Emotions and Worship

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If there is any criticism we get from non-Orthodox Christians (and on occasion from some Orthodox Christians as well), it is that we seem so stoic in worship; there is no spontaneity in our liturgy. We read from a book when we celebrate a service and we read from the same book, week after week. We sing from prepared texts according to a tonal system that all Orthodox churches throughout the world observe. Our services, some claim, can be so boring.

How does one respond to this in the age of the Sesame Street Culture that shapes the view of so many in today’s world? I can first respond by saying emotions are deceptive. What one “feels” does not always define reality and truth. Healthy habits in life are never learned or defined by emotions. Habits are behaviors. If we are ruled by our emotions, we will never stand on solid ground when it comes to anything in life.

When it comes to worship, we begin with something earthly, which we aim to transform into something heavenly, something “not of this world.” We seek to encounter God the Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. The idea that this is a “fun thing to do” just doesn’t make sense. Look at the many people in the Old and New Testaments who encountered God; it wasn’t always, nor necessarily, fun. They fell flat on their faces in awe, in fear and trembling, transcending worldly notions of “fun”, and yet found something marvelous to ponder: “Lord it is good for us to here.”

So we don’t sing hymns designed primarily to stimulate our emotions. Our clergy read the petitions of the liturgy in a monotone chant. They do not get theatrical and emotional as they read the petitions. If they did, we would be comparing priest-to-priest and choir-to-choir. We would begin to define our experience of Church by which priest or choir made us feel best about ourselves when the service was over. Church would quickly become a personality cult and we would never encounter anything beyond an emotionally driven experience.

The more I think about this, the more I see the need to write more. So I will continue with this topic next week. I need to speak more on how we might view our emotions in worship. We are not robots.

As we complete the remainder the Advent Fast, let us look ahead in joyful anticipation to the celebration of the Lord’s Nativity. Let us go to the manger and cave in Bethlehem to encounter the newborn child — Who is God become man, and Who comes to makes us whole.

The Lord’s blessing be upon you,
The unworthy +Paul

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