Beloved brothers and sisters,
Through sermons, announcements, visitations, and personal conversations, our beloved church emphasizes to its children the importance of order. While at times overlooked, the topics of orderly worship, organization, timing, etc. remain vital to the structure, spirit, and practices of our church.
When attending an orthodox service (even if it’s your first time), you quickly recognize the orderly nature of prayers, the movements, and the clergy vestments, regardless of whether you understand the purpose or necessity of such matters. My beloved reader, this organization or “the church rites”, is not done without a cause but mystically connects the Church and the worshiper to Christ.
Additionally, the church rites provide the congregation and priests with the structure to offer before God an orderly worship. St. Paul urges the church in Corinth to, “Let all things be done decently and in order,” (1 Cor 14:40) for “[Our] God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints,” (1 Cor 14:33). Thus, this structured and orderly form of worship reveals and reflects the nature of our God. These church rites, emphasize a knowledge of our God, while also showing our belonging to Him. As an orderly worshiping church, we not only offer Him the best offering, but also reveal His attributes.
Surprisingly, the church fathers do not use the word “rite” frequently, but rather use “ordinance” and “observance”. An ordinance is a command to conduct an activity in an orderly manner. Throughout the Old Testament, God commanded His people to keep His ordinances, stating “You shall therefore keep this ordinance in its season,” (Exo 13:10). The more important synonym, “observance”, means to pay attention, to listen carefully, or to obey. This word calls us to active participation in our service as an attentive participant, not simply one who shows up.
The service emphasizes the Church’s focus on orderly worship, with the deacon uttering instructions to the participant saying, “Let us attend”, “You who are seated, stand”, “Look toward the east” and “In the Wisdom of God, let us attend”. There is a deacon response that is currently not commonly practiced, that details to the congregation the manner in which they should stand, it says:
Amen, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, who is Jesus Christ the Son of God hear us and have mercy upon us. Let us stand upright. Let us stand in piety. Let us stand with attention. Let us stand in peace. Let us stand in the fear of God and with trembling and reverence…
With the church fathers’ emphasis on organized service, I wonder where we went wrong to allow our services to become so disorderly.
The Orthodox Church gives an immense feeling of other-worldliness, giving it an immense sense of beauty, and emphasizing that although the church lives in the world, the world does not exist in the church. However, when we bring worldliness into the church, it invades our ability to truly worship and elevate our prayers. As we come late to the liturgical service, as we whisper in our side talks, as we move around restlessly, or as we use our phones during the liturgical service, we bring our world to our worship time and we interrupt and become a stumbling block to those who are trying to focus on prayers. When we bring in our cell phones which invade every quiet moment of our lives, when we bring in our shopping list, when we bring the cares of the world into the church, we must remember of the purpose of orderly worship.
To be continued…