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Canon of St Andrew and Orthodox Worship

March 13, 2013

beforethycrossI was recently listening to a “children’s worship” song, from a VBS compilation. Here are a portion of the lyrics:

“Let’s sing about the LORD, the greatness of our God
For He’s the King of everything.
We’re wild about His love and all the He has done
For He’s the King of Everything.

I know God, I talk about Him every single day
I pray to Him at all times, He’s the only way
I love Him, He loves me, no matter where I go
And everything I do will be for God and God alone”

Something struck me as I heard these words. These are dishonest lyrics. What do I mean? Let me first share that these lyrics brought me back to another song that was a regular part of my “worship”, when I was an Evangelical, attending Calvary Chapel. Here are the words of the chorus:

Amazing love, how can it be
That you, my King, should die for me?
Amazing love, I know it’s true
And it’s my joy to honor You.
In all I do, I honor You.”

I will admit that the chorus I just shared and the song above have great truth in them. God is the King of Everything. He loves us, no matter what. It’s amazing to think that the King of all creation died for me, because of His love. There is no arguing with that. But here is the problem, a lot of what follows is not true about ME.

I remember when I first learned the words to Amazing Love, I sang it with joy. But then came the words “‘In all I do, I honor You.” I immediately realized I was obviously singing a lie. Truth be told, 1% of my actions, words and thoughts honoring God was a pretty exaggerated estimate of my piety (especially back then). I remember being sick to my stomach when I would sing those last words of the chorus. I simply stopped singing that line. While it is a joy to honor God, I rarely do it.

I had this conversation with my friend Jonathan, who posted about it on his blog, The Prayer Of Saint Ephrem. We talked about how innately dishonest the modern worship songs tend to be. Not because they are attempting to deceive people, or speak heresy, but because they seem to convey great lyrics, rather than great humility. My friend does a better job than I at communicating the conversation we had. We agreed that much of what is sung in the modern Praise and Worship genre suffers from emotionalism, egoism and a false sense of security in a one-time confession of Christ salvation.

This is obviously a broad overview and does not reflect the fact that there are many, many songs of deep, humble devotion to Christ and are not only based on Scriptural ideas, but are sometimes adaptations of Psalms. Even though I know that I desired to worship God in Spirit and Truth, and do not doubt the heart of anyone I worshipped with, I would always find myself saying to myself, “I sing these words, but they are not even close to being true in my life. Lord help me!” I found it distressing and discouraging

One thing my friend and I also both agreed on, was how refreshing we find our Orthodox worship to be. I should say Apostolic, because the Orthodox are not the only ones with such prayers and worship. I especially remember my first time attending the services with the Canon of St Andrew. I finally felt like I could connect with the prayers and hymns I was singing and hearing. These were not high ideals I hoped to one day live up to, these were broken-hearted confessions of failure to live up to even the least of God’s Commandments. These are pleas for God’s mercy. Refreshing, to say the least, and words I could finally say without feeling like a hypocrite.

Beside the specific beauty and humility of the Canon of St Andrew, my friend and I also mused on the more general humility in our weekly worship. We plea, “Lord have mercy” ceaselessly, as well as ask God to, “Grant this, O Lord.” The prayers of preparation for communion are humble as well. And I am always amazed by the prayers of the daily Matins, and their powerful exhortation to give up sinfulness and sloth, in favor of living a life in obedience to God.

I know that all prayers and hymns have an element to them that reaches for an ideal, and doesn’t necessarily reflect to lowly present state. Even the Psalms are full of such imagery and poetry. To be sure, I still have much hypocrisy in my life, but I no longer have the sense that my words of worship have no business coming out of my mouth. Yes, none of us is worthy to worship God in and of himself, but anyone can say the words, “Lord have mercy!”

With the Great Fast just a few days away, I am glad for these prayers and hymns during the Bright Sorrow.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Randi permalink
    March 13, 2013 6:56 pm

    Lord, have mercy on us all, as we enter the great Fast, looking forward to Pascha!

    • March 13, 2013 7:02 pm

      May God have mercy indeed! I am so excited for this Great Lent.

      Sent from my iPhone

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