Orthodox America

  Come, Let us Worship

How often do we Orthodox Christians hear the Church calling us to worship, Almost every service begins with the invitation: 

O come, let us worship God our King; O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ our King and God; O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ Himself, our King and God.

 We respond by crossing ourselves and bowing, but how well do we understand what it really means? In the dictionary, "worship" is defined as "reverent love" and 'allegiance'; the verb is derived as "to honor and love as a deity; venerate''; derived from Old English, weorthscipe, meaning "honor, dignity, reverence." None of these words are very common in today's vocabulary. In recent decades our society has increasingly styled itself as "casual": its behavior, its attire, its language, attitudes, relationships. It is difficult for those raised in such an atmosphere to appreciate the awe, the fear and trembling, and the self emptying love which the word "worship" should inspire.

       There is a certain worshipful adulation shown movie stars and sports heroes, but if one had to name the single most popular object of worship in this country today, it surely would be the "self". This, of course, is not worship but idolatry.

       Orthodox have been accused of idolatry in their use of images. Since the subject of images, or icons, is discussed in this issue, we would do well here to address this point. A good explanation is found in David Alexander's preface to his translation of St. John of Damascus, On the Divine Images:

       "...It is from Scripture that the treatises derive the indispensable distinction between absolute worship, or adoration (Greek: latreia) and relative worship, or veneration (Greek: proskinesis, literally, bowing down before), for the Bible records a great number of incidents where the patriarchs and prophets worship, venerate, and bow before people or places or things to whom such honor is due, but never with the adoration which is given to God alone....Thus, the proskinesis given by a Christian to an image of Christ is ontologically the same as the reverence he ought to give his fellow Christians, who are also images of Christ, but ontologically different from the latreia that is due God alone."


       The use of images is part of the outward form of the Orthodox worship of God. This also includes standing in church, bowing, making prostrations: "Spiritual worship must be accompanied by bodily worship as a result of the close bond and mutual influence of soul and body" (Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology). Our behavior in church should reflect the reverence and submissiveness expressed by these bodily actions. It is not always in our power to keep our mind from wandering, but we should absolutely refrain from talking, from exchanging greetings-even handshakes, nor should be wear flashy or ultra-fashionable clothes, or do anything that might attract attention to ourselves. Careless and casual postures--hands in pockets or behind the back, crossing one's legs while sitting, etc.--are also to be avoided. A church is the house of God, and every individual participating in its corporate worship must try to contribute to an atmosphere of unbroken prayer, in which one can sense "the beauty of holiness" where God is pleased to dwell. Improper conduct is a sign of irreverence and is offensive to God Furthermore, it is a bad missionary witness and has a magnified effect on children, whose impressionable natures readily receive the imprint of good or bad behavior and, more significantly, the attitudes they reflect. If we think of the etiquette proper to the company of an earthly king with all its marks of deference, honor and attentiveness we should appreciate the kind of behavior called for by the presence of the King of All, whose exceeding majesty, "higher than the heavens,' inspired earthly kings to fall down and worship Him when He was a Babe.

     We are called to worship not only at appointed times in church but "at all seasons, at every hour" (Prayer of the Hours). "As we rise from sleep we worship Thee, O Good and Powerful Lord..." (morning prayers). We are called to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). Many times, however, we perform the outward expressions of worship mechanically, as if oblivious of the fact that we are standing in the presence of God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, before Whom the creation trembles. What kind of worship can we expect to offer if we scarcely trouble ourselves to "know" God, the Object of our devotion?

       Worship implies the awe and reverence inspired by God as Pantocrator, Almighty, Judge; but its essence is love, inspired by God as Heavenly Father. As our Heavenly Father, God says to each of us, Son, give me thy heart. God has no need of our love, our worship. He is sufficient unto Himself; but He would have us to partake of His most perfect love. It is in the measure of our self-emptying through worship that we are able to receive this blessedness.

      Having witnessed the divine Incarnation of this Love, and preparing now to meet Him in the Temple together with the righteous Symeon, may we give Him our heart in true worship which is due to God alone--Father, Son and Holy Spirit.