Liturgical Dynamics, part VI: Orthodox Communal Life is Incarnational

Two things: First, I realize that I’ve been publishing blogs under the subtitle “part I, II,” etc. How dull. Eventually I’ll go back and add descriptive subtitles. (I bet it doesn’t happen real soon.)

Second, I got a bit irked within myself at an acquaintance on Facebook the other day (This was originally written – er – in early December…), who opined that he was glad that at his church they “could remember” Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection more than once a year. I asked “Who waits?” or something like that, since I find that kind of remark to be a straw man: certain churches don’t especially like holidays (I call it liturgical laziness!), and disparage others by accusing them of only “remembering” this or that “once a year.”

Hogwash! Most churches don’t even properly “remember” the Incarnation or Resurrection even once a year, because they’re either Arians who don’t believe in the true divinity of Christ which He shares with His Father; or because they’re Platonists who don’t actually believe that matter matters. So, God becoming flesh and raising it from the dead is highly suspicious.

But my acquaintance is right: If the Church truly confesses the Incarnation of the Son of God in the world as a real human being, and if God truly raised Him from the dead, then it’s not the subject of occasional “remembrance.” It’s everything who we are. Which is the main reason I became an Orthodox Christian. There just simply is no service, no prayer, no outward expression of the Faith that is not rooted in and expressive of the Incarnation.

Orthodox worship, and its resultant liturgy, is incarnational. It not only refers to the Incarnation as though it were the one thing that, other than creation itself, has changed everything. It manifests the Incarnation as a reality in which we live. The Incarnation of the Son of God was not a one-time event in history, “when August ruled alone upon earth” and Cyrenius was governor of Syria,” in the days of Herod the King. It was that, but it established a new reality: “God is with us.” Christ said, “The Kingdom of God has come upon you.” The emissaries of Prince Vladimir to the Great Church in Constantinople said, “God dwells there among men,” and while they had a pagan idea in mind – they were pagans, after all – they did speak the truth: The dwelling of God is with men (Rev. 21:3).

In liturgical worship, this world becomes the theater of God’s work; His Kingdom breaks into the Now; this time becomes God’s “today” (that’s the next posting). The profane is redeemed by the sacred. Symbol unfolds reality. The sign reveals the thing itself. The outward is joined to the inward. Earth and Heaven are bridged, and Man communes with God. And Man communes with Man in a way more true and sincere than he knows.

“Today salvation has come to the world!”
“Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One!”
“Today You have shown forth in our world, O Lord!”

There and then – in the garden that early Sunday morning, in the cave-stable at Bethlehem, in the Jordan as John baptizes – because here and now. Because we “remember,” we make anamnesis. There is no “them.” It’s only us. We don’t simply recall; we make present. This presence is made by our common agreement (“Where two or three agree about anything…”), by our fellowship (“Where two or three are gathered in my name…”). And, as the above statements from Orthodox festal hymns show, it’s not just in the Eucharist that this anamnesis is “effected”. (What a horrid word!)  It is whenever we gather to make present the saving plan of God.  This is “remembrance” par excellence, but the Church learned its worship while celebrating the Holy Communion, and so applies it to all its worship – especially the feasts.

About Rdr. John

I'm a musician: I teach piano and am a professional Accompanist (University of Portland). I'm also a music director. I direct the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church choir (Portland, OR), the Francis Street Singers (Community Music Center) as well as for Mock's Crest Productions, which puts on an operetta at the U of P each June. I care deeply about the music and worship in the Orthodox liturgy, and most of my postings will be concerned with that.
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