the Beloved Disciple was given a vision of the Heavenly Liturgy, as described in Revelation 4 - 6. But the revelation to John was of the Heavenly Liturgy fulfilled in Christ, who is seated with the Father on his throne. It is Christ who conducts the eternal Divine Liturgy as the Great High Priest of the New Covenant, who enters the Heavenly Tabernacle with his own blood and offers himself slain in sacrifice, in the eternal act of self-offering in thanksgiving to the Father, so that he will send down in return the Holy Spirit to sanctify the creation and unite it to himself. Our liturgy is fulfilled when we, united in Christ by his Spirit, offer our thanksgiving to the Father and he sends his Holy Spirit upon us to fulfill us in his Son as his Body. Participation in the eternal Divine Liturgy at the Throne of God is worship in Spirit and in Truth. It is “orthodoxy” by definition: true glory, true worship. It is participation in the Truth, who is Jesus Christ, by communion of the Holy Spirit. This also reveals the ultimate meaning of Beauty; it shines forth with perfection as the undistorted image of the invisible. True worship, Orthodox worship, is fulfilled when our earthly rites become transparent to the true Heavenly Liturgy and we are lifted up from earth to the throne of God in his kingdom, giving thanks to the Father in Christ by the Spirit with all the angels and the saints. It shines forth with Uncreated Beauty, the beauty of holiness, the shining uncreated Light of the Glory of God, which filled the Temple of old, and with which Christ shone at his Transfiguration. And we too become sanctified, transfigured, illumined, deified, by the light of Grace. The Orthodox Liturgy has developed organically without overt reforms from the original Apostolic Liturgy (see Revelation 4 ff. for what that looked like). It can be celebrated in great cathedrals with thousands of people or in a little chapel with just a priest and one another person present with all the angels and saints. Hagia Sophia at the time of the Russian emissaries in the early tenth century had literally scores of clergy celebrating with ten thousand people on a typical Sunday. So it is today in Russia, where nearly 100 million people have been baptized in the Orthodox Church in the last eight years. Orthodox liturgical worship is very complex. The “hardware” that we can use is only exceeded in complexity by the intricate system of texts and their interaction with the various cycles of feasts and celebrations. Our books provide eight to ten hours of liturgical worship a day for every day of the year. This is part of what gives the liturgy its richness, on the human side. And it has bee used, and added to - perfected - for hundreds and hundreds of years. The liturgical worship of the Orthodox Church has been the primary factor in the wholesale conversion of hundreds of cultures, from the Adriatic to Alaska, from Finland to Ethiopia, and the uttermost ends of the earth. The Church has baptized those cultures and transformed them from the inside out. The reason for this is that the beauty of the worship is transcendent, transparent to the Kingdom of God, and an experience of grace and salvation. Orthodoxy is far more than an ancient and complex system of liturgical texts, rites, images, and music. The liturgical worship of the Church both expresses and conveys a fully integrated theological vision and spiritual discipline, which is the essential context for the liturgical worship. Orthodox Christianity is far more than the sum of its parts. Any of the parts - icons, texts, music, rites, theological concepts, spiritual disciplines, and so on - can be enriching and interesting for non-Orthodox Christians. But taken out of context, either from their Orthodox liturgical context or from the theological/spiritual context of the Orthodox vision, they are deprived of the very content that ultimately gives them meaning. (We also, of course, assert this for the Holy Scriptures, but that is another discussion.) This content and this context is the source of identity for an Orthodox Christian. Orthodox Christianity finds its identity in its spiritual and theological vision. This vision, the most basic expression of which is the Church’s liturgy, is nothing short of the experience of the Kingdom of God, the very incarnation of Truth and Beauty, the very Person of Christ himself. The Orthodox Church has Jesus Christ as the essence of her identity in this world, and has lived this vision and experience as the God-human reality of his Body for nearly two thousand years. Though the forms have evolved and matured, the identity remains unchanged, and shared by all from the Apostles until now. The living unity of vision and sacramental communion remains unbroken. It exists nowhere else. It is a shared, transpersonal identity constituted by the Holy Spirit in Christ. It is an identity and vision that is not of this world but of the Kingdom of God. It is a shared vision and common identity, transcending time and space, culture and every created barrier, even death. It is given by the Holy Spirit, as the mind of Christ. Members of “Generation X” are searching for an identity, something they can latch onto, in this world of flux and rebellion, a world gone mad with selfish pride. They have seen the despair of their parents, the materialism, hedonism, and self-centeredness that has broken apart their marriages and left their children grasping for love and affection with no sense of identity, stability, or security. They are left with confusion about gender and the nature of family life. Xers have seen the destructive pride and individual autonomy of the Me-generation, which has left their children with no sense of historical roots or tradition. To a generation that has lost its identity and its way, that has lost its hope in this world, there is no other solution and no other answer than this: There is no hope, no fulfillment, no peace, no stability, and no salvation in this world other than in identifying with the Christ who is not of this world. And the way to do this is within his Body, the one Church. The Way is to enter into the living vision and experience of the resurrected Christ, to participate in his body and blood, and to live the mystery of the Kingdom of God in our midst. The entrance into this life is Christ is through the liturgical worship of the Church. Continual worship becomes the natural expression of that inner communion in Christ with all the saints, and the fulfillment of our identity with them in the unity of mind and heart in Christ. This unanimity, unity of soul and mind and vision, is not found outside the Orthodox Church. Gen-Xers have seen their parents’ rejection of the traditional religious institutions of our culture, and rejected them themselves (often rightly so!) These institutions have embraced the instability of the culture, running after every fad, being blown away by every breezy trend of doctrine and thought. Worship in many such churches would be completely unrecognizable to a Christian from the first millennium-and-a-half of this era. While the music might be inspiring and the sermon informative, they bear little resemblance to the angelic liturgy. Other churches have cast away the most basic principles of morality and the very concept of living according to the will of god as revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures. These churches have embraced the world, and, while trying to save the world are being swept away with it into the void. This capitulation of the religious institutions of our culture to the spirit of the age has imparted to our generation the idea that there is no truth, no moral absolutes, nothing transcendent, nothing truly beautiful; only that people have personal religious needs that can be fulfilled according to taste. To this the Orthodox Church shouts a resounding no. But it is not to a legalistic external code of behavior or to a confessional statement that the Church calls us. Rather, we are called to him who is the Truth, to the Law written in our hearts, to the Church of the New Covenant. We do not go to church according to taste to satisfy our own individual religious needs. Rather, Christ calls all people to the Eternal Liturgy of Heaven, of which he himself is the great High Priest, for this is itself participation in eternal life. Christ calls us out of our selfish preoccupation to communion in himself with all the saints and all creation. We who have come from this post-Christian culture into the Orthodox Church have come by way of repentance. It is not only a repenting from particular sins and turning to try to live a more godly life. We who have converted to Orthodox Christianity have rejected the churches of the West as having lost the integrity of the essential vision of Christianity. Our repentance is a turning away from that which is broken, partial, corrupted, and compromised, toward that which remains whole, integrated, authentic, true, beautiful, and holy. The only place we see this, despite its fragile earthen vessel, is the Orthodox Church. We have been given the opportunity to experience the transformation of mind and heart, the metanoia which is the real meaning of “repentance,” though we fall far short both personally and corporately. Our salvation is a lifetime process, which ends in transfiguration and deification of our very being. It is not something we can have or achieve on our own whenever we want it. Rather, it is only by the purification of our souls and the illumination of our minds and hearts by grace that we may enter into this light of salvation. “Working out our salvation in fear and trembling,” seeking to purify our minds and hearts and souls, so that God may illumine us, is the real content of Orthodoxy. This diving illumination is the gift of the Spirit of that perception of truth, of beauty, of holiness, and participation in them. Without this ascetic purification on our side, and the divine illumination of the Spirit, the Church’s liturgy becomes simply an elaborate and exotic mystery play, the icons simply golden pictures of dead saints, illuminated only by the candlelight in the sacred gloom. And without this purification and illumination, we ourselves - our spirits and souls chained to the earth by our sins, our minds captive to our passions and fantasies - are imprisoned in the voluntary solitary confinement of our own self-centered individualism. Heaven has been revealed as the eternal Divine Liturgy in communion with all the angels and saints; we enter the repentance, the continual transformation of our being by turning our minds and hearts to Christ enthroned in glory with the Father and Spirit. Orthodoxy issues a call to those who are searching and those who are lost, those who are broken and grieving, those in despair. It is a call to repentance, the transformation of life. It is a call to the heavenly banquet table, to the Feast of Christ in his Kingdom, participation in the eternal Divine Liturgy of Heaven. In this ascent to Christ in his Kingdom, fulfilled in and through the Liturgy, is the transformative power of Orthodox Christianity. Orthodoxy offers a way of life that will heal the wounds, comfort the griefs, give hope to the despairing. It lifts us up to the very Throne of God, gives us a new life and a new vision of life transfigured by grace. We receive a new identity through communion with all the saints from all ages. There is much required of us to participate in the Banquet of Immortality, the Divine Liturgy. If we are to be healed, purified, sanctified, we must also change ourselves. We must cast away the pride and individualism that prevent us from entering into the communion of saints. We must learn how to truly worship, not according to our own ideas, and not even expecting to have complete understanding of what all the symbols and movements mean. We must free our hearts and souls from the corruption of the passions and the tyranny of rationalism, the products of the fall into sin, so that we may soar with the angels and sing with the Cherubim: holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth, Heaven and earth are full of Thy Glory! And thus having ascended to heaven, and been filled with the Holy Spirit, we will be able to truly bear witness to Christ who is enthroned in glory, and by our repentance heal that fallenness and brokenness in the depths of our being, and of those around us. - from Re:Generation Quarterly, January 1997
|Saturday, December 16th|
5:00 Great Vespers, followed by Confessions
|Sunday, December 17th|
9:40 3rd & 6th Hours
10:00 Divine Liturgy
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Saturday of the 13th Week
The Mission of The Orthodox Church in America, the local autocephalous Orthodox Christian Church, is to be faithful in fulfilling the commandment of Christ to “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”
St. Matthew Orthodox Church is part of the Diocese of the South, which is presided over by The Most Reverend Alexander (Golitzin) Archbishop of Dallas, the South and the Bulgarian Diocese. Our mission is bringing the joy of Christ's resurrection to those who have never heard the Good News, and to strengthen and encourage the faithful who reside within Baton Rouge and the local area.
The Holy Scripture is a collection of books written over multiple centuries by those inspired by God to do so. It is the primary witness to the Orthodox Christian faith, within Holy Tradition and often described as its highest point. It was written by the prophets and apostles in human language, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and collected, edited, and canonized by the Church.
Holiness or sainthood is a gift (charisma) given by God to man, through the Holy Spirit. Man's effort to become a participant in the life of divine holiness is indispensable, but sanctification itself is the work of the Holy Trinity, especially through the sanctifying power of Jesus Christ, who was incarnate, suffered crucifixion, and rose from the dead, in order to lead us to the life of holiness, through the communion with the Holy Spirit.