Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Worship as education. . .

I read this the other day. “The primary means of theological education in the Orthodox Church is through worship.” from Archbishop (ret.) Lazar Puhalo.  Not being an expert on the Orthodox Church, I do not know whether he is speaking truthfully or not.  But in a larger sense, I know that it is true of orthodox Christianity.  It is the same thing as the Roman Catholic statement that says "we are our rites."  Though worship is not primarily or even secondarily didactic, it is where our faith is instructed in the faith of the apostles and prophets.  It is where we are nurtured and grow as the people of God by baptism and faith.

I do not mean to say that sermons are primarily lectures or that the liturgy is primarily catechetical or that faith is primarily intellectual.  What I mean to say is that how we grow is by hearing the Word of God, by confessing and repenting of our sin and being absolved, and by feeding upon the very body and blood of Jesus Christ.  If this is what Bishop Puhalo was saying or Rome means about being our rites, then we are in full agreement.  

At some point in time, we forgot this.  We became enamored with Sunday school and Bible study and with educational programs.  They became ends in and of themselves.  The real business of the faith began to be about how much Scripture we know or how well we know it but more in a cerebral way than growing an identity.  The Word became a tool to be used instead of an encounter with the living God.  We became fascinated with facts and forgot we were listening to a living voice. 
It is a profound truth that we discover who we are and whose we are primarily through worship.  It is our encounter with the living God.  It is where we tread lightly upon the holy ground of His real presence.  It is the place where we surrender preference to truth and where we learn to love that living truth instead of turning that truth into something we can love.  I wonder if this was not at the root of Luther's bold phrase that he was captive to the Word of God.  I hope that we are all captive to the Word in that way.  Oh, that is not to say that Luther is the end all but if submitting reason and experience to the living Word is what he meant, then he got that right.

Christianity is a mess.  It causes some to despair.  It moves some to reject it entirely.  It drives some to clean it up, organize it, and make it logical and friendly.  The mess of it all should move us to trust not in princes or rulers (in church or in state) but in the Word made flesh who for us and for our salvation endured the cross, made peace with His blood, and won us from death.  I would be more worried if we were making progress in improving what the Lord had established for then it would be about programs and statistics.  We have not improved the Lord's Church but come back to her week after week in humble admission of our many sins and in faithful confidence of His great and manifold mercy.  There, in the wonderful mystery of the Divine Service (or Mass or Liturgy) we meet God where He has promised to be and we receive what is only His to give where He has made it accessible to us.  If we will let it, this is where the education of the heart takes place.  We learn not cold and dry facts and figures but to kneel in humility and to stand by grace, to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and to eat His bread and drink His cup.  Reverence is not some artificial or polite respect but faith that sees and knows what eyes and senses struggle to know.

Go to church not when you feel like it but when you don't, when you feel nothing inside, when you are not sure what you believe at all, and when you have no words to pray.  And in the liturgy held up by the twin poles of Word and Sacrament, God will rescue your soul from the darkness and shine on You His everlasting light.  We want to believe that learning of God is unlocking a mystery so that we can fathom, predict, and ultimately tame God.  But in the wildness of His mercy and in the mystery of His means of grace we can do only one thing -- worship Him.  Faith is the ground of this worship, hope is its shape, and love is its fruit.  Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief.

1 comment:

Archimandrite Gregory said...

A young Orthodox African student wrote me recently about wanting to obtain a theological education. I wrote back with a link to all the propers used in Eastern Orthodox Church services and suggested that he read the services for each day slowly and with pen in hand. At the end of the year he would have at least a bachelor level theological education. In several of our seminaries in the USA students spend at least 20 hours a week in the chapel on the cliros chanting the services. And during Great Lent well probably more like 30 hours.