Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Importance of Orthros

In the Byzantine Tradition, the Divine Liturgy is the highest expression of our adoration and devotion to the All Holy Trinity. In the Divine Liturgy we hear the word of God in the Scriptures and homily, and we receive the Precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is in the Divine Liturgy that we have the most intimate possibility of receiving God’s healing and Holy Grace.

Yet the Divine Liturgy is only part, the central and most important part, but only part of the salvific worship life of the Church. The Apostles and Church Fathers instituted a series of opportunities for worship that work together to encourage, establish and strengthen our spiritual life. These various opportunities crystallized in the various Offices and Services that grace the Church day, the week and the year.

Central to all of these various Divine Services are the Psalms and sacred hymnody. The hymnody of the Church (the Troparia, Kontakia, Akathists and Canons) presents the essential Truths of our Faith in poetic imagery like Divine fruit that is sweet and nutritious to our souls. The system of Sacred Chant (the Eight Tones) and the hymns and Psalms that feature prominently in these Services help prepare our hearts to receive the Grace offered in the words of the Holy Gospel and in the great Gift of Holy Communion. Over time, they aid in our formation as God’s children and increase our understanding of the Sacred Mystery of our Salvation. As Eastern Christians we should not limit our worship to attendance at the Divine Liturgy only.

As an analogy, we might say that the Divine Liturgy and other Holy Services of our Faith are like a medical regime to restore physical health. If we only focus on directions to take a particular medicine that in itself may be most important to restore our health, we may yet not achieve recovery to the extent that would have been possible had we followed the entire course of therapy, for other elements of the prescribed regime also contribute to health. Similarly, the Divine Liturgy and other Holy Services combine to form a spiritual therapy designed to heal us of the defacing effects of sin and to restore us to the health of our original creation. Further, this treatment is able to take us beyond that original purity to the fulfillment of THEOSIS (divinization - maturing in the image and likeness of God). Under this regimen we fulfill the purpose for which we were created and achieve the fullness of our humanity. Therefore, limiting ourselves to the Divine Liturgy only risks limiting our growth as a child of God.

Orthros, the principal morning Service of the Horos (Divine Services associated with various hours of the day), is celebrated immediately before the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning in our Melkite Byzantine Tradition. To ignore or omit Orthros is to limit the potential for spiritual growth so important to our Christian life. Therefore, recognizing that the powers of this corrupt world seeks to minimize and impede even the short time we offer to God in Church on Sunday, our parochial celebration of Orthros is typically modified, somewhat shortened and leads immediately into the Divine Liturgy. In attending Orthros worshippers enjoy a better preparation of their hearts and minds for the majestic worship of the Divine Liturgy that follows it.

In Orthros, the various Troparia speak to the glory of the Lord’s Holy Resurrection, the season (such as Great Lent, or the Pre-Nativity Fast), and the relevance of a particular daily commemoration of the Church calendar. Orthros thus contributes to a more intimate worship that reaches its climax in the Divine Liturgy. It helps free our minds of the various snares of the corrupt world of sin, and in promoting our personal participation in a particular celebration of the Divine Liturgy increases our ability, if we will receive it, to experience the fullness of our true humanity.

As Orthros is primarily composed of sacred hymnody, in this beautiful spiritual pearl we can all experience moments of deep personal reflection and perhaps even take advantage of the opportunity for Holy Confession. The various hymns of Orthros, chanted to the mystical melodies so beloved in our Byzantine Tradition, will refresh our appreciation of the importance of the Faith in our lives. For our children, being present and hearing these hymns will ensure that the sacred teachings of our Church enter into their hearts and help them to grow spiritually as they grow physically. In short, we will all be better able to cleanse our spirits and prepare to receive the manifold Grace offered to us in the Divine Liturgy.

In the course of the week we devote hours to movies, sporting events, social gatherings, and countless other activities that can only bring temporary joy to our earthly life. It is a little thing to offer an extra half hour to our Lord who is both the origin and true goal of our life, and whose Holy Incarnation frees us to discover the divine fullness of our humanity through the Gift of His great mercy and love for mankind.

Thanks be to God!


Stan said...

Are you really 96 years old?

Can I get permission to reproduce this article in a Church music bulletin I edit?

My email:

Stan Takis

The Byzantine Rambler said...

Fudulah... That is, "feel free", "if you please", "as you wish".

You have my permission.

The Byzantine Rambler said...

As to your first question: It depends on the weather.