May 19, 2012

(5) Orthodoxy's Worship: Liturgical Theology

By Protopresbyter George Metallinos

5. Liturgical Theology

Faith - not only as the ecclesiastical ideology and one’s fidelity to the Saviour Christ but as a teaching also - is a fundamental and inviolable prerequisite of ecclesiastical worship. It is the motivating power of the worshiping faithful, expressed by external acts and moves that comprise its ritual. Worship materializes faith and renders it a group event, while it simultaneously preserves and augments it, thus helping one to delve deeper into it.

Orthodox worship is Trinity-centred in its topics and its structure. Its strength and its hope spring from the Triadic God. The Church liturgically offers up “glory to the Father, and the Son, and to the Holy Spirit”.

The Eucharist “anaphora” (referral) is addressed to God the Father. The Son is also the recipient of the offered sacrifice, given that He is “of the same essence” and co-enthroned with the Father, and He is the central axis of that sacrifice as well. He is “the offerer and the offered and the recipient” during the Divine Eucharist. Ecclesiastical worship is the continuation of Christ’s redemptive work, and it incorporates the Mystery of Divine Providence. Christ is the “ecclesiast” (“churchifier”) Who gathers us unto His Body and the faithful are the “churchified” who participate in His worship and are recipients of His glory. Those who receive Holy Communion “worthily” (II Corinthians 3:16) prove to be a temple of Christ, and the mystery of Faith is officiated inside their hearts.

But ecclesiastical worship is just as equally Spirit-centred, because the Holy Spirit is also present during worship, the way that the luminous mist was present when it “overshadowed” the Disciples and the entire Mount during the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5). Orthodoxy’s true worship is the Holy Spirit’s prayer-rousing energy inside the heart of the faithful, as is the case with the Saints, who are the true worshipers of God because they are participants of the celestial worship. The entireness of worship is the work of the Holy Spirit, Who “holds together the entire establishment of the Church”. The prayer, “Thou Heavenly King, the Paraclete, the Spirit of Truth…” is the one that inducts us into every Service.

In divine worship, a “communion with the Holy Spirit” takes place. Everything is governed by the sanctifying power of the Paraclete. At the peak moment of the Sacrament, we beseech the Holy Spirit to “come upon us” (the officiators) and upon the “holy gifts” (the bread and the wine), as well as upon “all of the people”, and to perform the “spiritual sacrifice”, by transforming the offered gifts into the Body and Blood of Christ and uniting all the participants into one body.

The Church’s worship stands out for its “traditionality”. This is the most dynamic carrier of ecclesiastical tradition. “Tradition” in the Church is the perpetuation of the Christian mode of existence; it is life in the Holy Spirit, which can lead to the Church’s true purpose: Man’s theosis and the sanctification of Creation. The truly faithful person will persist in those elements that comprise the genuine ecclesiastical stance. That is what Faith is basically all about: for one to remain faithful and unswerving towards the will of God and the Tradition of the Saints. The criterion for the genuineness of ecclesiastical worship is its degree of “traditionality”. This also contributes towards the unity of local churches, both contemporaneously and across Time.

The liturgical texts provide the liturgical theology, which constitutes a pristine expression of the ecclesiastical dogma. That is why worship becomes “a school for piety” that teaches the faith, with the support of the media of art, and especially iconography - that “most eloquent book” of the Church, as Saint John the Damascene had said. Orthodox worship throughout the ages has shaped the mentality of the faithful, as one can see from certain church-loving personalities such as the heroic General Makriyannis or the pious author Alexandros Papadiamantis. A person’s association with worship is an indicator of his ecclesiastical demeanour.

It therefore stands to reason that one can speak of an Orthodox and a non-Orthodox worship, because the Orthodox element underlying worship is not composed of faceless structures; it is the faith that is being materialized by these structures. Ever since ancient times, one’s confession of faith was linked directly to worship. Worship remains the sermon of truth throughout the ages, as personified by the Saints and the “remembrance” of the redemptive events found in the Old and the New Testaments. However, beyond being the sermon of faith, ecclesiastical worship also contributes towards its own defence, by fending off heretical fallacies. It is already a known fact that ecclesiastical theology is usually formulated as a response to heretical provocations. This is evidenced by the feast-days and the special church services dedicated to Holy Fathers and Ecumenical Synods. Vespers and Matins provide us with the theology of every single feast-day, in lieu of a theological arsenal for the faithful. The observant faithful becomes, for all intents and purposes, a theologian of the Church.