The Sacrifice of Worship

When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Genesis 22), there was no questioning on Abraham’s part about what was intended. He understood precisely what was involved in such a thing. There was wood to be gathered, an altar of stones to be constructed, the victim to be bound, and then the slitting of its throat with the gushing forth of blood, all consummated in the burning fires of the now-completed offering. What Abraham did was repeated in a variety of forms throughout the ancient world. Homer writes about Poseidon being absent from the Hellenic scene in order to attend a massive sacrifice in Libya. Sacrifice itself was part of the universal language of ancient religion. What differed was what/whom was being sacrificed and to Whom/What the sacrifice was being made. This was worship.

Today, “sacrifice” has passed into more generalized cultural metaphors that have nothing to do with worship. “Worship” itself has become a vague concept, generally associated with prayer/praise and hymn-singing. As such it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish what many contemporary Christians describe as “worship” from the treatment of various Rock, Sport and Entertainment stars (or patriotism and ideological fetishes).

At a large gathering of some tens of thousands, hands are lifted in the air, people are singing, the music swells. If I stop the description at that point it is possible to assume that this is a moment of praise/worship. If, however, I note that the venue is a concert, then it’s mere adulation of a celebrity. But the grammar of the action is utterly the same.

Fast forward to the setting of an Orthodox Church. Here there are numerous icons of holy men and women (saints) adorning the Church. Candles and lamps burn before them. A non-Orthodox contemporary Christian, visiting for the first time, becomes distinctly uncomfortable and thinks to himself, “They are worshipping saints!” Somehow, the psychological confusion that is contemporary culture can distinguish between the worship of God and the adoration of celebrities but accuses traditional Christianity of violating the second and third commandments.

What we have is a clash of grammars.

I suggest a working definition for contemporary worship: any number of activities, including singing, dancing, waving hands, shouting, weeping, when in a religious setting. The same actions in a non-religious setting are not worship.

In the grammar of Orthodoxy, and in the grammar of Scripture, worship has a different definition. Worship may be defined as the offering of a sacrifice to a Deity.

The trouble comes when one grammar seeks to understand the other. That which the Orthodox render to saints and holy objects (relics, the Cross, icons, etc.) is understood to be honor or veneration. No sacrifices are ever offered to saints as though they were gods. This distinction is difficult for contemporary Christians because the notion of sacrifice, in its original meaning, has been lost.   It is certainly the case that honor and veneration are given to God, but they do not, of themselves, constitute worship.

The contemporary roadmap of religion consists almost exclusively of various psychological states. The honor given to a Rock Star is understood to differ from that given to God based on the intention within the person who is giving the honor. To an outside observer, the actions might appear indistinguishable. But, “God knows the heart.” And so, “God can tell the difference between the two.”

My son was around eleven or twelve when he first encountered a patriotic event within a Church. He had grown up in the Church (Episcopal) and had become Orthodox a year or so earlier. However, we were on summer vacation with family who were faithful Baptists. That Sunday was also July 4th. The Church service consisted of patriotic songs and a sermon on Christian America. My son was deeply upset. On the way home, he expressed his distress and kept insisting, “That’s idolatry!” In hindsight, I think he was right and I think the seamless ease with which that particular group of Christians could move from religious event to patriotic is more than a little problematic.

Sacrifice has largely disappeared from the experience of contemporary Christianity. The Protestant Reformation mounted something of a frontal assault on medieval Catholicism’s treatment of the Eucharist as a sacrificial offering. Catholics were accused of “re-sacrificing” Christ, despite the clear statement of Scripture that His sacrifice was once-and-for-all (Heb. 7:27). Catholics defended their practice by explaining that the Mass was not a re-sacrificing, but the re-presentation of that once-and-for-all sacrifice. Their arguments fell on deaf ears.

It is all well and good to say that Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross was once-and-for-all, and to file it away as such. However, such historicizing of the Cross places ever more distance between the believer and the event. “Do this in remembrance of me,” (as mere memorial) has come to be a means of forgetting.

The Scripture reminds us that the “Lamb” was “slain from the foundation of the world.” That, is, the death of Christ occurs within history, but has an eternal reality that transcends history. The Catholic contention that the Eucharist is a re-presentation of that sacrifice in the present was, in fact, correct and a restating of the received teaching of the Church. The Orthodox to this day continue to emphasize this understanding. The Eucharist is described as the “bloodless sacrifice,” meaning that there is no “re-shedding” of the blood of Christ.

The mystery of our salvation, as well as the mystery that we describe as worship, is found within the sacrifice of Christ. Abraham, and all of ancient Israel, would have understood worship to largely be identical with sacrifice. The Psalms of praise were written for use within the context of the Temple and its sacrifices. Praise could be described as “sacrifice” only by analogy.

Let my prayer be set forth in Your sight as incense,
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

Christians of the first millennium-and-a-half understood that the “bloodless sacrifice” of the Eucharistic offering was the central act of worship. Their hymns and psalms happened as part of that context. We no longer offer the sacrifice of bulls and goats, but we continue to offer the bloodless sacrifice of Christ’s death. It is the single, perfect offering of all humanity, made through the Person of God’s Son. Because he is also God, that sacrifice is eternal, always present and able to be offered and shared by His people.

Look at this piece of Scripture. St. Paul is explaining our true worship to the Corinthians:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion [koinonia] of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion [koinonia] of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread. Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices communicants [koinonoi] of the altar? (1 Cor. 10:16-18)

St. Paul’s entire understanding of the Eucharist is rooted in its sacrificial character. The Eucharist is the Christian sacrifice, once and for all. This is also at the heart of Christ’s teaching that whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood has communion with Him (Jn. 6).

By a strange twist of history, the praise that took its meaning from the sacrifice itself, by analogy, has come to displace the sacrifice and made praise itself the essential element of worship. This confusion not only creates false accusations against those who offer praise and honor to the saints of the Church as well as all holy things, but also makes all praise and honor, including that accorded to celebrities more than a little problematic.

Of course, the absence of ritual sacrifice in most modern religions does not mean that idolatry has ceased. However, our analysis of idolatry should remain focused on sacrifice rather than the objects of mere adulation. The ancients often made sacrifices to obtain favors or to avert disasters. Idolatry sought to control the outcome of history through the management of the gods. By that understanding, idolatry is alive and well and is the primary object of the Modern Project. Having abolished the ancient sacrifices, we have replaced them with science, technology, politics and war. Rather than learning how to live well, we make sacrifices to technology so that we might not need to live well. Modernity is building “heaven on earth” and needs no gods beyond itself.

Perhaps Modernity has itself become our god.

73 comments:

  1. Wow! Thank you Father for your wise words! Till 10 years ago I was a Protestant in a world full of “worship leaders” – mostly young men with guitars …

  2. Thank you..that says it so well! Worship is sacrifice and praise derives from that sacrifice. The scripture in Corinthians points that out as well. Growing up in a Baptist community and surrounded by a Covenant summer community, that is the argument used when I bring up the importance of the Eucharist in worship. I never realized how ancient that argument is.

  3. I will have to rethink and revisit this post a lot to come to grips with what you are saying, Father, and as I do I hopefully will find the right questions in order to do so.

    But with this first post, I just want to thank you not only for today’s reflection but for all that you have done on this blog, because it has really helped me to think and grow in my faith, and continues to do so. So, before I begin to try to fathom this one, MUCH gratitude!

  4. Your comments are right on the money, Father. Oops, I mentioned the “other god.” …Sorry

  5. The sin was that Adam thought of God in terms of religion, i.e., opposing Him to life. The only real fall of man is his noneucharistic life in a noneucharistic world. The fall is not that he preferred world to God, distorted the balance between the spiritual and material, but that he made the world material, whereas he was to have transformed it into “life in God,” filled with meaning and spirit.

    When we see the world as an end in itself, everything becomes itself a value and consequently loses all value, because only in God is found the meaning (value) of everything, and the world is meaningful only when it is the “sacrament” of God’s presence.

    Man lost the eucharistic life, he lost the life of life itself, the power to transform it into Life. He ceased to be the priest of the world and became its slave.

    In this scene of radical unfulfillment God acted decisively: into the darkness where man was groping toward Paradise, He sent light. He did so The Life of the W or/d

    God acted so that man might understand who He really was and where his hunger had been driving him.

    Christianity, however, is in a profound sense the end of all religion.

    Religion is needed where there is a wall of separation between God and man .

    Christ who is both God and man has broken down the wall between man and God. He has inaugurated a new life, not a new religion.

    The Western Christian is used to thinking of sacrament as opposed to the Word, and he links the mission with the Word and not the sacrament. He is, moreover, accustomed to consider the sacrament as perhaps an essential and clearly defined part or institution or act of the Church and within the Church, but not of the Church as being itself the sacrament of Christ’s presence and action. And finally, he is primarily interested in certain very “formal” questions concerning the sacraments: their number, their “validity,” their institution, etc.

    Schmemann, Alexander. For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy.

  6. I have often wondered what Protestants do with John 6, especially verse 53: “Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say unto you unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man you drink of His blood, you have no life in you. ”
    Ignoring or dumbing down this verse while claiming The Bible Alone and scriptural inerrancy has always invalidated Protestantism entirely long before I was Orthodox.
    Where I came from preached a lot of crazy, but we always practiced a form of Euchristic Worship and partook of the Body and Blood.

    I just to not get the immense sophistry of denying foundational Scriptural truth and practice.

  7. Thank you Father for this reminder of what true worship is.

    I’m echoing an earlier comment about our worship of other ‘gods’ (i.e. mammon): Psalm 95:5 “For all the gods of the nations are demons, but the Lord made heaven.” I interpret that the gods of the nations of today are any polemic, claims about the ‘end-times’, politics, economics, rock stars, politicians, people and things that we clamor for, to have passions for, to obtain, to claim our own. All of these are ‘man made’ gods. However the true God is a God of heaven.

    The same Psalm passage mentions that worship is sacrifice: Psalm 95:8 “Bring sacrifices, and go into His courts; worship the Lord in His holy court.”

    I ask, and thank God, grow closer to the Theotokos. And yet I’m a product of this culture that would not venerate her or would find such veneration a problem or a hurdle to become Orthodox. The hurdle is seen as something that must be surmounted, overcome by argument, discussion, rationalization, all of these rather than a closer observation and reflection of what is in the heart a person, and of what is in this culture that would obfuscate and encumber such veneration. For this reason, I’m grateful to Father’s article here, to encourage such reflections that might illuminate us.

    The Orthodox icons of the Theotokos show that she is the Ark, and the throne and mercy seat of God; the Holy Temple, and the burning bush, as standing with Christ in the flowing fountain of living water (of the Holy Spirit), and the Mother of God. Because she is all of these, she is hymned and recognized to be above the Seraphim and the Cherubim. In the icons of her, she has three stars on her veil, one on each shoulder and on her head and usually holding, and enwrapping Christ in her arms and veil or on her lap. There is always tenderness and often sorrow in her expression. She stood at the cross with John when the other disciples stood far off. She was a witness of His resurrection to the disciples.

    Her icon is on the left side of the ‘royal doors’, because she is and ever will be the very willing human participant in the Lord’s Incarnation, not only into her womb, but into this world. And if we ask her, she will help us to let Christ enter and incarnate into the temple of our hearts and bodies. When the Orthodox venerate her, it is not worship of her, nevertheless she is ever present, as witness and participant in our worship to our Lord. Above all the saints, I believe she could teach us how to worship our Lord. And I ask for her help in this edifying heart-emptying effort, along with the worship and love for the Holy Spirit. Because such worship is both in the heart and in the body. And such worship and sacrifice takes place in even the small, insignificant and seemingly difficult things we do. If we do them with such prayer as that of the Theotokos, ‘Thy will be done’.

    Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us. Come by here, o my Lord.

    “Let the heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice; let the sea be shaken, and the fulness thereof. The plains shall be joyful, and all the things therein.
    Then shall all the trees of the forest rejoice at the presence of the Lord, for He cometh, for He cometh to judge the earth.
    He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with His truth.”

    Before we receive the Eucharist in Divine Liturgy, we sing this: “Let us put away all earthly cares” because the Lord comes to put things ‘aright’ in our hearts, if we receive Him, if we let Him in. For in the Eucharist, we receive the King of All.

    I’ll emphasize this last thought: Such things as I say, here, to this community, I also say to myself.

  8. Many thanks, Fr Stephen, for tracing some important links and distinctions among worship, sacrifice, ancient Christianity idolatry and modernity. It makes me want to read your previous posts on the topic and express a wish I’ve kept to myself up to now, that you collect your posts into book form. I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing to read your work in a compendious format beyond that which is already contained in Everywhere Present.

  9. Glory to God! You have finally given me the perfect answer for the difference between the veneration of saints and worship.

    Thank you so much for your faithful ministry. By the Grace of God it has assisted me quite a bit in my priestly duties of teaching.

    I’d love to see more articles on this distinction please.

    In Christ,
    Fr Nathan

  10. Fr. Stephen,

    I very much agree that there is a difference of grammar – in so many terms used today. But I’m wondering something else about worship…

    My Dad once said, “People were made to worship. And they will worship. It’s just a matter of what.” I’m wondering if because of the fundamental way we were created, we end up performing worship in the same instinctual ways: singing, waving arms, praising, etc. Be that at a church, concert, stadium, etc.

    In other words a person can talk about worship and mean different things than the guy beside them, but when they start actually performing the ritual, they have “played their hand” as to what they actually bow down to.

    And the same goes for sacrifice. Where does my time, resources, effort go? That’s also where my heart is. I am in effect laying down my life for this thing/person/activity, no matter if I claim a religious affiliation with it or not.

    Maybe I’m off-topic, but it seems to me that this issue of worship is not dead and buried in our shared existence, but rather simply no longer identified for what it is. We still make sacrifices and worship all the time, just without recognizing it as such. Those who truly worship or sacrifice for nothing are the walking dead and there is no life in them.

  11. “I have often wondered what Protestants do with John 6, especially verse 53: ‘Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say unto you unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man you drink of His blood, you have no life in you.’ ”

    Michael, I’m not sure exactly what Protestants do with this verse but maybe they think that to partake of His flesh and blood is to partake of the Love of God, expressed in His Son. In other words, they take it symbolically. The thing I find most puzzling with this verse is “you have no life in you,” because it seems clear that there are many people, past and present, who trust utterly in the love of God but are not part of the true Fullness of the Church and thus do not partake of the Eucharist. I simply can’t see that they have “no life” in them. I would love to see a response to this. Fr Stephen?

  12. Connie, I could accept what you say except many of the same Protestants are, in my experience, the same ones that insist on taking the Bible literally. Especially the words of Jesus Himself. I would also like to here Fr. Stephen on “… you have no life in you.”

  13. Michael, I’m hearing from my husband who was trained in literal hermeneutics at a Baptist seminary, that literal interpretation for Protestants leaves room for figures of speech.

  14. Thank you Connie. As to the “life” question my experience is that outside the Orthodox Church, life has both a qualitative and a quantitative reduction from what is available in the Church. But that is a personal perspective only. But, it requires a level of repentance and reliance on God’s Grace to really begin to touch the hem of His garment. I am Orthodox only because I saw the promise of that transcendent life and I saw it nowhere else. The Living Presence in the Eucharist. I can only speak for myself though. It is a struggle for everyone, I think.

  15. Connie and Michael,
    First, Michael, I think you’re being somewhat reductionist about Protestants. I have certainly encounter life among them. Though there are theological and ecclesiological problems in Protestantism, it has merits as well, and they have to be acknowledged – particularly when encounterd in individuals.

    Connie and Michael: The Scriptures are never actually read in a “literal” manner – but always interpreted and read through a theological lens, even by those who claim they are not doing so. It’s simply impossible not to read through a theological lens. The “lens” sees the sayings of Christ in Joh 6:53 as “figurative” does so because of a prior theological assumption. That Protestant assumption was, historically, simply an argument with Roman Catholicism in order to “dis-empower” the authority of the Church and its priesthood. But it was always lousy Eucharistic theology, and a large number of Protestant thinkers today would agree so. Though it’s very late in that game. But, for 1500 years, you really never saw any serious treatments of that passage as describing anything other than some expression of real presence – really and truly the Body and Blood of Christ. Many unfortunate arguments in the 16th century created much unfortunate theology.

  16. Chris,
    You have perhaps not read the many articles on the topic of modernity that are on this blog. They are a partial source in fleshing out much of this conversation. It’s a large topic.

    But, as important as prayer, fasting and the Liturgy might be, the life of repentance, evidenced in keeping the commandments of Christ, including the profound sharing of our substance in alms, and show mercy to all. The supreme act of sacrifice, Christ’s self-offering on the Cross, made manifest and present in the Divine Liturgy, is also God’s great act of mercy on one and all. Our participation in that sacrifice includes our own self-emptying for the life of the world. We forgive all for everything. We understand that the life of each is the life of all. Christ particularly unites Himself with the poor, the sick, the needy, etc., that we might know Him and serve Him in them. If such things are not present, then we have diminished His sacrifice and made ourselves, to some extent, strangers to Him (“depart from me, I never knew you”).

    “Living well” in the world is a life lived towards God and towards those things (and people) whom He has given us in order to live well (and that gift would include the poor, the oppressed, by serving whom we serve Him. Modernity (as I understand it) has a drive to “fix” and “manage” the world – a kind of misunderstood and misdirected virtue. Chesterton call modernity the “virtues run wild” (or words to that effect).

    I certainly do not say and have not said that anything beyond prayer, fasting, and the sacraments is participating in the modern project. That would be a serious distortion.

  17. All,
    I have been in Texas this week, attending the consecration of a new bishop (Auxiliary Bishop) here in the Diocese of the South (OCA). I’ve not been able to tend to comments as quickly as usual. I apologize. I fly home tomorrow afternoon and will return to a more normal schedule.

    I think I will write a couple of attending articles on this topic of sacrifice to expand it. Thank you for the conversations!

  18. Father, forgive me. I tried to make clear I was only speaking for myself and my own experience. I never found any reason to be anything but Orthodox. I looked at various Protestant Churches and Roman Catholic too. While I appreciated many of the people in both spheres, I never experienced anything to draw me even remotely close to what I experienced the first time I walked into an Orthodox Church(a parish that ended up being hostile to me and my family). I have known many better people in both Protestant and RC congregations than I am. It is simply this: I can be nowhere else. Not when I know without a doubt my Lord walks down the aisle in every Great Entrance even if the priest is in doubt. It is a personal presence of Him that I have never seen anywhere else, Catholic, various Protestant congregations or any Eastern or New Age fellowship I have been in. I cannot say where Jesus is not because I have seen Him in each of those places but through a glass, darkly. In the Orthodox Church it is magnitudes difference. He has shown Himself to me in my sin, in my joy and, in my pain and sorrow. Always in mercy and kindness He is here, drawing me to Him even as I kick against the pricks often choosing sin instead. Closer than hands and feet sustaining me as my body deteriorates due to age.
    His Life is beyond anything else I have known and yet there is always more–higher up and further in.
    Everything I have seen and heard elsewhere pales in comparison. In and through the sacramental life of the Church there is Life–pressed down, running over that He inexplicably continues to pour into my heart. Here. Nowhere else.

  19. Michael,
    I’m sure that Orthodox readers would echo much of what you’ve said in their experience of the Church. My journey to the Church was longer with other paths. I continue, through the nature of my ministery, to have much contact outside of Orthodoxy, both with family as well as with readers and friends. I like to describe Orthodoxy as the “fullness” of the faith – as it is the “pillar and ground of truth.” I have, however, seen profound examples of Christ’s work and presence in places I would not have expected it.

  20. Father, no doubt as He is “everywhere present, filling all things” but the Orthodox Church is unique in her approach, IMO, even though many of her people are unaware of what we have. There is always more.

  21. If anything I write in this post is missing the mark in anyway way please feel free to point out any errors; I am seeking to understand. Regarding John 6:53. Later in this chapter we read, ‘Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?’’ (Jn. 6:60) and ‘From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.’ (Jn. 6:66).
    Many of Jesus’ disciples then as now find His Eucharistic discourse troubling and unacceptable. Many instead of walking away have tried to reinterpret what Jesus says to suite their theology, or personal outlook.
    How are we to understand this passage of Scripture? One passage of Scripture cannot be understood in isolation from the Scriptures as a whole, nor from the tradition. After St. Peter gives his account of the Transfiguration (Apostolic witness, 2 Pt. 1:16-18), he goes on to say, ‘And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which we do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.’ (2 Pt. 19-21).
    The Scriptures, inspired by the Holy Spirit bear witness to the fullness of God’s self revelation in the person of His Son. We are called to ‘repent and believe in the gospel.’ (Mk. 1:15). The Eucharist is a part of the gospel as attested by the Synoptic Gospel’s, John’s Eucharistic discourse, the Acts of the Apostles and St. Paul. Also the belief and liturgical practice of the Church for 2000 odd years.
    As Fr. Stephen has pointed out, the Protestant Reformation was a reaction to Roman Catholicism. The baby was thrown out with bath water, so to speak.
    ‘The Gospel is not meant to be re-worded, watered down and brought to the level of our understanding or our taste. The Gospel is proclaiming something which is beyond us and which is there to stretch our mind, to widen our heart beyond the bearable at times, to recondition all our life, to give us a world view which is simply the world turned upside-down and this we are not keen to accept.’ – Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh.

  22. Fr. Stephen,
    Your article on
    worship and sacrifice is spot on. As a Protestant I only knew the sacrifice of praise with my lips…(Hebrews). Since my worship was not sacramental any association with the two stopped there.
    Thinking of your response to Chris….
    Until very recently most of the world was rural. I read that the world became majority urbanized around 2010. Most Christians through the ages have been poor and rural. Very few were educated. They knew no grand schemes of saving or bettering the world. They thought little of the world 50 miles beyond their own home. Yet they served God and neighbor…simple lives that struggled to survive and lives that did the thing at hand.
    It is so easy for us moderns to “see” the world and fail to see our neighbor right next door.
    Churches can and do do much to alleviate suffering. Around one fourth of hospitals and health care worldwide is Catholic. Although I live in a small town I would venture to say, though, that in inner cities store front churches do as much as any large organization in serving their neighbors. Their salt (offered almost always person-to-person) preserves what would entail even further suffering.

  23. My last sentence should say something like, “without the preserving value of their salt, even more suffering would ensue.”

  24. The first act of any. Christian as instructed in the Bible is to repent. The Jesus Prayer is a simple codification of that initial act that allows our repentance to be ongoing even as we do other things. As I age, there is less and less of “the other things” I can do. But, I can allow the Jesus Prayer a home in my heart.

    Nevertheless–who’d a thunk it. Opportunities to do the other things even as I live mostly surrounded by productive farms and lots of critters large snd small. We have a very small garden in elevated garden boxes. On our peppers we have a tiny green frogs that keep some of the pests at bay and an assassin bug or two. The plants are beautiful even if we do not get tomatoes or peppers from them.

    Before becoming Orthodox, I too lived in an intentional sacramental community devoted to prayer and service holding all things in common. About half the members eventually became Orthodox (with all our problems) because the Holy Spirit led us here. Many are priests, a few monastics.

    The key always is to repent in all things, through all things giving glory to God at the same time. He will give you everything else you need to fulfill the Christian life making up any and all deficiency.

    It is both easier and more difficult than the consciously, willful way that is the modernity of which Father speaks. Obedience, repentance and alms giving as we attend on the Holy Sacraments. God gives the increase.
    Forgive me, a sinner

  25. Yes, Father. “Do the next good thing”. For me that often involves being silent. Thank you for your patience. All of you.

  26. Fr. Stephen,

    I appreciate everything you’ve written in this article (I recently listened to your podcast on a long road trip and greatly benefited from it). However, I have a more basic question than what you’ve addressed here: What exactly is sacrifice, and why exactly is sacrifice the basic act of worship? Thanks so much for your teaching and patience with all of us.

  27. Hi Kenneth,
    The question you’ve asked is kind of open in the sense that you haven’t asked specifically how the Orthodox Christian might interpret or describe Christ’s sacrifice. His death on the cross has been explained as one of the Three Persons of the Trinity, the only begotten of God, and true God, was slain from the foundation of the world, to trample down our death by His death. His death ended death of our souls and bodies, though we still live a mortal physical life in this age. The life of the body (the soul) shall continue after death. His sacrifice also redeems all from complete destruction. In other words, all of the world, the universe will be transformed in His Second Coming in the age to come, and it is indeed in the throes of such transformation, as His Kingdom has come in His Incarnation.

    Our death (baptism) is our entry into this sacrifice. We give our lives also that we may have life in Him. Such communion with Him that we experience in the Eucharist (the bloodless sacrifice of Liturgy), is experienced further in everyday acts of love and conforming our life to His life and His will. We abide in Him and He in us. And the Holy Spirit seals us into this new life in the sacrement of Baptismal and Chrismation.

    The historical relationship of Christ’s sacrifice to the Hebrew temple rite is that the earlier rite is a ‘type’ or foreshadow of Christ’s sacrifice. Beyond shedding His blood on the cross, He entered Hades and emptied the tombs with His resurrection, bestowing life among those in the tombs. I’ve heard it expressed that before our baptism, we are also in the tombs, and in baptism, receiving Christ’s release into life. And in this new life, we put on Christ, that is, we become His body and He becomes our ‘wedding garment’. We, that is the Church, becomes His body and His bride.

    That pretty much says what I know about sacrifice in the Orthodox sense. But of course we could always go further. As Christ has said regarding our own sacrifice, that we take up our own cross and follow him.

    I hope this might help. If not, perhaps you might elaborate on your question.

    Fr Stephen, please correct and elaborate as needed.

  28. Kenneth,
    Excellent question – worth pondering a bit. If we think of the sacrifices of Abraham or Jacob, etc., it is worth noting that there doesn’t seem to be any question of sin being involved. We don’t have a story of Abraham sinning and then making a sacrifice. Fr. Pat Reardon (whose book Reclaiming the Atonement I recommend), says that there is not a single case of a “propitiatory sacrifice” in the Old Testament (though I can’t remember if it’s in the book that he says this, or at a conference I attended where he was lecturing). By “propitiatory sacrifice” I mean a sacrifice that somehow propitiates God and brings about our forgiveness, or turns away His wrath.

    That kind of sacrifice would not have been uncommon among the pagans – but does not seem to be at all evident among the Hebrews. Indeed, they are rebuked for ever thinking about such a thing:

    “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.
    “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”Isaiah 1:11-17

    The heart of Biblical sacrifice is one of offering – but it’s an offering for the purpose of establishing communion. People tend to forget that sacrifices (with the exception of the whole burnt offering) are eaten, in part, by the one offering it. It is an offering to God, and a meal in which share in His life (in some manner). Thus, in the Eucharistic sacrifice, we are given Christ’s Body and Blood (the sacrifice) to eat and drink. And it is a communion – a participation and communion in His life.

    The old Anglican prayerbook’s eucharistic prayer (Thomas Cranmer’s) did a poetic reflection of Romans 12, when it prays, “And here we offer unto Thee, our selves, our souls, and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice…” well said.

    The true heart of worship is the sacrifice of the whole of our life as a gift to God (who has already offered Himself for us as a sacrifice). The purpose of sacrifice and worship is communion – nothing less – nothing more. True communion. This is the very heart of our life – our eternal life.

  29. Kenneth and Father,
    I note that I used the verb ‘redeem’ and it was a poor selection. Better to have used the word ‘save’, as from ‘death’. Father, I’m grateful that you emphasized the Orthodox understanding that differs from description of propitiatory sacrifice (the common understanding in western Christianity), this is an important point to emphasize. This sacrifice is indeed a meal of Communion with and in Christ.

  30. Thanks so much for all of these helpful thoughts. Reflecting on them, it isn’t surprising that the purpose of sacrifice is to establish communion between us and God. Everything in the Orthodox life seems to lead to this! It’s exactly what we need. I’m very thankful.

  31. Of course Father the passage from Isaiah is used by some to condemn our practice. That condemnation, taken out of context is not unreasonable actually. That and the misreading of Hebrews 10. I would like your comment on that aspect please. It has been awhile, but I have run into people who quote those two pieces of Scripture against the Catholics, the Anglicans and us.

  32. Fr. Stephen,

    As a Protestant who is beginning to get caught into Orthodoxy’s orbit, this clarity on sacrifice and worship helps many other features of Orthodoxy (and, by distinction, Protestantism) snap into place.

    I’ve noticed that two passages tend to leap to Protestants’ minds (including mine) when they encounter what you’ve laid out here: Revelation 19:10 and 22:9, in which the beloved disciple falls at an angel’s feel “to worship” but is strictly prohibited from doing so.

    Has John been about to make sacrifice to the angel? If not (and it is difficult to imagine), it seems that the angel has indeed forbidden John to perform the “grammar” of veneration. Or perhaps there is only an invisible psychological distinction between the veneration John ought to have performed and the worship he attempted. But then we appear to be back in the land of rock concerts vs. praise music in the sanctuary, with their invisible psychological distinctions.

    Would you offer a reading of these two moments in Revelation that could shed light on them for me, and perhaps for others?

  33. Michael,
    Good question. Scripture cannot be interpreted out of context, or without reference to the rest of Scripture (as well as the whole of the faith). Isaiah’s condemnation is not a condemnation of sacrifice, as such, but of the sacrifices of a people whose behavior is a contradiction to faith in God (ignoring His commandments). In such a setting, the sacrifice rises up as a condemnation, a meal of damnation, much like we are warned about when we wrongly approach the sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist.

    In Romans 12, we are enjoined to offer our “bodies as a living sacrifice.” The Eucharist is not an isolated religious event, but the fullness of the sacramental expression of the whole faith. Worship is an “all or nothing” undertaking – with our heart-felt repentance, at the very least, gathering the whole of our lives together into Christ’s unrepeatable self-offering, on behalf of all and for all.

    It is sad that the misuse of Scripture is used to condemn that which is true, while justifying a sort of Christian hedonism wrongly portrayed as worship. Of course, it’s just as possible for the Orthodox to engage in a kind of hedonism, in which the Liturgy becomes a pleasing show rather than the true offering of repentance – the whole of our life. Isaiah’s words should be taken to heart by all.

    “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
    cease to do evil, learn to do good;
    seek justice, correct oppression;
    bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow’s cause.”
    (Isaiah 1:16–17)

    Without such actions, our sacrifice we testify against us.

  34. That passage from Isaiah reminds me of moments in the Divine Liturgy. First one of the petitions during the Great Entrance: “For this holy Church and all who enter her with faith, reverence and fear of God… ‘
    That and much of the Consecration are explicit in how we are to approach in fear, thanksgiving and repentance. The Divine Liturgy is not magic.

    Have you written, Father, on the fear of the Lord? We are commanded several times in the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Scripture and in many Orthodox prayers to “fear the Lord”.

    Somehow I don’t think that phrase means what I typically think when I hear it plus the modern mind discards it as archaic. It seems to be an essential component for genuine sacrifice.

  35. Michael,
    I suspect that the ‘fear of the Lord’ is not to encourage a fear of punishment but to encourage awe, love and attention and perhaps an acceptable healthy (ie non toxic) shame, given to save us from complacency. Also the Eucharist is purifying and burns away the sins we repent. But in the process we might (unintentionally) hang on to them. In this regard we place our hearts, body and soul before the Physician. It is key that we do not forget His love for us.

    These are just my thoughts. I’m interested to hear what Father might say about it.

    The Anaphora:
    “Let us stand well. Let us stand with fear, let us attend, that we may offer the holy oblataion in peace.
    A mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise.

    And then the call to the Eucharist:
    “With fear of God and with faith draw nigh”

  36. Ian,
    Much like my answer to Michael, it would seem that we have to think about this across the whole of Scripture. The “veneration” (proskynesis – literally “bowing the knee”) depicted in Revelation (and rebuked), is the same word used to describe the same action that occurs elsewhere in the Scriptures without rebuke. Thus, St. John of Damascus gives these examples, saying:

    “worship is not all of the same kind. Abraham worshipped [proskynesis] the sons of Emmor, impious men in ignorance of God, when he bought the double cave for a tomb. (Gen. 23.7; Acts 7.16) Jacob worshipped [proskynesis] his brother Esau and Pharaoh, the Egyptian, but on the point of his staff.4
    (Gen 33.3) He worshipped [proskynesis], he did not adore [latreia]. Joshua and Daniel worshipped [proskynesis] an angel of God; (Josh. 5.14) they did not adore [latreia] him. The worship of latreia is one thing, and the worship which is given to merit [proskynesis] another.

    St. John of Damascus distinction between the worship that belongs to God (adoration – latreia), and the worship shown to things and people that have merit (veneration – proskynesis) has become a standard way of thinking about these things in Orthodoxy. It is a distinction that clearly exists in Scripture – as noted in the various examples of veneration that he cites.

    What is confusing, perhaps, is that the same word and action of veneration is rebuked in the these instances in Revelation. I think there is a way of seeing this that is helpful. I’ve just been in Dallas, TX, for the consecration of a new bishop in the OCA. In attendance for those several days were the Metropolitan of the OCA (Tikhon), my diocesan bishop (Alexander), as well as about a half-dozen other concelebrating bishops. There is a rule for priests in the Orthodox Church: Whenever a bishop is present, a priest does not offer a blessing (such as is done by making the sign of the Cross over someone, and them then kissing your hand). Indeed, if a bishop is present in a service, when the priest pronounces a blessing as in, “Peace be with you!” he does not make the sign of the Cross – instead, this is offered by a bishop. The reasoning is that a priest does what he does as an extension of a bishop’s ministry, through the permission of the bishop. But, when the bishop himself is present, it would be an effrontery for the priest to do this – he defers to the bishop.

    In the same manner, an angel (or a saint), encountered on the street, or in the home, might well be greeted with “proskynesis” – veneration. But, as in the case of St. John in Revelation, to do this while actually in heaven, there in the “heavenly court” itself, would be an effrontery to God. God Himself sits on the throne – worship is to be directed there – not elsewhere.

    Some of this is difficult for the modern mind – particularly in that we are formed and shaped in a democratic mindset in which all sense of hierarchy has been eroded. Orthodoxy has a mindset that is not democratic – but hierarchical – particularly reflecting the fact that the universe is constructed in a hierarchical manner. We might not like it – but the Kingdom of God is a Kingdom, not a democracy.

    The practices of veneration within the Orthodox life (icons, saints, relics, hierarchs, priests, etc.) are of a piece with the Kingdom of God and nurture a mind (“phronema”) that interiorizes that same veneration. There is, if you will, a “hierarchy” within the soul, that is, there are places that are deeper than others and which can only be reached with some effort.

    But, I hope these thoughts are of use.

  37. Dee and Michael,
    A very important element in this present book on shame that I’m working on (I really am), would understand “fear” and “awe” as described in our services as a key function of “healthy shame.” It is the recognition of a boundary – or – to recognize that the first thing to know about God is, “You’re not Him.” It is not that we fear Him because He might hurt us – but that we fear Him because He is “awesome” (in the old sense of the word). Or, as was said about Aslan the Lion. “Is he safe?” “No, he’s not safe…but he’s good.”

  38. Thank you Father, your response is very helpful. That is to say that there is indeed a boundary between beings that we witness. In this case with God, we are becoming human beings, as His creatures, and Christ is Being-and King. This is important because in the secular world we are encouraged to believe that whatever our engagement with God, it is an interaction of our personal thoughts (God as our personal thought and therefore not separate from us) rather than coming face to face with Being, God Himself.

    I like your reference to Aslan–good quote!!

  39. In a proper understanding of “healthy shame” (as is commonly spoken of in many clinical treatments of the topic), every boundary is signaled by such shame in some manner. When, for example, we walk into a Church (even many non-believers when walking into a majestic cathedral), there is an instinctive reaction to be silent, or to whisper. That space “signals” a boundary. One might protest that there is nothing there, and so begin to be bold (and shameless) and to talk and speak in a normal tone. Something is “violated” at that moment. What a person later discovers is that if all places have been robbed of this boundary of awe, then there will be no place where you can find God. By the same token, when there are no “boundaries” within our own soul, we find it difficult to find God, even within ourselves.

    St. Mary of Egypt lived a life, early on, in which there were no boundaries. She violated her own innocence, and that of others, repeatedly. She did not find God until He manifested an impenetrable boundary at the door of the Holy Sepulcher Church in Jerusalem. Such doors can only exist when there is a boundary. In her case, it was her very salvation that was given to her. It was an entirely healthy shame that she experienced as she began to weep, call on the Mother of God for help, and promise to change her life. It was the true door of paradise.

    It is one of the themes in the book to come.

  40. Indeed, Father, I pray for your continued writing and ministry!

    There are doors and boundaries within our own soul. –Food for thought. Also your words prompt a recognition of how important it is not to engage with someone who is manipulative spiritually or manipulative in the Church setting–suggestive of spiritual abuse and crossing of boundaries. This culture unfortunately doesn’t recognize the importance of these boundaries(or it is rarely discussed). The intential crossing of such boundaries of a soul is an offense and a sin and is a form of bullying.

  41. Dean,

    I thought something similar but was told by a monk (in a skete, no less!) many years ago that Orthodoxy is actually very urban. Looking back to the Gospels and book of Acts, nearly every encounter takes place in cities, and those that don’t are frequently from city-dwellers traveling between them. Many of the early female converts were wives or widows of status, either of royalty, government officials, or merchants. St Paul primarily aimed to travel to major cities. By the time of the Ecumenical Councils, there was already a power dynamic between city and country where chorepiskopoi (rural bishops) were given less liturgical functions and later almost disappeared. And then, just looking at the evangelization of certain regions even of Greece (eg, Mani Peninsula), Orthodoxy took *1000 years* to get there: it was in every city of the Old World—to the ends of Europe, Africa, and Asia—before it was ever in parts of the rural Roman Empire! So that feels very urban to me.

    As a counterpoint, monasticism is sometimes assumed to be a rural phenomenon. But first, there is no such thing as monasticism, at least not monolithically: there is the cenobitic life, hermetic life, etc—and even that may be an oversimplification; different forms of those lives (especially with the further categorization of orders in the West) can be as different from each other as they can be from married life! But taking “virginal life” as a whole, that was originally city-based. There was an exodus around the time of the legalization of Christianity, but most of the virgins still lived in cities. Many of the famous monasteries (eg, Studion) were urban. Due to war and conquest, it just so happened that many of the more isolated monasteries survived the centuries with buildings and communities intact. Yet even in those remote locations, like Mt Athos, the cenobia are constructed like Roman insulae—apartment buildings. So I would say the urban trend is *very* strong in that part of church life, too.

    There was also a lot of trade and travel in the ancient world. Even beyond the missionary journeys of St Paul, think of all the times one Christian community sent aid (food or money) to another (Acts 11.27–30, 2 Corinthians 8.16–21, etc), often far away. This was strikingly normal. Grain and other goods were shipped all over the Mediterranean and local rivers, secularly, in a system of tax and trade that rivals what we have in the current day. And the Roman system was even multicultural: Roman governors were appointed in the provinces, but it was not uncommon to still have local kings (eg, Herod) and/or entire pre-Roman societies existing under their watch. So, whatever one’s view of that kind of system, that was the world into which Christianity was birthed and which it spread through like wildfire. I think it is not so dissimilar to the life God has given us today.

  42. Dean,
    JBT is spot on about the urban/rural history of the Church. The term “pagan” originally only meant those who lived outside the city…and were not yet reached with the gospel. His citing of the Mani penninsula is interesting, as well. I’ve been reading the book, “Mani,” by Patrick Fermor, and he notes some very specific, and shocking, aspects of the late Christianization of this area in Greece! I also think there are similarities to be drawn between that urbanized civilization and our world today…lessons to learn…to say the least.

  43. Tikhon,
    I’ve taken some care to refresh my thoughts on this, re-reading the pertinent sections in Lyonnet’s Sin, Redemption, and Sacrifice – a work that Fr. Pat Reardon cites as perhaps the most authoritative and complete treatment of OT sacrifice and Christian theology (I think I forked out about $90 for it when I saw his recommendation – I couldn’t resist). It is certainly thorough.

    Here’s a bit of a synopsis.

    There are two general streams of treatment of the scapegoat in the Eastern Fathers – one strand follows Origen’s suggestions and associates it with devil worship (the scapegoat in Hebrew is “Azazel,” who, in the book of Enoch is a name used for a fal”len angel. The word literally means the “one who is sent away”). The other strand, which apparently originates with St. Cyril of Alexandria, in which the scapegoat is associated with the Divine nature of Christ ascending into heaven. Lyonnet’s commentary on that is rather complex.

    What is of note is this comment: “There is nothing surprising, therefore, if the hagiographers of the NT. (the “holy writers”), when they speak of the sacrifice of Christ, do not once mention the ceremony of the scapegoat. In no text of the NT do we find the slightest explicit allusion.” (p. 183)

    However, Lyonnet goes on in great detail to describe how, beginning in the late Medieval period, and continuing in the Reformation, the scapegoat as a type of Christ, punished for us, is taken up.

    In short, most of what most of us will have heard of the scapegoat dates back no earlier than the Reformation and is based on theories of atonement not present in earlier times. Augustine has pretty much nothing of note on the scapegoat.

    I found all of that to be tremendously interesting, and, even, surprising. The entire ritual of the scapegoat takes place on Yom Kippur. It is one of 5 animals of the day. It is a “twin” goat (in Jewish commentaries). One of the twin goats is offered as a burnt offering. The priest lays his hands on the other and speaks the sins of the people over it. It is then sent away into the wilderness and released. It comes with no Scriptural commentary and, as noted, there are conflicting ways of thinking about it among the Fathers. Only in the Reformation do we see a sort of fixed interpretation, tied up in the penal substitutionary atonement theory, come into existence.

    It’s a ritual that apparently pre-dates Israel, with counterparts in the pagan Near East. On its most primitive level, it seems to be seen as a way of getting the sins of the people away from them where they can do no more harm. Sin is like a disease and is dangerous. So, this is a ‘removal’ ceremony. “Azazel” can be translated “removal.” It is the “removal goat.” The word “scapegoat” comes about in English in which Wycliff (I think) used the phrase “escape goat” – which became “scapegoat.”

    What is of note – if one does enough digging – is that certain things, like the scapegoat, are neither simple nor obvious nor even settled as a matter of interpretation. That itself is an important learning.

  44. Barabbas Theophorus and Father,
    Thank you both for your responses. I certainly am not a historian and because of an eye issue am basically at the Wikipedia level…ugh!
    I was not thinking of early Christianity as much as its life in the Middle Ages. The Byzantine Empire’s population shrank appreciably during this period. I am not sure if most Christians after the Moslem conquest were mostly rural or urban. With the feudal system dominating Europe during the Middle Ages it would seem most Christians were rural. I don’t know for certain, but weren’t the bulk of believers in Russia rural, say from the 13th to 17th centuries? Thanks to those who know.

  45. Dean,
    With time, the faith certainly became a rural reality. Also, the faith eroded first in the urban centers, where fashion and new ideas were often at odds with the faith.

  46. That is really an incredible realization for me as a former Protestant. How important to know and understand that none of the hagiographers of the NT link Christ with the scapegoat! And further, how this came later as a reformed idea… Thank you!

  47. According to Jewish tradition the goat for Azazel was cast off a rocky precipice,

  48. Andrew, et al
    It would be more accurate to say, “According to a Jewish tradition…”

    There’s a diversity of treatments and understandings even within that source.

  49. Andrew,
    Didn’t mean to be too pedantic in my comment. I’ve seen an increasing importance lately in encouraging people to see the complexity of the past and the range of thought. Since that range of history is often new for many, there is a tendency to think that “the Fathers say,” or “Tradition teaches,” when it’s more complex. Orthodoxy has a kind of “tension” within it, a dynamic in which a “conversation” is going on rather than a monologue. Sometimes I get questions that begin, “What does Orthodoxy say about…?” What we can answer best would be about a “dominant consensus.”

    There is quite a bit of misuse of patristic teaching out there. Single quotations placed out there as if such a quote settled and defined things. They do not. Genuine scholarship requires critical examination and depth (I’ve seen whole “dissertations” on particular fathers without a single critical examination within them, which, to my mind, isn’t scholarship at all). “When did a Father say what he said? What were the circumstances surrounding it? Did he every say anything different? Was there a maturing and change in his thought and writings over time? Etc.”

    It’s why I cited the Lyonnet book on sacrifice – it is thorough, critical, and reflective – which gives useful information that can be used in a careful manner. I have been told several times, when complaining about a lack of critical thought, that a particular work is “written for a lay audience.” But if critical thought isn’t being shared with a “lay audience,” then they are very likely being mislead into thinking that things are one thing when they are, in fact, another.

    So, pardon me for my side-trip this morning on your comment. Blessings!

  50. Some additional notes:

    Fr. Georges Florovsky was a great modern proponent of a return and recovery of Orthodox thought and patristic sources whose influence cannot be overestimated. He was a refugee from the Russian Revolution, settling for a while in Paris, teaching at St. Sergius, then coming to America where he taught at St. Vladimir’s, Holy Cross, Harvard, and Princeton (I think).

    He wrote about what he termed a “neo-patristic synthesis” something, whether by that name or not, has become very widespread in Orthodoxy today. A key word is “synthesis.” It’s not enough to say “the Fathers,” because there’s actually a fair amount of variety within that label. Rather, it is a “synthesis” that represents the “mind” of the Church. But that, of course, is not an easy thing to nail down at every moment and every question.

    I’ve seen critical treatments of his methodology in recent years, but I’ve not seen anything that represented an improvement over his approach.

  51. Fr. Stephen,
    on reflection I thought that my short reply may have seemed terse, which was not my intention. I was just stating my agreement with your comment and perhaps should have said a little more.

    Thank you for your further response and clarification. I don’t think you were being pedantic, but pointing out the error in my post, which gave the wrong impression, as if it was a settled and accepted tradition within Judaism and to be fair needed pointing out.
    Thank also for your blessings,

  52. By consuming the sacrifice the blessing of the gods is made a part of the one who consumes it. Certainly partaking of the Body and Blood of Jesus does that. I was just wondering if the consumption of the non-Christian sacrifice prior to His actual Incarnation was a prefigurement in some way.

  53. Fr. Stephen,

    Can you please clarify how/if your explanation of sacrifice (an offering for the purpose of establishing communion) relates to the root meaning of “sacrifice” as “to make holy”. What exactly is being made holy (the sacrifice itself, or the giver?), and how does this relate to communion? (Please forgive the basic questions but I’m still slowly connecting these dots.)

  54. Kenneth,
    Great question! (and so obvious you could wonder why I had already addressed it!). As you note, the Latin meaning of the word “sacrificium” means to “make holy.” There is not a Greek or Hebrew equivalent that it is translating. Rather, there are specific ritual words. In Hebrew, the word is “zevach,” meaning “to ritually slaughter.” There is also the Hebrew word “korban” which means an “offering.” In Greek, there is the word “thusia” which is generally used to translate “zevach” and has much the same meaning – to slaughter/burn. There is also the Greek word “prosphora” (and its various forms) that translates “korban.” Interestingly, in Antiochian Orthodoxy, the word “qurban” is the word for the “prosphora bread” – the bread offered in the Eucharist, which in most Orthodox languages still has the Greek name, “Prosphora.”

    As such, none of the terms reveals the precise meaning of what is happening and how – as in – what “makes it holy.” But, the action involved is explanatory. The item (sheep, lamb, goat, bull, bread, wine) are given to God as an offering – they belong to Him – and, because they belong to God, they are “Holy.” The word “holy” indicates something that has been marked as belonging to God.

    That which is Holy (belonging to God) is associated with God in a unique manner, such that, in being His, it is, in some sense, Him. His life. In OT sacrifices, much or most of an offering is “given to God” by being burnt. A portion is retained and eaten (usually by the priests on behalf of the people). The “communion” is literally a sharing in the thing itself – we “eat God.” This is never really explored or explained in the OT. It becomes far more clear in the teaching of Jesus and in the explanations of St. Paul.

    We offer the bread and wine of the Eucharist to God (“Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all”). In the Orthodox preparation of the bread and wine, as the “Lamb” is being prepared before the service (this is the small cube of bread cut from the main loaf that will be consecrated and offered to God and from which we will receive communion), the priest makes 2 cuts in the small cube of bread, in the shape of a Cross, saying, “sacrificed is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, for the life of the world, and for its salvation.” It is not a “re-sacrificing” of Christ – but is a ritual/sacramental recalling of His one sacrifice on the Cross. This is that (as I noted in an earlier article).

    That which is given to God in this manner is God: “This is my Body which is given for you.” We share in His life as we eat it. “Whosever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in Me and I in him.”

    There is much richness in this, and so much more that I could say (and I will, in time).

  55. Many thanks, this is extremely helpful. E.g., I was not aware that “holy” means marked as belonging to God, as opposed to some other quality of godliness. This seems like a more concrete and helpful understanding. I look forward to hearing more in due time, including the connections with communion, which seems to be the ultimate purpose. If I have understood correctly, shame is the primal human emotion because it breaks communion, whereas salvation involves the healing of shame and restoration of communion(?). The interrelation of all these concepts is really interesting. The coin hasn’t totally dropped but may be getting closer.

  56. What of the priest who offers the sacrifice? In the Jewish Temple period the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies once a year and didn’t he have a rope tied to his leg in case he died in there? Father could you comment on the nature of the priesthood and the role in the sacrifice both then and now?

  57. Michael,
    It’s a large question, but I’ll say a few things (comment-size).

    Probably the first thing to say about the priest is he is a human being – and, it should be said, he is a representative human being. In OT, he acts on behalf of Israel and is “all Israel” as he serves.

    St. Ephrem describes the Garden of Eden as a “Temple” (this was the nature and purpose of Paradise). They are set in the Garden in a priestly role to offer praise and thanks to God on behalf of all Creation. St. Maximos describes human beings as “Microcosm and Mediator” of all creation (or that we are intended for that). Thus, “priest” describes an essential role – perhaps even THE essential role of humanity. We exist to give voice to all creation in praise and thanksgiving to God – to make all creation in “sacrifice” – an offering to God. As such, all creation becomes sacrament and a means of communion with God.

    Some might protest (today) that the role of “all humanity” is diminished in just having a single priest offer the sacrifice of the Divine Liturgy. What about the rest of us? Although the present priest serves a “high priestly” function, acting on behalf of the people, and as icon/symbol of Christ as High Priest, still, the rest of the people stand in a “priestly” role as they unite themselves in his prayers, and as they offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, candles, etc. If you will, the “Temple” (the whole Church building) is a “priestly place” and we each offer our priestly service as it appropriate to our station within the life of the Church.

    The Scripture describes the whole people of God as a “royal priesthood.” It is a failure on our part that people have not been taught to understand the priestly nature of their work in the Church (worship is work). “We” make an offering to God.

    Of note is the fact that we all partake of the sacrifice (the Body and Blood of Christ). In the OT, only the priests ate from the sacrifice. It is a priestly act on each member’s part when they receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

    Hope that is of some use. It’s a very rich topic.

  58. Father, it is a large topic. I struggled with even asking the question in terms of its scale (too large too small). I appreciate your answer. Just right for the topic I think. Your answer reminded me if somethings I knew, some I did not and placed both in context and perspective. It helps a lot Thank you.

  59. Thank you, Father Freeman for your writings on this subject. On a previous comment I said as far as I knew growing up there were no Orthodox in the land of my birth – at least none that I knew of. But your focus here reminds me that at the primary school I attended there was a large sign hanging outside the far wall of the schoolhouse. In black on yellow it read: “Sacrifice to Serve”. I’ve wondered about that sign ever since, but I never began to understand fully what it meant until now.
    Thank you again.

  60. Excellent entry! But please don’t ignore the sacrifices of the truly countless saints who have given their lives so we today may be free to worship and sacrifice. George Washington was no Apostle Paul, but still deserves our admiration for what good things he did to secure our freedom to worship God without fear of summary execution.

  61. Semper Fi:
    You’ve been reading too much American mythology. The American Revolution had absolutely nothing in it that concerned freedom of religion. England was already a safe-haven for persecuted Protestants. After the Revolution, many of the new states continued to have state churches (not actually forbidden by the constitution). The separation of Church and State only came about gradually.

    But there was no “summary execution” issues for religion that had anything whatsoever to do with the American Revolution.

    However, the American government, has, from time to time, seen fit to impose religion. In Alaska, native Americans (many of whom were Orthodox Christians) were forced to attend schools run by Protestants. America did not want Orthodox Christians in Alaska, fearing they would be loyal to Russia, instead.

    There are other shameful examples in our history. I pray for our country – but it is simply a matter of religious delusion to image America as a great bastion of religious freedom, protector of the innocent, etc. Read lots more history – real history – not propaganda (of either the Left or the Right).

    I believe in God. I do not “believe” in America. BTW, fighting for your country does not make you a saint. It makes you a soldier. There is a distinction.

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