God within

27 January, 2008

One aspect of Orthodox Theology is the understanding of salvation as theosis, which is the participation in the very Life of God, participating in God. God is not related to externally, as over there but internally within. Although, He is not encompassed by us, nevertheless, He is to be found within our hearts and not by looking for Him externally. That is why it is hopeless to ask to see God because that is not how one knows God. When God is within then we are also in Him and He in us. We participate in His Life, which becomes our life.

Our worship consists not of outward raising of arms and clapping of hands with joyful songs but with a broken and humbled heart that is softened and open to His entry within to make us what He is. Not that we are lost in Him but that we become ourselves in Him; He gives us a new name that we are known as ourselves and being so known remain as ourselves forever in Him and He in us in unity. External modes of worship have their place but they are to bring the heart to the right place before the Lord, so that He may freely enter.

The Tradition of worship in the Orthodox Church reflects and reinforces this true worship. The Church buildings, music, icons, structure and form of participation are all there to provide the correct environment for this.

The music using the Church monophonic chants sung by properly appointed male chanters, excepting convents, provide the right tone and spirit of music to raise the heart to divine thoughts. The tone in contrite and deep yet laced with joy. Nothing light and frivolous, affecting the emotions or passion, nor merely pleasing to the ear and mind but something that moves the heart in a spiritual manner. Instruments have no place because they focus the mind on the sounds as an end in themselves and on material things rather than on the words that enlighten and edify the mind and heart lifting them to heaven.

Icons also present the same spiritual environment. They do not express emotion, passion nor physical movement but in calm, sober reflection lift ones mind and heart to God. They radiate a passionless joy and interior contemplation, knowing God within Who radiates His light from the Saints face, as He did for Moses.

The structure of the Church within also develops the right relationship between man and God. The Altar area or rather the throne room of God, Bema, is the centre of God’s reign. It is here that Christ brings man and lifts him by His sacrifice, resurrection and ascension. The centre of this area is the Throne, the High place. The altar is set before this but should not replace it because the focus is coming into God and not on the sacrifice as an end in itself. It reminds us of God’s presence in man and man’s in heaven. The nave of the Church, properly surrounded by the icons of the Saints and Angelic hosts, forms the place where man meets God. It is separated from the Throne because man has yet to ascend into eternal life yet it is in God because God reigns in us now. It is a holy place for the royal priesthood and not those of the world who do not belong here. The narthex is the place where man seeks God but does not yet have Him reigning within through Baptism and repentance. The Throne room is reserved for the Priesthood who as Christ bring man before God. Laymen remain outside reminding us that we have not yet completed the struggle and reached the final goal.

Worship is largely clerical in form and mostly done in one voice whether it is the Bishop speaking, or a chanter. This reflects that we speak with one voice in the same mind and this is the mind and voice of Christ. We worship in Christ, we come to the Father in Him not of ourselves. He it is who leads the worship in the Spirit. Worship is not of man but of God. It is participation in the Life of God as the Son relates to the Father, so to must we also. God does not force our participation and we too relate in the Son as ourselves so the laity respond as if with one voice to the petitions of the priest or deacon or own the hymns of the chanters for themselves by participating in the refrains. Worship is orderly with each keeping to ones proper rank and place because God is a God of order and has arranged His creation and angelic hosts in appropriate order as He sees fit. Men and women stand separated to remind us that our real unity comes not with earthly bonds but with each one uniting to Christ in oneself but also with all. It also helps to remind us to lift our minds from earthly pleasures to those true pleasures in heaven.

The Church building, temple, whether the ancient basilica or the domed “Byzantine”, focuses the eye and mind on its interior. It does not lift ones mind out of the temple and skywards with spires and height to an external God “up there” but brings the mind within itself, into the heart. Heaven is within the Orthodox temple and is manifest with the presence of frescos and icons of the Saints building up to Christ Himself in the interior of the dome. The temples, although sometimes large, are humble on the exterior but within the true glory shines forth as it does with the Saints.

So, all things bring the mind into the heart where God dwells in His Spirit. Here it is that man knows God and participates in the very life of God, in God and God all in all.

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