Worship at St. Spiridon


Communion2SlideWorship in the Orthodox Church is intended to be a rich and meaningful experience. It is the expression on earth of sinful and imperfect people approaching the very throne of God, and becoming by His Grace the very thrones and temples of God and the v isible manifestation of His Kingdom on earth.

In 987 AD Prince Vladimir of Kiev sent envoys throughout the world to investigate the religions of mankind and help him find one suitable for the Russian people. When they returned they reported to him:

Then we went to Greece, and the Greeks led us to 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 only know that God dwells there among men. {The Russian Primary Chronicle}

Many stand in awe wondering what everything in the Orthodox services means. To the Orthodox faithful the chanting and singing of services, prayers and scripture, the icons, incense, bowing, processions, and the blessing with the sign of the cross all comprise a body of worship which is as deep in meaning as it is rich in beauty. In this worship is found the very spiritual realization of the things of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

While to many today such things are viewed as either obstacles to “the faith” or dinosaurs of the past, they are to the Orthodox symbolic expressions of the very content of their Faith. They are the activities of worship which lead to communion with God through remembrance of His teaching. While the skept ic might wonder, “Can there be any freedom in liturgical forms of worship?” the Orthodox make use freely of a rich storehouse, a treasury of various forms and expressions of worship which have been handed down to the Church through Holy Traditi on, many from the times of the Apostles themselves.

Entering St. Spiridon during a service one notices the use of many physical symbols representing various components of the faith. The cross and the icons with numerous candles burning before them are visual expressions of our prayers to Christ Our God and to the Saints interceding for us in the heavenly realms.

The Deacon comes out with incense to all the icons and to the all assembled as we sing with the psalmist “let my prayer arise in Thy sight as incense.” (Psalm 141:2) The altar is se t at the East end of the Church in the sanctuary as if in Heaven itself, and here God meets man, Emmanuel (God with us) becoming present in the Holy Eucharist.

The church itself is designed something like a ship by which the Priest pilots the vessel and all those aboard into the heavenly realms. The Priest leads the service facing toward the altar, as we all do; He leads us into worship, and we follow him into communion with God.

The significance of the many physical objects in the church which focus ones attention cannot be overstated. The content of the Faith has been preserved and handed on for nearly two thousand years by the objects and implements of worship which themsel ves teach the Truth.

Centuries ago the Icon, for instance, served as a pictorial teaching tool to the masses of people who could not read or write, and who had not their own copies of the scriptures. For this reason they are painted (actually the expres sion we use is “written”) the same way over and over again throughout the centuries.

Each Icon tells a story-events in the life of the Savior, or the lives of one or more of the Saints, those holy men and women of God who have been considered lights and examples in His Church. Before printing presses were invented the doctrines, teachings and living examples of the Faith were depicted in icons to bring to remembrance continually the fundamentals of the Faith, and to honor those Holy men and wo men who have gone before us.

It is for this reason you will see the faithful bowing before the icons kissing them as beloved – Our Lord in joy and thanksgiving for His saving work for us, His Holy Mother and all the Saints as champions of the Faith, fell ow soldiers who have already “fought the good fight” and won the prize. (Phil 3:12f)

WorshipSpiridonSeattleCut

The liturgical life of the Church also has preserved the content and substance of the Faith through the centuries. The Gospel and the Scriptures are proclaimed loudly in the services so that all the faithful can hear them.

A regular cycle of readings is prescribed throughout the whole year so that nothing is missed. At most services a homily is given, usually drawn from the scriptural texts for that day or the life of the Saints or Feast being commemorated that day. The liturgical cycles of worship were developed in the Church so that the whole content of the Faith would be remembered throughout the year.

In this way the faithful are kept from straying off the “straight and narrow way” (Matt 7:13). Thus the fullness of the Theology of t he Church can be found in the texts and verses of the complete cycle of worship, in the feast days on which we commemorate the events of History which make up the Gospel of Christ, and lead us to salvation.