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Why do you use liturgical worship?

Christianity is a liturgical religion. The Church is first of all a worshipping community.
-Fr. Georges Florovsky (One Church, vol. XIII, p. 24)

Volodymyr, the eleventh century great prince of Rus’, sent out emissaries to find true religion and bring it back to his people. They went east and west, north and south, and it was when they arrived in Constantinople that they discovered the Byzantine liturgy. They returned to Kyiv and reported to the Prince what they saw in the great Cathedral of Hagia Sophia. “…Then we went on to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty. Every man, after tasting something sweet, is afterward unwilling to accept that which is bitter, and therefore we cannot dwell longer here.” Through both worship and beauty, we are guided to the one true God.

Thou shalt worship the Lord, thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve. (Deut 6:13 & Matt. 4:10)

A central part of Christian life is our liturgical prayer. Liturgy and worship are existential constituents in human beings. Worship is the natural human response to any kind of encounter with the Divine. In the papal encyclical Orientale Lumen, Pope John Paul II proclaimed:

…liturgical prayer in the East shows a great aptitude for involving the human person in his or her totality: the mystery is sung in the loftiness of its content, but also in the warmth of the sentiments it awakens in the heart of redeemed humanity. In the sacred act, even bodiliness is summoned to praise, and beauty, which in the East is one of the best loved names expressing the divine harmony and the model of humanity transfigured,(30) appears everywhere: in the shape of the church, in the sounds, in the colors, in the lights, in the scents. The lengthy duration of the celebrations, the repeated invocations, everything expresses gradual identification with the mystery celebrated with one’s whole person. Thus the prayer of the Church already becomes participation in the heavenly liturgy, an anticipation of the final beatitude.

Our worship not only helps to unite us with God, but it in itself proclaims the Gospel; as the old Latin adage says, lex orandi, lex credendi, or “as we pray, so we believe.” The manner of our worship shows and shapes our faith. The Council of Vatican II admonished us as Eastern Catholics that “in the rites and disciplines…whenever they have fallen short, they are to strive to return to their ancestral traditions  (Congregation for Eastern Churches: Instructions for the Application of the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. art 21).”

“The firm attitude held by the Apostolic See… asking the Eastern Churches in full communion with it to have the courage to rediscover the authentic traditions of their own identity, restoring the original purity where necessary…the practice of the Orthodox should be taken into account, knowing it, respecting it and distancing from it as little as possible so as not to increase the existing separation, but rather intensifying efforts in view of eventual adaptations, maturing and working together. (Canon Law, Instructions, art. 12).”

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:28-29).

One of the most central reasons the Church commands us to be scrupulously observant of our Orthodox Tradition is the mission which has been entrusted to us, that of reconciliation with our Orthodox mother Churches and the re-establishment of sacred communion with them. It is of supreme importance to “preserve and foster the rich liturgical and spiritual heritage of the Eastern Churches in order faithfully to preserve the fullness of Christian tradition, and to bring about reconciliation between Eastern and Western Christians (Vatican II, Unitatis Redintegratio, 15).”

The articles of union between our Churches and the Church of Rome are quite explicit “that the divine worship and all prayers and services of Orthros, Vespers, and the night services shall remain intact (without any change at all) for us according to the ancient custom of the Eastern Church (Brest-Litovsk, art. 2).” Thus, in obedience to the Church, we do our best to be faithful to our Orthodox Tradition, both in liturgics and in faith.

The term orthodox literally means “right glory” or “right belief.” The intersection of offering right glory and holding right belief is in offering correct worship. As Pope Benedict XVI said when he was a cardinal, “The real ‘action’ in the liturgy in which we are all supposed to participate is the action of God himself. This is what is new and distinctive about the Christian liturgy: God himself acts and does what is essential.” Indeed the very foundation and establishment of our Church, our Church’s conversion story, is based on finding God through our experience of liturgical worship. We chose to follow the Christ because we found, as we found nowhere else, the presence of God in the Divine Services as celebrated at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. And it is from missionaries from our mother Church of Constantinople that we received the sacred Orthodox Tradition and spirituality.

While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God (Luke 24: 51-53).

Thus the Orthodox Tradition, in its fullness, especially the Orthodox liturgical tradition, is our patrimony and the idiom of our faith. This is the Tradition we have “inherited from the Apostles through the Fathers.” This is the Tradition we have been given by God for our salvation.

Those who wish to know about Orthodoxy should not so much read books as follow the example of Volodymyr’s retinue and attend the Liturgy. As Christ said to Andrew, “Come and see” (Jn. 1:39) Archbishop Kallistos of Diokleia