We as people think we understand what certain words mean and how they are to be used.
I recall when I was in high school my eleventh grade English teacher Mr. Strickland, taught us all in the class not only how to write but how to properly speak the language as well. For example when a classmate asked, “Can I go to the bathroom?” he would reply, “I don’t know can you?” At which he would get a quizzical look from the student asking the question. He reminded me of my father who being an immigrant to this nation and having never spoken English till he was twenty years of age would always correct my English which he knew better than myself and my siblings. Knowing the language was never important to me till I became older.
Today when we read articles on the internet, watch television broadcasts, listen to the radio or any other form of media, we hear terms such as politically correct and how people have taken the English language abusing it in such a way to make it mean what they wish. For example, when some one tells a lie they say afterwards, “I mis-spoke.” or “I was mis-quoted.” One of the most common misconceptions I have seen running rampant in the world is a failure of people to understand the concepts of veneration vs. worship. People associate the words to mean the same thing.
Worship is a fairly simple concept for us to understand. What is worship? Worship is defined as 1. The ceremonies, prayers, or other religious forms by which this love is expressed .2. Ardent devotion; adoration.
This is a form of prayer but it is only due to one and one alone who is our heavenly Father. When we are taught by Jesus how to pray in the the scriptures he taught us thus:
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
Prayer is a form of worship which we should be practicing on a constant basis. We must understand one thing concerning prayer, it is a dialog/conversation of a divine nature.
The first five books of what we call “the Old Testament” have their authorship attributed to Moses who led the Israelite out of Egypt when the Lord freed them from the bondage of the Egyptians. We know quite well that the Egyptians were a polytheistic society as were the Hellenes, Persians, Ethiopians as well as many other of the worlds civilizations. What made the Israelites unique compared to the rest of the world at that time is the introduction of the ten commandments which have been adopted universally throughout the world. What makes the faith of Judaism, Christianity and many other faiths interesting is how the first commandment has penetrated many faiths in one form or another,
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Exodus 20: 2 – 6
What this accomplishes is instead of the pagan concepts of polytheism where people considered the sun, moon, trees, creatures, volcanoes to be associated with different deities which is is nothing more than the machinations of humanity where we worship demons intent on deceiving humanity keeping us in darkness. When humans are so preoccupied in worshiping all these deities it creates such massive confusion and superstition that humanity is not able to move forward because they interpret worship in a way that it becomes destructive to humanity.
It should be understood that we worship only God and nothing else. We communicate with God through prayer. What examples do we have to follow on how we are to live a life in God? This is where the concept of veneration comes into play.
Veneration by definition is respect or awe inspired by the dignity, wisdom, dedication, or talent of a person. There are many people whom we show respect by venerating them because they are models of what it truly means to be a person of faith, worshiping only the Lord God. Some examples in the Old Testament are Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Noah, David, Hannah, Ruth, etc. just to name a few. In the ancient synagogues they had what could be called icons of these examples. In the New Testament we have Stephen the first martyr, the twelve apostles the mother of our Lord the ever-virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, Martha and Mary the sisters of Lazarus, etc.
One of the biggest issues concerning veneration is that we pray to these examples whom we call saints (to be address in article about saints). This is where many people get confused and accuse us of worshiping the ever-virgin Mary, saint Stephen the Martyr and the other saints. This is where a distinction needs to be made. We as Christians worship God only and no one else.
As I explained earlier, prayer is a conversation that we have with the Lord and His saints. What does it mean when in the Divine Liturgy we sing the following hymn, “Through the prayers of the Theotokos (the one who gave birth to God) savior, save us.” (There is a lot of theology in this hymn that needs to be addressed but I will save that for another time.) There is a simpler way for this issue to be addressed.
We all know that in order for us to move forward in our careers it is not only based on how well we perform our work but who we know. Don’t say that you never have asked of anybody a favor for help to get a job even if it is nothing more than a simple recommendation. I know we have all done it including myself.
Prayer as was explained is a conversation, therefore when you pray to the saints you are having a conversation where you are asking for assistance during a trying time in your life. When my father had his first stroke (God rest his soul), I remember clear as a bell the conversation we were having on how we needed to buy a 24 pin dot matrix printer where the quality is almost flawless for typesetting. We were walking together into his bedroom when he started acting silly. It occurred to us what was happening and that evening as they took him to the hospital. I slept by the kitchen phone praying to the Lord and his mother asking that they allow my father to live.
When your mom asks you to do something do you actually turn around and tell her no or do you try to do what she is asking of you? How about when our dads are a little stubborn (and they wonder where we get our stubbornness from) do you give up or go to mom asking her? If mom says “yes” all of sudden dad then agrees to it.
The same thing is true when it comes to the mother of our Lord. When we pray to her asking for assistance we know that our Lord being an obedient son will not ever deny His mothers request for our spiritual well being. We respect Mary the mother of our Lord and hold her in high esteem. We also respect the saints. This is what veneration is! We only worship God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit who is one God (to be addressed in a future article).
This issue of veneration and worship became such a heated argument in the church that it led to what became known as the iconoclastic controversy. The people where polarized into two groups. Those who removed the icons from the church because they felt that these images where being worshiped in violation of one of the ten commandments and those who wanted to keep the icons in the church. It took the church close to 100 years before a resolution was reached and it was decided to restore the icons. When the issue was finally resolved the church issued the following statement:
As the Prophets beheld, as the Apostles have taught, as the Church has received, as the Teachers have dogmatized, as the Universe has agreed, as Grace has shown forth, as Truth has revealed, as falsehood has been dissolved, as Wisdom has presented, as Christ has awarded, let us declare, let us assert, let us preach in like manner Christ our true God and honor His Saints in words, in writings, in thoughts, in deeds, in churches, in holy icons — worshiping Him as God and Lord and honoring them as His true servants of the master of all, and offering to them due veneration.
This is the Faith of the Apostles! This is the Faith of the Fathers! This is the Faith of the Orthodox! This is the Faith, which has established the Universe!
Sunday of Orthodoxy
The church has thought about this issue long and hard debating and thinking very carefully over the words that are used to explain the faith that we have been so blessed to inherit. The church has examined the issue of worship and veneration making a distinction between the two. Martin Luther a disgruntled deacon as well as many other self proclaimed theologians tell us that hundreds and thousands of people who debated and died over these issues knew nothing and they as individual know better. Don’t make me laugh!
Simply put we worship ONLY the Lord and to Him belongs the glory forever!