Orthodox Worship Versus Contemporary Worship

Within the past few decades, a new form of worship has become widely popular among Christians.  Where before people would sing hymns accompanied by an organ, then listen to a sermon, in this new worship there are praise bands that use rock band instruments, short, catchy praise songs, sophisticated Powerpoint presentations, and the pastor giving uplifting practical teachings about having a fulfilling life as a Christian.  This new kind of worship is so popular that people come to these services by the thousands.  They go because the services are fun, exciting, easy to understand, and easy to relate to.  Yet this new style of worship is light years away from the more traditional and liturgical Orthodox style of worship.  How does an Orthodox Christian respond to this new worship?  Is it acceptable or is it contrary to Orthodoxy?  How should an Orthodox Christian respond to an invitation to attend these contemporary Christian services?

According to the Pattern

First we need to ask: Is there a guiding principle for right worship?  St. Stephen, the first martyr, gave a sermon about the history of the Jewish nation.  In this sermon he notes that Old Testament worship was “according to the pattern.”

Our forefathers had the tabernacle of the Testimony with them in the desert.  It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. (Acts 7:44 NIV, italics added).  

This phrase comes up again in the book of Hebrews.

They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.  This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”  (Hebrews 8:5 NIV, italics added)

The phrase is a reference to Exodus 24:15-18 when Moses went up on Mt. Sinai and spent forty days and forty nights up there.  On Mt. Sinai Moses was in the direct presence of God receiving instructions about how to order the life of the new Jewish nation.  Thus, the guiding principle for Old Testament worship was not creative improvisation nor adapting to contemporary culture but imitation of the heavenly prototype.

The next question is: What is the biblical pattern for worship?  In Exodus 25 to 31, Moses received instruction concerning the construction of the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle, the lamp stand, the altar for burnt offerings, the altar for incense, the anointing oil, the vestments for the priests, and the consecration of the priests.  The principle of “according to the pattern” was repeated several times in the design specifications for the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:8, 25:40, 26:30, 27:8).  This was the template for the spiritual identity of the Jewish people.  To be a faithful Jew meant that one offered to Yahweh the proper sacrifices in the prescribed manner.

Despite the clearly laid out instructions in Exodus and Leviticus, the Israelites struggled to keep to the biblical pattern of worship.  The struggle to maintain the right worship of Yahweh in the face of temptations to follow the idolatrous ways of the non-Jewish nations is a theme running through Old Testament history.  The sin of the golden calf in Exodus 32 was not the sin of heresy (wrong doctrine), but the sin of false worship.  When the northern tribes broke from Judah, Jeroboam did not create a new theology, instead he had two golden calves made and appointed non-Levites to be priests as a way of consolidating his rule (II Kings 12:25-33).  II Chronicles is a history of the struggle to maintain fidelity to Yahweh by holding to the biblical worship.  II Chronicles 21 to 24 relates how a bad king—Jehoram—led the Israelites astray through Ba’al worship and a good king—Josiah—brought them back through the restoration of the Passover sacrifice.  Apostasy in Old Testament times meant abandoning Yahweh for other gods and the chief means was the sin of idolatry (wrong worship).  The lesson here is that right worship was critical for a right relationship with God.

Thus, orthodoxy —right worship—in the Old Testament meant keeping to the pattern of worship that Yahweh revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai.  Right worship was also key to Israel’s covenant identity.  This suggests that right worship is key to our Christian identity.  By studying how worship was defined in the Old Testament and comparing it with the Orthodox liturgy we can better understand why Orthodox worship is the way it is and how contemporary worship has strayed far from biblical worship.

Where Does Orthodox Worship Come From?

Worship in the Orthodox Church is patterned after the Old Testament Temple.  Typically, an Orthodox church has three main areas: the narthex (entry hall), the nave (the central part), and the altar area.  This is similar to the Old Testament Tabernacle which consisted of the Outer Court, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place (Exodus 26:30-37, 27:9-19; I Kings 6:14-36; II Chronicles 3 and 4).  The layout of Orthodox churches may seem strange to those who attend contemporary services, but it is patterned after the Old Testament Temple.  As a matter of fact, Orthodox church buildings are often referred to as temples.

When we enter into an Orthodox Church we are entering into sacred space much like the Old Testament Tabernacle.  When I go to an Orthodox church on Sunday, I enter into the narthex, a small entry room.  I light a candle in front of the sacred image of Jesus Christ and commit my life to Christ in preparation for worship.  The short time I spend in the narthex helps me to shift my mind from the world outside to the heavenly worship inside.

Then I enter into the nave, the large central part of the church building where the congregation gathers for worship.  All around me I see sacred images of Christ, the saints, and the angels.  This is patterned after the Jewish Temple which had images of angels, trees, and flowers carved on the walls (I Kings 6:29; II Chronicles 3:5-7).  Up in the front is a wall of sacred images (the iconostasis).  In the middle of this wall is a door with a gate across it.  This wall of images is patterned after the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place in the Jewish Temple (Exodus 26:31-33; I Kings 6:31-35).  Behind this is the altar area where the Eucharist is celebrated.  Just as the Jewish high priests offered sacrifices in the Most Holy Place at the Jerusalem Temple, the Orthodox priests offer up the spiritual sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood at the altar.  The altar area also symbolizes Paradise, the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve enjoyed deep communion with God before the Fall.  We receive Holy Communion in front of the altar reminding us that we have been restored to communion with God through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.

Orthodox worship is also patterned after the worship in heaven.  At the start of the second half of the Divine Liturgy the church sings:

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of your glory.  Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.  

This is a participation of the heavenly worship described in Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8.  For the Orthodox Church this point of the Divine Liturgy is not so much an imitation as a participation in the heavenly worship.

Another way Orthodox worship is patterned after the heavenly worship is the use of incense.  Incense was very much a part of the heavenly worship.  In his vision of God, Isaiah describes how as the angels sang: “Holy, Holy, Holy” the doors shook and the temple in heaven was filled with incense (Isaiah 6:4).  The Apostle John in Revelation describes how the angels in heaven held bowls full of incense and how the heavenly Temple was filled with incense smoke (Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4, 15:8).

The vestments worn by Orthodox priests are patterned after the Old Testament and the heavenly prototype.  The entire chapter 28 in Exodus contains instruction on the making of priestly vestments.  In heaven, Christ and the angels wear the priestly vestments (Revelation 1:13, 15:6).  The vestments are more than pretty decorations, rather they are meant to manifest the dignity and the beauty of holiness that adorns God’s house.

Old Testament Prophecies of Orthodox Worship

Orthodox worship is more than an imitation of Old Testament worship.  It is also a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.  The Old Testament prophets besides describing the coming Messiah also described worship in the Messianic Age.  Within the book of Malachi is a very interesting prophecy:

My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun.  In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord. (Malachi 1:11)

The phrase “from the rising to the setting of the sun” is a poetic way of saying from east to west—everywhere.  Here we have a prophecy that the worship of God which was formerly confined to Jerusalem would in the future become universal.  This was confirmed by Jesus in his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well.  In response to her question whether Jerusalem or Mt. Gerizim was the proper place for worship (John 4:19), Jesus answered that in the Messianic Age true worship would not depend on location but on worship of the Trinity.  His statement about worshiping the Father in spirit (Holy Spirit) and truth (Jesus Christ) (John 4:23-24) is a teaching that true worship is worship of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

What is striking about Malachi’s prophecy is the reference to incense.  Where before incense was offered in the Jerusalem Temple, in the Messianic Age incense would be offered by the non-Jews.  One of the most vivid memories many first time visitors have of Orthodox worship is the smell of incense.  Incense is burned at every Orthodox service.  In the Roman Catholic Church incense is used in the high Mass but not in most services.  Most Evangelical and Pentecostal churches do not use incense at all.  Thus, whenever an Orthodox priest swings the censer and the sweet fragrance fills the church one experiences a direct fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy.  Protestants may complain about how strange incense is, but they should realize that the use of incense was an integral part of Old Testament worship and is one of the key markers of authentic biblical worship in the Messianic Age.

Malachi’s prophecy about “pure offerings” is a reference to the Eucharist.  The Jewish rabbis taught that when the Messiah comes all sacrifices would be abolished with the exception of one, the Todah or Thanksgiving sacrifice.  This was fulfilled in the sacrament of the Eucharist, that is, the last supper Christ had with his followers when he gave thanks over the bread and the wine (Luke 22:17-20).  The word eucharist comes from the Greek word ευχαριστειν, “to give thanks.”  Jesus’ statement about the cup of the new covenant meant that he was about to inaugurate the Messianic Age.  The Eucharist is a remembrance of Christ’s death on the cross as well as a participation in Christ’s body and blood (I Corinthians 10:16-17).  Thus, the Eucharist—the pure offerings—is another key sign of right worship in the Messianic Age.

In the last chapter of Hebrews is a strange verse that many Evangelicals and Protestants skip over:

We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat (Hebrews 13:10; emphasis added).

What the author is asserting here is that the priests and Levites working at the Jerusalem Temple have no access to the Christian Eucharist.  The Eucharist is only for those who confess Jesus as the promised Messiah and his death on the cross as the ultimate Passover sacrifice.  The reference to the altar tells us the early Christians celebrated the Eucharist on real altars and that they had priests.

Protestants today have the habit of calling the platform area altars and spiritual songs as sacrifice. This involves a significant spiritualizing of the meaning of Hebrews 13:10.  Furthermore, if we take this spiritualizing approach the phrase “have no right to eat” would not make sense.  In the early Church if one did not confess Jesus as Christ, one could not receive the Eucharist.  Contemporary Protestant worship on the other hand welcomes everybody and makes no distinction between believers and nonbelievers in its worship.  In short, the early Church’s worship style was radically different from Protestant churches that have dispensed with the altar and the idea of the Eucharist as a spiritual sacrifice.  To those who advocate contemporary worship, the Orthodox Christian can reply: We have an altar, where is yours?

An Evangelical or Charismatic visiting an Orthodox service might object to the Eucharist on the grounds that it is a re-presenting of Christ’s once and for all sacrifice.  First of all, this argument comes from the Protestant debate against Roman Catholicism.  Orthodoxy is not the same as Roman Catholicism.  Second, the idea of the Eucharist as a re-presenting of Christ’s blood is contrary to the teachings of the Orthodox Church. In the Liturgy, the priest prays: “Once again we offer You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood….” (Kezios p. 25; italics added).

For the Apostle Paul the Eucharist was just as important as the Gospel message.  As he went about planting churches across the Roman Empire, Paul taught them the Good News of Jesus Christ and how to celebrate the Eucharist.  This can be seen in Paul’s formal phrasing: “For I received from the Lord what I also pass on to you….” in I Corinthians 11:23 for the Eucharist and in I Corinthians 15:3 for the Good News (Gospel).  Paul’s phrase: “What I received from the Lord….” parallels that in Exodus 25:9: “exactly like the pattern I will show you.”  The infrequent celebration of the Eucharist in Evangelical and Pentecostal worship shows how far they have moved from historic Christian worship.

Another prophetic sign of worship in the Messianic Age is the priesthood.  The last chapter of Isaiah contains a prophecy about the time when knowledge of Yahweh would become universal among the Gentiles and God would make priests of non-Jews.

And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites, says the Lord.  (Isaiah 66:21 NIV;emphasis added)

Part of this great ingathering would be the consecration of Gentiles to the priesthood.  This was fulfilled when Jesus gave the Great Commission to the apostles (Matthew 28:19-20).  Paul understood his work of evangelism as a “priestly duty” (Romans 15:16).  In Isaiah is another prophecy about the important role that the Gentiles would play in the rebuilding of Israel, that of the establishment of the New Israel, the Church.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
Aliens will shepherd your flocks;
foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
you will be named ministers of our God.  (Isaiah 61:4-6 NIV; emphasis added)

Isaiah’s prophecy could be understood to refer to the Jews’ return from Babylon in 538 BC, but the fact that non-Jews would be part of the rebuilding process is an indication that the prophecy points to the coming of Christ.  At the first Church council, St. James, the Lord’s stepbrother, quotes from the prophet Amos in defense of admitting non-Jews into the Church:

After this I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent,
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
that the remnant of men may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things
that have been known for ages.  (Acts 15:16-17 NIV; Amos 9:11-12)

The key to understanding Isaiah’s prophecy about the priesthood is that a priest does not stand alone but in a certain context: temple, altar, and sacrifice.  This pattern of priesthood, temple, and sacrifice can be found in I Peter 2:5:

…you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (NIV).

The Apostle Peter reiterates the teaching that the Church is a “royal priesthood” in I Peter 2:9.  This can be seen in the fact that the early Christians celebrated the Eucharist regularly on the first day of the week, Sunday.  The early Christians understood the Eucharist to be a spiritual sacrifice and had priests to lead them in worship.  Today, two thousand years later, the Orthodox Church still has priests standing at the altar offering the eucharistic sacrifice.  Contemporary worship has none of these.  Thus, Isaiah 61:6 finds its fulfillment in Orthodox worship, not contemporary worship.

Protestants may object to the Orthodox Church having priests on the grounds that because of Christ we have no need for a man to serve as a mediator with God.  This objection is based upon a misunderstanding of the nature of Orthodox worship and the office of the priest.  Basically, the priest’s role is to lead the congregation in worship.  If one listens carefully to the litanies one finds the priest addressing the congregation, For … let us pray to the Lord, and the congregation responding with, Lord have mercy.  In other words, the congregation prays with the priest, not through the priest.  As a matter of fact, in Orthodoxy the priest cannot begin the Divine Liturgy unless the laity is present.  This is based on the Orthodox Church’s understanding that the priesthood resides in the whole church, not just in the ordained clergy.  The participation of the laity is just as critical for right worship as the clergy.  This can be seen in the fact that “liturgy” comes from the Greek λειτουργεια (leitourgeia) which in Christian usage refers to worship and in the ancient world referred to “public service.”  Jesus Christ is our Mediator and he exercises that ministry through his office as the great High Priest.  This means it is imperative that we be part of the Divine Liturgy and not off doing our own thing.

Protestants cite I Peter 2:5 as a repudiation of the priesthood.  This reading of I Peter 2:5 relies on the illogical reasoning that since we are all priests, no one is a priest.  The Protestant reading of I Peter 2:5 has resulted in churches without priests and no altars.  Historically the Christian Church has recognized the offices of deacons, priests, and bishops.  The practice of an ordained clergy has roots in the New Testament Church.  We read in Acts 1:20, “Let another take his office” (NKJV, italics added; see also I Timothy 5:17-22, II Timothy 2:2). Where for over a thousand years Christianity had priests celebrating the Eucharist on altars, after 1500 there emerged a new form of Christian worship that disavowed the priesthood and removed the altar from the sanctuary.

Anyone who compares Orthodox worship with contemporary worship will be struck by how biblical Orthodox worship is and how far contemporary worship has moved away from the Old Testament pattern.  When we take into consideration the Old Testament prophecies, the significance of liturgical worship in Orthodoxy becomes even more compelling. Orthodox worship follows the pattern of Old Testament worship and is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.  This is the worship God wants in this day and age.

Was Old Testament Worship Abolished?

The Evangelical approach to worship seems to be based on the assumption that Jesus abolished the Old Testament.  Because of this Evangelicals ignore the Old Testament teaching on Tabernacle worship and focus on the New Testament for instruction on how to worship God.  The paucity of New Testament passages on worship has been taken as grounds for an anything goes approach to worship.  But, this assumption is wrong.  Jesus made it clear he did not come to abolish the old covenant but rather to fulfill it:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).  

An examination of the gospels shows Jesus’ adherence to the Old Testament pattern of worship.  Jesus was in the habit of attending the synagogue services (Mark 1:21; Mark 3:1; Mark 6:2).  Likewise, he observed the great Jewish festivals at the Temple: Passover (Luke 2:41), Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:1-13), and Passover (Matthew 26:18; Mark 14:14; Luke 22:7-11).  Like Jews throughout history, Jesus considered the Passover meal the highlight of the year.  Jesus told his followers: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15)

In the healing of the leper we find an affirmation of Jewish Temple worship.  After healing a leper, Jesus orders him:

But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them (Mark 1:44; Matthew 8:4).

Here we find Jesus affirming: (1) the Mosaic Law, (2) the Aaronic priesthood, and (3) the offering of sacrifices at the Temple.  Nowhere do we find Jesus or his apostles disregarding the Jerusalem Temple or the Jewish forms of worship; rather we find indications they affirmed the Jewish form of worship.

Likewise, we find Jesus’ apostles continuing the Old Testament pattern of worship.  Following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the first Christians met at the Temple courts (Acts 2:36).  The Temple court was a focal point for the early Christians (Acts 5:20).  The apostles preached the Good News in hope that the Jews would accept Jesus as the Messiah.  Just as significant we find them relying on the ritual prayers used by Jews.  This can be seen in the fact that a literal translation of Greek in Acts 2:42 would be “the prayers.”  We find that Paul, like Jesus, attended the synagogue (Acts 13:5, 14; 14:1; 17:2, 19:8).  Even when Paul had become a Christian he continued to make it his habit to attend the synagogue services: “As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue….” (Acts 17:2).

The Apostles of Christ showed a similar respect to the Jerusalem Temple. We read in Acts 3:1 that Peter and John attended the prayer services at the Jerusalem Temple.  In his testimony to the Jews Paul recounts how God spoke to him while he was at the Jerusalem Temple praying (Acts 22:17).  The positive regard Paul and the other Apostles had to the Jerusalem Temple can be seen in: (1) Paul’s eagerness to attend the Pentecost services in Jerusalem (Acts 20:16), (2) the Jerusalem Apostles advising Paul to take part in the purification rituals to show their loyalty to the Torah (21:22-25), and (3) Paul’s participation in the Temple rituals (Acts 21:26).

Where Evangelicals assume a sharp discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments, the Orthodox Church sees a strong continuity between the two.  The Evangelicals’ assumption of a sharp discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments has led them to ignore the Old Testament teachings on worship.  This disregard for the Old Testament is much like the early heresy of Marcionism.  Orthodox Christian worship is based upon a radical continuity.  As the Jewish Messiah Jesus Christ took the Jewish forms of worship and filled them with new content and meanings.  Orthodox worship took the Jewish synagogue and Temple worship and made them Christocentric.

Where Does Contemporary Worship Come From?

The classic shape of Christian worship consists of two parts: the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of Holy Communion. This was the way all Christians worshiped until the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s when Martin Luther and his followers rebelled against the Roman Catholic Papacy.  It should be kept in mind that over the years the Pope had introduced changes like the Filioque clause and the dogma of transubstantiation with the result that the Roman Catholic worship diverged from that of the early Church.  The Protestant Reformers sought to reform the church but the result was not a return to the historic pattern of worship.  The Protestant teaching “the Bible alone” resulted in the sermon becoming the center of worship.  Priests were replaced by Bible expositors, and the altar was replaced by the podium.  This marked a decisive break from the historic form of Christian worship.

But the break from historic worship did not end there.  In the early 1800s a more emotional and expressive form of worship became popular on the American frontier.  Then, in the early 1900s Pentecostalism emerged with its emphasis on the baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, and other charismatic manifestations.  Where mainstream Protestantism stressed sober singing and the rational reading of the Bible, Pentecostalism stressed ecstatic worship and experiencing the Holy Spirit.  For a long time Pentecostals were relegated to the margins of Protestantism and were derided as “holy rollers.”  Then in the 1950s Pentecostalism began make inroads among mainline Protestants, and in the 1960s among Roman Catholics.  Less demonstrative and theologically more sophisticated, this movement came to be known as the charismatic renewal.

Pentecostalism was just one of three movements that would radically transform American Protestantism in the second half of the twentieth century.  Just as influential on Protestant worship was pop music popularized by music groups like the Beatles.  The pop culture of the 1960s shaped in profound ways the values and outlooks of the baby boomer generation.  A cultural gap widened between the more traditional church services that relied on organs or pianos and had traditional hymns, and the more contemporary church services that used guitars and sang simpler and catchier praise songs.  Many churches were split as a result “worship wars” — hymns and organs versus praise bands and praise songs.

The third influential movement was the church growth movement.  Though less visible to the public eye, it influenced the way many pastors understood and ran the church.  The church growth movement brought market analysis and business techniques to the way the church was run.  With the introduction of the concept of the seeker friendly church, church worship moved away from edification of the faithful to evangelizing outsiders.  Numerical growth was seen as proof of God’s blessing.  This is exemplified by mega churches packed with thousands of enthusiastic worshipers.  However, despite its good intentions the church growth movement introduced several serious distortions.  Worship of God often became spiritual entertainment.  The sermon shifted from an exposition of Scripture to selecting Bible verses to support teachings on how to live a fulfilling life.  In seeking to tailor the Christian message to non-Christians many pastors have dumbed down their message with the result that many of their members know very little of the core doctrines.  Just as troubling is the fact that many churches have become spiritual machines that rely more organizational techniques, high tech electronics, and social psychology than the grace of the Holy Spirit.

In short, Protestant Christianity has undergone a major uprooting as a result of the influence of Pentecostalism, contemporary Christian worship, and the church growth movement.  As a result of this massive uprooting, Evangelicalism has become rootless.  The uprooting of Evangelical worship has created an opening for many new teachings and new styles of worship.  There have emerged fringe groups with strange worship practices like being slain in the Spirit, holy laughter, word of faith teachings, prayer walks, etc.  Some may believe these new forms of worship may presage a great spiritual revival that will sweep the world but it could also be a sign of a spiritual collapse of Protestant Christianity.

What Would the Apostle Paul Think?

If the Apostle Paul were to walk into an Orthodox liturgy, he would immediately recognize where he was — in a Christian church.  The key give away would be the Eucharist.  This is because the Eucharist was central to Christian worship.  In the days following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost the early Christians met in homes and celebrated “the breaking of bread” (the Eucharist).  Paul received his missionary calling during the celebration of the liturgy (Acts 13:2 NKJV).  He made the celebration of the Eucharist a key part of his message to the church in Corinth (I Corinthians 11:23 ff.).

If Paul were to walk into a traditional Protestant service with the hymn singing, the reading of Scripture and the lengthy sermon he might think he was in a religious service much like the Jewish synagogue.  He may not have much trouble accepting it as a kind of Christian worship service, although he might question their understanding of the Eucharist.  However, if the Apostle Paul were to walk into a mega church with its praise bands and elaborate worship routine, he would likely think he was at some Greek play and seriously doubt he was at a Christian worship service.  If the Apostle Paul were to walk into a Pentecostal service he would probably think he had walked into a pagan mystery cult that had no resemblance at all to Christian worship.

Why Orthodox Worship?

A non-Orthodox might ask: What difference does it make to God how we worship?  The better question would be: What does the Bible teach about worship?  Does the Bible teach it makes a difference how we worship God?  The answer is God does care about the worship we offer Him.  We read in I Peter 2:5:

…you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (NIV, emphasis added).

This concern for proper worship goes all the way back to Leviticus 22:29:

When you sacrifice a thank offering to the Lord, sacrifice it in such a way that it will be accepted on your behalf (see also Leviticus 19:5) (NIV, emphasis added).  

If we are instructed to offer “acceptable” sacrifices, this implies we can offer improper worship that will be rejected by God.  We see this in Genesis 4:3-5 where Abel and Cain offered sacrifices to Yahweh, and one was accepted and the other rejected.  It can also be seen in Leviticus 10:1-3 where Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, died because they offered unauthorized fire to Yahweh.  In I Chronicles 13:8-10, Uzzah, a non-Levite, died because he touched the Ark of the Covenant that only Levites were allowed to handle (I Chronicles 15:11-15, Numbers 4:15). In II Chronicles 26:16-20, King Uzziah sought to offer incense to Yahewh, something only the priests could do, and suffered divine punishment.  Thus, there are consequences for not offering right worship.  In this day and age the consequence of wrong worship are less dramatic.  To offer wrong worship is to be outside the Orthodox Church and unable to receive the Eucharist.

If salvation is about a right relationship with God then worship plays an important part in having a right relationship with God.  Before the Fall Adam and Eve enjoyed unbroken communion with God; after the Fall they became alienated from God and mankind has suffered as a result.  God has been at work throughout human history working to bring us back into fellowship with him.  This work of restoration reached its climax with the coming of Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2).  The author of Hebrews stresses that Jesus Christ is the High Priest of the New Covenant (5:7-10; 9:9-14) and as a result of His death on the cross we are able to enter into the Most Holy Place (Hebrews 10:19-25) and take our place in the heavenly worship (Hebrews 12:22-24).  In Revelation 7 is a description of the great ingathering of the Jews and the Gentiles in worship at the throne of God.

Our ultimate destiny is not to be Bible experts but to have communion with God.  This can be seen in a strange verse in Exodus 24:7: “…they saw God, and they ate and drank.”  In ancient times, after a covenant was ratified, the ruler and his subjects would sit down for a common meal.  Eating together was a sign of fellowship and their common life together.  This verse finds its fulfillment in the Liturgy when we feed upon Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament of the Eucharist (John 6:53-56).  The heavenly worship described in Revelation is not in some far off future but can be experienced in the Sunday liturgy in an Orthodox church.  In Revelation 22:3 we read:

And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.  They shall see His face and His name shall be on their foreheads (NKJV).

The Greek word “serve” (λατρευειν) can also be translated “worship.” As we stand in worship facing the altar we behold the throne of God; this is because the altar, like the Ark of the Covenant, is where God’s presence dwells.  The phrase we shall see God “face to face” finds its fulfillment when we face the altar looking at the icon of Christ the Pantocrator (the All Ruling One).  The icon is more than a religious picture, it is also a window into heaven.  Lastly, “His name shall be on their foreheads” is fulfilled in the Orthodox sacrament of chrismation where the priest anoints the foreheads of converts with sacred oil forming the sign of the cross.  Every Orthodox Christian has this spiritual seal on their forehead as a sign of their belonging to Christ.

Thus, it is not Orthodox worship that is so strange and different but contemporary worship.  Orthodox worship only seems to be strange because it is not of this world.  It is part of the worship of the eternal kingdom.  We as Orthodox Christians need to appreciate what a precious gift God has given us in the Divine Liturgy.  We should become fervent in our prayers and our commitment to following our God and Savior Jesus Christ.  We need to recognize that much of the attraction of contemporary worship comes from the fact it has taken the best the world has to offer but in so doing it has abandoned the orthodox, or right worship, God wants from us.  The best response an Orthodox Christian can make to an invitation to visit a contemporary worship service is: “Come and see!” Many people today don’t know about the Orthodox Divine Liturgy and are hungry for a real worship experience.  They need someone to invite them and be ready to explain how the Orthodox liturgy is the true worship taught in the Bible.


  1. Very good article. As a new convert I see all the things I had fallen to. Your point on making the sermon the center of worship which led to replacing the alter with the podium really struck me. I see how replacing the alter with the podium would shift the focus from the alter to the podium, which in turn would center the focus on the man behind the podium instead of the God behind the altar. Very powerful. Thank you for your words.

  2. If you will forgive the criticism, you might have gone deeper in a discussion of Hebrews 8:1-6: Christ has been given a “Liturgy” – not a “Ministry” – over which he presides as our “Liturgist” – not a “Minister” – in the Temple not-made-by-hands. This is the key to showing that the Apostolic and Biblical teaching: that the Liturgy isn’t simply based on a OT pattern but is the eternal act of Heavenly worship. And of course this is why the Divine Liturgy is so-named, which for many people isn’t obvious at all.

    1. To translate these terms as “liturgy,” etc., is to put an overly-technical meaning on the words that isn’t really there for the original context. Leitourgeia means far more in the ancient world than we use it to mean nowadays. Its real meaning is “public service” (not “the work of the people”), and it could also refer to such acts as a wealthy philanthropist paying for a new building for the city. “Ministry” retains that larger sense as is probably one of the better translations to preserve the ancient context.

    2. Fr. Andrew, I read here:


      “The English term liturgy comes from the Greek word leitourgia. Its roots are leos (people) and ergon (work). Basically it means public work or public service. The ancients employed the term leitourgia for any work, such as building a bridge or road or bathhouse, done on behalf of the common good, that is to say for the entire city or empire. The Greek-speaking translators of the version of the Hebrew Bible known as the Septuagint also used the word to name the sacrificial rites of the Temple in Jerusalem. By the time Christians came to employ the term for their system of worship, it was already rich in sacred and secular meanings.”

      We are told here the word “leitourgia” was the name given by the translators of the LXX to the sacrificial rites of the Jewish Temple, so it would seem this more specifically religious connotation is also appropriate to the context in Hebrews.

      1. That logic would only make sense if it could be shown that the LXX translators intended to limit leitourgeia explicitly to cultic usage. Given that the term continued for centuries after the NT (even in a Christian context) to have a broader sense than solely its cultic one, the argument for reducing its meaning doesn’t really hold. It’s come to have this narrow, technical meaning now, but there’s no indication from either the OT or the NT that such a narrowing of meaning would have made any sense in the time.

        Indeed, part of the point is to indicate that Christian liturgy is indeed a public work, a public ministry offered for the whole world (something that is explicit in the liturgical texts themselves). Reducing it to mean solely “church ritual” uses roughly the same logic that our political leaders do nowadays who seek to reduce freedom of religion to “freedom of worship.”

      2. I see. Well, thanks for that added context. Certainly, we understand that Christian worship and service is a whole life sort of thing, not merely ritual.

        I have just come from the context of another discussion (with non-Orthodox) where liturgy is being denied as validly part of any NT worship and all those “one another” verses in the NT are being invoked in support of this rabidly anti-liturgical, anti-hierarchical position. Is there anything in the NT that explicitly supports the validity of a ritual and liturgical (in the narrower sense) expression of Christian worship? Or does that all come from extra-biblical historical evidence? One could argue that the “one another” verses are prescriptive, whereas the narratives of what Jesus and the disciples did (in following Jewish liturgy) is descriptive and not binding on modern Christians in any way.

        1. There are certainly plenty of liturgical references in the NT (as this post points out), but how one reads the Bible is dependent on one’s tradition. You could be a crack NT scholar with deep knowledge of Greek, etc., but if your hermeneutic is anti-liturgical, you’re not going to find liturgy prescribed in the NT.

  3. Should we really be calling our churches “Temples”? We as Church are the Temple, just as each member of the Body is, but where we meet–the building–doesn’t seem to be (at least not when the Body isn’t gathered there…).

    Also, I would imagine the Cain/Abel worship argument can go the other way: the state of their hearts is what mattered; God wasn’t rejecting the firstfruits over the firstborn, especially since Christ was both, ultimately. How would we respond to this?

    Regarding the Prophet Malachi’s prophecy regarding incense, I have seen arguments that the incense is not literal, but represents prayers and praise, those of the saints. This seems like a true statement as well, but how do we explain our literal use of incense while we look at other things and see them entirely metaphorically or alagorically?

    I recently was asked about why we worship according to the “future worship seen in Revelation”. He asked where we are told to worship in that way, as though there were a parallel with Saint Peter’s directives to the newly enlightened on what to do. I recall telling the gentleman, “well…the Orthodox, as I understand it, would say the Kingdom is here. When Christ came, the Kingdom/Kingship came with the King. John and Christ both proclaim immediately that the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. I would say that is why we worship according to the worship in the heavenly Kingdom as it has been revealed to us.”

    1. “Should we really be calling our churches “Temples”? We as Church are the Temple, just as each member of the Body is, but where we meet–the building–doesn’t seem to be (at least not when the Body isn’t gathered there…).”

      Churches are extensions or icons of the temple of the gathered community. That’s why the altar is baptised, chrismated and draped in white robes when the church is consecrated.

    2. Yes. The church building in Greek is naos/ναός. If you ask about the Ecclesia, it will be assumed you are speaking about the Church as a whole. I find much more confusion in the over-usage of the word ‘church/churches’. Often times it is used in speaking about other confessions of faith as a group (which as an Orthodox Christian, it is not recognized as a church because there is one Church), or in the more informal ‘which church do you attend?’. It can be assumed the person asking is wondering about which ‘parish’ rather than which confession of faith.

  4. Catholics also call the Eucharist an “unbloody” or “bloodless” sacrifice:

    “In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner the same Christ who once offered Himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross” (Council of Trent).

  5. Very thought provoking for any evangelical who is looking for the universal of the faith. Which I am. With this teaching, I think contemporary worship leaders might be able to craft better worship experiences than they often do. Are there Orthodox churches who work to liberate the Divine Liturgy from some of the repetition and weekly same-sameyness? Which is not to disrespect at all what Divine Liturgy represents.

    I worship Anglican fashion from time to time and find it to be well informed with the principles of Orthodox worship, yet it can display the liberation and creativity I appreciate.

    It is good to have Orthodox input into my life!

    1. In my limited experience as a recent convert to Eastern Orthodoxy (about a year ago) I would say that the goal of the faithful in the Divine Liturgy is not to change the liturgy, but to instead be changed by the liturgy through humility and obedience. I know I’ve read about changes which were incorporated into the Divine Liturgy by Church leaders through the course of the history of the Church, mostly in the form of added hymns, but those types of changes are few and infrequent, and were usually meant to respond to heresies. The intent of the liturgy is to bring the worshiper to God — to worship Him on His terms, not ours — and to ultimately encounter Christ in the Eucharist. Contemporary worship arguably strives to bring God down to the level of the worshiper.

      Another reason to avoid liturgical changes just for the sake of change, is in order to preserve unity. We are members of one body of Christ, and we worship together as one, and that not only includes Christians throughout the world in the present day, but also throughout history. We also seek to worship God united with the holy angels in heaven (just read the words we sing in the Cherubic Hymn at the start of the Liturgy of the Faithful, before the gifts of the bread and wine are brought forth to the alter).

      If you’re looking for more information about Orthodox worship, I recommend Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick’s podcast “Roads From Emmaus.” The podcast includes some great lectures on the worship of God.


      1. Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Michael. As Richard’s book citation below indicates, the matter of liturgical change is not a small one. Your thought of worshiping God on his own terms is interesting, yet the Bible indicates that Jesus welcomed the unique offerings of those whose hearts swelled with love towards him. A father or mother knows how to accept what the heart of love offers.

        I am thinking that we need not look for change for its own sake, but that variety is a motif within God’s creation that we can celebrate and embrace to His glory, given the requirement of sincere and loving hearts informed by God’s word, inspired by His Spirit and aware of the rich history of His church.

    2. Nice observations, Rebecca. I would not describe the liturgy in negative terms, which is not to say one cannot make observations on possible improvements. The dance and dancer allusion is lovely…and how nice to dance with someone in a variety of styles, each revealing some new facet of one’s partner. I’ll have a look at the “nous”, and give some reflection to what that means with respect to worshiping God with our whole being.

    3. James, I suggest you Google C.S. Lewis quotes on liturgy. He has some very insightful commentary on the advantages of fixed, patterned Christian worship. There are weekly and seasonal differences in the midst of a liturgical shape that is unchanging in the Eastern Orthodox Church (e.g, 8 “tones” that are cycled through throughout the year from Sunday to Sunday, hymns honoring feasts and saints in their own cycle, etc.). Change for the sake of change and too much change is merely a distraction that detracts from and does not enhance true worship (as Rebecca also describes below).

    4. James:

      “[…]which is not to say one cannot make observations on possible improvements.”

      It sounds like you may have suggestions. If you do, I would be interested to hear.

  6. Much as I want to get to the conclusion this article wants to make, I have to say that there are great problems with the route it is using to get there. If you read someone like Dix (The Shape of the Liturgy), what you see is that there is not this continuity with Jewish temple worship, and that the shape of early buildings (and thus their liturgy) was pretty far removed form current Eastern rite models, and that the Eastern rites are some of the most evolved, at least until V II and its Protestant analogues hit. I happen to prefer a linear, Eastward orientation, and I would agree that the connection with the past is an argument in its favor; but I would argue for it on a sacramental and dramatic basis, and not on the authority of tradition. The church of St. Germanus’ day wasn’t anything much like that of a present-day Orthodox space, and that’s just all there is to that.

  7. There are a lot of things I can agree with in this blog. There is a lot of validity in adhering to biblical practices and aiming for heavenly worship. However, there are several things that I disagree with in this argument against contemporary worship.

    However, I don’t have time to detail them all. Therefore, the most important ones are as follows: The author wrote in regards to the Orthodox iconostasis:

    “This wall of images is patterned after the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place in the Jewish Temple (Exodus 26:31-33; I Kings 6:31-35)………As we stand in worship facing the altar we behold the throne of God; this is because the altar, like the Ark of the Covenant, is where God’s presence dwells.”

    I respond with verses from Matthew 27:

    “50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
    51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”

    Jesus gave up his spirit. He died and was separated from God. This immense sacrifice was not only for our salvation, but to bring us into the presence of the Holy God. It was to nullify the need for the Most Holy Place. At Pentecost, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit made our bodies the Most Holy Place. A special wall with a door and gate (or a curtain) is no longer necessary for communion with and worship of the Most High God.

    God’s presence dwelled in the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament times, yes, but His presence is now literally inside those that believe in Him and have received His indwelling Spirit. He is not confined to an altar.

    Secondly, the idea of “right worship” is hard enough to swallow because in the Old Testament, David made a habit of dancing and singing for the Lord while completely naked. What makes it even harder to accept is the author’s view of the necessity for anything we do–worship or otherwise–to be linked to our salvation. He wrote:

    “If salvation is about a right relationship with God then worship plays an important part in having a right relationship with God.”

    That right there sums up my primary reason why I cannot follow Orthodoxy teachings or practices. Salvation is NOT about a “right” anything that we do. Paul asserts that all righteous acts we could possibly come up with are “filthy rags” in light of God’s righteousness. Salvation comes solely from a belief and proclamation that Jesus Christ is the Risen Son of God, Savior of the world, and Lord of all. Righteousness comes from the blood of Christ covering our “filthy rags” and making us like Him in the sight of God the Father. We can have a right relationship with God through Jesus alone. He is the way, the truth, and the life.

    How we worship does not determine our relationship with God and it certainly does not determine our salvation.

    I will say that again: How we worship does not determine our relationship with God and it certainly does not determine our salvation.

    Our worship of the Almighty God brings pleasure to Him and joy to us as a result of the communion with Him that results. HOW we choose to worship doesn’t make that much of a difference if we believe that Jesus is Lord and if our hearts are turned towards the face of God.

    Other than those two things–the assertion that the presence of God is confined to the altar, and the idea that you have to worship in the Orthodox way for salvation–I have nothing to argue against the Orthodox Divine Liturgy. I have attended with my friend and I found the service to be beautiful and Biblical and, dare I say, heavenly. I would enjoy going again, I’m sure. However, I am saddened that the Biblical intentions and worshipful heart behind my form of worship isn’t met with the same acceptance. I can’t believe it is called heresy!

    Paul said: “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.o the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinth. 9:20-22)

    I think Paul’s evangelical heart would resonate with a service that intends to serve the people of this generation.

    1. Lauren:

      I think it needs to be stated that Orthodox Church shows its absolute truths (the Truth that is Christ) across all its liturgical services–east, west, and in between. Part of that worship is admittedly developed in a long tradition, and may differ from place to place. Part of it, as shown above, is absolute and needed.

      The Orthodox West had and has its own edifying aspects of worship. To the East, the opening of the doors and the veil on the iconostas is an edifying way of proclaiming that the the Temple veil has been torn and Paradise has been reopened to man by decree of the Lord in victory. This is edifying because it allows for us to witness a church building with a closed in space to be opened at the words: “Blessed is the Kingdom…” To you or others, the “wall” may seem like the focus. But to those that have invested their being into the Liturgy, seeing the Beautiful Gates being opened from the inside is each time a reminder that we have not busted down the doors of heaven with our “filthy rags”, but that Christ in His love has opened them to us, demanding that we approach in fear and faith, and in the love of God. As heavenly as the worship is, that the presbyter must condescend from that raised-up holy place to allow us to commune from the spilt Blood and broken Body reminds us that Christ condescended from the heavens to allow us to commune with Him. When we finish the race as Paul instructed us, we enter the divine just as Christ entered creation. On the iconostas, we see the Saints, the co-sufferers and co-victors, urging us on from the paradise where they surround and continue to worship the Creator.

      So, this is only a slice of how we are edified by the worship. We just need to recall that the worship is edifying not because it came from our creativity and God-given minds/hearts, but because we as the Church recognize it as having come from the pattern handed to us in the revelation of God. The many liturgies of the Church of Christ are accepted and have been accepted because they are all seen as holding to the Orthodox Faith, allowing the particular local customs to blossom whilst maintaing the Faith in worship. Other forms of worship from other Christian traditions aren’t necessarily damning, but they cannot be accepted by the Church when they proclaim a gospel that we–as a Body with a Head–don’t find in Christ’s proclaimation. Especially since we already have a deep, deep well to draw from.

      David may have danced naked, but he did not proclaim that all of Israel do the same as the fullness of their worship. They already had a deep well to draw from as well.

    2. Pete says: “David may have danced naked, but he did not proclaim that all of Israel do the same as the fullness of their worship.”

      Yes, precisely.


      If you look at the Orthodox spiritual tradition in its entirety–especially the lives of the Saints and their varying expressions of personal, private worship and faith–there is really no limit to the variety of ways true worship can be expressed *in the life of an individual.* The context of Robert’s post, however, is the corporate, ritual expression of worship of God’s people when they are gathered explicitly for that purpose–and for that, God Himself has given the order patterned after the eternal worship in Heaven.

      I’ve “been there, done that” for nearly 40 years with all the varied charismatic and creative free-form worship of modern Evangelicalism. I was drying up on the vine, parched for a deeper experience of the Presence of Christ Sunday mornings in my last “seeker sensitive” Evangelical church where I was faithfully active for 18 years. I am now convinced evangelism is what you do in your everyday life in service to your neighbor–it can be facilitated by special events at our parishes where we offer hospitality and instruction for inquirers and seekers. The DIvine Liturgy, however, is for Communion with God for the edification of His people (as can be seen to be assumed in 1 Corinthians 14:22-23). How on earth can we have anything to offer others, if we do not regularly in this Liturgy, receive the Life from Christ that we need? He is the Vine we are the branches, and “apart from [Him], we can do nothing.”

      I’ve discovered through my own experience that there is real wisdom in the ancient tradition of the Church of regularly serving the Divine Liturgy and especially dedicating every Sunday to serving it. There is no comparison between what I experienced as an Evangelical and the consistent way the Orthodox Divine Liturgy connects me with the Reality and Presence of Christ. I appreciate the sincerity and intent and genuine feeling of my brothers and sisters in the Evangelical faith. I can even occasionally be edified by some of what goes on in an Evangelical service (which I still attend part-time with my Evangelical family members). To be honest, though, I deeply miss Orthodox worship when I’m at my husband’s church on a Sunday morning, and if it were up to me alone, I would never miss a Sunday Divine Liturgy in my Orthodox parish.

    3. Lauren, you wrote “how we worship does not determine our relationship with God.” I have to ask though, in a mega “church” with a rock band, fog machine, choreograhped light/laser show, and hipster “pastor” is that even worship of God at all? What’s the difference between that and a good Vegas show? And let’s not forget the whole part about, “just come as you are.” Shorts, flip flops, pajamas?? Sure, it’s all good bro, just come as you are. God doesn’t expect anything from you, right? Sorry Lauren, but that approach to “church” is exactly what set me on my journey to Orthodoxy. I simply couldn’t reconcile that approach to what I read in the New Testament. The worship service was never, in the history of church, inteneded to be an outreach tool. The worship service was always just that: worship of God in a fearful and reverential manner. In every mega “church” I’ve ever seen these days, it’s become a casual place to chill, where you can simply feel good for attending. Finally, as far as contextualization, all I can say is that chasing after the culture is a fool’s errand. You’ll never catch it and all you will do is make the church irrelevant. The church simply becomes a cheap version of the secular culture.

    4. Lauren,

      You seem to be understanding righteousness in terms of a legal righteousness. What I was trying to get at was how we relate to God. We cannot earn a relationship with God, we can only have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ who lived the perfect life and who died for our sins. In no way would Orthodoxy claim that we earn merits through our participation in the Liturgy. Orthodoxy teaches us to have faith in Christ who died on the Cross and rose again from the dead. This is the recurring message of the Liturgy in the Eucharist. Ultimately our relationship with God isn’t about doing good deeds (morality) or thinking deep thoughts (theology) but about our showing our love to God through worship. While the first two undoubtedly are important, it is worship that constitutes the core of being a Christian.

      But once we are justified through faith in Jesus Christ what then? Is it just to read the Bible and go to church as many Evangelicals teach or is there something more? Orthodoxy teaches that through Christ we are brought into the kingdom of God, we are brought into the heavenly worship. We don’t COPY the heavenly worship, we are THERE through the Liturgy. As God’s children we are called to the highest form of worship. We are called to maturity in Christ.

      At church I often see little children playing around. Orthodoxy doesn’t mind the children being present at the Liturgy and encourages parents to bring their children to the Liturgy. We encourage the children gently and gradually to grow into the Liturgy. This is good because they are in the divine presence. This is better than many children’s service in Protestant churches that are intended to entertain the children or keep them busy. It seems that many Evangelical grown up services do the same thing: entertain the audience. To my Evangelical friends I would say that it’s time to put away the toys and play making and join in the grown up worship of heaven.

    5. Secondly, the idea of “right worship” is hard enough to swallow because in the Old Testament, David made a habit of dancing and singing for the Lord while completely naked. What makes it even harder to accept is the author’s view of the necessity for anything we do–worship or otherwise–to be linked to our salvation.

      There is only one instance in the bible of David dancing before the Lord, when the Ark of the Lord was brought into Jerusalem, David danced and celebrated with all of the people. This is hardly a habit, rather it was a time of great celebration, and national pride (the Ark was a centerpiece of the Jewish religion, and Jerusalem was the city David chose as the capital of the united kingdom). The scriptures are short on the details, since the major point of the passage isn’t to record the celebrations but to record how David danced and the response of Michal to his dancing. Though the celebrations contianed elements of praise and worship they should not be confused with the worship the Lord himself gave as the norm.

      “If salvation is about a right relationship with God then worship plays an important part in having a right relationship with God.”

      That right there sums up my primary reason why I cannot follow Orthodoxy teachings or practices.

      So, what exactly to you disagree with here? That “salvation is about [having] a right relationship with God”? That “worship plays an important part in having a right relationship with God”? From the paragraphs that follow, I can only assume you disagree with both statements.

      Salvation is NOT about a “right” anything that we do.

      Are you saying there isn’t a right or wrong response on our part in regards to salvation? Any response on our part is something we “do” (Acts 2:37). I’m afraid this line of reasoning is completely absent from the gospel, because the scriptures are clear on this point: there is a right response to God and there is a wrong response to God.

      Paul asserts that all righteous acts we could possibly come up with are “filthy rags” in light of God’s righteousness.

      No, St. Paul never asserts any such thing. If you simply mean that a person cannot work their way to salvation, “entering the kingdom of heaven by their own merit” as it were, then the Orthodox faith has no disagreement with you. We affirm that one is saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, you seem to be moving beyond this and erecting a wall between works and faith. I can only read “all righteous acts we could possibly come up with are ‘filthy rags'” to mean that there is no place for righteous acts in our salvation. By your comments you lead me to believe you would agree with the statement that “how we live and especially worship plays no role in our salvation”. But this sort of thinking is precisely what St. James warns against in his epistle, and no he wasn’t just talking about sin.

      Also, you seem to be implying that God never sees a person’s acts as righteous, that he disdains them somehow, or that they are simply worthless. Yet the Angel of the Lord tells the gentile Cornelius (while he was yet to receive the Gospel), “Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.” How could this possibly be the case if righteous acts are simply filthy rags?

      Salvation comes solely from a belief and proclamation that Jesus Christ is the Risen Son of God, Savior of the world, and Lord of all.

      But if “salvation is NOT about a ‘right’ anything we do” then how can it involve a proclamation (which is most assuredly something you “do”) of something so specific (and therefore “right”)? Also, your creed although good, and afirming many truths, isn’t quite complete. For example, I don’t see anything in there that would prevent a faithful Morman from proclaiming your creed.

      The Orthodox here would agree that one must confess and believe, but more is required. For example, one must also repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38). Repentance implies a turning around and changing one’s life. Repentance entails not only changing how one lives but also how one worships. It involves not only recognizing the true God, but recognizing true worship (John 4:21-24). If a person use to worship their gods by sacrificing swine on Thursdays, then when they repent they not only change the object of their worship, but they completely change their worship.

      Righteousness comes from the blood of Christ covering our “filthy rags” and making us like Him in the sight of God the Father.

      I’m not sure if I am reading you correctly. Do we actually become righteous, or do we become righteous in the view of God the Father. Is this a change within us, or is it a change in how God the Father views us? I’m wondering because you said “in the sight of God the Father” which sounds like you mean that God sees us as righteous (i.e. that He sees Christ as it were when looking at us).

      We can have a right relationship with God through Jesus alone.

      Now I’m confused. I thought this was the major point of contention, the idea that salvation has anything to do with having a right relationship with God. Now you seem to be affirming it, not contending it.

      Once you work out the first part (what it means to have a right relationship with God), then the second part follows (what it means to have right worship).

    6. If certain regimens exercise our bodies, why should not certain regimens exercise our souls? If we are the body of Christ, then it is because we are what we eat. If there truly is “one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”, then there is but one place where is the body of Christ. Madame, find where you are satisfied that the sacrament is indeed the body and blood of Christ, and may God bless your search. Orthodox Christians are satisfied that we have found it, so frankly, we are content.

      May the prayers of all our holy fathers and mothers help and protect you in your life and your worship of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

    7. “How we worship does not determine our relationship with God and it certainly does not determine our salvation.
      I will say that again: How we worship does not determine our relationship with God and it certainly does not determine our salvation.”

      But of course it does – our communion with God is precisely our Salvation. To be cut off from the Heavenly and Divine Liturgy is to be cut off from God and to miss the preeminent participation in His deifying Grace – the very reception of Christ’s own Body and Blood into ourselves.

      This is the Apostolic teaching. As he was taught by Peter and John and following the Pauline teaching, Ignatius of Antioch in the Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Chapter 6, 110 A.D. is very clear about this:

      “Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God … They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.”

      So how we worship absolutely determines our relationship with God and certainly our Salvation. In fact, it is our Salvation!

  8. You are right on about Evangelicalism being rootless. If anyone is interested I recommend “RetroChristiainity” by Svigel for an evangelical’s take on how this happened, and what he proposes as a solution (one of the elements is regular observance of the Eucharist).

    I enjoyed this post and can see the author’s argument, but I can’t buy into the idea that we need to worship in the “Orthodox” way. It’s true that Jesus didn’t abolish the OT way of worship, but he also didn’t say that we needed to observe that pattern. Since Christianity certainly has Judaic roots it is only natural that the earliest forms of Christian worship resembled Jewish worship, but I can’t see a real strong argument for having to do things this way.

    I come from an Evangelical Protestant background in worship and I whole heartedly agree that much of non-mainline Protestant worship bears little resemblance to traditional Christian worship, but that doesn’t mean it is of no benefit. There are people who will come to a seeker-sensitive Evangelical church that would never step foot inside an Orthodox (or any other traditional) church. I have met many people in these churches who are so enthusiastic about Christ that they actually go out and invite their friends to come to the service. The main problem with this system though is that it is more entertainment driven than worship driven, and once the entertainment loses its appeal, they stop coming. Not to mention the integrity of the Gospel message might be compromised also, but not necessarily. However, these services are non-threatening to those who come and many of these churches do a good job at making seekers feel welcome and nurturing a comfortable environment for them to explore Christianity.

    Issues arise though when these people want more from their Christian walk. The seeker-sensitive model is more of a seeker driven model, they are constantly looking for new non-believers to convert that they neglect those who have converted; they present them with nothing to live out beyond conversion. This is where I think the Orthodox have a huge advantage over these seeker-sensitive churches: Orthodoxy presents something glorious to live into. The issue I see with Orthodoxy though is that many non-believers likely feel that it is not a safe place for them to explore Christianity and are afraid to step foot inside an Orthodox church. Heck, I am even afraid to step foot inside an Orthodox church and I’ve been a Christian for 20 years.

    So anyway, those are my thoughts. Good post.

    1. I honestly don’t mean this in a snarky manner, but it occurs to me that if someone would never set foot in a liturgical church, he might not really want to set foot in Heaven. After all, that’s what the Bible shows worship there is actually about.

      1. Just to be sure, since text has no tone, I mean this in a pleasant and agreeable way.

        I think I might be looking at this issue from a different perspective than the article, but perhaps not.

        I’m looking at this from the perspective of someone who is just looking at Christianity and may have various reasons for being wary of it (misconceptions, bad personal experiences with Christians, sees no relevance, etc). And from this perspective I see the contemporary worship services as being something they are more likely to attend (at first) because it is more inline with the current culture and isn’t quite as strange to them as a liturgical church would be.

        Now I personally think that they could (and probably should) join a tradition that does liturgical worship, eventually. But this move often seems to be discouraged because the majority of the time it seems that liturgy is portrayed as just dead ritualism, which it can be, but isn’t necessarily.

        Now, coming out of a church that uses the contemporary model, I do not think that this model should be followed as the model of the weekly worship service. In fact, this belief is one of the reasons why I am currently seeking to find a home in a tradition that has liturgical worship.

        The point I’m trying to make is that, yes, the contemporary model really is not the model to use in the weekly worship, but that doesn’t mean that this model cannot be used in some other capacity to bring people into God’s Kingdom.

        Sorry if some of this is scatter-brained. I’m typing this late at night and my roommate wants me to turn off the light so he go to sleep, so having to rush.

      2. I know people who would find evangelical worship downright silly. They wouldn’t use it to eventually go to something more liturgical. When you see Christians worshipping in an Orthodox church it looks like these people take this seriously and don’t just think of it as a big party once a week. I think the silliness would drive more folks away than the the solem reverence that is seen at an Orthodox Church.

        (I am not saying that evangelicals are not reverent, but just stating what it it might appear to an outside observer.)

      3. Fr. Andrew, I’m laughing. Your response is pure gold. Classic. I loved this article. I am often frustrated though by some of the non-orthodox responses to posts such as these. The reason I’m frustrated is because the Orthodox Church and Orthodox worship are such a completely different paradigm compared to Evangelical church and worship, that I often wonder if the non-orthodox really, honestly understand the underlying principles and values that are in play. I don’t mean that to slam the non-orthodox by any means. It’s just that from my own experience and background, gowing up Evangelical, there is so much I learned about the Church and worship through attending, that I don’t know could have simply been explained to me before I experienced it.

  9. Lauren and Robert – here I think the answer is not strictly either-or but both-and. Lauren is right to believe that the context and form don’t make our prayer and supplication more or less: “a broken and contrite heart God will not despise.” whatever the criticisms or defects of evangelicalism it seems like a huge error to suggest God rejects their prayers.

    However as Christians we are to enter into the Heavenly Liturgy over which Christ presides – we don’t make this up, we enter in. This is the Biblical practice and teaching – our litorgia (“common work”), to “become Church” in the Pauline language is to enter into the Eucharist – in a sense this *is* our Salvation.

  10. The Inner Tradition of Hesychasm that is at the heart of Orthodox pursuit of God- of Theosis, speaks of the descent of the nous into the heart, into the Stillness, in which is the Presence of God. Orthodox worship structures support the path into the Stillness. It is not dominated by intellectual content nor by emotional content, and this leaves the nous undistracted from It call to enter into the Stillness. The Stillness permeates the icons. When we are called to lift up our hearts to the Lord and to put aside earthly things in the Cherubic Hymn, we are given the possibility for our ascent with Christ into the heavenlies, inwardly, so that in Communion we have the possibility of our nous entering the Stillness.
    Contemporary emotionally dominated ‘worship’ sends the nous out into the emotions, missing the mark. There may be a ‘blessing’ out there in the emotion, but we are to seek the Lord and not the blessing. Thus, the outer structure of Orthodox Worship, is compatible and conducive to the inner motions of the nous and its descent into the Stillness.

  11. I think it’s important to look at the ways in which Orthodox worship has developed throughout the ages. Otherwise, we reduce it to its “essential” aspects, which may not be so locked down.

    Early on, there was a debate about whether we should have singing or not. More austere types said that focus on the Bible is the best way to go. Singing was distracting, and focused on a performance. Yet the showmanship of Constantinople took over, and now monasteries are known for their beautiful chanting. This aspect of worship that was considered too showy now is an important tradition of the Church.

    During Late Antiquity, much of worship centered around large, elaborate productions of great poetry. St. Romanos the Melodist was the genius of this movement. His poems are long, just to read. Imagining them being sung along with a chorus makes me think that the services were very showy.

    A generation or two after St Romanos, the kontakion, his favored form of poetry, fell out of fashion. The Canon became the new standard for liturgical poetry. The Church had to stay hip to the new generations.

    After the First Council of Ephesus declared Mary to be officially the Theotokos, the Church propogated this new formula through new feasts and hymns. The Church had to update its form of worship in order to teach in new ways.

    Before the printing press, Orthodox worship varied greatly from one city to the next, not to mention one geographical region to the next. Constantinopolitan, Jersusalem, and Sicilian worship did not look the same. Certain aspects showed up–litanies, eucharist–but how they were spoken of and how they were imagined displayed variation.

    In the modern period, if we read accounts by Fr Arseny of the Eucharist in the Gulag, we see that many of the “Old Testament” aspects of worship did not show up. It was as valid as any other Eucharist, but with no table, lamp, or chalice.

    Finally, I disagree that the Israel got in trouble because they did not follow the Exodus and Leviticus forms of worship. People misunderstood and thought that sacrifice was the essential component: “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hos 6:6; cf. Mat 9:12).

    The essential component is mercy. Liturgy, if it is valid, must serve mercy.

    1. I disagree with your conclusion here, as well as the characterization of nearly all of the examples you give.

      – As for the conclusion, that the “essential component” to liturgy is mercy, that doesn’t even follow from the Scriptures themselves, which indicate (e.g.) in Psalm 50 (51) that repentance, mercy, etc., are preconditions for the sacrifice, not its exclusive element.

      – The examples you give don’t really feed into the conclusion, but the first one was particularly glaring. The “debate” (which wasn’t really a debate, but rather is simply a series of observable differences) wasn’t over singing vs. speaking, but rather psalmody vs. hymnography. The Church always used both, and it eventually used more of both. No real debate there, and there’s always been singing, often including in psalmody.

      – St. Romanos’s poetic compositions weren’t necessarily “showy.” Just because a piece of poetry is elaborate doesn’t mean that it’s sung in an ostentatious way. Indeed, ostentation is contrary to the essentially ascetic character of Orthodox worship. One could hardly think of Romanos as some sort of performer.

      – That the canon came to replace the kontakion is not a matter of being “hip.” It’s hardly keeping up with the times to make gradual changes over the course of centuries. This is a far cry from modern pop Evangelicalism’s 5-to-10-year lag behind arena pop music.

      – It is true that after Ephesus, use of Theotokos increased in hymnography, but the word wasn’t invented at Ephesus, nor was it remotely absent from liturgical texts prior to the council.

      – You’re of course right about the standardization that came in with the printing press, but I’m honestly not sure how that is indicative of an essential change in liturgical worship, especially since it took centuries to come into realization. Indeed, few but liturgical experts hardly even notice the differences that came about because of such things. (A notable exception is the Nikonian reforms in Russia, but that wasn’t merely the result of standardization, but of the replacement of a local tradition with another local tradition. Still, most folks outside those circumstances would hardly even detect the differences.)

      – Fr. Arseny of course did indeed offer up what was well-pleasing to God in the gulag, but he himself never would have claimed it was somehow a replacement for the Divine Liturgy. Indeed, there were many instances of Soviet prisoners celebrating the liturgy in secret when they could, largely from memory. It is hard to see how a Russian example in particular—given the Russians’ rather strong attachment to the specifics of liturgical form—even begins to illustrate your point.

      – The Israelites got in trouble for a lot of things, liturgical wrongness among them. Remember when God struck down the sons of Aaron for offering “strange fire” (i.e., fire not from the consecrated flame) to offer up incense? Remember when God gives incredibly detailed instructions on how to construct the Ark, the tabernacle and the temple, including how exactly to serve within them? Seems like attention to detail is important.

      Mercy is of course necessary for all prayer, but to say that it is the “essential component” is essentially a gnosticizing dematerialization that is totally unsupported in Scripture, the Fathers, or any of the history of the Church. If it really were the case that mercy is the “essential component,” then the Church surely would have recognized this and eliminated its entire liturgical tradition, reducing Church life to soup kitchens and such.

      1. Fr. Andrew,

        You bring up an interesting point about mercy. In the Hosea passage I quoted, mercy is considered more important than sacrifice. In the Ps 50/51 passage you refer to, mercy precedes correct worship. What’s interesting is that in the former passage, God is telling the people that he expects mercy from the people rather than sacrifice from the people. The Psalmist in the latter passage asks for mercy from God before the sacrifices commence. Mercy comes from two directions–from God and from us–and both seem important.

        Your additional passage adds interesting nuance. On the one hand, God expects mercy from us before we worship (eg, “leave your gifts at the altar). I mentioned that one. On the other hand, we require mercy from God before we can begin to worship. You brought up this one.

        One of my favorite examples of mercy as an essential part of liturgical worship comes from Holy Week. The unction service in Greek plays on the similar sounding “oil” (“eleos”) and “mercy” (“eleon”). We liturgically anoint ourselves with God’s mercy.

        Moreover, this occurs after multiple “Bridegroom Matins,” where the theme is the maidens–and whether they have enough “oil” in their lamps. We pray that our lamps are full. Liturgically we have to have our lamps full of “eleon/os” as we trudge through Holy Week trying to get to the Bridal Chamber–which is the Empty Tomb.

        It’s wonderful to see how much our liturgical tradition mentions mercy, and how it materializes this central theme through the use of oil (and the Greek language!).

        Ultimately, the mercy of God is linked to the mercy that we are to show. Matthew 18:32-33 brings these two together: because the master cancels the servant’s debt, the servant is to show mercy to the weaker one. So if our prayer of Ps 50/51 is answered, aren’t we bound to show mercy to the weaker one? If God accepts our sacrifice of the Eucharist, this follows from his mercy towards us. Our mercy towards others is to come as a result.

      2. Loving Language,

        It strikes me that we don’t know what “mercy” really means, except through the Sacrifice of the Word/Jesus Christ upon the Cross, the full meaning of which the Divine Liturgy alone proclaims. We come to understand the mercy of God as that kenotic *sacrificial* gift of self for the well-being of the other–even unto death. There is an intrinsic and unbreakable connection in the context of this fallen world between “mercy” and the Sacrifice of Christ, which through our partaking of it in the Eucharist, must become incarnate in each of us. Indeed, that is why this very Communion of the Body and Blood of our Lord *is* our salvation. But, if we do not approach worthily in true repentance (which, if real, will bear itself out by a true change of heart reflected in our self-sacrificial love for others), we are told we “eat and drink condemnation” upon ourselves.

        I repeat, we have no hope of understanding what “mercy” means apart from a right understanding of the Eucharist, which the Divine Liturgy alone proclaims.

  12. Robert,

    i’m confused about something–if Orthodoxy/The Fathers are especially keen on allegorical/Christological interpretations of scripture, why insist on a literal treatment of the book of Hebrews (your point about “altar”)?


    1. We don’t eschew one in place of another, rather we use many modes of interpretation. Also, historically Christians had altars, even in the catecombs. In the case of early Christianity, they were often the tombs of martyrs. The only Christians without altars are non-liturgical Protestants. They have stages/podiums.

    2. Scriptural hermeneutics in the Church has never been exclusively limited to any particular “method,” whether literal, allegorical, etc.

      In any event, it would be hard for the Fathers to fully allegorize the altar when so many of them spent to much time serving at literal altars. Remember that the Liturgy is actually prior to the New Testament and is what helped to shape its canon and also its interpretation.

    3. Allegory, and Typology were chiefly applied to the Old Covenant, and the Old Testament. Grace and Truth came by Jesus Christ; the Law, and externals of type and shadows came by Moses. So, in the New Testament we have grace imparting verbal icons; whereas, in the Old Testament we have types and shadows, pointing to the New-types and shadows requiring allegory and typological interpretation.

  13. I am a recent convert to the Orthodox Church. I came out of a megachurch in Post Falls, Idaho of all places. I spent 3 years in the Orthodox Church and my wife spent about 1 1/2 years as we were baptized together. Praise God, as she had a hard time with it in the beginning. It was just so foreign. Any way what strikes me about this discussion and Orthodoxy in general is that the arguments against Orthodoxy just don’t seem to cut it. I went to many protestant pastors at my former church including the head pastor, in a church with 8-10k people and their arguments never made sense to me. I have also talked to many people since studying the Orthodox Church that have nothing good to say about their church or the way it operates and who love the different aspects of the Orthodox Church we talk about but need to look for a protestant church that does some orthodox things.

    I guess what I want to say as that the truth lies in the Orthodox Church. It is the church given to us by Jesus through his disciples and passed down through the fathers. Is it identical today as it was then? No. But it is consistent. The truth is in the Orthodox Church and the truth cannot be changed. We always come across these new teachings in the modern evangelical church by people who have discovered the truth after 2000 years. The church I came from is led by a restorationist, who won’t preach restorationism from the pulpit directly, but teaches it in a way that people don’t even know they’re being taught it. I think it would be interesting to know how many of these charismatic speakers leading these megachurches come from the restorationist church. Because it seems to me that the teaching is that they intellectually know better than any of those that have come before them. It seems to me that this mindset makes truth relative. Relative to our times, to our culture, to our feelings, etc. That’s why there is not a problem with worshipping the way we see fit, governing our church with a structure according to our interpretation of scripture, making communion open to whoever wants it no matter what they believe about it, etc. I am grateful to Orthodoxy for giving me a concrete foundation to build on.

  14. Lauren, the thing that first came to mind as a response to your comment is:

    Matthew 25

    “34Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 37Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 40And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

    41Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 42For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: 43I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. 44Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? 45Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 46And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. ”

    Obviously it’s not just doing these things or just “doing” that constitutes salvation, but it is doing these things that is like doing exercises to prepare us for the final race. Doing them correctly sees that you strengthen your muscles and stretch your limbs. Doing them incorrectly could see you pull a muscle or not have the right endurance to finish the race.

    God gives us these instructions for a reason. They are tools in our toolbox. Would someone use a sponge to paint their walls? You could and it might work some ways, but it will not be as efficient, as useful and does not have exactly the same result.

    May God have mercy on me,


  15. the reference in Hebrews 8 is clearly cultic (frankly the entire book is), unambiguously by context – I am struggling to understand your point.

  16. Robert writes in this article:

    Orthodoxy is not the same as Roman Catholicism. Second, the idea of the Eucharist as a re-presenting of Christ’s blood is contrary to the teachings of the Orthodox Church. In the Liturgy, the priest prays: “Once again we offer You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood….”

    From Wikipedia on the RC understanding of the nature of the Sacrifice offered in the Eucharist:

    “The Eucharist is a sacrifice in that it re-presents (makes present again) the sacrifice of the cross.[2] The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice. Christ, of course, is not sacrificed again because the Cross cannot be repeated. The Mass is a liturgical representation of a sacrifice that makes present what it represents through the action of God in an unbloody manner.[3]”

    From the language here, which is from the RC catechism, it sounds as if Orthodoxy and RC are saying a very similar thing. However, in the actual Liturgy vs. the Mass the wording of the prayers in the Liturgy is explicit as Robert states, whereas in the Tridentine Mass, the wording is that this is the Sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood which is being offered. There is no mention of its being “unbloody” or “bloodless” in the actual prayers in the Mass. Is this what Robert understands?

    1. Karen,

      You presented my view accurately. While quite similar, there are significant differences between the Roman Catholic Mass and the Orthodox Liturgy. This is something Evangelicals need to be aware of when they visit an Orthodox worship service for the first time.

      1. Thanks, Robert.

        Is there a good source for further reading on the Orthodox understanding of the nature of the Sacrifice that is offered in the DL?

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