What is "Worship"?
Throughout the holy Scriptures, the worship of God is described in physical, earthly ‘symbols’. Only in a few places—where God has allowed one of His servants to see behind the symbol, is the veil pulled back. What is clear is that worship is more than a culturally-conditioned set of rituals—rather, we learn from Scripture that worship is something that happens, in a particular way, among the saints and the angels in God’s Heavenly Kingdom. We also learn that we can participate in this Heavenly worship here and now, when we conform our own visible worship to the pattern of Heavenly worship.
What is meant by ‘symbol’? When speaking of worship we use the word ‘symbol’, not in its modern sense (an insignia that stands as a reminder of something that is absent), but rather in its ancient sense (a visible sign that reveals, and allows participation in, something that is invisibly present). For example, when we speak of the altar in an Orthodox Church, it is a symbol in that it reveals, and allows participation in, the Heavenly Altar of God which is actually present. Because of this affinity, when we celebrate the Divine Liturgy we do not simply stand before a replica that calls to mind a Heavenly altar ‘somewhere up there’—rather, we really and truly stand before the Heavenly altar of God.
St. John, the writer of the Gospel which bears his name, also wrote an account of a vision he was granted—this is referred to as his Apocalypse (‘uncovering’) or Revelation. John was celebrating the Sunday-morning Divine Liturgy (“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day,” Revelation 1:10)—and behind the visible symbols that surrounded him was revealed the reality of the Heavenly worship in which he was participating. The next few chapters describe angelic and saintly worship in Heaven in details that are still a part of Orthodox Christian worship to this day.
More explicitly, when God instructed the Prophet Moses how to make the tent, the altars, and various vessels used in worshipping Him, He said, “You shall make for me everything according to what I show you on the mountain. According to the pattern of the tent, and the pattern of all its implements; this is how you shall make them.” (Exodus 25:8/9 and repeatedly thereafter) Moses was to make worship conform to the manner in which Heavenly worship takes place, and this pattern of worship would be fulfilled, not abolished, in Jesus Christ’s own self-offering. Because of His self-sacrifice, Christians no longer give blood or grain offerings, but now our worship centers around participation in the eternal self-offering by Jesus Christ of His own Body and Blood.
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