Yesterday I wrote on “What is Worship For?”, but I forgot to answer the question. I said that it is not the time for evangelism, and shouldn’t be designed with non-believers in mind. But what is it for? Worship is for God; we could expand that and say worship is for believers to offer to God. But even once we’re clear that worship is the work of the believing community, there’s a possible confusion. We might think the purpose of worship is to give believers a good worship experience.
A pastor in the UK wrote me asking, “What is worship for?” He said that his denomination was encouraging pastors to make worship more “user-friendly” in order to attract new members, and that this initially seemed to him a reasonable evangelistic strategy. A scripture cited in support of this approach was Acts 15:19, “We should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.” But as he read this scripture in context, it looked to him like it was written of people who were already Christian believers, and would not be required to accept Jewish practices. It didn’t address the case of people entirely outside the faith. He wrote to ask, “Who are church services for? Believers or unbelievers?”
This version of the Akathist Hymn is my translation, from my book “Mary as the Eastern Christians Knew Her.” (Note: this is a paperback version of a book published a few years ago in hardback as “The Lost Gospel of Mary.” We decided to change the title, since the “Lost Gospel” meme has passed.)The main thing I wanted to do was to provide footnotes for all the verses from Scripture and other references St. Romanos makes, since just singing it in church it goes by so quickly. It is a beautiful hymn, very profound, and makes a good text for study and prayer.St. Romanos, author of the Akathist Hymn, was born in Beirut in 475 AD.
When the protesters were sentenced last week for their performance in Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, a friend asked me why Orthodox Christians were so upset about what they’d done. For him, this was clearly a political protest. It was aimed at a too-close entwining of church and state, so it took place in a church. What’s the big deal? But, in practice, there’s a difference.
Today is the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion—through all 50 states, for any reason whatsoever. When I was a college student, back in the 70’s, I was in favor of legalizing abortion. I wasn’t a Christian then, but I was a feminist, the first feminist in my dorm, and I was loudly in favor of social revolution and women’s rights. I took it for granted that abortion was necessary, if women were ever going to be equal to men.
What’s so mysterious about the Jesus Prayer? It’s one of the shortest and simplest prayers you can find: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” It’s one of the most ancient prayers, too; think of how often in the Gospels people ask Jesus for mercy. A prayer for mercy would likely have been one of the variations when the Desert Mothers and Fathers (AD 2nd-5th c), who sought to pray constantly, were trying out different short, repeated verses of Scripture to discipline the wandering mind. (St. Augustine reports that they “have very frequent prayers, but these are very brief.”) Those ancient monasteries and hermitages are the spiritual nursery in which the Jesus Prayer had its birth.
I was once asked to give a talk at Washington’s National Cathedral on prayer in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. I brought with me a large icon, one familiar to many people, showing the Holy Trinity as the three visitors who came to Abraham (Gen. 19:1-8); it was painted by St. Andrei Rublev in 1410. I set up the icon on an easel, but after saying a few words about it, focused on the Jesus Prayer. This simple, repetitive prayer—“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”— was developed by the Desert Fathers, as a help toward learning to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). But when we re-gathered for a workshop later on, I found that the participants wanted to know more about the role of the icon. What is its function in prayer? What are the prayers used when looking at an icon?
Among the illustrations in this volume there is an AP news photo from the Russian district of Bogorodsk, dated 1950, of a crowd of people carrying icons out of a church. This isn’t a religious procession; instead, they are handing the paintings up to a man standing in a farm cart. Though it is cold—you can tell from the bundling garments and fleece-lined caps—the crowd looks energetic and happy, and a pretty young woman at the center of the photo looks particularly joyous. In the foreground a boy is holding a small icon, perhaps of Christ. The cart is already overflowing with these paintings of saints and biblical figures on wooden plaques. The load is going to be hauled out of town and burned.
Frederica: I’m here in the living room of my son Stephen Mathewes’ apartment on the campus of Holy Cross Seminary, Hellenic College, and he’s a first-year seminarian, starting just a few months ago. And we have daughter Ruthie who is almost two and son Lucas who is three months now, who might be making some sound effects in the background. My husband is here as well, and little Alexandra Powell, visiting from upstairs. And they’re watching Lady and the Tramp. We’re hoping to create a little more quiet in the room thanks to that. I’m talking to Deacon Barnabas Powell, formerly Chuck Powell, and you just became a deacon—was it two weeks ago? Dn. Powell: Yeah, exactly. Actually, November the 8th—Sunday November the 8th—I was ordained in my hometown, in Atlanta, Georgia, in Annunciation Cathedral. Pretty cool.
[Kyria; May, 2010] “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances” (I Thess 5:17) Have you ever wondered what St. Paul was talking about? How can a person pray constantly? Yet this wasn’t the only time St. Paul urged his hearers to constant prayer. “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” ( Romans 12:12). “Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance” (Eph 6:18). “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” Col 4:2. If he took the trouble to say this to four different communities, he must have thought it was important. And he must have thought it was possible. He wouldn’t have kept urging his hearers to do something that was completely beyond their capability.