Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted.
Worship is one of the most beautiful aspects of the Orthodox Christian life, but also, in some respects, one of the most confusing. Why confusing, you may ask? Because people approach worship in different ways. Some come often, others seldom. For some worship is exciting, for others it is boring. Some people take comfort in the repetitiveness of our services and others feel constrained by it. Here are a few thoughts on worship, as we reflect on kick-starting our faith in this new year.
Worship is communal prayer. Whether that is a small gathering of two or three or a large gathering of thousands, communal prayer is worship. In the Orthodox Church, we have formalized, codified worship services. This means that our worship is done the same way all over the world. The Divine Liturgy is celebrated essentially the same way throughout the world. Same with weddings, baptisms, funerals, Holy Week. I say “essentially” on purpose, because the essential elements of worship are the same. There may be some nuances that reflect a certain culture. For instance, all Divine Liturgies include a procession of the Holy Gifts called the Great Entrance. However, in Africa, at the Great Entrance, the people incorporate a liturgical dance into the procession. This is not done in other parts of the world.
One of the benefits of worship is that we feel a sense of community when we worship. We are not alone. We don’t feel lonely or isolated in our Christian walk when we are worshipping with others.
Another benefit of worship, especially at the Divine Liturgy, is that it is an all-encompassing guided prayer. What does that mean? It means that the Divine Liturgy offers the opportunity to pray for just about everything we can think of. How often do you prayer for our country? Our president? For good weather? For people who are suffering or in captivity? How often do you pray for the forgiveness of your sins, or for a Christian end to your life, in other words, for a good death? In the Divine Liturgy, we pray for all of these things and more.
The ”guiding” in the Divine Services is done by the clergy, namely the priest and the deacon, who offer petitions or prompts. The people answer with responses, either “Lord, have mercy,” “grant this, O Lord,” or simply “Amen.” Without the people present, the clergy would simply be offering prompts or directions with no answers given. I’ve heard it said that it is the people who do much of the praying in the services. Thus, worship is work, it is communal prayer offered by the people, led by the clergy. This happens not only at the Divine Liturgy, but at the other services of the church, where all the people, not just the clergy or the choir or the chanters, raise their voices as one united Body of Christ, to offer prayers on behalf of all people for all things that we need for this life, as we prepare for entrance into the next.
Unique to the Divine Liturgy, and what makes the Divine Liturgy the most important of our services, is the opportunity to not only worship and pray, but to receive Christ in Holy Communion. The Divine Liturgy affords us the opportunity to touch God and for God to touch us. The most intimate thing a person can do is to touch God. And thus Holy Communion is an opportunity to receive the embrace of God and for us to embrace God, with our bodies—with our minds, our mouths, our hearts and our souls.
While many look at worship in a negative light, I see it in a positive light. I don’t see worship as “I have to go to church” but rather “what a beautiful opportunity to be with God in worship.” If receiving Holy Communion is supposed to bring us spiritual ecstasy, then this is something we should WANT to do frequently. And thankfully our church affords us, between Sundays and Feastdays, over 100 opportunities in most communities every year. These are not obligations, but rather are privileges.
I chose the verses for this reflection on purpose. Because while we may worship with great joy and even great frequency, there will be times in our lives when we question the value of worship. We will wonder, does it really matter if I just skip today? We will wonder, does it really matter how often I receive Holy Communion? In Matthew 28:16-17, we read that Jesus directed His disciples to go to a mountain, presumably to worship. Because when they saw Jesus, that’s exactly what they did, they worshipped Him. As a caveat in verse 17, we read that some of these disciples, these worshippers, doubted. And that’s okay. We are going to have doubts. The devil will put doubts in our hearts. Other days we won’t have doubts and we will come with confidence. The important thing about the disciples in these verses was that they showed up, doubts and all. And the most important aspect of worship is merely being there, being in the presence of God, being in community. There will be some days we come with joy and some days we come with doubt, but please come, as often as you can. Because as we read in I Corinthians 11:26, “For as often as you eat this Bread and drink the Cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” As often as we receive Holy Communion, we proclaim our faith and our desire to be people of faith.
I will share with you that there are many days I worship and don’t feel much of anything. And there are other days I worship and feel as if I was standing in heaven. It’s not a profound experience every time out. But it can’t be a profound experience of worship if you are not there. So come and worship, as often as you can.
Lord, thank You for the gift of worship. Thank You for the gift of the Divine Liturgy and the gift of the Eucharist. Help me to understand the importance of worship. Help me come to worship with joy and with focus. Help inspire me through worship to also inspire others, and for others to inspire me. Be with me in my moments of doubt. Walk with me through my spiritual valleys. Enable me through worship to stand on spiritual mountaintops. Amen.
Come worship as often as you can. Come with joy. Come even if you have doubts. But come!