January 31, 2010 Length: 10:54
In this episode, Jason looks at why we should engage in worship, and the effect worship has in our lives.
It’s a question that sends chills down your spine, and yet it is one you will inevitably ask from time-to-time: “Is this all there is?” It might be an argument with your parents that triggers the question, or a problem with your friend, or bad grades in school…in any case, one—or more—of life’s difficulties cause us to question whether there is more to life than this struggle. The “good times,” however, can also trigger the question: you might find yourself stressed by keeping up your GPA, or unhappy after purchasing a new MP3 player. “Is this all there is” truly is an equal-opportunity dilemma.
The question arises because we humans intuitively know there is more to life than simply status and stuff; we know our lives should have meaning. People try to find this meaning in an endless variety of ways. Some people simply become trapped in a vicious circle of materialism: they are continually convinced that the next purchase or “rung on the ladder” will provide the meaning that currently eludes them. Others pursue meaning in working for social causes, or political movements, or in romantic (or merely sexual) relationships, or through a multitude of other activities.
Many people, however, realize the primary issue is spiritual: they realize there is “something out there” that is greater than them and with which they need to connect to be fulfilled. While there are certainly many followers of traditional religions, many other people create their own spiritual systems and approaches according to the physical and emotional needs and interests they are currently experiencing. George Gallup found that such people define spirituality as “a calmness in my life,” “something you really put your heart into,” or “living the life you feel is pleasing.”
There’s certainly an attraction in the apparent freedom of a “do-it-yourself” spiritual life, but there’s also an issue its practitioners invariably realize: such a spiritual life ultimately doesn’t work. They soon grow bored or dissatisfied, and therefore regularly shuffle and change their beliefs and practices in an ultimately futile attempt to achieve lasting spiritual contentment.
Why is such self-created spirituality a dead end? There are two closely related problems. First, because we are sinful humans who crave experiences that will lift us above our problems, we are incapable of adequately determining the spiritual cure for the problems of our souls. As Frederica Mathewes-Green—now an Orthodox covert and khouria—says about her days spent following a self-created religious philosophy: “I realized that my selections were inevitably conditioned by my own tastes, prejudices, and blind spots. I was patching together a Frankenstein God in my own image, and it would never be taller than five foot one.”
The second problem with such a cobbled-together spirituality is intertwined with the first: because its practitioners are focusing almost entirely upon themselves, they’re ignoring the One Who can provide them with the meaning they crave. Blessed Augustine puts this wonderfully when he says, “Everlasting God, in whom we live and move and have our being: You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”
Blessed Augustine’s statement raises an obvious question: what does it mean to have our hearts rest in God?
THE POWER OF WORSHIP
Christ answers this question when He restates the command from the Old Testament, “You shall love the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4:10; see also Deuteronomy 6:13). Holy Scripture makes it clear that obeying God’s commandments is part of serving Him (Deuteronomy 8), but central to this service is loving and worshipping Him. Listen to what the Holy Prophet and Godseer Moses tells us: “So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 10:12). St. John Chrysostom elaborates on this principle when he says, “God needs nothing we have to give Him, and this especially proves sincere love, when one who needs nothing and is not in any necessity, does everything for the sake of being loved by us. So when He bids you to love Him, He then most of all shows He loves you. For nothing secures our salvation more than loving Him.”
We may be commanded to love and worship God, but it is vital to realize that this is not an unpleasant duty: it is both a privilege and joy to do so. We can feel about worship precisely what the Holy Prophet and King David proclaims: “Come, let us greatly rejoice in the Lord; let us shout aloud to God our savior; let us come before His face with thanksgiving, and let us shout aloud to Him with psalms…Come, let us worship and fall down before Him” (Psalm 94:1-2, 6). The Orthodox understanding of this call to worship is demonstrated by our singing part of verse six during the Little Entrance of the Divine Liturgy, “Come, let us worship and fall down before Christ.”
George Mantzaridis emphasizes the central place of worship in the authentic spiritual life in this way, “Worship is the center of the Church’s life. All its other activities—preaching, teaching, care, philanthropy—prepares or expresses its worshipping life, and therefore remain indeterminate and insipid without it. If worship is missing, the presence and work of the Church have no meaning, while with worship at the center, the presence and work of the Church, as of each particular member, acquire sense and purpose.”
Note what Dr. Mantzaridis says—it is only through worshipping God that our lives “acquire sense and purpose.” This is the answer for which so many people are striving.
THE EFFECT ON US OF THE WORSHIPFUL LIFE
By engaging in the worshipful life we are fulfilling the purpose for which we are made: to praise God and grow in relationship with Him. This relationship is more than the relationships we have with people around us; instead, it is a communion that completely transforms us. This transformation, which is called divinization or theosis, is so important that Metropolitan Kallistos Ware says it is “the aim of the Christian life.” Archbishop Basil Krivocheine explains this transformation in this way: “Divinization is the state of man’s total transformation, effected by the Holy Spirit, when man observes the commandments of God, acquires the evangelical virtues and shares in the sufferings of Christ. The Holy Spirit then gives man a divine intelligence and incorruptibility. Man does not receive a new soul, but the Holy Spirit unites essentially with the whole man, body and soul. He makes of him a son of God, a god by adoption.”
St. Gregory Palamas describes this transformation like this, “Thus the deifying gift of the Spirit is a mysterious light, and transforms into light those who receive its richness; He does not only fill them with eternal light, but grants them a knowledge and a life appropriate to God.”
It is important to realize that this transformation does not happen quickly: it is the result of a worshipful life, not merely a worshipful moment. Archimandrite George, abbot of the monastery of Gregorios on Mt. Athos, explains, “All of this, of course, does not come about immediately. Throughout the whole of our life the Orthodox Christian must struggle, so that, slowly—slowly within the Church, with the Grace of God, with humility, repentance, prayer, and the holy Mysteries, he may be sanctified and deified. This, however, is the purpose of our lives; the great aim. It is not so important exactly how far we progress. Our struggle itself, which God blesses abundantly, has value both in the present age and in the age to come.”
CARRY IT INTO DAILY LIFE
Dr. Mantzaridis’ point regarding worship and life is essential to remember: everything we do—even the most otherwise beneficial activity—is empty if we do not engage in a worshipful life. In the end, worship cannot transform our lives if we do not engage in worship. We therefore need to put into practice these words from St. Macarius the Great, “A disciple should always carry the memory of God within. For it is written: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.’ You should not only love the Lord when entering into the place of prayer but should also remember Him with deep desire when you walk or speak to others or take your meals…If a disciple’s heart always longs for God, then God will surely be the Lord of the heart.”
If we pay attention to the areas of life St. Macarius mentions, we can think of three easy ways to begin transforming our lives into journeys of worship. First, pray to God each morning and evening; you can find short but powerful Morning and Evening Prayers at the back of the Orthodox Study Bible. Secondly, pray to God before each meal. Finally, say this prayer before beginning any activity:
O Lord Jesus Christ, Only-begotten Son of Thine unoriginate Father, Thou has said with Thy most pure lips: For without Me, ye can do nothing. My Lord, O Lord, in faith having embraced Thy words, I fall down before Thy goodness; help me, a sinner, to complete through Thee Thyself this work which I am about to begin, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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