Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Importance of Keeping and Preserving the Liturgy

As Orthodox Christians we have a plethora of treasures and resources which aim for us to become one with God (i.e. theosis). Few would argue that one of the most important of those treasures is that of the Divine Liturgy (whether that of St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil or St. Gregory the Great).  We may meet God and the Divine in any number of different ways, but the Liturgy's democratic (for lack of a better word) reach makes it something not only worthy of preserving, but something absolutely necessary of preserving.

I grow tired of those Orthodox who think that the Divine Liturgy is too long or is too archaic or is too "high church" (whatever that really means).  The Liturgy is exactly as long as it needs to be; it is archaic only in the sense that many of the hymns go back more than 100 years (some even 2900 years like the Psalms) ; it is "high church" only if you think that a priest should only be wearing khakis and a polo shirt.  The Liturgy connects us with the past and the present; it connects the earth and the heavens; it connects the people of God to one another; it is made present by the power of the Holy Spirit whose invocation we readily call upon with the hymn, "O Heavenly King..."  We must preserve the Liturgy.

The following words are not my own, but I think they do a good job summarizing why we should preserve the Liturgy and resist calls to shorten it, "Protestantize" it, make it "more relevant", etc.  And these are not the words of an Orthodox priest, but those of a Lutheran pastor who has seen firsthand what the abandonment of the Lutheran (Western) Liturgy has done to that confession. 

 The liturgy is not our domain -- corporately or individually.  It is the domain of Christ and the means of grace that deliver to us what Christ has done in the once for all sacrifice of His body and blood on the cross.  It is the domain of the Church, more than merely the assembled congregation, in which the saints of old and the saints of today receive with joyful faith what Christ has done.  It is not so much a moment in time as the timeless moment in which yesterday and tomorrow encroach upon today, bring the past to the present and in this mystery anticipating the future promised.

We guard the liturgy not because we have some slavish obedience to the past but because this liturgy keeps us from stealing worship away from the hands of Christ and making it into what we do, what we offer, and what we accomplish.  It is entirely too easy for us to fall in love with our own voice in praise so that we forget who is being praised and, worse, forget that such praise is possible only when and where He has revealed Himself to us and given us permission to enter that mystery.
Good words, I think.  Pastor Peters is entirely correct.  Without the Liturgy, too many Christians have become the center of their worship rather than God.  The Liturgy serves to stand as a corrective. It is tested and it is true. 

Lutherans, I believe, can be divided into three camps when it comes to the Liturgy.  First, there are those who regard it as a gift from God and pray it faithfully because it is timeless and connects not only with the past but also of the things to come keeping Christ at the center.  Second, there are those who regard the Liturgy as something that is only historically important, but as there is no strict command from Scripture (sola Scriptura) to use it, it may be used or discarded at the whim of the pastor and/or the congregation.   It's nice, but not required.  Third, there are those who have thrown out the Liturgy altogether simply because it looks "too Catholic" and thus prefer their own individual service.  Man becomes the center here.  There are probably subgroups as well, but that's too much to speculate on.

It would really be a shame if the traditional Liturgy for the Orthodox faithful becomes something nice, but not required.  So far, we have been immune from the individualist tendencies which have plagued the Lutheran confessions, but eternal vigilance is necessary.

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