The Great Doxology

“First of all every holy rite begins with the doxology:  ‘Blessed is the kingdom of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ Intercourse with God consists of thanksgiving, doxology, confession, and petition.  The first of these is doxology, because when grateful servants approach their Master it is fitting that they should begin not by pushing their own affairs into the foreground, but should concentrate on those of their Master.  Such is the nature of doxology.

In petitioning we have in mind the advancement of our own interests.  In confession we seek to be delivered from evils, and accuse ourselves.  In giving thanks we clearly rejoice in the good things which we enjoy.  But in doxology we lay aside ourselves and all our interests and glorify the Lord for his own sake, for his power and his glory.  And so the very nature and the appropriateness of the act demand that the doxology should come first.  Immediately we approach God we recognize the inaccessibility and force and grandeur of his glory, and are filled with wonder and awe and similar feelings.  This is indeed doxology.  We go on to recognize this goodness and love for mankind, and this gives rise to thanksgiving.

Then we consider his exceeding goodness and the liberality of his love for mankind, counting our own wickedness as the first and sufficient proof of that generosity and liberality, for whatever our shortcomings he continues to crown us with blessings.  This is something which is near at hand within us, before our very eyes, and it proves to us more than anything else how much God loves mankind.  And so we remember our sins before God, and this is called confession.  The fourth element is petition.  It follows that we can be confident that our requests for our needs will be granted, for we have just learned something of God’s goodness and his love for mankind.

He who has been good to those who were still sinners will surely be more so to those who have repented, and have become righteous by avowing their sins, according to the words of the prophet: ‘First confess yours sins in order that you may be justified.”  (St Nicholas Cabasilas, A COMMENTARY ON THE DIVINE LITURGY,  pp 43-44)

Psalm 94: Let us Rejoice in the Lord

Come, let us greatly rejoice in the Lord; Let us shout aloud to God our savior; 2 Let us come before His face with thanksgiving, And let us shout aloud to Him with psalms. 3 For the Lord is a great God, A great King over all the gods;

4 For in His hand are the ends of the earth, And the heights of the mountains are His;

5 For the sea is His, and He made it, And His hands formed the dry land.

6 Come, let us worship and fall down before Him, And let us weep before the Lord who made us; 7 For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture And the sheep of His hand. Today, if you hear His voice, 8 “Do not harden your hearts as in the Rebellion, During the day of testing in the desert, 9 Where your fathers tempted Me; They tested Me, and saw My works. 10 For forty years I was treated with contempt by that generation, And I said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, And they do not know My ways’; 11 So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’ ”

(Psalm 94)

Prayer as Standing in God’s Presence

Moses standing in prayer

“First, then, to worship or to pray is to stand before God. Note immediately the wideness of St. Theophan’s definition. To pray is not necessarily to ask God for something; it need not even be to employ words, for often the deepest and most powerful of all prayers is simply to wait upon God in silence. But whether we are worshipping with words, through symbols and sacramental actions, or in silence, always our underlying attitude is the same: we are standing before God. To stand before God: this implies that worship is an encounter meeting between persons. The purpose of worship is not just to arouse emotions and to produce appropriate moral attitudes, but to enter into a direct and personal relationship with God the Holy Trinity. ‘As a friend talking with his friend,’ writes St. Symeon the New Theologian, ‘we speak with God, and with boldness we stand before the face of Him who dwells in light unapproachable.’ Here St. Symeon briefly indicates the two poles of Christian worship, the two contrasting aspects of this personal relationship: God ‘dwells in light unapproachable,’ yet we human beings are able to draw near ‘with boldness’ and to speak with Him ‘as a friend talking with his friend.’ God is beyond all being, infinitely remote, unknowable, ‘the Wholly Other,’ the mysterium tremendium et fascinans. But this transcendent God is at the same time a God of personal love, uniquely close, around us and within us, ‘everywhere present and filling all things’ (Orthodox prayer to the Holy Spirit).” (Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Inner Kingdom, pp 59-60)

Worship and Relationship

Hear the word of the LORD,
You children of Israel,
For the LORD brings a charge against the inhabitants of the land:
“There is no truth or mercy
Or knowledge of God in the land.   (Hosea 4:1)

For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,
And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.   (Hosea 6:6)

Commenting on Hosea 6:6,  biblical scholar Fr. Eugen J. Pentiuc writes:

This eternal will of Yahweh is revealed in v. 6.

‘For I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’

Note that ‘mercy’ is followed by ‘knowledge of God’ as in 4:1. Both virtues reflect the will or the delight of God in promoting a profound relationship with Israel. Yahweh is the Lord, and in this quality, he sets the moral standards and principles pertaining to the covenantal relationship with Israel. Yahweh does not reject worship as a whole but he criticizes the way Israel perceives it. Instead of a means to enter the relationship with God and to foster community ties, the worship becomes gradually a goal in itself (cf. Am 5:21ff.; Mic 6:6ff.).

A similar explanation may be found in Theodoret of Cyrus:

‘For I do not require sacrifices, I accept these sacrifices, condescending to the weakness of your mind. But I demand these two things: good will toward me, and love for your neighbor.’

Instead of cultivating the ‘knowledge of God’ and ‘mercy,’ Israel is more interested in bringing sacrifices (or sacrificial meals) and burnt offerings.” (Long-Suffering Love: A Commentary on Hosea with Patristic Annotations, p 99)

Every generation of Orthodox Christians has to also consider the words of the Lord.  We place emphasis on exacting and proper liturgy and rules of fasting, yet they are never to become ends in themselves.  Right worship and exacting piety, which we believe are important to the spiritual life, can never displace or preempt mercy and the knowledge of God in our spiritual lives.  Piety, asceticism and liturgy are to form our hearts so that we can have a proper relationship with God and neighbor.   If we come to see them as the goal of the spiritual life, we can lose the right relationship we are to have in loving God and loving neighbor.


Creation Worships God Through Us

“Through heaven and earth and sea,

through wood and stone,


through relics and Church buildings and the Cross,

through angels and people,

through all creation visible and invisible,

I offer veneration and honor to the Creator and Master and Maker of all things, and to him alone.

For the creation does not venerate the Maker directly and by itself, but it is through me that the heavens declare the glory of God,

through me the moon worships God, through me the stars glorify him,

through me the waters and showers of rain,

the dew and all creation, venerate God and give him glory.”

(Leontius of Cyprus – d. 1947,  in Beyond the Shattered Image: Insights into an Orthodox Christian Ecological Worldview, p 126)

Informed or Just Formed?

The other day a friend told me he had an insight while at the gym in the early morning before going to work.  He was watching Fox News and the news commentator said something to the effect that while normally they had only one story to tell to get the listeners fired up, that morning he had five stories to tell.  My friend told me he realized that the news, at least on Fox that morning, was not so much about news but about getting people fired up over issues.  The stories the commentator offered, relative to all else going on in the world, were not even that significant but all were aimed at the passions and getting ‘the base’ fired up.

Perhaps Lenten effort to reduce the passions pays off and some actually get insights into just how the media plays on our passions.  Some of it is because news channels are on the air 24/7 and really don’t have that much significant to say.  So they blather on about all kinds of issues which they hope will impassion the listener – just so the listener will stay tuned and come back for more.   They aim at getting their audience to react to what they say – not to think about it and whether it is even worth bothering about – but just to react.   It is manipulation of the passions.

I was in the car with my son on the same day that my friend spoke to me.  Playing on his car radio was a sports talk show.  What total insignificant drivel the host blathered on about.  Same problem – really not that much to talk about but his job is to fill his time on the airwaves.   You need people who can make whatever they are prattling about to sound very exciting – and hopefully to engage the listeners passionately so they will keep listening.

I tuned out of commercial TV and radio long ago.  Today when I happen to hear talk shows or news shows I find them boring and mindless and hard to listen to because they often have nothing significant to say, but they have to say it 24/7.   As I heard many years ago the real purpose of the shows is to keep you tuned in between commercials which are the real product commercial broadcasting is offering.  The ‘show’ just fills the time between commercials.  Talk show hosts are thus often nothing more than  tricksters aiming to see how long they can keep you listening to their nonsensical jabber.  Using emotional tricks – like hitting on something people might get passionate about even if it is insignficant – just to keep you attuned are tools of the trade.

Talk shows and politically driven “news” produce a heavy stream of hooey, hogwash, bunk, rot and rubbish, all to capture your attention in order to shape your mind.  Sadly, you are a witting and willing participant every time you tune in.  They can’t force themselves into your life, you choose to open the door of your mind to whatever nonsense they broadcast.  Even if you react negatively to what is said, they win as long as they keep you listening and reacting.

Much of what passes for news on commercial TV and radio these days is a mixture of sensational leads and headlines to draw you in, presented in an entertaining way to hold your attention, marketing to hijack your emotions,  and very intentionally selected stories which aim at not informing you, the listener, but forming you.  They are out after your heart and mind.  They want you to be passionate about the things they are passionate about.  It is formational more than informational.   They want to shape how you think in order to get you fired up about what they deem is important.  And there are a cadre of organizations which do nothing but test and measure the social climate to tell the media whether they are hitting a nerve with the listeners or not.

Fifteen hundred years before there was commercial media, St. Gregory of Nyssa (d. ca 390AD) said:

“It is in our power to remain unaffected by passion as long as we stay far away from the thing that enflames.”

It is perhaps Lenten advice – stay away from pornography and from commercial media and you will find you can control your passions.  The abstinence and fasting of Lent can work to improve our spiritual lives and help us regain control of our thinking by regaining control of our hearts and minds.  Don’t let your mind and heart be the slurry pit of commercial or social media!

Some more wisdom from St. Gregory of Nyssa:

“Those who look towards the true God receive within themselves the characteristics of the divine nature; so too, those who turn their minds to the vanity of idols are transformed into the objects which they look at.”

Commercial media is trying to form our hearts and minds.  And when we pay attention to them, we let them.  We enable them to transform our thinking, to enflame our passions, to color our worldview.   And what they are offering is not the Gospel, even if they try to convince you it is.   We allow our minds to be transformed by the things we turn to.   The power of Great Lent or just normal, daily Christian self-denial is to resist the efforts of others to take over our thinking.  Turn to God and you will become godly.  Keep attuned to the media and you will be “transformed into the objects which you look at.”  Not a pretty picture.

I saw an article in the April 2014 edition of THE SMITHSONIAN called, “Fast and Furious.”  In the short piece Matthew Shaer comments on studies which have been done measuring how fast various information travels on social media.  (And for the sake of full disclosure, just as I don’t watch or listen to commercial media, I’m not on Facebook or Twitter – it is a world I don’t appreciate).  The findings of the research:

“Joy moves faster than sadness or disgust, but nothing is speedier than rage.  The researchers found that users reacted most angrily – and quickly—to reports concerning ‘social problems and diplomatic issues’…   In many cases, these flare ups triggered a chain reaction of anger … in a widening circle of hostility.”

Professor Jonah Berger at the Wharton School says, “Anger is a high-arousal emotion, which drives people to take action.  It makes you feel fired up, which makes you more likely to pass things on.”

Another study showed that a reaction of sadness to news tended to deactivate people and they would “power down and withdraw.”   So the news media which has a political agenda for example does not want people to feel compassion as a result of their stories. That deactivates people.  So they tell stories to inflame anger as they know anger might compel people to act, even if in mindless rage.   Informing you about what is going on is less important than forming you – shaping how you see the world, what you value, what you despise, what you react to.

While anger is appropriate at times, in our culture it is becoming the sole emotion that politicians and news media want to stir up and then tap into.  That is because they too know how anger motivates.   Christianity however is more attuned to compassion for those who are suffering.  Think about the Good Samaritan story and how it might be retold today by a news outlet to get you angry so that you act as they want you to act.  Is the Good Samaritan really nothing more than a parable about  imposing health care on everyone?  The victim of the beating should have behaved more responsibly in the first place.  We are all victims and need government to intervene for us.

Professor Berger was involved in a study of the social media that found one more intriguing fact.

“The one emotion that outpaced anger in Berger’s story was awe, the feelings of wonder and excitement that come from encountering great beauty or knowledge…   ‘Awe…increases our desire for emotional connection and drives us to share.”

Perhaps standing in an Orthodox Church, we will be moved by awe to mercy and compassion for others.  That would be a great result of Lent, of turning away from being formed by the media, to being transformed by awe as we see the face of God in icons painted and living.

Worshiping in Beauty and Symbol

“Thus in our prayer we use words not just literally but beautifully; through poetic imagery – even if the texts are in rhythmic prose rather than rhymed stanzas – we endow the words with a new dimension of meaning.

We worship, moreover, not through words only but in a wide variety of other ways: through music, through the splendor of the priestly vestments,

through the color and lines of the holy icons, through the articulation of sacred space in the design of the church building,

through symbolic gestures such as the sign of the cross, the offering of incense, or the lighting of a candle,

and through the employment of all great ‘archetypes,’ of all the basic constituents of human life, such as water, wine and bread, fire and oil.”    (Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Inner Kingdom, pg. 63)

You will find links to my other photoblogs at My Photoblogs.

The Liturgy: Making US the Body of Christ

“… leitourgia. It meant an action by which a group of people become something corporately which they had not been as a mere collection of individuals – a whole greater than the sum of its parts. It meant also a function or ‘ministry’ of a man or of a group on behalf of and in the interest of the whole community. Thus the leitourgia of ancient Israel was the corporate work of a chosen few to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah. And in this very act of preparation they became what they were called to be, the Israel of God, the chosen instrument of His purpose. Thus the Church itself is a leitourgia, a ministry, a calling to act in this world after the fashion of Christ, to bear testimony to Him and His kingdom.”     (Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, p 25)

The Divine Liturgy

“The Divine Liturgy is a sublime creation which enables man to abide without despair in spite of his distance from God, because it is God’s own good pleasure to overshadow him each time he enters into His presence. We bring the best we can offer before God in the Liturgy.[…]

Throughout the history of the Church, the Liturgy has been the ‘place’ where Christians have learned to dwell in the presence of God and thereby to receive the life of God, Who is ‘the Bread of Life which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world’.

Created in God’s image and likeness, man’s deepest desire is for contact with his Creator: divine worship is therefore the main preoccupation of the spiritual person. It is in divine worship that man fulfils his true purpose, and in this he joins the feast of ‘the spirits of just men made perfect’ in the heavenly Jerusalem. He is sanctified and united to God in the Holy Eucharist through his partaking of the perfection of divine grace. Christ Himself is present in divine worship, according to His promise, especially in the Divine Liturgy. He dwells among His anointed and makes them His Church, His Body, of which He is the Head Who imparts life and the gifts of His Spirit to His members.” (Archimandrite Zacharias, Remember Thy First Love: The Three Stages of the Spiritual Life in the Theology of Elder Sophrony, pgs. 211-212)

Christmas Giving: Giving to Christ

“‘Therefore at his birth we kept festival, both I the leader of the feast, and you, and all that is in the world and above the world. With the star we ran, and with the magi we worshiped, and with the shepards we were surrounded by light, and with the angels we gave glory.’ (Oration 39.14). At Christmas he invited the faithful to join the magi, shepherds, and angels in a common act of worship celebrating the birth of God incarnate: ‘Run after the star, and bring gifts with the magi, gold and frankincense and myrrh, as to a king and a God and one dead for your sake. With the shepherds give glory, with the angels sing hymns, with the archangels dance. Let there be a common celebration of the heavenly and earthly powers.’ (Oration 38.17)” (Saint Gregory of Nazianzus in Festal Orations, pg. 28)