Sunday, August 10, 2008

An Orthodox View of Liturgy

During an interview at Lambeth, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, shared these thoughts on liturgy (his other thoughts are worth a look):

"KW – Liturgy is fundamental to the life of the church. At the Last Supper Jesus did not tell us, “Say these things,” he didn’t give us a verbal message that we were to pass on to others. He said, “Do this in remembrance of me”. He gave us an action, the operation of the Eucharist. And so the Church becomes truly herself when she celebrates the Eucharist. Therefore liturgy is fundamental.

But there are different ways of approaching liturgy. Sometimes discussions of liturgy become deeply archaeological. For example, when was this particular prayer introduced and in what places? Then liturgy seems very distant from the practical mission of the Church. There is the story told about the great Anglican dean of St. Paul’s in the early part of the twentieth century, Dean Inge, who was asked at a dinner party by his next door neighbour, trying to make conversation, “Dear Dean, are you interested in liturgy?” To which he replied, “No, and I do not collect postage stamps.” [i.e. he was not interested in an archaeological discussion of liturgy] So that’s the false idea of liturgy, which turns it into discussion of minute questions of ritual and ceremonial.

But if we understand liturgy in the broader sense of the action of Christ in the Church, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper with Jesus Himself as the high Priest present invisibly offering the holy gifts, and giving himself to us, then surely we see that liturgy is central to the existence of the church, and central to the church’s mission.

The celebration of the Eucharist, communion in the holy sacrament of his body and blood, this is the life-giving source from which all our social witness, all our practical action, to relieve disease and poverty and injustice, has to proceed. This is the fountain from which all else springs. And so liturgy in that sense is inseparable from mission and social action.

Liturgy is the inspiration and the power that is given to us by God to change the world. So at the end of the Orthodox celebration of the Eucharist, the celebrant says, “Let us go forth in peace,” and that is not an epilogue but a prologue. It doesn’t mean, the service is over, go off and have a cup of coffee. It means, the liturgy is over and the liturgy after the liturgy is now about to begin. Go out into the world to transfigure the world through the power of the communion that you have received in Christ’s sacrament."

Noteworthy here is the connection between liturgical action and Christ's command, and between liturgy and mission. Somewhere in Anglican worship diversity, we may have lost the sense that in our gathering for worship we gather with the Lord Jesus in our midst, and we leave renewed in his commandment to serve God in the world in gospel mission, with the eucharist as important for our renewal as the ministry of the Word.

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