Worship in Spirit and Truth:
In this third reflection on worship in spirit and truth, which will be commentary on the Divine Liturgy as it’s now served in the Orthodox Church—the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great—we have to spend a little time reflecting on the origins of New Testamental worship—Orthodox Church worship to be most specific—the Divine Liturgies as we have them, their origins in the Old Testament, and the witness of the Old Testament as the preparation and prefiguration and the pedagogical process of formation of human beings to worship God in spirit and in truth in the final covenanted community of God with his creatures in Jesus the Messiah, in Christ, in the Christian Church.
And what we want to do today is very simple, and that is to reflect on how it is the conviction of the Holy Scriptures, and certainly the Orthodox Church tradition, that human beings are created from the beginning for worship in spirit and in truth, and that the tragedy of humanity, in humanity’s relation to God, is that from the very beginning the human beings rejected and refused their vocation and calling to worship God in spirit and in truth, and that this has led to all of the catastrophes and tragedies and sadnesses of humanity on the planet Earth.
Now if we want to understand New Testamental worship in spirit and truth, worship in Christ and the Holy Spirit, worship in the Church of Christ, we have to spend some time reflecting on the witness of the Holy Scriptures to God’s relationship with human beings and human beings’ relationship to God before the coming of Christ and to see how it’s really impossible—I would say really impossible—to understand Christian worship, to understand the Divine Liturgy, speaking very directly and specifically, we simply cannot understand the Divine Liturgy without understanding the Bible. Without understanding the Old Testament, without understanding how human beings are shaped and formed through God’s activity with creation—and very particularly from Abraham on with Israel—that leads up to Jesus, the seed of Abraham, Israel’s messiah, and the savior of the world, in whom and through whom, by God’s Holy Spirit, we can worship the Father in spirit and in truth.
And here I want to make a personal comment of my observation over 48 years of being a priest—and, you know, I’ve been in the Church since I was baptized in the Orthodox Church 72 years ago; this April it will be 72 years since I was baptized—and this comment would be the following: I know so much from my childhood and my seminary education and my pastoral service. I was the pastor of three different parishes; I was the pastor for five years of St. John’s church in Warren, Ohio—a kind of Americanized Carpatho-Russian church tradition of working people—and then I was pastor for ten years in St. Gregory the Theologian Church in Wappingers Falls, New York, which was a mission church made up of all different kinds of peoples and nationalities, we had all races and lots of converts; mostly educated people. And then I was the pastor in St. Nicholas Albanian Orthodox Church in Queens in New York City, which was virtually exclusively Albanian people…a couple of Romanians came, and then there were a handful of converts after I got there. And it wasn’t a large church; it had maybe a hundred or so people coming—coming and going—but in every one of those churches there was always this question of understanding the Divine Liturgy, explaining the Divine Liturgy. What does this Liturgy mean? Why do we do what we do? Why do we say what we say? And that was a perennial question in the Orthodox Church.
And so I was involved all my life in all kinds of discussion groups and conferences and pastoral instructions, trying to explain to people the meaning of the Divine Liturgy. Or, as one man in my Albanian church said when I first went there, he says, “Father, before you can teach us the meaning of anything, certainly the meaning of the Liturgy, you have to convince us that it has a meaning; that it has an objective meaning, that it just doesn’t mean anything we want it to mean, or anything that anyone says that it means.” And then—I can’t resist telling you—this man said to me, “And I think it’ll take you about a year to get our attention, and it’ll take another year for us to see if you’re really serious. Then the third year, we’ll say, ‘Gee, he seems to be serious,’ and maybe toward the fifth year we’ll be open to realizing that this does have an objective meaning that we are supposed to understand, conform ourself to, and perform, actually do, because we do the Liturgy when we come to church.”
But I also have to say that in this experience of my lifetime, that very often the Liturgy was explained symbolically. Certainly in my childhood and early years that’s the only way it was explained. You know: the prothesis of the Liturgy stands for Christmas; and then the Liturgy of the Word stands for Jesus’ coming to preach to the world; and then, you know, the altar boys stand for angels, or for John the Baptist bringing his candle; in the procession of the Little Entrance, the Little Entrance symbolizes Christ’s coming into the world to teach; and then the Great Entrance symbolizes Christ’s coming into the world to be crucified; then the Eucharistic Prayer symbolizes his sacrificial offering; and then Communion is when he’s raised from the dead and ascends into heaven; and so on. It was almost purely symbolical, and it was almost presented like an audiovisual aid.
And a lot of the commentaries on the Divine Liturgy at that time were explained that way. But I would say it was only in more recent time, with people like Fr. Alexander Schmemann and others, that we saw that this is certainly, you know, a way of doing it, but it’s a very external way. It makes the Liturgy almost just like an audiovisual aid or a teaching tool, where we then simply understand it with our brain or something, and think about certain things that are going on during the Liturgy. And this was particularly popular when people couldn’t understand the Liturgy, when it was done in languages that were not understood by the people. So it was given symbolical meaning that they then psychologically meditated upon. There are actually Liturgy books that do this; they tell the people what they should meditate on during each part of the Divine Liturgy.
But I came to believe, on the basis of my teachers, that this is not the deepest way, this is not the truest way, this is not the even the rightest way, so to speak, the most correct way of understanding what’s going on. We have to understand what we are doing there, what’s happening to us, what we are going through, why we are doing what we are doing and what it means for our life, because leitourgia—the word leitourgia—means a common work, a common action. It’s a work. It’s a work that we do, and the Liturgy is not simply an audiovisual aid that we just look at and get some explanations. In fact, I think that many of the great teachers of Liturgy—certainly people like Fr. Schmemann, maybe even the great scholar Robert Taft—would say you do it first, and then you understand afterwards what you have done and why you are doing it. The words are put into your mouth. St. Benedict said that, way back in the fourth century. When you go to church to pray, you don’t put your mouth where your mind is; you put your mind where your mouth is. You go through rituals, you say things, you do things, and then you come to understand what they mean and why you do them; but you can’t understand them until you do them. And then you understand that there’s all levels of meaning, there’s all kinds of meaning that are there once you do it. But the first thing you have to do is do it.
And here I think that, historically, this would be the case. In the time when there was a catechumenate, the people were taught the Scriptures. They were taught the great mystery of salvation of God on the earth, they were taught about the pedagogy of the Old Testament, they were taught what Jesus taught in the Gospel, they were taught about the Cross, the Death, the Resurrection. Then they came to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God and raised from the dead, and then they were baptized into his name, and then they were sealed with the Spirit. Then they did the Divine Liturgy, which they had not done before; they had only done the Liturgy of the Word before, as we’ll see. They were taught, but they never experienced the Eucharistic part of the Liturgy or, so to speak, the sacrificial meal, mystical supper part of the Liturgy. But then they were prepared to do that, on the basis of what they had learned, so they didn’t need to have an explanation about it. It became self-evidently clear because of what they had been taught and what they had come to believe, until the time when they actually entered into the Liturgy and did it.
Well, what happened, of course, in history was that people saw the Liturgy from their earliest years without much explanation, without much teaching at all, if any. People came and watched it, and then they wanted to know what the symbols meant: this symbolized this, this symbolized that, and it was a kind of symbol system. But there was no rootedness in the Scripture, in the word of God, and in any kind of catechesis having to do with the Gospel.
So I became convinced (and I’m very much convinced of this) that if people—we people—understand the Holy Scripture—and I don’t mean selected texts that then we use for battling with others; because, you know, many people use the Bible to pick out favorite texts and so especially the Protestants do that to attack Catholics or Orthodox, and then the Orthodox will pick their texts and so on—but we need to have a Scriptural mind. We have to be immersed in the Scriptural story, we have to have a view of reality that is formed and shaped and illumined by the word of God in the Holy Spirit. And what that means is, simply put, I believe, that if we would understand the Scriptures, if we would be immersed in the Scriptures, if we would contemplate the Scriptures, we would not have to have lessons or classes on the meaning of the Divine Liturgy. It would be absolutely clear to us. So I do believe that Bible study, so to speak, in the proper way—reading the Scripture through the lens of the crucified, raised, and glorified Christ, illumined by the Holy Spirit; reading the Scripture as it’s written; and reading all of it, and not just the parts we like; and going through the difficult parts from the beginning; and having a Scriptural mind—then we will simply see what the Liturgy is and what we are doing when we do it. And when we do it and when we are told what to do, on the basis of our understanding of the words of God in Holy Scripture we’ll understand immediately what it is that we are doing.
So I guess what I want to say here, very simply, is this: if we had very good, competent, sober, patient Scripture study—if we knew the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets—I would even say at least even superficially, and then if we knew Matthew, Mark, and Luke—not to speak about John and Paul—but at least Matthew, Mark, and Luke, just, you know, in the data, what it’s all about, then we could understand the Liturgy without much trouble at all, and we could experience it very deeply and truly and genuinely and authentically. It would become clear to us. But it’s also true, then, that if we don’t have this Biblical foundation, if we have not reflected the Scriptures, if we are not familiar—I would even put it in Sunday school language—if we’re not familiar with the stories of the Bible, so to speak, even the great events of the Scripture, we’ll never understand really deeply and truly what we’re doing at the Divine Liturgy.
And then if we have all kinds of, you know, explanations based on symbolisms, it doesn’t touch our real life at all. It would be like going to the movies. Going to the movies doesn’t touch our real life at all. We may see a nice film, we may be inspired by it, we may cry, we may weep, we may get angry, we may be whatever; but it doesn’t have anything to do directly with what we are doing and what we are supposed to do when we are doing and living our life in the Divine Liturgy, looking at the Liturgy as if it were going to the movies. And one of my more cynical friends once said that in many churches—in many Orthodox churches—the only thing that’s missing is the popcorn. And of course, you can’t eat the popcorn, because allegedly you should be fasting before you go to the Liturgy, especially if you’re going to have Holy Communion. But we have an auditorium, we have a stage, we have actors, we have ushers, we have programs, we have nice padded seats. We’re brought in by an usher, we’re sat in our seat, we take out our little program, and then we observe what is going on, and then we get edified or not edified, or we understand or not understand, and then we go home. But we don’t realize that that’s not what we’re doing when we go there! We’re going there to do something ourselves—to do many things ourselves—in that particular activity, because the Liturgy is done by everyone who is gathered there, led by the proistamenos—the presiding officer of the Liturgy, the priest—and then with the other cocelebrants: the deacons, the subdeacons, the servers, the singers, the choir. It’s something that we do.
So we shouldn’t go to the Church like we’re going to a theater. Now, even in non-Orthodox churches, we see similar things. I remember the terrifying sentence of Rozanov, one Russian philosopher, a Jew who became a Christian, who went to Western Europe to worship, and he said, “That’s not worship. It’s a concert and a lecture.” So in many churches, worship is a concert and a lecture. There’s some songs that are sung, sometimes very beautifully, by various choirs, and then the leader gives a lecture, a long sermon, and that’s what constitutes the so-called worship. Then we have in more liberated, modernized churches now, you know, with liberal, you know, the megachurch types, where you have singing, and you have even dancing, and you have, you know, percussion instruments, and then you have lines given up and shot on screens and everything. Well that’s, you know, it’s something, not bad, probably, but it could hardly be called worship, when we understand it relative to the Holy Scriptures and the Bible, and to what the Liturgy was among Christians from the earliest time down to this day.
And then, of course, in the Roman tradition and some of our Orthodox traditions, the Mass, or the Liturgy, was considered to be done by the celebrants. The people just attended. They observed. Sometimes they didn’t even go to Communion. All they did was to say, “Amen,” and often, “Amen,” to they didn’t even hear or know what the prayers are that were being said. And so you even had expressions like, “I’m going to hear Mass,” “Did you hear Mass today?” with the idea that it was something that was done only by the clergy, sometimes even only by the priest, assisted by other clergy.
So there’s huge problems, huge problems with worship for Christians, but I would say the hugest problem, the biggest problem, is that we are not steeped in the Bible. We’re not steeped in the Holy Scriptures. We haven’t attained what Fr. Florovsky called the Scriptural Mind, and we don’t know even the stories there. So our ability to understand the Divine Liturgy, to do it properly, to experience it deeply and fully and ever, always ever more deeply and ever more fully, because it can never be exhausted. The understanding of the Liturgy, the experience of the Liturgy is never exhausted. And when a person is living a vibrant life that’s really awake and alive and Christian and striving and praying, as a matter of fact, the witness would be that every time you do the Liturgy it’s different. You could do the Liturgy three times a week and it’s different every single time. You never grow tired of it. It’s always something new, it’s always something revelatory, it’s always something different, it’s always showing something new. As Gregory of Nyssa said, when you deal with God, it’s as if God is revealing Himself differently all the time, you know. But that can only happen if the person doing the Liturgy, the people involved in the Liturgy, are contemplating the words of God in Scripture, have made this part of their very life—as St. Seraphim of Sarov would say, is that the Scriptural words and the spirit of the Scripture would be like the blood that flows through the veins of the Body of Christ, which the Church is—only when that is happening can the worship really be true worship in spirit and truth. Otherwise it’s dead and empty ritual, you know, and without the Holy Spirit, that’s what it is. Without the Holy Spirit and without the word of God dwelling in us, without the power and grace of God in us, then worship services can just be either entertainment, or formal dead rituals, or ceremonies of another time, or just boring pieces from a museum performed by liturgical actors.
So this is a huge, huge issue, a huge problem. How does the worship really be worship? How is the Liturgy really worship in spirit and truth? How does that actually happen? And what we want to say from the beginning—and this is our point today—is that we have to really go through the Holy Scriptures and see what’s going on there and how this was all fashioned and formed and completed in Jesus Christ on the Cross and vivified by the Holy Spirit. Because again, the Holy Spirit is essential, as we’re going to see. The invocation of the Spirit is the very first act of the Divine Liturgy. We’re invoking the Spirit all the time through the Liturgy. We’re invoking the Spirit upon ourselves and upon the word of God that we read in the Gospel and upon the bread and the wine that we offer to God. And as the present patriarch of Antioch once said in a very memorable sermon I heard him give—I never forgot it—he said that without the Holy Spirit, Christianity just is not what it is. He said mission becomes propaganda, preaching becomes a harangue or a formal mental instruction, philanthropy becomes social work, and rituals of the Liturgy become empty and dead rites. That’s what happens when the Holy Spirit is not there. And the Church, then, is a just a human institution like any other human institution, doing various acts and saying various words that are not really inspired and vivified and anointed and made alive by God Almighty himself.
So we have to have this worship in spirit and truth. That’s what Christ is asking from us and that’s what he has given us in himself, in his body, by his Spirit, in the Church which is his body, as St. Paul said, “the fullness of him who fills all in all.” But the Church of Christ, the qahal Mashiah, the assembly of the Messiah, is the qahal Yahweh of the Old Testament, is the assembly of the people of the Old Testament. And what we want to see in the next several reflections is how worship is absolutely central in the Bible, and how human beings are created to be worshipping beings, and how the whole of the Old Testament—the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets—is centered in worship of the true and real God. It’s real worship of the real God. And the big enemy, as we’ll see in the Scripture, is idolatry. The latreia (latreia is the Greek word for worship) of idols, of that which is not God. And we’ll see in the Holy Scripture that the very center of human life is to worship God, to have the real worship of the real God, the genuine worship of the genuine God, the living worship of the living God. And we have to work hard and pray hard and invoke the Spirit upon ourselves every day and every minute so that this would actually happen.
Now today, to begin this, Biblical reflections as the prefiguration and the preparation for worship in spirit and truth in the final covenanted community, in the Church of Christ—and therefore specifically the Divine Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great—we want to spend a few sessions here reflecting on this preparatory material in, as it’s given to us in, the Holy Scripture. And today we have just one point to see, just one point to contemplate. And that is that it is clearly the Biblical teaching—it’s certainly the understanding of the Scripture, of the Old Testament Scripture through the light of Christ—that human beings are created, male and female, from the very beginning to be worshippers of God, that worship was the very heart of human life, that human beings, you might say, before they are anything else they are worshippers. They are true worshippers of the true God. We’re created to worship God. And you could say, “Well, man, that sounds kind of awful, in some sense, that God would just create us all so that we would worship him.” Well, it is the truth. God created us for worship; but for our sake, not for his. It’s the clear teaching of Holy Scripture: God does not need our worship. God does not need us to worship him. We need to worship him. And he wants us to worship him because it’s the most natural and normal thing for a creature to do and it’s how the creature finds and fulfills himself as a creature and, very particularly, as a creature made in the image and according to the likeness of God himself. This is the conviction.
Now to put it another way, we can just put it this way: if God exists, and God creates us, and if he calls us into being, and we are creatures, and he is God, then the relationship automatically, organically, you might say, necessarily, and essentially is characterized by worship. Because if God is God, and I’m not God, and God has made me, and then I relate to God, what do I do? Well, I automatically, so to speak, spontaneously would worship him. I would say, “You are great, O God. You created me, O God,” and I would thank him and I would praise him and I would want to know him and I would see all of creation in the light of the God who created me. So if we simply have a doctrine of creation—and certainly, Christianity has a doctrine of creation, it’s simply a dogma of the Christian faith, with other people as well, but certainly for Christians—that the world is a creature. The world is created. As St. Augustine said, everything in creation—all the stars, the moon, the planets, the Sun, and everything—are constantly crying out, “I am a creature! I am a creature, I am a created being! I don’t have being in myself; I don’t have life in myself; it was a grace, it was a gift given to me.”
Now if we take that very understanding and put it in terms of the Gospel—and we said that all of this is going to be evangelical, it’s going to have to be in terms of the glad tidings of God that are ultimately perfectly fulfilled in the coming of Christ, his death and resurrection, glorification, and the sending of the Spirit and the bringing of the Kingdom of the God to the world—then we can say that from the very beginning, the good news, the glad tidings of great joy is we are creatures of God. God made us. God made us to know him, to love him, to serve him, to be with him, to share his life. As one patristic writer, Dionysius Areopagite, says in his Mystical Theology, the first line he says: “O Trinity,” you know, O Triade, “O Holy Trinity, beyond being, beyond goodness, beyond even divinity,” you know, “glory to you, who has created us,” to—and then he had three things that we’re to do—to image him, to resemble him, to imitate him in our behavior—to imitate his behavior in our behavior—and to do so by participating in his divine life. And so the only way we have access to participate in God’s divine life is by worship, is by staying in a relationship with God, in communion with God, through glorifying his name by the keeping of his commandments.
And so the keeping of the commandments of God—in other words, doing the will of God, showing that we love God by doing what God wants us to do, even by being what God wants us to be—the very heart of that reality will be worship. That’s why the Holy Fathers say that worship is not something extraneous to our being; it’s something that is essential to our being. To worship God is not something that, ultimately, we do; it’s something that we are. We are worshipping beings and therefore we do it. And here the Aristotelian principle would be invoked in our Church tradition; namely, that what a being is, that’s how a being acts. Agere sequitur esse, they say in Latin, action follows being. But if we are what we are, as made in the image and likeness of God, namely, creatures of God made in his image and likeness to imitate, resemble, participate in his divine life—and we’ll see that for Christians, this would mean the inner life of the Holy Trinity itself—to have the communion with the one true and living God as Abba (Father) that the eternal Son and Word of God has with God from before the foundation of the world, that very Son and Word who is incarnate on Earth as Jesus Christ, who gives himself to us as Word in the Divine Liturgy and as Bread of Life in the Divine Liturgy and as Lamb of God in the Divine Liturgy, by the Holy Spirit, who performs all of the activities of God, fulfills everything of God, so we’re created to live within the life of the three divine Persons of the Holy Trinity. That’s what we’re created for.
And so our worship would be in some sense, we could say, the worship of the Son of God for the Father in the Holy Spirit that exists in the Trinity before the foundation of the world. Now, you can say, “Does the Son really worship the Father?” Well, in some sense the Son of God does, even as God, because he says, “You are glorified, O Father, you are to be thanked, you are to be praised, you begot me divinely from your very own being, and therefore I have no being and life except what being and life that you have given to me, even in a divine manner, from before the foundation of the world.” And this is done by the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, as the Holy Fathers and Scriptures say, and rests in the Son of God.
So we see that our being created by God is to enter into the uncreated life of the blessed Trinity, so that, being made in the image and likeness of God for everlasting life through the keeping of the commandments, it is a creaturely actualization and realization of the very life of the three divine Persons. And what we see today, and want to see today, is that we are created for that very purpose from the very beginning, and if we don’t understand that, we’ll never understand the Divine Liturgy and we’ll never do it properly. And as long as we talk about it and explain it and say, you know, “What does this symbolize?” “What does that symbolize?” we are very very far from the reality of what is really going on. In fact, I would almost say we’re estranged from the reality, because it’s only, then, a mental action of operation about rituals and symbols and words, rather than an entering into it and becoming what is actually done there, from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit, in the worship in spirit and in truth.
So what we want to see is that, from the very beginning, we’re created for worship. And then we want to see that it’s the refusal of worshipping God, listening to God, adoring God, thanking God, that is the primordial sin of humanity. And here the stories of Genesis are absolutely essentially important. If we read the very first two chapters, three chapters, of Genesis, it’s all there. It’s all there from the beginning. What is there? What is there is that God Almighty, by his Word and by his Spirit, he speaks and he breathes upon the nothingness, and that’s the first victory of God, is the victory of God over nothingness in creation. You know, our theme throughout these reflections is going to be victory. Well, the first victory of God is the victory over nothingness, the victory over chaos, the victory over darkness, the victory over the void, the victory over the primal waters that stand for the rebellion against God symbolically in the Genesis stories.
So God says, “Let there be light.” That’s the first victory, that his light shines, the uncreated light of God shines into the darkness, and then God sees that it’s good. And then there’s evening and morning, one day, and we’re going to speak about this meaning of evening and morning later on, why the Liturgy of the Church always begins in the evening, and then the Eucharist is normally celebrated in the morning, when the light comes up. But we’ll talk about that later, certainly we will, very often and very much.
But at the same time, from the beginning, we see that God, if you take the two stories of Genesis, he creates everything: you know, the waters, the animals, the plants, the trees, the stars, the moon, everything. It’s all…they’re all creatures, and here we would say—we won’t get into this too much, but we’ll simply state it—that all the creatures of God are worshipping God by their very being. “The sun sings to thee, the moon glorifies thee, the stars meet together in your presence,” as we say in the prayer over the waters on the feast of the Epiphany in the Orthodox Church. We can sing the song of the three youths in the fiery furnace: “Praise the Lord, sun and moon! Praise the Lord, snow and rain! Praise the Lord, frost and heat! Praise the Lord, beasts of the fields! Praise the Lord, fish of the sea! Praise the Lord, birds of the air!” and all the creatures are praising God by their very being.
Now, the creature made in the image and likeness of God—the human creature, male and female—has to praise God voluntarily, freely. It has to be a logiki latreia, it has to be a worship that is spiritual, reasonable, human, not beastly or vegetative, and that requires freedom. That requires a self-offering to God, it requires giving God honor and glory, voluntarily, freely, and that is what human beings are called to do, and that’s the worship in spirit and in truth. The free and voluntary self-offering of God in thankgiving and praise and glory and petition, by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s what we’re created for from the very beginning.
Now, what we want to see here, to end this particular reflection, is that the Apostle Paul, in the first chapter of the letter to the Romans, he says this in so many words, beginning at the 18th verse of Romans 1, and I would beg you to read the first chapter of Romans today or tomorrow—get your Bible out and read Romans 1—if you can’t read it all, at least read from the 18th verse to the end, and if you really want to have a deeper understanding, read even the second chapter, chapter 1 and 2. Because what is said there—what does St. Paul say?—what he says is this: “the wrath of God is,”—I’m reading from the Revised Standard Version—“the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men, who by their wickedness suppress the truth.” So there’s a suppression of truth going on. The minute you refuse to worship God and be what God made you to be, you’re suppressing the truth, because the truth is, you are a creature and God exists and that’s the ultimate truth.
And it’s interesting that in the King James Version, this sentence says: “For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” That’s what it says literally in Greek: “who hold the truth in unrighteousness,” you see, “who hold tin alitheian en adikia.” It’s a strange expression, but it means, “We know the truth, we hold the truth, but we’re unrighteous and therefore we try to suppress it. We try to deny it. We don’t affirm it, we don’t accept it.” There’s a suppression going on. And then the Apostle continues (I’m reading now from RSV again) “For what can be known of God,”—it says “about God” in the RSV—“is plain to them because God has shown it to them.” In the King James it says this: “Because that which may be known of God is manifested in them, for God has showed it unto them.” And here this is again closer to the Greek. It says literally in Greek, “for that which is known of God” and not “about God”, because all the Holy Fathers say it’s one thing to know God, and it’s one thing to know about God. Well, here is not speaking about information about God, it’s speaking about a very knowledge of God himself, by communion.
Now, “What can be known of God is revealed en avtis,”—“in them”, you see—“for God has manifested himself to them.” So the claim is that we should just know God, who is revealing himself to us, just by being what God created us to be, if we do not suppress the truth. Then it continues—reading from the RSV—“ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” In the King James Version, it’s put this way: “for the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and godhead, so that they are without excuse.” Now again, that’s pretty close to the Greek, because what it says literally in it, what it says is: “For ta aorata avtou,”—“the invisibles of God”, “the invisible things of him”—“from creation itself of the world, by the things that were made, are to be understood clearly,” “to be seen clearly.” And then it says, “and those things are the everlasting power and divinity,” dynamis (power) and theiotis (divinity or godhead). So it says, “we are without excuse,” it continues. Because we’re supposed to know the eternal divinity and power of God, because they’re clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So it says (RSV), “So they are without excuse. For although they knew God,”—and here’s the sentence we want—“they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.” In the King James it says, “Because that when they knew God they glorified him not as God, neither were they thankful, but they became vain in their imaginations, in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” In the RSV it says, “They became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.”
So the claim is, to know God and to live properly, you have to give God two things: doxa, which is glory, and evcharistia, which is thanksgiving, where you get the word “Eucharist”. So the teaching is very clear: to be human we have to be, Fr. Alexander Schmemann would have said, doxological, eucharistic beings. If we are not doxological, if we don’t offer God doxologia or doxa (glory), if we do not offer God evcharistia (thanksgiving), then we are plunged into darkness. And then, inevitably, we become idolaters. We start worshipping things other than the true God, because the worship of the true God is always doxa, glory, and thanksgiving, evcharistia, Eucharist. And we’re going to see that the St. John Liturgy and the St. Basil Liturgy is nothing but doxology and Eucharist. It’s thanksgiving and glory. We praise God, we worship God, we hymn God, we sing to God, we thank God. That’s what it’s about. But we do so through Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit, which is what we were created to do and to be from the very beginning.
So this failure of offering God doxa and evcharistia (glory and gratitude) blinds ourselves to God’s dynamis and theiotis (his power and divinity) and the invisible things of God (ta aorata theou), and so we just don’t know God, and then we are plunged into the futility of thinking. And it says in the RSV, “Our senseless minds were darkened.” In the King James it says, “Their foolish heart was darkened.” In Greek, the word is definitely “heart”, it is not “mind”, because worship is a matter of the heart, ultimately, not of the mind, in the Greek sense of the term, but of the heart, in the Biblical sense of the term, which is the very center, the very core of our being, from which everything emerges. Everything emerges from our heart, in the Bible.
So then what happens? It says because of all this, “Claiming to be wise,”—I’m reading RSV—“they became fools. They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.” And then I’ll just keep reading: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and,”—now here we have it—“they worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”
So what happens is this: if you’re not worshipping and giving glory and thanksgiving to God, you are then necessarily worshipping idols, whatever those idols might be. Here it speaks about images resembling mortal men, birds, animals, reptiles, but these idols, according to the New Testament, can be much more subtle. It could be the idol of our own imagination, the idol of our own desire. Our belly can be an idol. Money becomes our idol. There’s all kinds of idols that we worship. St. Paul will call greed idolatreia (the worship of idols), and the Bible is very clear: we are either worshipping God or we’re worshipping idols, but we’re never worshipping nothing. Here the Holy Fathers would say, following Scripture, that human beings are always worshipping something. Even atheists are worshipping something. Atheists are worshipping their own mind, their own reasoning, but they’re not worshipping the God who made them.
So everything is rooted in worship from the very beginning. And when there is a refusal of worship of the true God by true human beings in the true way, the result is disaster. The result is tragedy. The result is the cause of all problems and miseries on the face of the Earth. And that’s what Romans 1 continues to say. It says when this happens, “Therefore, God gave them up to the lusts of their hearts, to impurity, to dishonoring their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and they worshipped and served,” and you have latreia, and then serving, working, from ergon, you know, their Liturgy and their worship is to “the creature rather than to the Creator.” Then it says, “And because of this,” it continues, “for this reason,”—RSV—“God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural. The men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passions for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”
So the point of St. Paul says, if you don’t worship the true God in the true way, you’re plunged into homosexual passions and feelings and actions. That’s the root of all these things. And then he continues, St. Paul, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God,”—and that word would mean to confess God, even to thank God, that word can be in Greek, “they refused to cry out to God,” “they refused to give God the glory,”—then, what happens is, God gives them up “to a base mind, to improper conduct,” and then it says, the result is they are “filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, hearthless, and ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die,”—and if you don’t worship God, you die; that’s what happened to Adam and Eve, the minute they touched that tree of the knowledge of good and evil, their rebellion against God, they died, spiritually died and then physically died—“they not only do them but approve those who practice them.” Then the Apostle continues, if we know these things, we have no excuse, because if we really say that this is the truth, then what are we doing? How are we living? And then St. Paul immediately turns his attention to the behavior of his fellow Jews and the fellow human beings who claim to believe in God, but in fact are hypocrites, and they’re not really worshipping God, even though they’re claiming to be.
So this is what we have there, that all the tragedy, all the misery, all the sin, comes from the refusal of knowing God through worship: offering doxa and evcharistia. So this is what we see, that when human beings do not hold God in their knowledge; that’s what it would really be saying in Greek: “inasmuch as they did not see fit to hold in,” epignosei, “in knowledge the one true God, God then gives them up to the reprobate mind and to do all the things which are impure and unholy.” And then you have that incredible list there. It’s an incredible list; it’s even terrifying to read.
So what we want to see from the beginning—and that’s it for today—is that we are created to be worshipping beings, and the primordial sin, or if you like that expression, the original sin of humanity, of Adam and Eve, is the refusal of worship. And once you refuse the worship of the true God, you don’t worship nothing. As G.K. Chesterton once wrote, you worship anything. And so the big battle will be between the one true God and the false gods; between the one true God, who really is and lives and acts and is our God, and the idols who are not God, but are fabrications of creatures, because they suppressed the truth and refused to glorify and worship and obey the real God.
So that’s the tragedy from the beginning. So what we have to understand is the tragedy of false worship. Worship that is not in spirit and not in truth and not of the real God is the result of our refusal to worship the true God, as God asks us and creates us to do. Once that happens it’s over. And then you have people worshipping everything and nothing and God knows what, and that’s simply the story of humanity from the very beginning: rebellion from the start, and then foolishness and darkness and ignorance and idolatry ever after. But God does not give up on us; he continues to act and through the Old Testament he tries to restore the proper worship among human beings, which will then ultimately end up, finally, in the worship of the New Covenant in Christ in spirit and in truth, that we Orthodox believe that we are actually doing and performing and enacting and working when we celebrate the Divine Liturgy.
So we will continue to reflect more on the Old Testamental worship, especially as God begins to interact with the sinful people to restore the proper worship that will then be fulfilled in Christ. And we cannot understand what is fulfilled in Christ unless we first understand what God was doing with human beings, very particularly in his people Israel, until the coming of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus, for the salvation of the entire world.