Bringing Heaven Down To Earth

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Friday, January 11, 2008

'Heaven on Earth' at St. Nicholas Antiochian Church

In DCM: Bringing Heaven Down To Earth, one of the first things we did was introduce Eastern Orthodox worship as "heaven on earth" (using this article from Christian History magazine) and visited St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church ( here in Grand Rapids.

Nicole DeFillipi wrote this reflection on our experience.

Many denominations of Christianity have different views on how to worship God. The Orthodox church is an example of a denomination where the style of worshipping is quite different from many other churches. The members of the Eastern Orthodox church believe their worship brings a piece of Heaven to earth. While trying to explain this idea on Orthodox worship, Paul Meyendorff writes an article named “A Taste of Glory.” In this article Mayendorff explains “we are transported to where he is, so that every time the church gathers for worship, we experience a foretaste of the kingdom.”* There is a sense of mystery and greatness to the Orthodox way of worship. This aspect alone has drawn many to the Orthodox church.

Chanting is the primary way to worship God. Although this form of worship is different from many other churches, it can be revered and regarded as a sacred act. Icons are also highly respected because they help remind the Orthodox church members of Bible stories and why they are worshipping God. The icons are painted all over the sanctuary. Beautiful gold paint is used in most of the icons. Important people such as Jesus, Mary, the disciples and various saints are painted on the walls. The architecture is also meaningful. There is a dome that extends the ceiling even higher in the sanctuary. This represents their worship and how it penetrates into Heaven. Worship is able to break the barrier between Heaven and Earth. The Orthodox architecture helps to explain what occurs in their place of worship when the name of Jesus is lifted.

The experience of an Orthodox church service is not one soon forgotten. Although visiting the Orthodox church was an enlightening experience that greatly broadened my horizons, they practice many things which I do not agree with. The services seem to be based mostly on tradition. The actual sermon was very short. This bothered me somewhat because I have a hard time understanding how the congregation could grow spiritually from a short sermon. It is understandable that the congregation can learn things from being in God’s presence but I believe this must me accompanied by a teaching of his word.

I am not opposed to all artwork in churches but I believe the interior artwork in the Orthodox church is too excessive. I am aware that Orthodox members do not worship these icons but I believe that they have the potential of hindering worship. I also do not think children should be allowed to partake in the sacrament of communion. Small children were eating the bread as if it was a snack in the middle of service. 1 Corinthians 11 makes it clear that communion is not a snack. It is a sacrament that is to be revered. I do not think children should partake in this act until they understand what it represents and that it is not to be taken lightly. These are the major concerns I have.

It is remarkable, however, that a denomination has remained the same over hundreds of years. The tradition of Orthodoxy is obviously appealing because members of other denominations are becoming Orthodox members. Orthodoxy provides structure for its members. It also brings out a feeling of commonality since their worship style is virtually the same as Orthodox members from centuries ago.

* Meyendorff, Paul. "A Taste of Glory." Christian History Issue 54. p. 41

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  • At 7:55 AM, Blogger Fr. Andrew said…

    Just as a note: What you saw children eating "as a snack" was not Holy Communion. If they received Communion, they received it completely from the spoon the priest was using, which transmits both the Body and the Blood of Christ to the communicant. If children were eating bread, it was probably simply bread which has been blessed but is not consecrated to be the Eucharist.

  • At 1:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am Eastern Orthodox (Greek Orthodox church in Toronto) and have read your book Bringing Heaven Down To Earth as well as other related titles (Plowing in hope,Creation regained etc) and want to say I've been blessed by them. I believe this dutch reformed/reformational heaven is a place on earth view point will spread into all the churches catholic, orthodox, protestant and will eventually bring the shakespears and michaengelos once again.


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