Friday, September 5, 2014

Rollercoasters and Incense

The other day, while discussing the painful reality that so many Orthodox Christians “just don’t enjoy being in Church” I was asked an interesting question. “Father, if you ask children which they would prefer, going to the amusement park or doing homework, which one do you think they would choose?” OF COURSE they would choose the amusement part, so would I. The problem with this question, all too common to the struggle of Church attendance, is a false option. Let me explain...

There is a campus (they don’t use the term perish) of New Spring Church in Florence that after only six years (the same tenure of my time in Florence) has grown to over 2,000 every Sunday. They are currently building a brand new multi-million dollar church complex that literally dwarfs the bank next door. The Worship experience of this particular Church has become quite popular in Evangelical Protestant circles, with rock music, light shows, no dress code expectations, and a sermon. BUT.....there is no preacher in Florence. That’s right; the “featured” sermon is ON SCREEN from the mother campus elsewhere in South Carolina. Others have characterized the Sunday worship as attending a concert. So, it should come as no surprise that youth (and adults who wish to pretend they’re still youth) flood in from all directions to attend a weekly “free” concert.

And there lies the false choice. Orthodox worship is NOT a rock concert. It is NOT a light show. It is NOT even a sermon, though we do preach. But the false choice is much more than just the style of worship. Orthodox worship is HEAVEN ON EARTH, where we are graced to physically become one with God through the Holy Eucharist. Orthodox worship is directionally opposite from this form of Protestant Worship. What do I mean by directionally opposite?

Where we as Orthodox direct our attention, characterized in the fact that the celebrant clergy FACE THE ALTAR, is toward God. Protestant worship is directed inward toward the self. We speak to God. We sing to God. We bow to God. We worship God with the proper understanding that we are in the presence of His glory. Protestant worship speaks to the heart and, by design, seeks the rush of adrenaline, which explains the “I just FEEL good when I leave that Church” emotion of Protestants. What examples do we have to follow?

Moses hid his face. Exodus 3.6
Isaiah cried out in fear. Isaiah 6.5
John the theologian fell to the floor as though he were dead. Revelation 1.17

Orthodox Christian worship is based upon this example of humility in the face of God. And YET, we are allowed to approach the chalice standing face-to-face with God to receive His most precious Body and Blood into our very bodies. Orthodox Christian worship is a foretaste of how God is being worshiped in Heaven as witnessed by Prophet Isaiah and Saint John.

They didn’t see rock bands. They didn’t see light shows. Of course this should be obvious, but they DID see an Altar, golden candles sticks, smoldering incense, majestic robes, pious processions, praiseful singing, and bowing....lots of bowing. These are the characteristics of Orthodox Christian worship, as they were Jewish worship before us, SO THAT we can prepare to spend eternity doing the same thing in heaven.

Life isn’t about feeling the rush of adrenaline storming down the hill of a rollercoaster. Life IS about preparing to worship God in Heaven. Worship isn’t about feeling the rush of adrenaline during a rock concert. Worship is about offering God incense and bowing at His glory before the His Altar.

Rather than asking our children if they would prefer the adrenaline of an amusement park to homework, maybe a better question would be, “Do you want to be with God?” If so.....forget the rock concert and go to Divine Liturgy. The real problem is that most Orthodox Christians are still comparing the “fun factor” of our worship to the excitement of Protestant worship. And that’s just a false choice.

It’s time to exchange rollercoasters for incense.

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