Worship and the Knowledge of God

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We prove God’s existence by worshiping Him and not by advancing so-called proofs. We have here the liturgical and iconographic argument for the existence of God. We arrive at a solid belief in the existence of God through a leap over what seems true, over the Pascalian certitude. According to an ancient monastic saying, “Give your blood and receive the Spirit.”

Paul Evdokimov

Evdokimov’s insight follows quite literally the pattern of the Church’s liturgy itself. Catechumens in the early Church were not, interestingly, given great lessons in theology prior to Baptism. Indeed, the Symbol of Faith (Creed) was not given to those being Baptized until the service of Baptism itself. In the Divine Liturgy (Eucharist), the Creed is not recited until afterthe dismissal of the catechumens. Such knowledge was reserved for those who had been illumined in Holy Baptism.

In the service of Baptism itself, after catechumens have been exorcised, and have renounced the Devil, they are then brought into the Church. There, facing the East, they are told, “Worship God!” Making a prostration, this first profound act of worship precedes the Creed – indeed it is an act that makes the Creed intelligible.

We know God in an act of giving ourselves to Him. He has, of course, given Himself first – but our response cannot be to consider the gift, to reason the gift. We embrace the gift – we bow before Him.

Christ said, “If you continue in my words, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32). The second part of this statement is usually quoted free-standing, without its context. The context of knowledge given by Christ is continuance in His words. As we give ourselves to Him, whether in worship or in the “least of these my brethren,” we know Him.

The proof of God’s existence liturgical and iconographic is thus a dynamic relationship with the God who gives Himself to us. This alone makes possible the Truth which sets us free.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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9 responses to “Worship and the Knowledge of God”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    The picture is from a Baptism at St. Anne’s. The shot seemed discreet enough to publish.

  2. Alyssa Avatar
    Alyssa

    Fr. Stephen,

    Again, thank you for this. Since I became a catechumen last month I feel like my awareness of how little I know has increased a hundred-fold and I can’t seem to take information in fast enough. As I have said to you before, it’s like the fire hydrant has been opened and I can’t drink fast enough. There is so much I want to know and understand. I don’t think this is inherently bad, but I am begining to see it’s limits.

    My 6 year old son was in his SS class this week after liturgy and they made prayer ropes and then stood together and prayed. When he came out, I asked him all about it, what the rope was for, what “Lord have mercy” meant (which he did not know), etc. Then I was talking to one of the teachers about it afterwards. She said that they did not talk directly about what “Lord have mercy means” and reminded me that in Orthodoxy one learns by doing. So instead of talking about prayer, they actually did it.

    I think I need to be in my son’s Sunday School class.
    Alyssa

  3. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Last Spring I was up at St. Vladimir’s Seminary visiting my children. My oldest daughter, Matushka Mary, was responsibile for teaching one of the children’s Sunday School Classes. She asked me to come for show and tell.

    Before classes begin, we gather in a large classroom for an introduction by Fr. Paul Lazor (an imposing figure). The desks seemed kind of small, etc. Fr. Paul looked out and said, “Fr. Stephen, I’ve finally got you in a class!” I replied, “Yes. Sunday School. I’ve finally found a class at St. Vladimir’s I was qualified to attend!”

    We could all use it. When I was a little boy, my first remembered introduction to Christ was in a little Baptist preschool class. There the teacher taught us to sing, “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam.” I’m not sure that I’ve progressed beyond that.

  4. Fr. Greg Avatar

    “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam.”

    On one level, we are all called to progress TO that.

    “Unless you become as little children…”

  5. Mark Avatar

    In my Baptist Sunday School, it was “Climb, Climb up Sunshine Mountain.”

    Not a bad preparation for reading St. John of the Ladder…

    By the way, what’s the source for the Evdokimov quotation?

    Peace,
    mark

  6. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    The Evdokimov quote was from The Art of the Icon: a theology of beauty (Oakwood, 1990). The quote is on page 23. Evdokimov was a close associate of Bulgakov, and occasionally gets into the “sophia” thing, but not in a way that I’ve found objectionable. I find his stuff very stimulating.

  7. ochlophobist Avatar

    This “dynamic relationship with God” which according to St. Maximus will always, even after the eschaton, remain dynamic, as opposed to static, provides some light to the question of limbo, with regard to which I have appreciated your thoughts both here and on other blogs.

    [Your discussion with Pseudo-Iamblichus in the previous post spurred further discussion on his blog at: http://sarabitus.blogspot.com/2006/10/on-limbo.html#links
    which you may find to be of interest.]

    I am happy to see that you now blog.

  8. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Thank you for your encouragement. A static description of our relationship with God – eschatologically or otherwise – always seems to fall short and create caricatures, whether it is a static, localized heaven or what have you. I have been intruigued over the years about people’s speech about heaven. What do they mean, and what do they think they mean? There are few good images to capture the dynamic vision of Maximus, or of Gregory of Nyssa and others of similar mind. In the level of children’s literature, I appreciate Lewis’ Narnian call of “higher up and further in!” At least it has an eternity about it.

  9. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    I posted a comment on Pseudo-Iamblichus’ site for anyone interested in that conversation.

    http://sarabitus.blogspot.com/2006/10/on-limbo.html#links

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