Saturday, November 9, 2013

“With the fear of God…”

In Leviticus 10, the prohibition against drinking alcohol prior to divine services (verse 8) immediately follows the tragic account of Nadab and Abihu (verses 1-7), a fact suggesting that these two priests may have been intoxicated when they undertook the unauthorized liturgical rite that cost them their lives.

In any case this latter incident discloses the danger inherent in divine worship. This probably needs to be emphasized, because some of those who drive off to church each Sunday morning seem not to be aware that they are placing their very souls in peril. (Otherwise they would be dressed with modesty and dignity, arrive on time, stay until the service is over, and avoid distraction and gossip while they are in church. Indeed, sometimes the behavior of the clergy up in the sanctuary is even worse.)

Worship, after all, is encounter with God,
and God is anything but safe.

Throughout Holy Scripture, therefore, we find the theme of danger with respect to the things of God, particularly the rites and appointments associated with the divine worship. Nowhere in Holy Scripture is worship portrayed as completely safe.

In this sense biblical worship is exactly the opposite of ‘seeker friendly,’ the adjective describing worship along lines dictated by the religious tastes of the uninitiated, worldly, unrepentant, and spiritually immature folks who are likely to drop in at church on Sunday morning.

Those that would draw near to God must resolve to feel uncomfortable (very much like Moses, when he was commanded to take off his shoes at the burning bush), at least until they become accustomed to the discipline of the worship.

The experience of the holiness of the true God is not native to man (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27-32; Hebrews 12:28-29).

These reflections pertain with special intensity to those charged with the oversight of divine worship, the stewards who safeguard the sacred mysteries (1 Corinthians 4:1-5; 6:9-11; Revelation 22:14-15).

It is instructive to observe that St. Paul warns such men (for Holy Scripture never envisions women in this ministry) especially against the evils attendant on the drinking of alcohol (1 Timothy 3:3; 2 Timothy 4:5).

This is to me what Orthodox worship is—biblical worship—and why I firmly believe that it is the heritage of all followers of Jesus. If we are to worship God in communal assembly at all, it is in the Divine Liturgy, which has been handed over to us as the heritage of the saints. Anything else that we do ‘at church’ can take any number of forms as needed, and as really necessary (not just to make pious busy-work). But worship is something that God thought was important enough to lay out for us, at first in the Torah for His original hereditary people Yisrael, and then with the coming of His Son, in the Divine Liturgy of the new Israel, the Church. That is one thing that ‘Orthodox’ means—straight worship—and there it stands as it has stood for centuries.

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