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May 14, 2012

(1) Orthodoxy's Worship: Christian Worship

By Protopresbyter George Metallinos

1. Christian Worship

Ever since its founding on the Day of the Pentecost, Christianity (as the Church of Christ), was expressed not only as a teaching but also as worship, which held a centremost place in its life. Worship proved to be not only the means by which the Church expressed Her most profound self, but also the par excellence means that shaped the faith and Her life overall. Without being limited to worship alone, the life of the Church is transformed overall into a worship of the Triune God, Who is Her absolute centre and Ηead.

Ecclesiastic worship is comprehended in Christ only, in Whom God is made known (John 1:18). Faith in Christ as our God and Saviour precedes worship of Him. Christ is the One Who differentiates the Christian faith from every other worship. The Christ-centred character of ecclesiastical worship differentiated it radically, not only from the Gentile faith, but also from the Jewish one (see Hebrews 9). Whatever Gentile or Jewish ritualistic elements the Church may have assumed, are only secondary in importance and peripheral, and they do not affect Her worship.

An essential element of Christian worship is the esoteric one, i.e., the thanksgiving and glorification of God for His gifts, from the heart. That is why Christian worship was founded on what God did for Man and not what Man can do to please God and placate Him. It is not intended as a religious ritual; it is through worship that we have the manifestation of the Church as the “Body of Christ”. The sole, true officiator of the Church is Jesus Christ (Hebrews 8:2), Who, through His Person, introduced into history a different kind of priesthood. The terms “priest”, “sacrifice”, “priesthood” in the Epistle to the Hebrews – the first liturgical text of the Church – are linked exclusively to Christ, the only authentic High Priest, Who offered and still offers the perfect sacrifice – Himself. His sacrifice in the worship of the Church is bloodless and spiritual, and Christ is, after all, the “offerer and the offered and the recipient” of the sacrifice. It is not the priests of the Church who perform the sacrifice (as is the case in the various religions of the world); priests merely “lend” their hands to Christ, so that He may perform everything (Chrysostom). All of the faithful – with their Baptism and their Chrism – partake of Christ’s priesthood, inasmuch as they “present their bodies as a living sacrifice – a holy one, which is pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1).

The Worship of the Church constitutes a revelation of the triple mystery of life: the mystery of God, the mystery of Man and the mystery of Creation, as well as the association between the three. In Orthodox Worship, one experiences the “new Era” that “invaded” history with the Incarnation of the Logos of God, and one is now also equipped with the potential for victory over sin, over deterioration and death. Human existence overall places itself under Christ’s authority and it glorifies the Triadic God, the way He is glorified by the angelic Powers in the heavens (Isaiah 6:1).

In Christian worship, a two-fold movement takes place: Man’s towards God (Who receives our thanksgiving and glorification) and God’s towards Man (who is sanctified by Divine Grace). This is a dialogue between the Creator and His creation; a meeting between Man and “the True One” (1 John 5:20); an offering by an existence to its source, according to the words of the Liturgy: «Ourselves and each other and all of our life let us submit unto Christ the Lord”. The faithful offers thanks to God for his salvation and for God’s continuous gifts, which are “more bounteous than what we asked for”. Man offers God “bread and wine” and he receives the “Body and Blood of Christ” in return; he offers up incense, and receives uncreated Grace. The Church’s worship is not offered to God because He is in need of it; this worship is actually a necessity for Man, who receives far more (and far more important things) than whatever he may have to offer.

Worship is ecclesiastical, when it preserves its supernatural and spiritual character and when it liberates Man, thence leading him into the perfect knowledge (“cognition”) of God (Ephesians 4:13; Revelation 4:10, 5:6, etc.); however, its purpose is not to bring heaven down to earth, but to elevate Man and the world, towards the heavens. It gives Man (and Creation overall) the potential to become “baptized” (to die and be resurrected) within Divine Grace.