The purpose of the Orthodox Church is to enable and nourish its children to lead a successful and happy life in this world, sharing responsibly in the many gifts that God has bestowed on man and growing spiritually towards the ultimate goal- being brothers and sisters of Christ and members of one family- the family of God. As I understand, the children of the Church include the Pentecostals and the Charismatics too- every one from Adam down and if they do not find the Orthodox ways comprehensible, it may be that they have not yet reached the foot of the mountain up which the Orthodox faithful are being lead by the Church through each spiritual seasonal cycle. The faithful include the ewes, the old and frail, the lambs and the sick and maimed and require different care and different fare as well as different speed and terrain. In the story of Gideon in the book of Hebrews, victory was not achieved through human might or through the involvement of all, but through the obedience of a focused select few. These people were not preferred above others and had no superiority except their total involvement in the matter at hand. And the Bible says that in the end, the victory was shared by all. In my considered opinion, which may be flawed, the Orthodox have no cause to crow over their superiority, but must work, moment by moment, in fear and trembling, for their own salvation and through it, the salvation of the world.
To explain further, a lamp or salt to which Christ compared his followers, do not have to strive to convert others into lamps or salt crystals, but by being true to that which God bestowed on them, dispel darkness, rot and decay and add savour to life and the world in general. The first and foremost thing that is required is being true to one-self, or being an integrated whole, centerd in Christ.
Many persons migrate to other churches thinking that the Orthodox Church is dead and cannot help them share an experience of the transcendent God whereas the Pentecost and Charismatic have it. I do not know the sort of experience that they afford, but there are many experiences to be had, through drugs and other chemicals, through psychological and psychical manipulations, electrical stimulation etc.
One can even hear voices (‘ Phantoms in my Brain’). So it is easy to be lead astray and fall prey to the many wolves that lie in wait to fatten themselves on the ewes and the lambs and sometimes even on the strong rams.
Jesus made it clear to us that true prayer is in our ‘inner closet’ and true worship is not in temples or mountains but in Spirit and in Truth. It is when one is able to worship in Spirit and in Truth that one gains an experience of God because as Jesus said, ‘God is Spirit’. It is then that we exercise the freedom given through the incarnation, reconciling us with God. Perhaps this is the place where God walked with Adam before the fall and which is now protected by the Angel with the whirling sword.
All ancient religions and ancient Christian writings such as the Philokalia and the “Cloud of the Unknowing” tells us that we can get this experience of God who is beyond our knowledge and our senses only if we are able to go beyond our waking and sleeping (dreaming and dreamless) states.
Man lives in a world of experiences and his experiences come through his senses. I see and hear and taste and smell and think about them with my mind and judge these experiences through my intellect. These experiences also generate feeling of happiness and sorrow. These experiences as well as feelings are extremely subjective and what is good for one may not be so for another. In our waking state we are always busy caught in a continuous stream of experiences and thought and judgments.
God, as we know resides in our hearts (spiritual heart) and knocks at the door to our intellect/ awareness to allow admission. We may be baptized and have the Holy Spirit in us but unless we become aware of the Spirit and listen to Him, He is only a jewel locked up in the iron safe. We are unable to hear the still small voice within because of the din created by our senses, thoughts, emotions and judgement.
We can easily become aware of the inner cacophony by watching ourselves. Try to do so while attending the Holy Qurbana. How many times do our thoughts wander? Did I lock the car? Is the sermon going to take long? How many times do we judge? The speaker is not adjusted properly. The man is a bore. She should keep her child in check. It is impossible for us to keep our senses, mind and body as well as intellect perfectly inactive. There are subconscious tendencies within, which are like ruts worn on a track developed through repeated traffic along the same line. These tendencies must be eliminated.
All religions give various methods for clearing out our inner garbage and allowing room for the Christ within. But many are severe ascetic practices requiring initiation and guidance of a Guru. We are lucky. All of us are initiated in at the time of baptism and we continue to progress towards the right worship in Spirit and in Truth through our Holy Qurbana .
How is this done?
For a person to become perfect, the journey is very strenuous. The tendencies for self defeating thought and action must be removed and replaced by positive attributes. The fasts and the penances as well as confession are steps to achieve this. The fasts help us develop a strong will to resist things that are wrong. Prayers help us focus on God and to understand what is right. It is prayer that establishes our relationship with God.
Both Hinduism and Orthodox Christianity understand the power of the inherent evil tendencies or vasanas in us. Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita tells Arjuna about the way to perfection:
‘Objects retire from the abstinent, leaving the longing behind. But this longing also ends in him who sees the Supreme”
So we have fasts and penances as well as prayers and sermons to guide us. Just restraining ourselves from our harmful actions will not be successful unless we replace it with the opposite good qualities through the vision of God. An empty space may be occupied by even greater evil so Jesus warned us.
How do we attain this vision of the Supreme? The Yogis of Orthodoxy, Hinduism, Buddhism etc. point to ascetic practices and Japa (The Jesus Prayer) and meditation as some of the ways. But these ways are more easy for Dayaras and those who have dedicated their lives entirely to prayer than for ordinary people engaged in the strife of life.
The Divine Liturgy is the best and most effective solution to this problem.
Liturgy means the work of the people. Many things happen during the Divine Liturgy. What happens in the Madbaha/altar through the mediation of the priest is known to the clergy. What happens to the faithful who participate in the Liturgy ? In my understanding and experience we the faithful are drawn collectively and as a whole into a guided meditation through the Liturgy.
I need not elaborate how involved participation in the Liturgy, listening, watching, acting, smelling, feeling, keeps our senses in the awake state totally involved. Our 5 modes of action also are involved in speaking, inhaling smells, looking at what is going on, making the sign of the cross, singing, hearing to understand etc. We are totally immersed, body mind and spirit in an event- the Christ event and in the process our mind and intellect are unable to think of or judge or look at or speak of anything else. In this process, we enter the cloud of the unknowing, abandoning all else but God and get a glimpse of the Divine which is beyond our sensory or intellectual knowledge. This leaves us recharged and purified and ready to face the week ahead. This joy which comes unaware to us is what makes us return again and again to the Church and what makes us despondent when we do not attend.
About the bread and the wine- I cannot speak authentically. But about the elation of the Liturgy, if we do the work of the people with due respect and care- I can vouchsafe.
So what do I conclude?
The Orthodox Worship is the Right Worship because it carries us to the vision of God as a community and this is not available in any other place.
This can be felt only if we follow all the directions about preparation and fasting by those who are healthy. Preparation is as necessary as faith, to really enjoy the worshipl.
The Daily Prayers( in Kudumbaaradhana Kramam)
I would like to confirm that when I followed the daily prayers, Nombinte Praaarthanakal (Prayers of the Great Lent) etc. strictly, my diabetes and BP regressed. These prayers are also meditative and the prostrations are physical manifestations of our surrendering ourselves to God in faith. The Kumbideel is also like the Yoga Practice of Sun Salutation and we may call it Son Salutation. Over and above the spiritual benefits, these as well as the fasts have physical benefits also
There have been several medical research findings into the cause of metabolic Syndrome of which Diabetes, Fatty Liver etc form part. People with Metabolic Syndrome are found to be deficient in a hormone called SIRT3 which helps absorption of glucose into cells of the muscles. This hormone is secreted by the mitochondria of slow twitch muscles and exercise of slow twitch muscles increase secretion. When we walk, or do prostrations or Yoga we use these muscles mainly. It is also found that chronic consumption of a High Fat Diet contributes to the Metabolic Syndrome. Caloric restriction and fasting improves SIRT3
Prayer and meditation calms the mind and relieves stress.
In my present condition with insulin injections I cannot fast but I can avoid High Fat Diet, restrict calories and pray the Right Way.
The Orthodox Faith does not believe in sacrificing and avoiding worldly life and duties to assure a place in heaven. It believes in bringing heaven to earth through the felt presence on God to us through its sacraments and live heaven here and eternally
This is true life and this is Ortho Doxa.
The encounter with God that we are invited to in the Sabbath Rest of the Liturgy cannot be gained if we are negligent and unenthusiastic. But if we do participate, it would transform us gradually, in proportion to our receptivity and strength and we would travel higher and higher on the mountain and we would gain light and savor and show the way for those who come in. But if instead of coming in, people leave, it is proof that ‘The work of the People’ is not being carried out and we as the people have failed in our duty. Can we be proud and self-righteous about it?
As for those outside- perhaps that is best for them and perhaps our life would draw them to us. We cannot discern the ways of God