Saturday, September 22, 2007

On Faith: Worship should be full experience, appeal to all senses

The Rev. Philip Rogers

One of the questions I am often asked is, "How is the Orthodox church different from other Christian faiths?"

It's tough to answer that concisely, but one of the most striking differences between the Orthodox church and the many Christian denominations in the world is the worship.

On seeing it for the first time, travelers from Russia to Constantinople in the 10th century witnessed the worship in the great church of Hagia Sophia and said, "We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere upon the earth. We cannot describe it to you; only this we know, that God dwells there among men."

As these words suggest, while the worship of the Orthodox Church is different, it is very rich.

Basing the worship on scriptural images taken from passages like Isaiah 6, the worshipper is surrounded by beauty as experienced by all of their five senses.

Their entire beings are involved in the worship.

Looking around they see the icons along the walls that shed light on passages of scripture with their detail and symbolic color; they smell the incense as it wafts to heaven as prayer before God.

They feel their head, chest and shoulders as they make the Sign of the Cross; they hear the hymns and they taste the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

In merely an hour and a half, so much of the Christian faith is expressed in the beautiful worship that is not passive but is very much active.

In the Orthodox understanding, it is not merely the soul that will live beyond this life and be encompassed by God in heaven, but the entire human person - both soul and body.

In declaring a belief in the resurrection of the dead, it is a belief in the resurrection of the body.

In heaven the worship of God will be done in the body using all five senses, why not also on Earth?

By engaging the entire person, the entire person can then be prepared to serve and glorify God out in the "real world" between periods of worship.

Therefore, during the worship of the church that engages every aspect of human life, the faithful are reminded that every single moment, every single action has the ability to be touched by a God who "dwells among men."

The Rev. Philip Rogers is pastor of Archangel Gabriel Orthodox Christian Church on Eraste Landry Road.


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