Introducing the Church’s Worship

Fr Alexander Schmemann in Liturgy and life: Lectures and essays on Christian development through liturgical experience, reminds us that understanding the Church’s worship “requires a spiritual and an intellectual effort” from us. By the latter, he means the study of the “various elements” of the different services as well as the “general order and structure” of the Church’s worship.

Given the lengthen and complexity of the services, it’s hard to teach young people about the Church’s worship. Divine Liturgy is usually familiar but Vespers, Matins, the Hours and the other sacramental and devotional services can be a mystery to people. So how might we proceed to help young people experience the Church’s worship as “doors leading us into the wonderful reality of new life in Christ,” as Schmemann writes (p. 24)?

The first thing we need to do is to be clear and our own hearts and minds about the purpose of worship (click on the drop down menu and look for video #94):

As Orthodox Christians, worship isn’t afterthought for us. Much less is it optional. It is rather an expression of what we believe and who we are as Orthodox Christians.

In the Church’s worship, we also get a glimpse of who we are in Christ (“Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim”). For young people still crafting their identity, liturgy can have a power, transforming, effect on how they see themselves.

So in addition to its doctrinal and dogmatic content, liturgy is at the very heart of Orthodox spiritual formation. Liturgy tells us who we are personally and as a community in Jesus Christ.

The Church’s worship is also central to our evangelical mission. In our worship, we joyfully proclaim the Gospel not only in words but also actions. Even if a visitor doesn’t understand what happens on Saturday evening at Vespers or Sunday morning at Liturgy, they come away with the sense that we are serious about our faith. Or, as one person told me after Liturgy, “Whatever you all believe, you REALLY believe it!”

The best way, in my view, to help young people come to a practical appreciate the power of liturgy in their own lives is simply to have young people lead services. What do I mean?

Under the guidance of the priest, it’s a good thing for young people to read at Vespers. Even if they don’t know the music, the can just read the hymns. Doing this helps them come to understand what the Church believes. The questions that naturally will arise reading the hymns at Vespers can be a springboard for discussion about dogma or the spiritual life.

While not all parishes read the the Hours and the Pre-Communion Prayers before Liturgy on Sunday, if your parish does (or your priest would like to introduce the practice), these are services that young people can also help lead. Again, this needs to be done with the priest’s permission and guidance.

Likewise, young people can be invited to help with other services like Small Compline or Matins. Retreats and church camp are good places to introduce young people to participating as readers.

The point is this. To help young people understand and make the Church’s liturgy their own we need to be willing to help them learn the services by leading the services.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory