The Orthodox Vocabulary in Worship


My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,



Orthodox Christianity uses three words to describe the process of worship: latreia, hyperdouleia, and douleia. We can render them as worship/adoration, high reverence, and reverence. Worship and adoration are to be given to God alone. To do otherwise would be idolatry. But Christ Himself is to be afforded worship and adoration, just as the Father and the Spirit are in the unity of the Trinity; for Christ is God in the fullest sense of all that that means. The divine worship of latreia cannot be given to an icon, considered as an icon. What the believer does before the icon is make an act of proskynesis (the word means a bowing down in reverence): but this physical act (bending down in the presence of the icon of the Lord) is the material form of a worship which flowers into latreia (adoration) of the Divine Christ. English uses the word 'worship' very loosely in this regard. Orthodox Christianity has actually thought about the matter far more deeply and elaborated a much clearer theology of prayer and reverence in ancient times. In the English marriage service, for example, the bride and groom are called upon to 'worship one another' with their bodies. Here the term clearly means 'hold in respectful veneration.' At other times English intends to reserve the word worship for the adoration due to God alone: as in the phrase from the Old Testament: "You shall worship no other God, for the Lord is a jealous God".

The English translation of the Old Testament, used so heavily by the Reformers (Protestants), had made worship in this sense the sole translation of 'adoration due to God alone'. The ancient Christian Church, on the other hand, only read the Septuagint Greek Scripture (not the Hebrew), where the range of vocabulary for worship, adoration, reverence, veneration, respectful greeting was much more extensive, and graded according to the different contexts of what was being spoken of. If adoration and worship were due to God alone, it was fitting that reverence and respectful behavior would be attributed to God's Prophets, the anointed kings and judges of Israel, and, in the New Testament dispensation, clearly to the Apostles and great Saints. None of these heroes was given worship or adoration; such a thing would be offensive. When the pagans tried to do this to the Apostles Paul and Barnabas they were horrified. But the Orthodox Christians know that basic distinction between adoration and reverence (latreia and douleia). To Christ, and the Divine Trinity of course, that is to God alone, is given adoration and worship (latreia).

To the Ever-Virgin Mary the Theotokos and Saints is given profound reverence (douleia) because of their closeness to God, and because of the way they have been assimilated so closely with Christ's glory. To venerate the Virgin and the Saints is, the Orthodox Christians believe, another form of giving glory to Christ. But even so, there is a very big difference between veneration and worship/adoration. If Christians of the Reformed (Protestant) tradition could trust that Orthodox Christians know what they mean, and know what they are doing when they venerate icons, much suspicion could be ecumenically avoided. Idolatry is as detested by the Orthodox Christians as it is by the most zealous Evangelical. On the other hand, the Orthodox Christians are very puzzled why some Protestant believers think that they honor Christ by refusing to respect His Mother and His Saints; puzzled, too, by the way that many people who hate icons and would cast them out of the churches seem to have their own homes filled with pictures (photographs and suchlike) of those whom they love, often gazing upon them reverently and devotedly as things that evoke the presence of their loved ones. The first thing an Orthodox Christian does before a holy icon is to bow; the second thing is to kiss the hand of the holy person depicted in the icon (it is regarded as somewhat sacrilegious and presumptuous to kiss the face). Orthodox Christians love the holy icons of Christ and the Ever-Virgin Mary and the Saints, and fill their churches and homes with them.

There is not a single home of an Orthodox Christian which does not have holy icons in it. The east-facing corner (if geography allows) is usually the place where a corner shelf is made and the family icons are set up, known as the 'beautiful corner', and near the corner will be kept the family Holy Bible and Orthodox Prayer Books. At every wedding the Orthodox guests make sure that the new couple has a gift of an icon of Christ and the Ever-Virgin Mary, so as to 'start off' a new home properly. This corner is the place where the family will meet for prayers. Often an incense burner (thimiato) is to be found here. In church Priests and Deacons will incense the holy icons and then incense the Orthodox people of God liturgically as a sign of the blessing of God conveyed upon them. In their homes, the Orthodox laity will also light a charcoal and place incense upon it so that it rises in the sight of God, in front of the holy icon of Christ, to accompany their prayer. The priestly prayer at the offering of incense explains the significance of this: "Incense we offer to Thee O Christ our God. Receive it upon Thy heavenly Throne, and send down upon us in return, the grace of Thy All-Holy Spirit." After offering the incense to God the faithful will then take the censer and cense the holy icon of the Theotokos and the Saints, and then any of the family who has gathered there in prayer, and lastly the house itself: to call down the blessing of God over all. (Source: The Orthodox Church.  An Introduction to its History, Doctrine and Spiritual Culture by Father John Anthony McGuckin)


I find it most troubling when I observe so-called Orthodox Christians entering the Narthex of the church but never either venerating the holy icons found there or even lighting a candle. I also find it very sad and disappointing when I visit an Orthodox Christian home and I hardly see an icon or any religious symbol anywhere. What is that all about!

If one considers himself/herself as an Orthodox Christian then be one! Act like one! Don't be selective what you like or don't like in the Orthodox Christian Tradition. One is either an Orthodox Christian or is not. One cannot pick and choose in the Orthodox Church.

I personally find this attitude offensive, disrespectful, and unorthodox. I strongly suggest that you ask your priest if you have any question about our Holy Tradition and what everything means or read at least a book or two on Orthodox Christianity.


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" - Saint John Chrysostomos


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

+Father George