The word of the day is “confusion.” Orthodox worship reflects a sense of the sacredness of God and the dignity of people. It follows an ancient “ordo” or structure with words that stem from St. Basil the Great or St. John Chrysostom in the fourth century.
Some might call this reverent and graceful attitude of worship formal and ritualistic. But the stately mood reflects the teaching of today’s reading of 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. In this reading Paul instructs the Corinthians to set their worship in order. We will find Paul advises a serene atmosphere in worship. And that mood reflects the holiness of God who is a God of harmony and peace.
The Mood of Pagan Worship Infects the Church
Paul has already spoken of the misbehavior at the common meals that included the Eucharist. As converts from paganism, the Corinthians probably assumed that the “Lord’s Supper” was like the pagan festivals that they had celebrated in temples or private homes. Thus, gluttony, drunkenness, and intemperate behavior were tolerated. In response, Paul had to teach the solemnity of the sacrament and the necessity of receiving the Holy Gifts of Communion worthily.
In today’s reading, Paul returns to the call for reverence at the Lord’s Table. He writes that members should come prepared to share a psalm, a teaching, or a revelation. At the most there should be only two or three who “speak in tongues” (vs. 14:27) and someone must be on hand to interpretation what they are saying (vs. 14:5 and 14:28). And there should only be two or three prophecies, and the speakers must wait for their turn. Finally, women should remain silent (vs. 34). Note that women who often did not have the opportunities for education might be prone to interrupt the speaker with queries that would destroy the communicator’s train of thought. They would best be answered at home.
Everything Done Decently and In Order
The apostle summaries, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (OSB vs. 40). The term for “decently” comes from the root “having good form.” That is to say that everything must be done “properly” (Strong’s #2156). The word for “order” is a military term meaning “arranged in rank” (Strong’s #5010). Thus, Paul explains the reason that everything should be done in a systematic way. The apostle presumes that worship should reflect the character of the God who is worshipped. He writes, “God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (vs. 14:33). The term “confusion” derived from the thought of instability and suggests “disturbance, “tumult,” “commotion,” even near “anarchy” (Strong’s #181). If God is a God of rational order, peace, and constancy, then it would be incongruous to honor him with unruliness, disruptiveness, and mayhem. Therefore, if the practice sows chaos, then it must be changed.
Everything Done In Reverence and for Edification
It is hard for the Orthodox to imagine what it would be like to participate in the uproar when the Corinthians came together for worship and fellowship. We are thankful for the Divine Liturgy that orders our worship in peace. When we participate in the Divine Liturgy in the spirit of our reading: everything is done with reverence to God and for the edification of the whole Church.
But one more thought: if our worship should reflect the nature of God, our lives should reflect the same sense of dignity and decorum. Thus, we might reflect on how we might order our lives so that they reflect the joy, peace, love, and reverence of our participation in the Divine Liturgy.
Thus, Fr. Thomas Hopko says in The Orthodox Faith, “The Divine Liturgy is not an act of personal piety. It is not a prayer service. It is not merely one of the sacraments. The Divine Liturgy is the one common sacrament of the very being of the Church itself. It is the one sacramental manifestation of the essence of the Church as the Community of God in heaven and on earth.” In this Holy Communion of the whole Body of Christ, we join with one heart and mind pray “in peace” to the Lord (Hopko 2016)
Hopko, Thomas. 2016. The Orthodox Faith Vol. 2. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.