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Orthodox Worship

Updated: Dec 27, 2022

Orthodox worship is unlike any other form of Christian worship, revealing the union between heaven and earth made possible by Christ.

The liturgies of the Orthodox Church are often described as 'mystical', 'solemn', or just plain 'beautiful'. And indeed they are all of these things. Because the task of liturgy in Orthodox Christianity is to serve as an icon (or image) of heaven, and to reveal to participants the fundamental relationship between the life of this world, and the life of the world to come.

WHat is liturgy like?

“The liturgy of the Church is cosmical and eschatological because the Church is cosmical and eschatological; but the Church would not have been cosmical and eschatological had she not been given, as the very source and constitution of her life and faith, the experience of the new creation, the experience and vision of the Kingdom which is to come.” Father Alexander Schmemann

Some people can find the liturgy of the Orthodox Church bewildering at first, while others are immediately swept up in its beauty and drama. Maybe it depends on who you are and how you experience things like poetry, art, and music, or maybe not. What can be said is that Orthodox liturgy is unlike one's normal experience on the street; at exactly the same time, it actually comprehends all our experience on the street. For if liturgy is the meeting place between heaven and earth, it is also a place to which we bring all our burdens, experiences, thoughts, and offerings, and set them before the Almighty. And the Almighty, knowing all our burdens, experiences, thoughts, and offerings before we do, accepts them all, sanctifies us in return, and sends us back out into the world to live them all over again.

This procession to the church for liturgy, and our subsequent return into the world, is a cycle that replicates the movement of God into the world in the Word-Made-Flesh, and His return to heaven via the Ascension. It is a cosmic movement that we undertake to show forth in our ritual, and for this reason our ritual is rich in symbolic sights, sounds, and smells. Anyone who attends the Divine Liturgy, for example, will be immediately struck with three things in particular: the way the space is 'decorated' (with icons or the Lord, the Theotokos, the angels, and the saints); the fact that few words are actually 'spoken', but rather that almost everything is chanted; the clouds and smell of incense that permeates the atmosphere.

Orthodox liturgy is timeless

The great Christian writer, C.S. Lewis, once said, 'That which is not eternal is eternally out of date'. This is something that Orthodoxy well understands, which is why the things we do in liturgy - the rituals we undertake, the hymns we sing, the words we use - are nothing like that which you might find in the world outside the church doors. There is nothing at all wrong with liking popular music, or jazz, or classical, just as there is nothing wrong with liking the paintings of Kandinsky, Chagall, or Warhol, or the poetry of Donne, Eliot, or Cohen, but none of these will be found in an Orthodox Church, for the music, images, and words we offer there are precisely not a matter of personal taste, or meant to reflect any other time than eternity.

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