The Fusion of Earthly and Heavenly Worship

The concept of order is seen at the very beginning of creation.  Genesis describes the earth as void and formless.  God then brings the chaos – symbolized by the darkness – into order by separating light from darkness, sky from earth, and earth from sea.  When man is created, he is separated from the rest of creation and placed in Eden, which in turn is also distinct from creation. 

Yet this distinctiveness is not disunion.  From Eden flows four rivers, which is symbolic of Eden supplying life and nourishment to all of the earth – in the four cardinal directions.  At the end of creation, God separates the seventh day as a day of rest, which sanctifies all of the other days.  The Church, in a similar manner, floods all of creation with life, sanctifying the cosmos with grace.  Its distinction from the world is not disunion, but the very thing that enables it to act as a sanctifying force.

When man falls into sin, he is cast from the Garden of Eden, from the place of perfect rest and order, and into the chaos and uncertainty of the world around the Garden.  For many generations, man wandered throughout this fallen world without any certainty as to how he could please God.  Then God sent Moses to free the descendants of Abraham from Egypt.  As they wandered through the desert, God gave a revelation to Moses of the heavenly order of worship in the heavenly Tabernacle not made with hands.  Moses is given explicit directions in how to replicate this design so that the liturgical order of worship on earth could copy that of worship in heaven.

The earthly tabernacle was made by the hands of the Hebrews,and God’s presence descended upon it. During the time of the Prophet Ezekiel, the presence of the Lord left the earthly tabernacle.  However, God did not leave His people forever.  Our God became incarnate and our Lord Jesus Christ became our new High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. 

While we in the Orthodox Church continue a form of the orderly, liturgical, heavenly worship commanded by God and given by Moses, we see a deeper connection between the heavenly and earthly worship.  It is not merely a copying of old ordinances, for the Incarnation of God as man intimately fuses the worship of the Church to heavenly worship.  Rather than copying heavenly worship, we participate in it through Christ, our High Priest, in the Church.  We sing, “We who mystically represent the cherubim” while the earthly priest reads a prayer that our Lord is the one who is “borne on the throne of the cherubim…and dost rest in the saints.”  Within the altar a mystery is taking place.  The bread and wine are being transformed into the Body and Blood of our God.  And as the priest brings it from out of the altar and into the nave, offering it to the people of God, we become like the cherubim, bearing God Himself.

Additionally, the liturgical worship that we offer God in Church is the worship of our High Priest Christ, for we are in Him as His Body.  Forty days after his birth, he was brought into the earthly temple.  Forty days after His Resurrection, He entered into the heavenly Temple where He continually offers Himself to the Father, and brings us to the Father in Him.  “There is one Mediator between God and man: the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5), which indicates this perpetual divine-human intercession for us before God.  

Our High Priest is in us as God, yet also standing ever before the Father in His humanity, offering not only Himself, but us as well: “the whole Christ” – the Head and Body.  As the priestly prayer in the Divine Liturgy during the Cherubic Hymn says, “For thou thyself art he that offers and is offered, that accepts and is distributed, O Christ our God” (1).  For that reason, St.Paul echoes the Prophet Isaiah in Hebrews 2:13 “Behold, I and the children whom God has given me.”

On earth, our Lord makes this offering to the Father through the bishop or priest in the bread and wine that we offer.  We see in this way that the earthly liturgy is one with the heavenly worship.  Just as the Son ever stands before His Father offering Himself and us in Him, so we too daily join in this heavenly worship.

Because our earthly worship is not merely a reflection, but a participation in the heavenly worship, there must be a certain order about it.  For that reason, we follow St.Paul’s admonition to “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor.14:40).  From the beginning, God brought darkness and chaos into order, and through the orderly worship of the Church, Christ brings us from the darkness and chaos of the fallen world to the Father in Himself in the eternal liturgy.

End notes:

This was written as an essay for my class on Church Order, hence the emphasis on order throughout.  It is therefore a bit different stylistically than what I normally write for this site. 

(1) Hieratikon Vol. 2, St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press, pg. 118

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Jeremiah

I grew up Protestant, but found my home in the ancient Orthodox Church while in my 20's. I'm now a seminary student and I keep this blog going to encourage those who are trying to deepen their walk with Christ.