Liturgy and Spiritual Practices
The Principles of Orthodox Worship
1. Transfiguration of the whole being
Human mind is provided with conscious, sub conscious and unconscious layers. Worship is not only the transfiguration of the conscious mind. It transforms the whole being . St. Paul expresses this process as follows: “ And we all, with unveiled face beholding the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory , just as by the spirit of the Lord”. ( 2 Cor.3:18). The three representatives of the Apostles could experience this glory of the Lord in their Taboric Transfiguration. Christian witness is not only to see the glory of God, but also to become glorified. Human beings , created in the image of God are transfigured from glory to glory through incessant prayer and worship. This process is not intellectual but experiential. The whole being is involved in this process. In other words, worship is infinite growth in goodness. It is theosis or Deification.
2. Communication with the five senses.
The five sense help us in human communications. The same is applicable to our communication with God. In real worship we see, hear, smell, taste and experience the divine communion. Preaching the word of God and listening to it are not the exclusive factors of worship. Take the example of the three fold colors by which the Holy Altar is decorated. The red covering at the altar indicates the universe and the solar system. The green coloring denotes the earth with the greenish variety of biological species. The white covering indicates the Church made sanctified and pure through the blood of the unblemished lamb of God , Jesus Christ. The blood and body of Christ were given to the Church and the whole creation is sanctified through the Church. In worship we listen to the word of God , smell the odor of incense ,touch the hands of our brethren in Kiss of Peace and taste from the divine chalice perceiving the mysteries of the liturgical scenario.
3. Rituals, offerings and incense
God became man. He took flesh, matter was used in the redeeming process of incarnation. . Rituals offerings and material objects were given sufficient role in the ministry of Jesus. St. Luke chapter 5 verse 14 states , “ And he charged him to tell no one : but go and show yourself to the priest and make an offering for your cleansing as Moses commanded for a proof to the people”. Thus Jesus commanded to give offering and rites of thanks giving. Jesus is serious towards those who disobeyed the commandments. Jesus taught that offerings and rituals must help to be firm in faith and for the glorification of God. Jesus was respectful towards priesthood , offerings of thanks giving and vows . Even St.Paul cut his hair at Cenchreae, for he had a vow ( Acts 18:18) .Bread , wine , water, oil and soil are all seen used in the redemptive process according to the Bible. “ You do this in remembrance of me, this is my body and this is my blood” commanded Jesus. The offering of the incense is practiced in Christian worship ( See Rev. 8 : 3,4 Rev. 5:8, Heb 9:4, Mt.2: 11). Offering of the incense is to get rid of the plagues to remove the foul smell of sin, to please the Lord with complete dedication and to keep the Biblical commandments ( See Num. 16:46- 50 ) . Ex. 35: 8, 2 Chron 2: 4, 1 kg 9: 25, Malachi 1:11 etc.) With the offering of incense we are mingling with the prayers of all the saints. ( Rev, 8:4)
We have to acknowledge our linguistic limitations. Words and language alone fail to reflect our gratitude to God Almighty. Symbols speak volumes and help us for meaningful communication with God. The early Church developed symbolic art in the Catacombs.Symbols used by early Christians include , lamb, dove ,fish, shepherd, vine , bread, cross and the like. The dove represents holy Spirit, Christ si the Good Shepherd,and the Lamb of God. The Greek word “ikhthus” which means fish denotes “ Jesus Christ, son of god, Savior” when alphabetically expanded. This was the creed and declaration of faith used by ancient Christians. The symbolism of salt, lamp, etc. are inspirative and educative for a Christian. They are parts of the Christian devotion. The cross speaks out the sacrificial acts of Jesus. Signing of the cross is also silent , but meaningful worship. The icons first came into existence in Syria and Egypt. The Byzantine Church developed icons and iconostasis with a sound theology of symbols called iconography.
5.Fasting, Feasting and Festivals
In worship there are factors beyond human reasoning and intellect. Through the particular cycle of prayers, rites of purification and courses of meditation together with lent, fasting and deeds of charity we find amalgamation with such factors beyond our reason and intellect. In our worship we bow our heads, kneel down and pray to the Lord. ( See Gen 24:26, Gen 24:48, Ex 4:31, Dan 6:10, 1 king 8:54,Mt. 2:11, Rev.7:11, ps,95:6. Etc.) Fasting is pleasing to God Is 58:6-8) , God asked his people to observe fast . Joel 1:12-15. The evil one can be overcome by fasting. Luke 2:37, Mt. 17:21, Esther 4:16 , . Moses observed fasting Ex: 34:28, Mk 9:29, Acts 14:23, , fasting is mentioned in 1 king 19:18. Also we see 21 days fasting of Daniel ( Dan 10:2,3) 14 days fasting in Acts 27: 33,35 . 7 days fasting of David in 2 Sam 12:16, 1 Sam 31:13, 3 days fasting of Esther 3:13, 4:16, Acts 9:9, Dan 9:3-21 , Ezra 8:3, people of Nineveh Jona 3:6 etc. Jesus is the best example Mt. 4:2, Feasts are observed as days of special honor and reverence. Jn.7:2 , acts 20:16, 1 Cor 16:8. The Jews observed feast of Passover. ( Ex. 12: 14-17) ,Pentecost ( Ex. 19:20), tabernacle ( Lev 23:24 ), Purim ( Esther 9:26) , Trumpet ( Lev 23:24) , Feasts and Festivals of Christianity commemorate events related to Christ , saints, and martyrs sharing the experiences in and with so great a cloud of witness ( Heb 12:10)
6. Conformity with the mind of the Church
We are bound to hold fast the traditions transferred to us through the Church by our Lord, the Apostles and the church Fathers. The Greek word paradosisused in the Bible means “ that which is transferred” or “ traditions” ( see 2 thess 2 : 15, 3:16, 1 Cor 11:2 etc.) The continuity and apostolic authority together with the rich spiritual fragrance behind these traditions are to be counted. Tradition is the mind of the Church . It is difficult to write down everything that we see , know and experience . The canons, faith declaration and textual formations of the liturgical practices form the spiritual code of conduct made by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles , gospel- writers and Church Fathers. These traditions (oral and written ) act as catalytic agents for our spiritual upbringing . These tradition are not be ridiculed , misused , and misunderstood. See 1 Cor, 11:34, Phil 4:9, 2 Tim 2:2, 2 Tim 1:13, Heb 2: 1, 3 Jn. 1 :13 , 2 Pet 3:16.
7.Communion with the departed ones
The Church is the communion of all believers in the past , present, and future. Both the living and the departed are members of the church. A believer never dies.Jn.11:26. The departed ones stand around us like clouds today. Heb 12:1. They live 1 Pet 4:6. They speak Luke 9:30,31. They please God 2 Cor 5:8,9. They pray for the world. Rev 6:9,10. Death is not capable of separating us from the love of God. Rom 8:38. The departed Moses and Elijah are seen talking with Jesus Mt. 17:3. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effect. James 5:16. See also Prov 10:7, 1 Cor 6:2, Rev 2:26, Luke 16:27,28. The departed ones are alive in paradise. Luke. 23:43. St. Paul prayed for the departed Onesiphorous. 2 Tim 1:16-18 . We commemorate and unite in prayer with the departed ones who form the larger part of the Church.
8.Intercession for the whole creation
Intercession for the living and the departed was practiced in the Church from the very beginning. If it is alright to ask a living person to pray for us without violating the principle of one unique Mediator , it cannot be wrong to ask a departed saint to pray for us. We also pray for them. Even the relics of the departed saints can do miracles. See 2 kings 13:20, 21. The rich man in hades prays for his five brothers who are living Luke 16:27,28. The Orthodox Church believes that the range of Christ’s saving activity is the whole creation at large. The creation is based on the will, wisdom and power of God. Purpose of the creation is to glorify God. With our prayers and intercession we transfigure the world for the glorification of God.
9.Liturgical hymns with diversity of tunes
The highest form of worship is to use hymns with diversity of tunes as in the Psalms. Through liturgical hymns we are getting into the horizon of the fact of incarnation. We are exploring the divine mysteries through our hymns. Music is the human response to divine love. Music transforms human mind. It is the highest form of devotion and the strongest mental shock absorber. With the heavenly angels who stand in rows and repeat the chanting of melodious prayers, the earthly beings participate in the worship with melodious songs. In the book of psalms there are directions to lift up the voice of the choir. The word “sela” means “lift up” . In the communal worship and singing , the choir members are reminded here to raise and lower down the voices and tunes. Worship is our state of being immersed into the ocean of God. We feel relaxed when our burdens, problems, afflictions and aspirations are submitted before God. Worship is the state of our relaxation before God.
10. Strong Biblical basis
The apostles and the early disciples described the mystery of early Incarnation based on the law of Moses, prophets and other writings. See Acts 28:23. The worship and liturgical practice of the early Church were developed with the contents of Synagogue worship and Temple worship. The worship in the Jerusalem Temple followed morning and evening sacrifice , offering of the incense and Hanukah processions with lighted candles. The synagogue worship followed readings from the Old Testament, verses of blessings, singing of Psalms, exegetical sermons by religious scholars and Aaronic benediction. Assimilating these ancient practices of worship , the Church developed and regularized readings from the Old Testament, New Testament, songs, offering of incense and the holy Eucharist which is the liturgy of the sacrifice (Jn 6:53 ,1 Cor. 11:23-32, Heb 9: 15-22,). The worship of the Orthodox Church is saturated with verses from the Holy Bible.
Fr.Dr. Mathew Vaidyan