Thursday, March 10, 2011

Aerobic Worship

Orthodox Christians all over the world completed a recitation of the Canon of St. Andrew today. For over 1000 years it has been a part of the first four days of Lent. (The Orthodox observance started on Monday instead of Wednesday.)  In contrast to the usual standing, these services include bowing to touch the floor and kneeling to touch the floor with one's forehead as a physical manifestation of the theme of repentance. There are over 200 opportunities to bow before God, hence the cheerful nickname of "Aerobic Worship." Most folks don't take every opportunity, and there's no pressure to bow at all. The Canon is beautiful simply as a hymn or poem, but according to Frederica Mathewes-Green there are other features that are lost in the translation. The first verse of each canticle refers to the Biblical Canticle that it corresponds to and also establishes a metrical pattern that is sung to a particular melody. There is a new pattern with each new canticle. It's an elaborate structure that I wish I knew enough music theory to understand. But even at the elementary level at which I participate, it presents a refreshing view of repentance. Instead of self loathing and miserable guilt, repentance simply means seeing the truth about ourselves and God. Like the father of the prodigal son, God knows the truth and still loves us. Sin is like a pervading sickness or a self-inflicted wound. It's only by allowing our sickness to come to the light that we can be healed. It's a call to humility. It may not be an easy experience, but it's a positive one.  F. M-G says, "The more we trust His love, the more we are able to repent; the more we repent, the more powerfully we experience His love. Repentance is joy."


  1. I love that explanation of sin and repentance. It has been my experience that self loathing and guilt only bring about more self loathing and guilt, and more self-inflicted pain. We feel so badly about ourselves that we end up saying "to heck with it---if I see myself as such a bad person, I may as well keep sinning and beating myself up about it." It is only when I come to God and agree with Him that repentance is there for me and that His love never diminishes regardless of what I do, that I can put the knife down and stop the cutting.

  2. As Fr Basil often has reminded me at confession, the self-loathing is still a focus on the self and a form of pride. All forms of pride lead right back to all the sins. The solution is to focus on Christ instead of ourselves. It has been said, "Humility isn't thinking lowly of yourself, it's not thinking of yourself at all." It's a hard thing to do, but the only way to clear out one song which is stuck in your head is to get another one stuck in there.