Holy Wisdom Orthodox Mission
1355 North 4th Street • Grand Junction, CO 81501
(On the corner of North 4th Street & Kennedy Street)

holywisdomorthodox@gmail.com • 720-295-7715
A mission parish of the
Orthodox Church in America , and the Diocese of the West
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The Orthodox Understanding of Liturgical Worship

Worship and prayer are “faith in action.” Indeed, Orthodox Christianity understands people as liturgical creatures who are fully complete (perfected) when glorifying (worshipping) God. Father Georges Florovsky (1893-1979) – a prominent 20th century Orthodox Christian priest, theologian, and writer – wrote:

Christianity is a liturgical religion. The Church is first of all a worshipping community. Worship comes first, doctrine and discipline second.”

This is precisely why we speak of “Orthodox” Christianity. The word “orthodox” derives from two Greek words, orthós (ὀρθός) and dóxa (δόξα). Orthós means upright or straight, and implies normal, usual, typical, or standard. Dóxa means glory, and implies opinion, honor, or worship. The compound word “orthodox” thus means that which is ordinary or usual, that which is normal, or that which is generally or traditionally accepted as right, true, established, or approved. “Orthodox Christianity” means “Christianity that is correctly practiced in worship” so as to lead man to God, so as to provide for man to experience God, and thus so that “man can become by grace what God is by nature.”

Worship – glorifying God – is thus the fundamental activity, and the essential function – of the Orthodox Church, precisely because the worship of God is the joining of man to God.

Οrthodox Christian worship has consequently been strictly consistent over the past 2,000 years. This is an absolutely objective fact which is historically, anthropologically, and sociologically documented. The Holy Scriptures also attest to this reality; for example elements of the Divine Liturgy are quoted by Saint Paul in his Epistles. Moreover the Apocalypse – or Book of Revelation – is the vision and understanding of the Divine Liturgy as beheld by Saint John the Evangelist, for he writes:

I John ... was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard ... a loud voice ... saying ... ‘What you see, write in a book’ ...” (Revelation 1:9-11, passim.)

«γὼ Ἰωάννης ... ἐγενόμην ἐν πνεύματι ἐν τῇ κυριακῇ ἡμέρᾳ, καὶ ἤκουσα ... φωνὴν μεγάλην λεγούσης ... Ὃ βλέπεις γράψον εἰς βιβλίον ...» Ἀποκάλυψις Ἰωάννου α´,1-11)

Which means, in other words, “I, John, being in the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, write what I behold.”

That Orthodox Worship today is the worship of the New Testament Church is simply an objective fact; whether it is true Christian worship or not is a matter of faith.

The Image of God in Man

The Orthodox Christian belief is that the creation of man is precisely as the Bible describes:

Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’ ... So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed.” (Genesis 1:26-27, 2:7-8)

We understand this precisely to mean each human being is created in the image of God, and thus all of our qualities and abilities are divine. We also believe that no human being is created likeGod, but rather that each person has the capacity to become like God.

We further understand that men and women are identical: “male and female He created them.” We thus believe that men and women – all human beings – are exactly the same – but at the same time they are completely different. In other words, each human being – man or woman – is created exactly and completely in the image of God. Therefore each and every person therefore has equal divine dignity and identical potential of becoming like God. Yet each man and woman is a unique creature, having differences of appearance and function. We are equal in dignity and potential, while at the same time different in our person and personalities.

This equality and difference is scientifically obvious: all human beings share a common DNA yet each human being has a unique DNA composition. Again, the Bible states that this is the exact intent of God at the creation of man: “He took one of his (the man’s) ribs ... the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman” (Genesis 2:21-22).

In other words, the “man” and the “woman” are made of the exact same substance, “This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23). The “difference” or uniqueness between them in no way diminished their equal dignity for, as the Bible states, “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25).

Had they understood themselves to be “essentially different” in their nakedness, they would have been led to believe that difference of appearance and function were equated to inequality in dignity and potential. Shame would have come from confusion in thinking that an external difference diminished intrinsic equality in dignity before God.

Attaining the Likeness of God

The Orthodox Christian belief is that becoming “like God,” or “growing into His likeness,” is His singular intent and sole purpose in creating each and every human being. Quite simply we believe that God created us to inherit His heavenly Kingdom and to live there in eternal joy. Attaining His likeness is therefore absolutely essential and imperative so that a person will be capable of living in the Kingdom of heaven and enjoying its happiness. Otherwise, heaven will be an unknown and uncomfortable place: an eternal hell.

In the beginning God “planted” a Paradise – the “garden of Eden” – as the appointed place for man and woman so that they might there grow into His likeness. Once they “fell short,” or “sinned,” and were failing to attain their potential likeness, “the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken” (Genesis 3:23).

The earth, the world in which we live, thereafter became the place God has appointed where man and woman might grow into His likeness. Sadly, this was a place of sorrow, suffering, and bitterness with a “middle wall of partition” (cf. Ephesians 2:14), separating human beings from God. It is very, very difficult to attain unto the “likeness of God” in the circumstances of this world whose ruler is Satan (cf. John 14:30, 2 Corinthians 4:4), who “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8-10).

In the Garden of Eden there were planted both a “tree of life” as well as a “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (cf. Genesis 2:9). About the latter, man had been told by God “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-7).

In fact, when man did disobey God – falling short of His likeness – God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil, and now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever ... (He) sent him out of the garden of Eden” (Genesis 3:22-23).

Note the wording above very carefully: the qualities we have as human beings come from that image of God within us, but the image God has given to us does not contain all the qualities of God. It is for God “to know good and evil” but it was not His intent that man should know these. The Serpent did indeed speak correctly to Eve when he said, “in the day you eat of it (the fruit of tree of the knowledge of good and evil) your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). But it is not in the likeness of God for human beings that we should “know good and evil.”

A New Paradise for Us

Nonetheless we believe that there is another place appointed for us by God where we may “work out our salvation” and “attain the likeness of God.” This new place is none other than the very Kingdom of heaven where we can more perfectly experience God and learn His ways so that we can begin even while still on this earth to live in heaven and to delight in divine happiness and joy: now and unto all the ages of ages.

We believe that those who live in the Kingdom of heaven constantly glorify and worship God, thanking Him for His great goodness, receiving from Him eternal life, accepting from Him all the blessings He desires in His great love to grant to those human beings He created in His image and who have struggled to become like Him.

As both John the Forerunner and Baptist as well as Jesus Himself proclaimed, “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (John 3:2, 4:17). Orthodox Christians believe that this Kingdom is found in the Church, most specifically in the Divine Liturgy.

Where Christ is, there is found the Kingdom of Heaven for it is the place where He dwells. Through His incarnation, birth, life, crucifixion, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension He united “things below on earth with things above in heaven” (cf. Kontakion for the Feast of the Ascension). Thus heaven has come down to earth and we are able to participate in it and to experience life therein.

The Mystical Supper (referred inaccurately as the “Last Supper”) was the interpenetration of heaven and earth the first earthly experience by human beings of life in Christ. The Divine Liturgy (the Mystery, or Sacrament, of the Holy Eucharist – Holy Communion) celebrated in the Orthodox Church is a continuing earthly experience of life in Christ. Life in the age to come (in the eternity of heaven) is a perpetual experience of life in Christ.

The Orthodox understanding is that through Christ in the Mystical Supper, in the Divine Liturgy, and in the Kingdom of heaven the “middle wall of partition” between God and man is destroyed and Paradise is open to mankind. The Kingdom of Heaven is immediately accessible to any person by participation in the community worship of the Orthodox Church, specifically in the Divine Liturgy.

Living the Divine Liturgy

In our new Paradise a new Tree has been planted, the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we believe that by “eating of the Fruit (God, crucified to and for the world) from this tree we shall live and will not die like Adam.” We proclaim that “the tree of life blossoms forth from the Virgin in the cave” of Bethlehem, and that her “womb is a “spiritual paradise planted with the Divine Fruit.” We shall eat of this Fruit and live forever because the Messiah (the “Christ” or the “Anointed One”) comes to restore the image which He made in the beginning” (from the Kontakion of the Forefeast of the Nativity of the Lord).

We understand the Orthodox Church to be the living embodiment of Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is the “Body of Christ” uniting those on earth – right-worshipping (“orth-dox”) clergy, monastics, and faithful – to those in heaven – the saints.

The only true and genuine activity of the Church is worship. Both earthly and heavenly worship are identical and Liturgical. In our Orthodox worship services – most excellently and perfectly in the Divine Liturgy – the Church on earth is perpetually unified with the Church in heaven through a common liturgical worship action. A prayer during the Divine Liturgy expresses this reality:

O Master, Lord our God, Who hast appointed in heaven orders and hosts of Angels and Archangels for the service of Thy glory (in other words, to worship God), grant that with our entrance there may be an entrance of holy Angels liturgizing (serving) with us and glorifying Thy goodness. For unto Thee are due all glory, honor, and worship: to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen. (Prayer of the Entrance)

Inasmuch as the Divine Liturgy – the Mystery (or Sacrament) of the Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion) – is literally our earthly participation in, and experience of, the Kingdom of heaven in the presence of, and in communion with, God Himself. The earthly church building is, in very truth, the House of God because God dwells therein with both the Church militant (we on earth) and the Church Triumphant (those in heaven).