How Do We Worship God?
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews
Taken from the Lenten lectures "Back to the Basics" delivered at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Lent 2007.
The worship of God is something He commands as good for our souls and for our relationships with our neighbor (Ex.20:1-8; Lev.19:4,18; Deut.6:4; 30:6; Mt.22:37-40; Mk.12:29-31; Lk.10:27-28). But how do we worship God? Let's approach the question from a basic, nuts and bolts, perspective.
- Hard Work. Know that worship is extremely difficult. It's not entertainment, it's not a drug, it's not sentimental. The word "liturgy" literally means the work of the people. Worship is difficult because the demons are also working against you. We must persevere and put forth a great deal of effort to realize the fruits and benefits of worshipping God.
- Preparation. We must prepare for worship by praying each day, watching our behavior, avoiding sin and temptation, limiting exposure to amoral stimuli from the television, radio, video games, and other media; getting up early and using the morning for prayer, silence, and solitude. If we think worship is boring, it's probably because we have not prepared properly.
- Arrive on Time. The entire service is important, not just certain parts of it. If we arrive late, we miss part of the service and therefore we miss worship. If we arrive on time, we are effectively giving priority to worship.
- Entering the Church. Many of us are familiar with the common tradition of lighting a candle, silently saying a prayer, and greeting the saints by venerating the icons when we enter the narthex. These are good habits which helps make the transition from the world into the Kingdom of God.
- Humility. Moving from the narthex to the nave, we should avoid greeting people or calling attention to ourselves. Worship is about God, not about us or other people.
- Order/Taxei. We should all know the established rubrics of Orthodox worship, both for clergy and laity. Doing our own thing or making it up distracts and disrupts the service even if it's an expression of piety. Heed Jesus' warning: "Beware of practicing your piety before men."
- Sit towards the front. I'm often puzzled by people who sit in the back even when the church is empty. Sitting towards the front reduces the opportunities for being distracted by others.
- Let us be attentive! How often do we here this during the service? It is God's way of saying, "Pay attention! Something very important is about to happen. Focus! Don't let your mind or eyes wander."
- Participate. The Divine Liturgy or any other service is not a play or drama for people to watch. We can partipate by bowing, kneeling, standing, sitting, singing, praying, and listening. The more you participate, the less bored and distracted you will be.
- No work of and for the Church during worship. Worship services are not the time to clean the kitchen, count money, have side meetings, or conduct the business on behalf of the parish. These are noble and good activities but not a substitute for worship.
- Watch your thoughts. Do not to be distracted by your own thoughts. Dismiss them if they are inappropriate. Otherwise, offer them up to God in prayer and continue to follow the service.
- Personal Prayer? Not now. Follow and pray the text of the service. Worship is not the time for our own personal prayer and devotions. Those are part of our preparation.
- Receive Holy Communion. Frequent communion is normative for Orthodox Christians. Of course, we must be prepared to receive Holy Communions through fasting (especially from sin) and Confession.
- Keep your eyes on the icon of Jesus Christ. We are in Church to worship Christ, not to watch other people. At seminary there was a saintly man, Bishop Gerasimos, who lived on campus and attended worship services. My friend watched Bishop Gerasimos, thinking that he wanted to be holy like this man is holy. He even watched the Bishop closely during the worship services in the chapel. During one service he had a revelation. He realized that the saintly man never took his eyes off the icon of Jesus Christ on the iconostasis. No matter what else was going on, the saintly man's eyes were always fixed on Jesus. That's how we can be holy, by constantly gazing upon our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.
Follow these simple rules and we will walk the road to Christ in our worship.
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.
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