Sunday, November 13, 2005

Liturgy: Common Work, Common Worship

I've been told that the word Liturgy translates into "common work" or "common worship." Some mornings it definately feels like work more than worship. My friend Nathan once shared this maxim with me: Sometimes your head takes your feet to Church and sometimes your feet take your head. I can appreciate that.

When I was working on my dissertation I was studying the etymology of the verb "to heal." Working on a doctorate in counseling "to heal" is at the heart of the matter. I was searching word roots in the Old and New Testaments and doing some other research to that end. I was intrigued to find one day that "to heal" shared some ancestry with "to work" in the Old Testament and "to worship" in the New Testament. Being that I was still Protestant at the time this all made sense to me inherently but I had trouble putting it together with the theology. That word "work" was particularly pesky at the time.

I remember working on one particular piece of my paper and I must have rewritten it 3 or 4 times. I'd write 12-15 pages and then just scrap the whole thing. I was so frustrated with it. I kept wrestling with this relationship between healing, working, and worshipping. (It seems so easy now. It's hard for me to remember what a surprise it all was to me then). Finally, I sat down with the book of Jeremiah (one of my favorites) and I prayed. Jeremiah 6:16 says this,
This is what the LORD says:
"Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls...."
I stopped. I was arrested by this passage. I began to research the book of Jeremiah more fully. I called my friend who was a seminarian at the time and I said, "What's the ancient path?" (Little did I know at the time that that friend was wrestling with the decision to become Orthodox. He later told me that it was that passage that confirmed his heart's desire and he became a catechumen shortly thereafter.)

Once a passage like that gets into you it just won't go away. So as my search continued you can simply imagine my surprise and sense of home when I met Father Paul for the first time on a tour of an Orthodox Church nave. He said, "This is where we do Liturgy. The word litrugy means 'common work' or 'common worship.'" I don't know if he saw me staring at him at the time or if he saw my jaw drop... pages and pages and hours and hours of dissertation work... I was standing in the middle of my dissertation. I was looking at the Ancient Path.

I didn't finish my doctorate. I became Orthodox instead.


I'm getting out of bed now. Liturgy awaits. : )


elizabeth said...

really enjoyed reading this, thanks... it is encouraging to me to realize that to be in liturgy is a transforming thing, that what tranfigures us is not an abstract concept... what an incredible thing to find one standing in the midst of what one had been searching for... i know that is also my experience, though i feel like at times i am still figuring out what it means; and working through liturgy does seem like the best way learn what it all means...

Matthew Francis said...

That is a tremendously beautiful story, Stacy. For now, I'll just say, "I can relate."

Stacy said...

Thanks Matthew...

I'm not even sure why I posted it, to be honest.

Care to share more regarding "I can relate?" I'd be interested to hear more of the story.

Neo said...

The word Liturgy comes from the Greek word leitouryia, that is to say public service. Leitouryia finds its root in two words: Leit and eryon. Leit means people (variant of laos) and eryon means work.

Thought this might be found interesting to though into etymology.

Peace out,

churchmouse said...


you posted it because it is important. I have had some similar word/etymological struggles toward epiphany in my ownjourney towards Orthodoxy. It is inspiring to find out that there are still more, and that my mind can still turn itself inside out when I thought it had already reached maximum inside-outness.

Being someone who also seeks to understand "healing" (for my own sake and for others), and having begun to sense the transfigurative influence of Orthodox worship now that I am Orthodox, and being someone whose primary sins include laziness and reluctance to work--your post gives me something I can meditate on for a long time. Not because I don't understand it yet, but because it will be a while before I cease to understand it more.