Why do Orthodox Christians attend the Divine Liturgy and other religious services of the Church? What is the purpose of such services? Is the purpose of such attendance “to get something out of it” or is it an offering? I have been told that we attend Church to identify with and help preserve our historical ethnic heritage and traditions. Is this correct?
YOU WRITE: Why do Orthodox Christians attend the Divine Liturgy and other religious services of the Church?
RESPONSE: We do so to worship God, to enter into union with Him and His People through the Eucharist and other Mysteries, or sacraments, and to receive strength as we continue on the road of salvation and “the life of the world to come.” In worship, we stand before the throne of God, loving one another “that with one mind we might confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence and undivided.” And in our worship, especially in the Divine Liturgy, we participate in all that Christ has done for us—His incarnation, life, passion, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension—while anticipating His second and glorious coming.
YOU WRITE: What is the purpose of such services?
RESPONSE: The fundamental purpose of the Church services is to worship God, as defined above. Orthodox worship is “God-centered,” rather than “man-centered.” In our worship we strive to please God, not ourselves—and this is a great honor. We offer ourselves, commending ourselves to one another, in recognition of the fact that we have been created in the image and likeness of God. And we offer our worship and adoration of God “on behalf of all, and for all,” joining our voices, minds, hearts, and souls with all of the faithful who “in all ages have been well pleasing unto God.”
YOU WRITE: Is the purpose of such attendance “to get something out of it”
or is it an offering?
RESPONSE: We attend and participate in the sacraments and services in order to worship God, Who gave us life and all that we possess, and Who offers us through worship a foretaste of His heavenly Kingdom. We offer ourselves, as individuals and as a faith community, to God in worship, rather than expecting to “get something” other than communion with God and His People. Hence, worship is not meant to entertain; rather, it inspires—and this word means “in the spirit”—and is conducted in Spirit and Truth, as Scripture commands. While we indeed do bring our cares and concerns, our joys and sorrows to worship, seeking the Lord’s help in our day-to-day lives, the only expectation we must have is the encounter with God and our common expression of this encounter as shared and experienced within the context of the worshipping faith community. We pray that “the Lord will act,” praying that His will, rather than our own demands and wants, is revealed to us and commiting ourselves to discerning and living His will in our lives.
YOU WRITE: I have been told that we attend Church to identify with and help preserve our historical ethnic heritage and traditions. Is this correct?
RESPONSE: Not at all! Those who wish to preserve their historical ethnic heritage and traditions preserve their “old country” languages, foods, dances, and so on; these things have nothing whatsoever to do with the Church, much less the Church’s worship or our journey to “the life of the world to come” in the Kingdom of God. Those who think that the Liturgy is celebrated to preserve our ethnic heritage are sorely mistaken, and I dare say only harm their salvation. The Orthodox Church is not just for certain ethnic groups: Christ Himself said, “Teach all nations,” not “teach your own kind, and don’t share the Kingdom of God with others of a different ethnic background.” This attitude was condemned by the Orthodox Church in the 19th century as a heresy—“phyletism,” the identification of the Orthodox Christian faith with one or another ethnic group, as if it was its personal domain. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is intended for all mankind, not just for certain ethnic groups.