“Walking the Talk” — Worship
— Fr. Bohdan Hladio
October, 2008 A.D.
There is only one reason for the existence of our church buildings – the worship of God. Every other Christian activity – fasting, prayer, almsgiving, etc. – can be done anywhere. Holy temples – churches – exist exclusively for the worship of God.
Why do we worship? Because worship or adoration is the only authentic response to the reality of God. If I have any experience of God, or even a semi-coherent idea of Who God is, I will worship. If I wish to know God I will worship, for as we read in Psalm 21 “Those who seek the Lord shall praise Him”. The human animal has been described as “homo adorans” – “worshiping man”. We are created to worship. It’s one of the things which make us human.
Holy temples – churches – exist exclusively for the worship of God.
Everyone worships, the only question is who or what? Besides the myriad of gods, goddesses, demons, and men who have been worshipped in the course of human history we see that almost anything can become the object of worship. Material wealth, children, the body, sex, sports teams, athletes, movie stars, musicians, nations, peoples, art, culture, language, nature, science – all these have been and can be the object of zealous devotion and adoration, functionally acting as a god for their devotees. Insofar as such devotion makes something or someone other than God the ground of our being and the source of meaning in our lives it is idolatry. Everyone worships – either the one true God or an idol of their own making.
The object of our worship is then of primary importance. But if we do wish to worship the one true God how do we do this? Christians follow several principles regarding their worship.
First of all, as Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, we must worship “in Spirit and in Truth” (Jn. 4:23). In other words, we must worship the true God, in the correct manner, for the right reason.
We worship together. Worship is not a solitary occupation, and Christianity is not a solitary religion. We “go to church” – a building set aside and dedicated not as a meeting place or a concert hall or a cultural monument, but for the common adoration of God, as the place on earth where the God Who is “everywhere present and fillest all things” dwells – in order to worship together.
We worship biblically. The accounts of worship in the bible, whether in heaven or on earth, all make reference to the use of incense and singing, and the use of images, vestments and other luxurious adornments in worship is prescribed by God Himself from Old Testament times (cf. Exodus chapters 25 – 31).
We worship on particular days and at particular times: “Remember to honour the Sabbath” is a commandment of the old covenant. Christians have worshipped on Sunday, the new Sabbath, from apostolic times (cf. Acts 20:7). We follow the daily, weekly and annual cycles of worship, feasting and fasting just as our Lord did when He lived on earth.
We worship in an orderly fashion, i.e., liturgically. The structure of our services can be traced back to the first century. Worship is not meant to be entertainment or “fun”, nor a cultural or aesthetic experience, but rather an encounter. If worship is authentic it is nothing less than an encounter with God the Father, with His Son, Jesus Christ, and with the Holy Spirit.
There can be many impediments to worship in Spirit and in Truth. “The concert”, for example, when the priest, acolytes, cantor or choir “do all the work” and the congregation doesn’t participate, not singing “Amen”, not receiving Holy Communion, sometimes not even understanding what’s being said and done – like an audience watching an unfamiliar Italian opera without subtitles.
Another obstacle can be ritualism – we perform “ancient and colourful rituals” which involve the body and perhaps even the mind, but not the heart. I know of priests and church singers who can be totally discombobulated during a service because someone sang the wrong tropar, or the wrong tone, or started too high, or turned the wrong way for a procession, etc. We should absolutely try to do things as beautifully and correctly as possible – but how is God glorified if our attention at Liturgy is focused primarily on the music, or the pageantry, but not Him?
Self-centredness is another big problem in our egocentric world. Many people attend services not to glorify God, but to satisfy their own self-identified needs or desires. Statements such as:
- “I don’t get anything out of the service”,
- “I don’t like the way they sing”,
- “I don’t like the way the priest serves”,
- “I don’t like the language they use”,
- “I don’t like the sermon”,
- “There are too many icons on the walls”,
- “there are not enough icons on the walls”,
- “the icons aren’t painted in the proper canonical manner”,
- “Icons are written, not painted, stupid!”, etc….
…are indicative of a perspective which puts the individual, rather than God, at the centre of the “worship experience”.
Ultimately we worship because we love God and want to spend eternity with Him;
“A sacrifice of praise shall glorify Me, and there is the way whereby I will show him the salvation of God.” (Ps. 49:24)
We worship because we want to learn about God. And we worship in order to learn about ourselves, because if we truly are made in God’s image and likeness by coming to know Him we learn who we really are. It’s the only real way to “find ourselves”.
Everyone wants to be happy. But seeking happiness as an end in itself never works. Happiness is the by-product of a life well lived. Worship, true Christian worship, worship in Spirit and Truth, is an irreplaceable and necessary part of a Christian life well lived. Insofar as our worship is the result of our relationship with God as well as a sure means of deepening our knowledge of Him it leads us to the only true and lasting happiness there is.