Worship: Form and Characteristics of Orthodox Worship

O Come, let us Worship and bow down before our King and God.
O Come, let us worship and bow down before Christ, our King and God.
O Come, let us worship and bow down to Christ Himself, our King and God.

This invitation marks the beginning of each day for the Orthodox Church. It comes from the office of Vespers, and it expresses the attitude which is at the heart of Orthodoxy. The Worship of God - the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, - is fundamental to the life and spirit of the Orthodox Church.

Since Worship is so important to Orthodoxy, the best introduction to the Orthodox Church is for the non-Orthodox to attend the Divine Liturgy or the celebration of one of the major Sacraments. At first, the visitor may be overwhelmed by the music and the ceremonies, but it is in Worship that the distinctive flavor, rich traditions, and living faith of Orthodoxy are truly experienced.

Dimensions of Worship

Worship is an experience which involved the entire Church. When each of us comes together for Worship, we do so as members of a Church which transcends the boundaries of society, of time and of space. Although we gather at a particular moment and at a particular place, our actions reach beyond the parish, into the very Kingdom of God. We worship in the company of both the living and the departed faithful.

There are two dimensions to Orthodox Worship which are reflected throughout the many Services of the Church. First, Worship is a manifestation of God's presence and action in the midst of His people. It is God who gathers His scattered people together, and it is He who reveals Himself as we enter into His presence. The Worship of the Orthodox Church very vividly expresses the truth that God dwells among His people and that we are created to share in His life.

Second, Worship is our corporate response of thanksgiving to the presence of God and a remembrance of His saving actions - especially the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Orthodox Worship is centered upon God. He has acted in history, and He continues to act through the Holy Spirit. We are mindful of His actions and we respond to His love with praise and thanksgiving. In so doing we come closer to God.

Expressions of Worship

Worship in the Orthodox Church is expressed in four principal ways:

  • The Eucharist, which is the most important worship experience of Orthodoxy. Eucharist means thanksgiving and is known in the Orthodox Church as the Divine Liturgy.
  • The Sacraments, which affirm God's presence and action in the important events of our Christian lives. All the major Sacraments are closely related to the Eucharist. These are: Baptism, Chrismation, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the sick.
  • Special Services and Blessings, which also affirm God's presence and action in all the events, needs and tasks of our life.
  • The Daily Offices, which are the services of public prayer which occur throughout the day. The most important are Matins, which is the morning prayer of the Church, and Vespers, which is the evening prayer of the Church.


Although Orthodox Services can very often be elaborate, solemn, and lengthy, they express a deep and pervasive sense of joy. This mood is an expression of our belief in the Resurrection of Christ and the deification of humanity, which are dominant themes of Orthodox Worship. In order to enhance this feeling and to encourage full participation, Services are always sung or chanted.

Worship is not simply expressed in words. In addition to prayers, hymns, and scripture readings, there are a number of ceremonies, gestures, and processions. The Church makes rich use of non verbal symbols to express God's presence and our relationship to Him. Orthodoxy Worship involves the whole person; one's intellect, feelings, and senses.

Services in the Orthodox Church follow a prescribed order. There is a framework and design to our Worship. This is valuable in order to preserve its corporate dimension and maintain a continuity with the past. The content of the Services is also set. There are unchanging elements; and there are parts which change according to the Feast, season, or particular circumstance. The regulating of the Services by the whole Church emphasizes the fact that Worship is an expression of the entire Church, and not the composition on a particular priest and congregation.

An important secondary purpose of Worship is the teaching of the Faith. There is a very close relationship between the Worship and the teachings of the Church. Faith is expressed in Worship, and Worship serves to strengthen and communicate Faith. As a consequence, the prayers, hymns, and liturgical gestures of Orthodoxy are important mediums of teaching. The regulating of the Services also serves to preserve the true Faith and to guard it against error.

The celebration of the Divine Liturgy and the Sacraments is always led by an ordained clergymen. In the local parish, this will generally be a priest who acts in the name of the bishop, and who is sometime assisted by a deacon. When the bishop is present, he presides at the Services. The vestments of the clergy express their special calling to the ministry as well as their particular office.

Since Worship in Orthodoxy is an expression of the entire Church the active participation and involvement of the congregation is required. There are no "private" or "said" Services in the Orthodox Church and none may take place without a congregation. This strong sense of community is expressed in the prayers and exhortations which are in the plural tense. The congregation is expected to participate actively in the Services in ways such as: singing the hymns; concluding the prayers with "Amen"; responding to the petitions; making the sign of the Cross; bowing; and, especially, by receiving Holy Communion at the Divine Liturgy. Standing is the preferred posture of prayer in the Orthodox Church. The congregation kneels only at particularly solemn moments, such as the Invocation of the Holy Spirit during the Divine Liturgy.

The Litany is an important part of Orthodox Services. A litany is a dialogue between the priest or deacon and the congregation, which consists of a number of prayer-petitions, followed by the response "Lord, have mercy" or "Grant this, O Lord." Litanies occur frequently throughout the Services and often serve to distinguish particular sections.

Orthodox Worship has always been celebrated in the language of the people. There is no official or universal liturgical language. Often, two or more languages are used in the Services to accommodate the needs of the congregation. Throughout the world, Services are celebrated in more than twenty languages which include such divers ones as Greek, Slavonic, Arabic, Albanian, Rumanian, English, and Luganda.

Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith7052.

Paraklesis to the Most Holy Theotokos


The Paraklesis, or Supplicatory Service, is sung beseeching God to grant spiritual and physical health and wellbeing to the living. The most commonly-known Supplicatory Service is that of the Small Paraklesis to the Theotokos. The Kanon was composed in the ninth century by Theosteriktos the Monastic (some believe it was by Theophanes the Hymnographer). Another Kanon for the Great Paraklesis was composed in the thirteenth century by Emperor Theodore I Ducas Lascaris. There are other Paraklesis Services, identically structured and employing the same melodies, that are addressed to the saints, also seeking their intercessions before the Lord for the health and well-being of the faithful. The Paraklesis, is sung in times of danger, tragedy, sickness, temptation, or discouragement. The various hymns and prayers ask the Lord for salvation, deliverance, protection, guidance, and healing. Although these are addressed and directed toward the Virgin Mary and the saints, they ask for their assistance and prayers to the Lord. All good things come from God, and Orthodox Christians always pray to God alone. Nonetheless, just as we ask one another to pray to God for us, or to join us in prayer to God for a particular purpose, so also we ask the saints in heaven, and especially the Virgin Mary, to pray for us. This is called "intercessory prayer," when we ask others, either on earth or in heaven above, to pray to God for us. Orthodoxy affirms that each of us and all the faithful living on earth are united to one another as well as to the Theotokos, the saints, and the faithful departed in a bond of faith and love in Christ. Therefore, just as in this life we pray for one another and turn to each other for prayer, we also pray for the departed souls and turn to the Mother of God and the saints to pray for us.
In structure, a Paraklesis is patterned on the order for Matins. The distinguishing feature is the Supplicatory Kanon to the Mother of God or to a saint whose intercessions are being sought. A Paraklesis is usually celebrated as a stand-alone service in the church with a priest. It can also be sung at any time and in any place in time of need, even by the faithful alone. The Paraklesis may be celebrated at any times during the year, especially in time of particular need, at the request of one of the faithful, or even on a routine weekly basis in many parish churches. It is also traditionnaly chanted each evening during the Dormition Fast (August 1 through 14).
Παρακλητικός Κανών προς την ΥΠΕΡΑΓΙΑ ΘΕΟΤΟΚΟ


Ανάμεσα στα λειτουργικά κείμενα της Εκκλησίας, εξέχουσα θέση κατέχουν οι δύο Παρακλητικοί Κανόνες προς την Υπεραγία Θεοτόκο, ο Μικρός και ο Μεγάλος. Τον μεγάλο συνηθίζουμε να τον ψέλνουμε στον Δεκαπενταύγουστο εναλλάξ με τον Μικρό, ενώ ο Μικρός, λόγω μεγέθους αλλά και περιεχομένου ψάλλεται καθ’ όλη τη διάρκεια του έτους και σε κάθε θλίψη και περίσταση της ζωής μας. Ο λαός ονομάζει τον Μικρό Παρακλητικό Κανόνα και Παράκληση, γι’ αυτό γιά λόγους συντομίας και εμείς θα τον αποκαλούμε έτσι. Ο μικρός κανών φέρεται υπό το όνομα του Θεοστηρίκτου μοναχού ή του Θεοφάνους, πού ίσως πρόκειται για το ίδιο πρόσωπο που χαρακτηρίζεται πότε με το κοσμικό, πότε με το μοναχικό του όνομα. Ποιος όμως από τους πολλούς ομώνυμους ποιητές είναι ο συντάκτης του κανόνος αυτού δεν είναι εύκολο να προσδιορισθεί. Του μεγάλου ποιητής είναι ο τελευταίος αυτοκράτωρ της Νικαίας Θεόδωρος Δούκας ο Λάσκαρις (1222-Ι258). Ο δεύτερος αυτός κανών έχει μάλλον προσωπικό χαρακτήρα και αναφέρεται ειδικώς στα παθήματα και τις περιστάσεις του βίου του πολύπαθους αυτού βασιλέως. Ο πρώτος είναι γενικότερος και ταιριάζει σε κάθε άνθρωπο θλιβόμενο, ασθενούντα και πάσχοντα από πνευματικές και σωματικές ασθένειες, από επιβουλές δαιμονικές και κάθε άλλο ψυχοσωματικό κίνδυνο.
Και οι δύο αμιλλώνται στην εκλογή ωραίων εικόνων, λεπτού και ευγενούς τρόπου εκφράσεως της δεήσεως, ζωηρής περιγραφής των θλίψεων και των συμφορών και των αισθημάτων πίστεως, πόνου, αλλά και ελπίδος και εγκαρτερήσεως. Ο θρήνος του πιστού δεν είναι έκφραση απογνώσεως και απελπισίας, αλλά αίτηση του θείου ελέους και της βοηθείας της Θεοτόκου για τη συνέχιση του αγώνος του βίου και για την νικηφόρο αντιμετώπιση των πειρασμών. Σε κάθε Παράκληση θα συντρέξουν οι πιστοί μας για να υμνολογήσουν την Μητέρα του Θεού και να αναφέρουν σ’ αυτήν τη θλίψη και τις αγωνίες τους. Και δικαίως, γιατί η Θεοτόκος είναι η λογική κλίμακα που κατέβασε τον Θεό στον κόσμο και ανέβασε τον άνθρωπο στον Θεό. Είναι ο κρίκος που συνέδεσε τον ουρανό με τη γη, που έδωσε στον Θεό την σάρκα, ώστε να γίνει, από άκρα φιλανθρωπία, ο Λόγος του Θεού «ομοούσιος ημίν κατά την ανθρωπότητα», σαρξ εκ της σαρκός και οστούν εκ των οστέων του ανθρωπίνου σώματος.