Thursday, June 19, 2014

On Earth as in Heaven: The Origins of Orthodox Worship by Subdeacon Gabe Martini

On Earth as in Heaven: The Origins of Orthodox Worship

On Earth as in Heaven: The Origins of Orthodox Worship
While it is true that Orthodox worship serves as a fulfillment of old covenant worship—being fulfilled in and through the risen Christ—the ultimate parallel or comparison that should be drawn is between the Orthodox worship on earth and that which exists in eternity (or, in “heaven”).
It is easy to discern the type-fulfillment relationships between the old covenant shadows and the new covenant fulfillment. For example, the seven-branched candelabras of the temple and those of an Orthodox altar; the budded rod of Aaron and the budded Cross from which the priestly blessing is given; the ark of the covenant in the most holy place of the temple and the tabernacle and “Mary of the Sign” iconography in the apse of a traditional Orthodox church building; etc.
However, what both the worship of the old covenant and that of the new share most in common is that they are both patterned after the worship which occurs in the throne room of the Lord in eternity. As with the prayer of the Lord, we worship “on earth as it is in heaven.” It would seem apparent, then, that anyone who desires to worship the Lord properly (and we know that worship is serious business, as Nadab and Abihu exemplify, cf. Lev. 10:1-3) should desire to worship the Lord as it is done in heaven.
While many of the Church’s worship traditions have been handed down through apostolic tradition, we are given a few visions of heavenly worship throughout the holy scriptures.
The vision of Isaiah (Isa. 6:1-7) comes immediately to mind, as we see a picture of the Lord’s throne room, complete with the smoke of burning incense, the antiphonal praise of the seraphim (“Holy, holy, holy, Lord Sabaoth,” which is of course a part of the Eucharistic liturgy in the Orthodox Church), a set of doors (like the royal doors of an Orthodox iconostasis), and a type of the Eucharist itself in the coals taken by tongs from the fiery altar and being placed upon Isaiah’s lips (just as a priest or deacon will place the Eucharist in the mouth of a communicant with the spoon). In fact, a priest quotes the very words of the seraphim in this vision when they partake of the Eucharist (or when they give it to the communicants), saying: “Behold, this has touched thy lips, and will take away thine iniquities, and will purge off thy sins.”
This timeless, heavenly worship takes place “at all times and at every hour” as the liturgy proclaims, and our worship on earth is an apocalyptic (the timeless reality being brought into the finite present) participation in that same worship. In a similar manner, our partaking of the Eucharist is the same bread as shared by the apostles in the upper room, which in turn was the same Wedding Feast of the Lamb as seen in John’s ApocalypseThis is why our icons of the Mystical Supper are not pictures of the upper room in first century Palestine, but are instead an image of the yet-to-come Great Feast in eternity.
As just mentioned, the Apocalypse or “Revelation” to the apostle John gives us another window into heavenly worship. In chapter 4, the throne room of the Lord is again described, and in a similar manner to Isaiah: a great throne of the Lord (Rev. 4:2-3), surrounded by 24 smaller thrones and presbyters (perhaps symbolic of the totality of God’s people in both the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of the new covenant, cf. Rev. 4:4), and seven lamps of fire (just as the seven-branched candelabra in both the temple and upon an Orthodox altar, cf. Rev. 4:5), which are the seven Archangels.
This symbolism and the connection between both angels and deacons is made more apparent in the apostolic practice of having but seven deacons to a local church (to a bishop), the entry/exit of a deacon through the “angel’s doors” of later Orthodox church buildings, and the description of the deacon (and first martyr of the Church) Saint Stephen, who had “the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). Saint Irenaeus also connects the seven candles with the seven heavens (cf. 1-2 Enoch), as well as the seven Archangels (cf. Tobit 12:15) of those heavens.
Just as with Isaiah’s vision, the antiphonal chanting of the angels is the same in John’s vision: “Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Sabaoth!” (Rev. 4:8). There is also liturgical movement (processions), prostrations (bowing before the Lord), and offerings being given, not to mention the burning of incense by the angels (who are typified by deacons and priests here on earth, cf. Rev. 5:8). Anyone remotely familiar with Orthodox worship will inescapably draw comparisons between the worship that takes place in heaven, and that which occurs here on earth; and this is by design, of course.
I think it is safe to say, therefore, that if one desires to worship the Lord “on earth as it is in heaven,” this should be done with all of the above elements involved: the processions, the bowing, the antiphonal chanting, the offering of incense, the reception of the Eucharist, the seven-branched candles, the altar, the thrones, etc. These are all elements which exist both in heaven and here on earth in Orthodox worship.
Orthodox worship is not the result of centuries of paganization or “corruption” in the Christian community, but is instead a very conscious imaging of heavenly worship here on earth. As the Church became more and more “free” through the efforts of the emperor Saint Constantine the Great, beginning to build its own houses of worship, this emphasis became all the more clear.
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