Archive for October 31st, 2008

Prayer and Worship

October 31, 2008

In answer to a question on the difference between prayer and worship, Archimandrite Zacharias, one of the Elders at the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex, England, had this to say:

Worship is a more general term and an all-embracing life, while prayer is an activity of worship. Worship is more like the exchange of man’s life for the life of God, which takes place in the Divine Liturgy, for example. The Divine Liturgy is worship; there is prayer and a whole life there, the life of Christ. In the Holy Eucharist, we accomplish the exchange of our limited and temporal life for the unlimited and infinite life of God. We offer to God a piece of bread and a little wine, but in that bread and wine, we place all our faith, love, humility, expectation of Him, all our life. And we say to God, ‘Thine own of thine own, we offer unto Thee in all and for all.’ We offer to God all our life, having prepared ourselves to come and stand before Him and do this act. And God does the same: He accepts man’s offering and He puts His life – the Holy Spirit – in the gifts, transmaking them into His Body and Blood, in which all the fullness of Divinity is present, and He says to man, ‘The Holy things unto the holy.’ God accepts our gifts and fills them with His life, and He renders them back to us. Consequently, we could say that worship is a more complete thing. In prayer also, we make that exchange, but it is more unilateral.

As I read Fr. Zacharias’ words, I thought of the many times I’ve been asked about the difference between “veneration” and “worship.” Since prayer is generally the only part of worship known to many Christians, they are understandably thrown off balance when they enter an Orthodox Church and see people bowing and crossing themselves before the icons, kissing them, etc. And they hear us make prayers to saints as well as God and they immediately hear echoes of the Ten Commandments (“thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image,” etc.).

I have found over the years that one of the problems in explaining the difference between veneration and worship, is that many people know very little about worship itself. The honor given an icon is nothing like the exchange in the Eucharist. The saints do not feed us with their life – they, like us, only have life as they share in the life of God. They have nothing to give us but God. Fr. Zacharias’ words, taken from his book, The Hidden Man of the Heart, are like all his words – profound, but clear.

Tomorrow I celebrate liturgy in Dallas along with other priests from across the diocese and the country. In the service, Archimandrite Jonah Paffhausen will be consecrated as Bishop of Fort Worth, and Auxiliary to Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas and the South. In fact, they will be ordaining a deacon and a priest as well. Even by Orthodox standards, it promises to be a long morning – but full of glory.