The Forgotten Connection Between Theology and Liturgy (Part 2)

St. Onesimus

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

(Saint Augustine)

O Lord Jesus Christ, Word of God, O God the Logos, You are the Light that created the perceptible light. You are the Way and the Truth and the Life. In You there is no darkness, no deception or lie, no vanity and no death. You are indeed the Light, and apart from You there is spiritual darkness. You are the Way of Truth and virtue, and without You mankind wanders in error. You are the Truth, without which there is only vanity. You are the Life and without You there is death...

O Lord, the Light of my soul, shine Your enlightenment upon me. As I stand now before You in prayer, shine Your Light upon me who am blind of soul, sitting in spiritual darkness and under the influence and power of death. Guide my works on the way of virtue, which brings peace, so that I may worthily approach the wondrous tabernacle, Your holy temple, the house of God, and there offer to You, with joyous voice, words of thanksgiving and doxology. For this doxology, when truly coming from the heart, is a way and a means by which I will first be able to turn away from the path of sin, and then directly return to You. For You are truly the way that leads to Life. Amen.


On February 15th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith:  Synaxis (Assembly) of Saint John the Theologian; Holy Apostle Onesimos of the Seventy; Saint Major of Gaza; Saint Efsevius (Eusebius) of Syria; Saint Paphnutius of the Kiev Caves; Saint Dalmatos of Siberia.

THE HOLY APOSTLE ONESIMUS OF THE SEVENTY. One of the Seventy secret Apostles of Christ, he was a slave of Philemon, a rich and distinguished citizen of Colossae in Phrygia. He offended his master in some way and fled to Rome, where he heard the Gospel from the holy Apostle Paul and was baptized. By this time, Saint Paul had brought Philemon also to the True Faith, and he reconciled the two of them, Philemon and Onesimus, master and slave, writing a special epistle to Philemon--one of the most moving writings to be found in the New Testament: "I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds...Perhaps he departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him forever, not now as a servant, but above a servant; a brother beloved." Deeply moved by this letter, Philemon received Onesimus as a brother indeed and gave him his freedom. Saint Onesimus was later made bishop and received the see of Ephesus after the death of the holy Apostle Timothy. This is recorded in the Epistles of Saint Ignatius of the God-Bearer. At the time of the persecution under the pagan Roman Emperor Trajan, Saint Onesimus, by then an old man, was arrested and taken to Rome. There he testified before the judge Tertylus, was imprisoned and finally slain. A wealthy woman took his body, placed in a silver coffin and buried it, in the year 109 A.D.

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Martyrs, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.


Holy Epistle Lesson: I Peter 1:1-25, 2:1-10
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Mark 8:1-10


"God wants and desires only one thing from us: our humbleness. He does not want anything else; just to humble ourselves, so He can make us partakers of His Divine Grace, which was granted to us through the Mysterion of Holy Baptism. Although we did not love Him yet, neither had we struggled to acquire His grace, He gave it to us as a gift out of His extreme kindness. He is only asking from us to humble ourselves and respond out of gratefulness and appreciation to His love. Thus, Divine grace, which abides in us, will be activated and function accordingly. It will make us love God and get to know Him; it will do everything for us, if only we humble ourselves and allow for it to act. The only obstacle to the energy of God's Grace is our pride, our lack humility. (Geronda [Elder] Paisios of Mount Athos]

By Rev. Dr. Philip Zymaris [source: Praxis Magazine]

Part II.

To offer one more example of this connection between theology and liturgy, one may note how the theological teaching on the Incarnation referred to above is especially evident in the way we celebrate our Orthodox Sacraments (Mysteria or Mysteries). There is a sense that our sacraments are more real and "physical" than what is observed in some other Christian communities. We make ample use of matter and we do everything in a real, literal sense; we don't "pretend." This sometimes makes a strange impression in a religious culture where sacraments often have been made so "symbolic" to the point of "de-materializing" them and "spiritualizing" them, as if too much "matter" takes away from the "spiritual" experience. (Of course, some Christian communities have practically done away with sacraments altogether.) This alteration in worship practice actually comes once again from an alteration in theology, from a de-emphasizing of the basic theological teaching on the Incarnation and the general resurrection referred to above. In our sacraments (Mysteria) we emphasize the use of matter precisely because of this Orthodox stress on the Incarnation, the resurrection and the resulting theological affirmation of the goodness of matter because Christ took on a material body and in the Resurrection our material bodies so that they may participate in the Glory of the Kingdom. Therefore matter as created by God is good ("And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good," Genesis 1:31), and it is used in the sacraments (especially the Holy Eucharist) as a vehicle for communication of the Divine. For example, in our Orthodox baptismal service we have a true, three immersion of the neophyte in water rather than a "symbolic" sprinkling. Continuing with the example of baptism, one can note that in the Byzantine service we also totally anoint the neophyte in oil and chrism. One may further observe that in the catechism/exorcism part of this service (the first part), when the sponsor (godparents) or the prospective Christian himself or herself renounces Satan, they actually spit toward the West. (It is interesting to note that this liturgical practice has even passed into popular Orthodox culture, i.e., the practice of spitting in some Orthodox circles, as reflected in the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" actually comes from this very literal, physical liturgical practice!) In the Sacrament of Holy Unction, once again there is a true anointing with oil. The Sacrament of Confession is done face-to-face with the priest, and the body participates by kneeling at the absolution prayer. In the marriage service and Sacrament, rings, crowns and wine are employed as well as a liturgical dance, an ancient practice found in the Old Testament involving the whole person in joyful, celebratory worship. Finally, the Orthodox method of distributing Holy Communion is still to offer both bread and wine to clergy and laity alike. Indeed, up until the ninth century, there was no spoon. All the faithful received the Body in their hands exactly as the clergy still do today. Hence, by the way we celebrate our sacramental life, the participation of the whole human being, of one's body, mind and soul, is clearly evident, and this participation is a derivative of basic Christian Theology.

The few examples offered above hopefully can be seen as a confirmation of what the late Father Alexander Schmemann so often quoted: Lex orandi lex credendi; the rule of prayer is the rule of faith. In other words, what we pray is what we believe; what we do in church is precisely what we teach in our theology books. The very structure and way we do our worship services (our "typicon") makes it clear that this is the case in our Orthodox Tradition. The fact that his evident connection between theology and worship found in our liturgical life has been forgotten today is unfortunate but not irreparable. All we need to do to rediscover these treasures is to begin actively participating in our Divine Services and especially in the Mysteria (Sacraments) and in the Sacrament of Sacraments, the Holy Eucharist. In this way we can once again experience and live out what we believe to be the basic tenets of the Good News of Christianity and become true theologians, that is to say, prayerful, liturgical beings truly united to Christ "in spirit and truth." Only then can this experience overflow to the "liturgy after the liturgy," i.e., to our everyday life, so that we may become living witnesses, a desperate need in our world today, which thirsts so much for the spiritual truth. In this way we can demonstrate to the whole world what the Psalm so often quoted in our services exclaims: "Taste and see that the Lord in good" (Psalm 33/34:9)!


Rev. Dr. Philip Zymaris is Assistant Professor of Liturgics at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. He earned an MDiv from Holy Cross in 1991 and a ThD from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in 2000. Fr. Philip and his wife, Xanthippi, have five children. He is Presbyter at Assumption Church in Pawtucket, RI.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George