May 16, 2012

(3) Orthodoxy's Worship: The Worshiping Community

By Protopresbyter George Metallinos

3. The Worshiping Community

The Orthodox Church manifests Herself historically as a worshiping community. Even heterodox such as Erich Seeberg (a major Protestant theologian) have called Her “the religion of worship on the ground of Christianity”. During worship, the faithful partakes of his Church’s way of existence, which is referred to as “a feast of the first-born”, “a house of celebrants” who are “eternally jubilating” in an eschatological foretasting of the heavenly kingdom. The Church’s worship was, from the very beginning, a community act; it was an act of the local Church, and not of the faithful as individuals. During worship, the individual becomes a member of the “community in Christ” (in which he enters with his Baptism) and he then partakes of the life of a specific, local community, and not some universal and generalized notion of Christianity. In worship, the ecclesiastical body becomes evident with its local assembly. Even “private” prayer is understood Orthodoxically as something within the ecclesiastical community - as an extension of it. The Divine Eucharist in particular is the Sacrament of the Church as a body, and is also the purpose of the liturgical act.

The Church’s worship unites the faithful, across time, with all the Saints and the reposed faithful, contemporaneously with the brethren who are presently living “in Christ”. The Church is thus proven in Her worship as “one flock, comprised of people and angels, and one kingdom” (blessed Chrysostom). This unity of the Church, with Christ at the center as Her Head, is portrayed during the “withdrawal” of the “Precious Gifts”, when the distribution of Holy Communion is completed. The Officiator “withdraws” (collects) inside the Holy Chalice the “Lamb Christ” (of Whom both clergy and laity have just partaken), the “portion” dedicated to the Theotokos, the Angels and all the Saints, and the portion for the living and the deceased - this rite normally being performed by the head officiator, the Bishop, who comprises the visible center of the Sacrament (the invisible center being Christ). Thus, the “personal” Body of Christ is joined in an “unconfusable and indivisible” manner to His “communal” (collective) Body – His faithful. Inside the Holy Chalice is “assembled” the community of faithful, together with Christ and one another. Christ is thus manifested as the absolute center and the Head of the Church; the Church as the Body of Christ, and the faithful – both living and deceased – as members of that Body.