Orthodox worship is liturgical. That means that it follows specific ritual patterns and cycles, with music and prayer and symbolic actions. Liturgical worship is conducted in reverent dignity and embraces the whole of the human person—all five senses! Worship has to be done with reverence and awe, because we are entering into the very throne room of the Creator.
But does liturgical mean repetitive and boring? Anything can get boring if done wrongly, but the rich tradition of Orthodox worship is a whole world to explore, one that cannot be exhausted even over a lifetime.
Orthodox worship is transformative, bringing us more deeply into communion with God and through cooperation with God gradually changing us into holy people—saints. The pattern of Orthodox worship is based on the worship in Heaven as seen in the Bible, which includes an altar, incense, chanting, and so on (Is. 6 & 7; Heb. 8:1-6; Rev. 4, 5).
Worship is different from veneration. While worship is about totally giving ourselves to God to be united with Him, veneration is the genuine respect that we show for holy people and things. So while these acts have some things in common—such as bowing in reverence—they’re not the same and shouldn’t be mixed up.
A secondary but essential part of worship in Orthodoxy is to teach the faith, forming the Christian in the doctrines of the Church, which are not mere rational propositions to be agreed with but are the guide to the Christian life.
The center of Orthodox Christian liturgical life is the Divine Liturgy, the church service where believers who are prepared by prayer, fasting and confession, receive the Holy Eucharist, bread and wine which have been mystically changed by God into the Body and Blood of Christ (John 6:47-58). Other major church services include Vespers (which is evening prayer) and Matins (morning prayer), which follows in the footsteps of the Apostles, who the Bible says worshiped according to the traditional hours of prayer (Acts 3:1, 10:9, 10:30).
We mentioned sacraments as part of Orthodox worship. What are they?
Next Article: Sacraments
Adapted from St. Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church in Emmaus, Pennsylvania.