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Watching the Clock

Orthodox-Candle-Lighting1This is a guest post by regular reader orthojaxy.  She is a former Latter-day Saint who recently was baptized into the Orthodox faith.

I love listening to the sermons that my priest gives at our Greek Orthodox parish. This week he told us that he does not wear a watch once Orthros begins; he does not keep track of time. Divine Liturgy follows directly after Orthros. My parish begins Orthros at 9 a.m. and Divine Liturgy usually begins around 10 a.m. Could it start a little after 10? Could it start before 10? The answer to both is yes, and neither time would be late or early. Many parishes don’t even give a time for Divine Liturgy. They only provide the time for Orthros. That is because once the first service begins, we are in heavenly time. Worldly time is lost, and it is all about the divine experience.

There are no breaks between services. No stops and starts. It is just one continual flow of time and worship. I didn’t know that during my first visit to an Orthodox Church. I remember sitting in the dark candle lit Orthros service. It was beautiful. It was amazingly wonderful to watch when Orthros became the Divine Liturgy. The room suddenly became well-lit and the priest sang, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.” When our priest mentioned that he never wears a watch during service, I realized that I never look at my watch during service. Orthodox services aren’t kept to a schedule. They end when everything that is supposed to be done is done and when everything that should be said, is said.

Stepping into an Orthodox Church for me felt like coming home. The worship sweeps me up into this new world, where time and schedules don’t matter. All that matters is being there, taking it all in, singing my prayers and praises to God with the people. Eastern Orthodoxy is still very much a new experience for me. I did not grow up with it and I did not even know it existed until not too long ago. Naturally, I sometimes look back on my Mormon past and compare how I felt then and how I feel now. I remember many times looking at the clock during LDS sacrament meeting. Sometimes twice within the same minute. There were meetings where the speaker was captivating but there were also times where I was hoping I needed to go take a child to the bathroom just to take a break. Everything was kept to a schedule. I remember sometimes hearing jokes by speakers saying something to the effect of, “I am glad the first person took so long, now I only have to speak for a few minutes.”

I am not trying to describe the ideal Mormon experience. Ideally, all the speakers would be well prepared and speak with the Spirit and all the congregation would come prepared to listen and receive as well. As Joseph Fielding Smith said, “We should assemble in the spirit of prayer, of meekness, with devotion in our hearts” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:342).

In my opinion, LDS sacrament meeting was exactly that, a meeting. A meeting of the LDS Saints, to talk ward business, pray, sing hymns, take the sacrament, and listen to speakers give personal stories or interpretation of scripture. Sometimes we never even heard scripture. I remember meetings where almost no scripture was read, especially fast and testimony meeting.

An Orthodox service contains many of the same elements of a Mormon sacrament meeting, however, in my opinion the Divine Liturgy does a better job fulfilling its purpose. To quote from the book “Introducing the Orthodox Church,” by Anthony M. Coniaris:

“The liturgy is full of processions of movements. These processions show what is happening in the liturgy. God is moving toward man, and man is moving toward God. We are all moving closer to the Second Coming of Jesus. For the Orthodox Christian, life is not going around in circles. It is a movement toward a goal. The goal is the kingdom of God.

At the very onset the goal of the liturgy is announced. The first words of the liturgy are ‘Blessed be the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit…’ As a bus driver announces at the beginning where the bus is going, so the priest announces at the very beginning that the goal of the liturgy is to take us to the Kingdom of heaven. We hear this and we reply saying, ‘Amen.’ This means, ‘O.K. that is where we want to go.”

“The liturgy is full of movements of God to man and man to God:

1. We wake up and get ready for church; first Procession.

2. We bring a gift of bread to express the giving of our life to God.

3. The processions of the Small Entrance, the reading of the Epistles, Gospel and sermon that show Christ as coming to speak to us today.

4. We go to the altar to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus.

5. We give our offering of money to God to help the poor and the needy, to continue the work of His Church in the world today.

6. The movement of love and reconciliation to our neighbor through a handshake or the kiss of peace.

7. The movement back to the world to serve as witnesses of the resurrection and to celebrate the “liturgy after the liturgy’ through actions of love.”

LDS may find many elements of the Divine Liturgy that are similar to their own sacrament meeting. However, I think the overall intention of the services is vastly different.

In an October 2008 Ensign, Elder Oaks said, “This [sacrament] ordinance was introduced so that we can renew our covenants to serve Him, to obey Him, and to always remember Him. “

He goes on to say, “How can we have the Spirit of the Lord to guide our choices so that we will remain “unspotted from the world” (D&C 59:9) and on the safe path through mortality? We need to qualify for the cleansing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We do this by keeping His commandment to come to Him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit and in that wonderful weekly meeting partake of the emblems of the sacrament and make the covenants that qualify us for the precious promise that we will always have His Spirit to be with us (see D&C 20:77).”

The key words that stick out to me are, “ordinance”, “covenants”, “obey”, and especially “qualify.”

Now compare the above description to the description of the Eucharist given by Anthony M. Coniaris:

“We are at the Last Supper. Christ is the Host. He invites us with the same invitation He used for His disciples. “Take, eat… Drink ye all of it…” The movement of the priest from the altar to the people with the holy cup shows Christ coming to each of us today with the Bread of Life.

In our desire to be one with Him, we make movement to go forward at this moment. It signifies our going to God. In His great love, God has chosen to make the first step to come to us. We respond by going to Him. No liturgy is complete unless we take part in the procession to the altar to be united with Jesus. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I in him,” said Jesus.

We are never “worthy” to come to Jesus. We come because only He can make us worthy. We come in obedience to Jesus Who invites us to come. We come praying, “I am not worthy, Master and Lord, that You should come to me… yet since You, in Your love for all, wish to dwell in me, in boldness I come…”

When I was LDS my thought process (wrong or right) was that going to sacrament meeting was my duty. I was obeying, making promises, and attempting to “qualify” myself. When I started going to Orthodox Divine Liturgy, I was consumed. Going to service to me now, is about turning towards God with every opportunity. It is about communion with Him. Divine Liturgy to me, truly feels divine. The experience of it has changed my attitude towards God and worship. It has transformed my relationship with God. I no longer look for my watch, I take it all in for as long as I am able.

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9 thoughts on “Watching the Clock

  1. I think you have a very valid point in that LDS meetings are incredibly boring and honestly somewhat dysfunctional. With a significant amount of religious envy I have to say that I like the philosophy of the LDS service, while realizing that it does not work very well, while appreciating the ritual associated with liturgy, though not necessarily agreeing with the philosophy.

    In LDS terms, every man (no women…yet) is a priest unto himself and his family. He presides over his home, which is the real center of the LDS faith, much like a priest of old would. His duties and responsibilities are those of a priest. He is as much a priest in a theological sense as your Orthodox priest is, but is one of many. Every home has this same responsibility, this same small communion of the family. So sacrament meeting SHOULD be a meeting of priests and families to discuss scripture, to ponder the meaning of the Gospel, to exchange stories about the work of God in our individual lives, and so on…. In LDS theological terms the same responsibility your priest has would be shared by all worthy men in the congregation. This is what I like. But theory rarely translates to practice.

    In reality the talks given in sacrament are not well researched discussions of theology and philosophy, history and culture, or anything of the sort. In fact they are pretty bad. Every once in a while…like you said, there is a shining gem of intellectual and theological redemption, but not much more than every once in a while. So rather than a congregation of priests, we have some people who take their religious responsibilities seriously, and others that did not. This is difficult to navigate.

    People also have differing jobs, some working in areas where it is conducive to spiritual endeavors, others….not so much. But this is also something I agree with, a community of priests who are also working men and women out in the world, but not of the world. I think this is how God would want the Kingdom organized.

    But, honestly, it does not work.

    Full disclosure, I am a Bishop, and I am working to try to fix this in my little corner of Mormondom, but it is terribly hard.

    So on to the liturgy, it is, as you have eloquently put it, simply beautiful. It is easy to get caught up in the celebration of God, and the union with the divine. I feel it every time I attend, which is infrequently, but I am quite honestly, and unabashedly, completely green with spiritual envy. It is wonderful, but I disagree with the philosophy. I like the actual conferred Priesthood of all believers, even as I yearn for the opportunity to pursue theological work as a course of profession. It is a very odd dichotomy, where I would prefer an EO liturgy with a Mormon Priesthood.

    But this is not a possibility. I think that Patriarchs and the LDS GA’s are all working to the same goal, and I think God recognizes an LDS baptism with the same validity as an EO baptism, I think the ultimate end is the same, and the question is simply one of vehicle. I prefer the biofuel engine I have that is great in theory but smells like French fries (nothing against biofuel, just making an analogy) where the EO vehicle runs on clean burning fuel which may be bad for the environment (again just trying to make an analogy, and the best I could come up with on short notice) . And I have history with the LDS Church, so…

    That being said, I respect your decision (and am somewhat envious as I said).

  2. Thank you Joseph for your comment. I am glad that you enjoy the Divine Liturgy. I have to say I disagree with some things you mentioned. While I see a man being a priest unto himself as problematic, I will not argue your opinion on that. Orthodox parishioners are referred to as lay people, however that doesn’t mean that they view themselves as having any less responsibilities as an LDS person does. There are many stewarship roles within the Orthodox parishes that are equivalent to many LDS callings. Also, the male in the an Orthodox family is still very much viewed as the head of the family. The iconic relationship of marriage should serve as an example of Christ’s relationship to the Church (The male being a living icon of Christ, and the women, the Church). That is a long topic in and of itself, my point being, the calling of a husband and wife in marriage is very important in the Orthodox Church.

    You also stated that you believe that a community of preists who are working men and women in the world, but not of the world is how you believe that is how God would want his kingdom organized. You seem to say this as if it is a point of contrast. I would say this is exactly what the Orthodox Church teaches. I was listening to an Orthodox podcast just the other day where it was said that all men and women have a role as priests to creation, in our relationship and care for the earth.

    You said that you think that God accepts both the LDS baptism and EO baptism. I do not know the mind of God but I think it is very important to recognize that the nature and identity of God in EO and LDS Church are incredibly different. So much so that I would be careful getting too comfortable with that view. I would also disagree that the ultimate end is the same. LDS teach a very different heaven and my ultimate end would be very different when comparing the two.

    Thanks again for the comment. May God bless you in your responsibilities as Bishop.

  3. Actually in Orthodoxy there is a very developed theology of the “domestic church,” centered around the “home altar.” The home is considered the smallest unit of Orthodox church – with the altar (icon corner and holy items) serving the same symbolic function as the church altar. On this view, the father serves as the priest, and the mother is the priest’s wife (parish mother). You can read a summary about this here, and the footnotes will serve to delve deeper in the subject matter: http://orthodoxwiki.org/Domestic_church

    I am glad for the respectful discussion here. Thank you both. Great post.

  4. I do think there is a conceptual difference between the professional, full-time clergy of either the EO or Catholic faiths, and the completely lay clergy of the LDS congregations. As I said, I would prefer if more LDS members acted as if they had the same responsibility, but… so I can certainly appreciate the benefit. Nevertheless, it is one thing I think the LDS Church gets right in theology, if it cannot get it right in practice.

    As to Baptism, I am certain that the EO would not accept an LDS Baptism, and that the LDS Church would not accept an EO Baptism, I am a slightly unorthodox LDS member, in that I think God is far more forgiving of authorities involves in who performs the rite, as much as God is concerned with what is in the individual’s heart when the rite is performed. I tend to be far more ecumenically inclined in that way.

  5. I guess I am confused in why you think the LDS have it conceptually right. When you are speaking of LDS clergy are you only speaking of the Bishop and his counselors? At my parish we have many people with unpaid responsibilities that are Sunday school teachers, youth group leaders, women’s group leaders, cooks, people that offer their services in accounting and so forth. All unpaid and helping the parish to function and thrive aside from the paid clergy whose main responsibility is as a spiritual healer and not to run the entire place. My parish pays the janitors, which I was upset the LDS Church stopped doing. But we also have cleaning days when everyone comes and helps. So I guess I don’t understand what makes the LDS Church that much different in this regard other than the Bishop would be paid and the members would all be volunteers and not “called.” The LDS system is more efficient in getting people to do things than the EO but I think some people are guilt tripped into doing callings instead of offering up their time freely with love. I do think it would be nice if LDS Bishops recieved some financial support for their endless service and sacrifice.

    You are right that EO does not accept LDS baptism but they do many times accept other baptisms from other Trinitarian Chrisitans. But Orthodox would not say that someone who did not join the Orthodox Church would not be saved, would not be able to be with God. Orthodox doctrine leaves room for salvation to be a mystery and they would never say who is in and who is out. However, they would say there is only one true Church and that there is a particular way things should be done, a right way. Personally I don’t think doctrinally the LDS Church leaves the same room. As an LDS apostate, I think it can be clearly shown that the teaching is that I will not be with God. There are many members that I know that don’t agree with that but I think it’s difficult to claim a church to be true and disagree with its doctrine of salvation.

  6. Sorry, trying to get a few things done before bed, but I like the concept that the LDS prophet, and I, are equally ordained. I am not called to be the same position as Thomas Monson, but his Priesthood, and mine, are theologically the same. This applies to all ordained members, which, in an ideal world, would be all men (and maybe in the future, women). We are far more equal, theologically, than any other faith I am aware of, which, I like. I am not saying that you should agree, only pointing out my position.

    I accept the significant investment lay EO members put into their congregations, but there is still a difference between the ordained priest and the lay member.

    Now, that being said, I have tried, and tried, and tried, and tired some more, then tried again, then kept trying, to get our members to actually incorporate that into their everyday lives. I consider myself as much a priest as your priest does, with all of the resulting responsibilities and expectations of trying to live a priestly life. Trying to convey that to our congregation is very difficult. So, in this sense, I very much envy your priest, and his ability to live his occupation. I would love to devote my time to helping others, study, and devotion to God full time, but I do not believe that is what God intends, even if I envy those who feel it is what God intends.

    All simply my opinion, and not intended as criticism or insult, just a difference of opinion.

  7. I completely respect your opinion but I am still having trouble understanding. You may even know something about Orthodoxy that I don’t. I just don’t know the difference between a priest and the lay people, except in responsibility, or different calling. What is the inequality in theology? I am genuinely asking because I don’t know.

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