Great article by a Protestant who visits an Orthodox parish for the first time:

Pews? We don’t need no stinking pews! Providing seats for worshipers is SO 14th century. Gorgeous Byzantine art, commissioned from a famous artist in Bulgaria. Fully robed priests with censors (those swinging incense thingies). Long, complex readings and chants that went on and on and on. And every one of them packed full of complex, theological ideas. It was like they were ripping raw chunks of theology out of ancient creeds and throwing them by the handfuls into the congregation. And just to make sure it wasn’t too easy for us, everything was read in a monotone voice and at the speed of an auctioneer.

I heard words and phrases I had not heard since seminary. Theotokos, begotten not made, Cherubim and Seraphim borne on their pinions, supplications and oblations. It was an ADD kids nightmare. Robes, scary art, smoking incense, secret doors in the Iconostas popping open and little robed boys coming out with golden candlesticks, chants and singing from a small choir that rolled across the curved ceiling and emerged from the other side of the room where no one was singing. The acoustics were wild. No matter who was speaking, the sound came out of everywhere. There was so much going on I couldn’t keep up with all the things I couldn’t pay attention to.

He later mentions another reason why I believe that Orthodox worship is true and right:

In a day when user-friendly is the byword of everything from churches to software, here was worship that asked something of me. No, DEMANDED something of me.

Does God care how we worship Him, or is it a matter of our own preference?

Does our church reflect that Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, or does it accomodate the changing world and ever-changing tastes?

Does your church look like a lecture hall, or like a temple?

These are issues that I never fully considered before my introduction to Orthodoxy. Oh, I certainly had opinions on worship; the traditional Protestant type worship often seemed dead, and the more contemporary version of the same often seemed overly emotional. There were elements of both that I could appreciate, but nothing that I could consistently latch on to as “true worship.”

Furthermore, as a Protestant I felt that worship was so dependent upon various aspects beyond my control: Which songs were we singing today? If the songs were among my least favorite, then there went the whole experience and the chance to really worship. Is the choir good today? Is the worship leader present? If not, then chances were good that my mind was on the quality of the music rather than worshiping. And if there was bad theology in a song? Oh well, it rhymes nicely. Perhaps worst of all, worship was mostly a preparatory exercise to hear a sermon; that is to say that worship was a means to an end and not an end in and of itself.

But let’s really get to the heart of the matter here: What does it mean to really worship God? And what about worshiping Him the way that He wants to be worshiped, rather than the way we prefer to worship?

Orthodox worship is a serious – but not stuffy – affair. As I pondered this ancient form of worship, it occurred to me that maybe it wasn’t up to me to decide the best way to worship God. Maybe, just maybe – it wasn’t about how I felt about the worship – maybe it was about how He felt and what He wanted. Maybe it shouldn’t be about having the right music to “get in the mood” to worship – maybe it should be about worshiping regardless of how I feel.

When I changed my perspective, the pieces began to fall into place. I’ve been attending Divine Liturgy for almost a year, and it’s more or less been the same thing every Sunday. Yet weekly I am amazed by the enormity of the beauty and wonder that I witness. For the first time I feel like the focus of worship is completely on God and not even slightly on me or how I feel. Pay close attention to many Christian hymns and songs and you will find that somehow the worship has become intertwined with the individual and his feelings. Look at the words to Amazing Grace, for example. It’s a nice song but it hardly qualifies as worship.

I’ll close with these comments from Fr. John Matusiak:

We do not gather for worship to be entertained, to be “relevant,” or to “appeal” to this group’s “taste” at the expense of the whole. While humans have the need to worship, worship must offer a glimpse of the divine, not an affirmation of humanity. Worship must always be seen as focused on God, period, and not on “me.”

When my husband and I first learned about Orthodoxy we initially brushed it aside as “too Catholic.” We saw pictures of Divine Liturgy at a nearby parish and I told him in an email “Don’t think I could get into this. Maybe I could if I lived in Europe and had an old-world kind of lifestyle.” The pomp and circumstance of the Liturgy just seemed so far from what I was accustomed to in my modern suburban life. As a Protestant I couldn’t relate to a style of worship that contained anything visually ornate.

We had read a lot about Orthodoxy and I think we could have continued down the path of mere scholarship for quite a long time, but several different people gave us the advice to jump right in by attending Liturgy. Divine Liturgy is meant to be experienced, and we were going to miss the main event if we only focused on scholarly pursuits.

I became determined to visit. David also wanted to visit but he was nervous – mostly afraid of the unknown of a new situation or of making a faux pas. We decided to attend a nearby parish that a friend had visited before. As we pulled into the parking lot, we were a bit nervous. As we made the decision to get out of the car, we were still nervous. As we stood inside the building but just outside the temple, we were really nervous! We had read Frederica’s 12 Things I Wish I’d Known and it was extremely helpful but we still weren’t entirely sure what to expect. We stood in the narthex for a minute or two, undoubtedly looking completely bewildered. A nice lady saw us and before we knew it we were inside the temple and observing our first Liturgy.

The next week we decided to try a different parish (OCA). We’ve been going back ever since.

If you are looking into Orthodoxy, you really must attend Liturgy. The Orthodox Church is so amazingly rich and you are doing yourself a disservice by not attending Divine Liturgy. If you are nervous like we were – don’t be! You can duck into the back of the temple and stand to the side and be completely anonymous if you would like. Just soak it all in. The next time you visit, you might want to look around and see if there is a copy of the printed version of the Liturgy. It is immensely helpful to be able to read along – so much is happening during Liturgy, it is easy to miss some of the words.

After our first Liturgy, David commented that it was almost hard to believe that this was the same religion that we had grown up in. Divine Liturgy was so different from anything that we had experienced. As the weeks and months pass by, we continue to be drawn to Orthodoxy both in scholarship and in practice. If you have not yet attended Liturgy, please consider doing so soon!