Originally published in 1990, Orthodox Worship: A Living Continuity with the Synagogue, the Temple, and the Early Church by Benjamin D. Williams and Harold B Anstall has been revised, updated, and republished by Ancient Faith Publishing in 2019.
I must confess that I laughed out loud at the first sentence in the Introduction, “…the first experience of the Divine Liturgy will be a stunning surprise.” What an understatement that was for me at my first Divine Liturgy in 2004! Due to my religious upbringing, some aspects of it were familiar; the vestments, the celebration of the Eucharist, the altar and servers, but that’s where it ended. Fourteen years later, what was surprising then is not quite so much now. However, there are times when I am caught by a word or phrase that stops me in my tracks, requiring a bit of thought before continuing. This was true as I read Orthodox Worship.
Written in two parts, and in a wholly accessible style for average laity, Orthodox Worship is a wonderful book for anyone who is curious about how the Liturgy developed. Part 1 covers the history and development of the Liturgy from the Early Christian Church throughout the ages. Part 2 walks us through the Liturgy, one step at a time, explaining why things are done as they are. While there is much that I have learned since being received into the One True Church, I found the book quite fascinating and full of “Ah Ha!” moments.
Understanding that Orthodox worship “…continued and preserved the traditional structure of synagogue worship” (p. 19) was one of those moments. Being reminded that the Last Supper was not a Seder meal was another. I sincerely appreciated the authors tying all the current worship practices of the Church to the historical writings of the Early Church Fathers, thereby confirming the historicity and practice of the Church as true to the original. I liked that some of the authors’ statements had footnotes, providing the opportunity for further reading.
Part 2: A Journey through the Liturgy was, for me, the best part of the book. As I walked through each step of the Liturgy to the culmination of the Holy Eucharist, it brought me back to the September 2004 day of my reception into the One True Church. The authors describe the Holy Mystery of the Bread and Wine becoming the Body and Blood of our Lord as taking “place in the eternal, eschatological dimension of the Kingdom of God.” And that change can only take place
”…within the context of the Kingdom, not in a fallen world…the two worlds touch – and we are for a brief time spiritually elevated (not symbolically but actually) to the very throne of God, where the transformation of the gifts can truly take place” (p. 165).
When I was received into the Orthodox Church by Chrismation, at the very moment of being blessed with the Chrism I recall feeling wrapped in a bubble of warmth and silence. Now I understand why.
I recommend this book to anyone from high school to adult age. It would make an excellent source and foundation for a high school Church School program or adult Bible study. Reading it during this Lenten season would only enhance one’s spiritual journey to Pascha. Those of a more scholarly nature may find this book disappointing because it does not go into great theological depth and explanation of the facets of Orthodox worship – frankly, something I find as a great asset to the book. It is highly accessible for everyone.
Photo credit: Athanasia Trudy Ellmore
Orthodox Worship: A Living Continuity with the Synagogue, the Temple, and the Early Church by Benjamin D. Williams and Harold B Anstall is available from Ancient Faith Publishing.