The Orthodox Church
worships God with the same spirit with which He is worshipped in Heaven (according to the Biblical revelations presented in Isaiah, Ezekiel and the book of Revelation). That entails the use of external elements such as incense, candles, liturgical vestments, and prostrations, from the moment that worshipping God on earth means carrying out an experience which involves also the body.
The Church venerates the cross, the gospels, the images of Christ, and by extension, all of the icons of the Saints. The icons, actually, are not worshipped, as that would make them idols. They are venerated. Paying homage to them, one is turning to the prototype that they represent (Christ).
The first exercise that the faithful must complete is that of removing themselves from the thoughts and imaginations of earthly life, is that of achieving a profound silence within them. Only this way can the liturgical signs and symbols begin to consult and interact with man’s interior. Naturally, being like training, the Liturgy requires commitment.
The words sung must become mentality and life of the one singing them and this can trouble the bored or ignorant modern Christian. Another element that particularly bothers today’s man is the time dedicated to worship. In the East a Sunday Mass that lasts longer than half an hour is irritating. In Orthodox Christianity the Divine Liturgy (that is, the Mass) lasts at least an hour and a half.
If then it is preceded by some other service it lasts two and a half hours. There are two cases in which the celebration of different officiates with the Divine Liturgy lasting even 12-13 hours, beginning the evening and ending the following morning. In this case we are facing the so called “Vigils”. Experiences of this type show the extreme relativity of time and lead to entering into another dimension where Liturgy and life coincide. All of that is nothing but an anticipation of how things will be in Paradise, in that time won’t exist, but an eternal present.
However, liturgical time is an element which the Orthodox Christian lives profoundly different than a western Christian. While in the West, the Christian is “obligated” to stay firm in his place, to pay, attention, to not leave the church before time, in the East, the Christian approaches the Liturgy with the spirit with which the thirsty approaches a fountain. The bigger the thirst the more he needs to drink. And the fountain doesn’t stop gushing out its water, that being its reason for existing. Are you tired? No one forces you to remain (in Orthodoxy holiday duties don’t exist, namely the obligation to attend Sunday Mass).
Are you nodding off? If it’s for a moment, go ahead (sometimes non Orthodox visitors are a bit puzzled when they see some monk napping in church during the long morning services).
Liturgy is like the food that a baby absorbs while in the womb of the mother (the church). The fact that he seems inactive doesn’t mean that he’s not growing. As the baby in the womb, so is the Christian. This allows, even today, the conservation of celebration times that the West had so long ago.
Moreover, to the Orthodox spirit, a participation that involves believers aesthetically, emotionally or intellectually is completely strange.
The Church is not a theatre or a television show! It is also completely strange to the Orthodox spirit to live the Liturgy as if it was a dialog between the priest and the faithful, or as if it was a moment in which one could do some catechisms. Liturgy is the place where the strength of God speaks, not where man’s reason is shown, no matter how right that may seem.
Displaying the liturgical beauty in all of his aspects, man not only offers God the talents that He has entrusted him with to multiply, but also attains the invaluable ability to be able to marvel at the beauty shaped by man to be an icon of the Kingdom.
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