Orthodox Life and worship
Life and worship
Eastern Christianity stresses a way of life and belief that is expressed particularly through worship. By maintaining the correct form of worshipping God, passed on from the very beginnings of Christianity. Eastern Christians believe that they confess the true doctrine of God in the right (orthodox) way.
The Bible of the Orthodox Church is the same as that of most Western Churches, except that its Old Testament is based not on the Hebrew, but on the ancient Jewish translation into Greek called the Septuagint.
The wisdom of the Fathers of the Church is central to the Orthodox way of life as today’s inheritors of the “true faith and Church” passed on in its purest form. By maintaining the purity of the inherited teachings of the Apostles, believers are made more aware of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit being present both in history and at the present day.
A life of prayer
At the centre of worship and belief is the Eucharist surrounded by the Divine Offices or the Cycle of Prayer. These prayers are sung particularly at Sunset and Dawn and at certain other times during the day and night.
Personal prayer plays an important part in the life of an Orthodox Christian. For many Orthodox Christians an important form of prayer is the Jesus Prayer. This is a sentence which is repeated many times; for example: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The aim of this repetition is to enable the person to concentrate solely on God.
The strict life of a monk or nun is seen as an important expression of faith.
Mount Athos and Monasticism
Monastery on Mount Athos
Monasticism is a central part of the Orthodox faith. Mount Athos in north-eastern Greece is described as the centre of Orthodox monasticism. It is the only place in Greece completely dedicated to prayer and worship of God. For this reason, it is called the Holy Mountain.
Most monasteries are coenobitic: living a communal life. The peninsula is divided into twenty self-governed territories. Each territory consists of a major monastery and some other monastic establishments that surround it (cloisters, cells, cottages, seats, hermitages).
For monk and nun alike, their spiritual life should follow the same way of living that all Christians try to achieve by following God’s commandants. While not being against marriage, it is generally accepted that celibacy in the Church allows for a closer understanding of the Christian life away from worldly things.
Fasting and prayer
Fasting and prayer play an important part of the Orthodox Christian life. Orthodox believe that fasting can be the ‘foundation of all good’. The discipline of training the body can enable a believer to concentrate the mind totally on preparation for prayer and things spiritual.
There are four main fasting periods:
- The Great Fast or the period of Lent
- The Fast of the Apostles: Eight days after Pentecost until 28th June. The ends with the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
- The Dormition Fast which begins on 1st August and ends on the 14th August
- The Christmas Fast from 15 November to 24th December.
Also all Wednesdays and Fridays are expected to be days of fasting.
Even though today the call to fast is not always strictly followed, nevertheless many devout Orthodox Christians do undergo a time of genuine hardship and it has been said that:
Orthodox Christians in the twentieth century – laity as well as monks – fast with a severity for which there is no parallel in western Christendom…
Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church