Why the Rituals?


Every church has rituals and every church believes in traditions and interpretations that the Bible does not teach or specify. Where in the Bible does it say that the books of 3 John or James or Esther should be included in the Bible? Where in the Bible does it say that Communion should be practiced every Sunday? Where in the Bible does it say that God is of Three Persons, and not two or four? Where in the Bible does it say that washing feet should be done once a year rather than once a week? Where in the Bible does it say that Christians are expected to go to church at all? Where in the Bible does it say that prayer is more sacred when both hands are held together? Where in the Bible does it say that Christmas should be celebrated? Where in the Bible does it say that sermons must be made every Sunday, rather than once a month or not at all? All Christians worship in churches that practice rituals. Some are more elaborate than others, but we all have them and they are all treated as a means of receiving God's grace in the Holy Spirit.

In ancient Judaism, the prophets had all instituted certain rituals and traditions behind Scripture and worship in order to enhance one's spirituality. The apostles did the same thing, christianizing many of the ancient Jewish rituals and priestly hierarchy. According to Scripture, we are meant to worship the Lord with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds, and all our bodies and strength. This means that we must pray with our hearts, minds, and bodies during worship. The more these things are done, and the more in balance these things occur, the more spiritually enhanced we become through church services.

Rituals were always meant to increase faith, advance oneself to higher states of spiritual perfection, and to prepare oneself for greater communion with God. Christianity inherited and passed on these same concepts, though because of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross for salvation, the apostles emphasized the spiritual power of sacrificing oneself to work out one's salvation and to help others along the path of salvation. Thus, rituals were instituted carefully by the apostles and their disciples to involve much personal sacrifice in body, mind, and heart. And so, during Lent people are expected to pray and fast much more than usual for 40 days, and to fast every Wednesday and Friday from dairy products and meat all through the year. Christians are also encouraged to go to church more than once a week, to receive Communion as often as possible, to go to Confession frequently, to tithe, to submit to a spiritual authority in strict obedience, etc. This was how the early Christians lived and these practices continue in Eastern Orthodoxy.

This concept of sacrificing time, food, money, etc. had effects and ramifications beyond simply going through the motions or feeling the Holy Spirit. Those who willingly seek spiritual profit from sacrificing the mind and body through rituals, such as simply going to church without fail, fasting at the prescribed times without giving up, praying before bed, work, and meals all the time, blessing one's house, submitting to spiritual authorities without question, etc., are able to advance toward spiritual perfection in ways they may not expect. One of the greatest gifts from the Holy Spirit through the Church's apostolic rituals is increased wisdom and awareness of God and of one's own strengths and weaknesses. This is especially true in the case of sacrificing one's life. The Early Church began as a group of people who were persecuted constantly, whose lives were always at risk. The apostolic rituals, if practiced in the right spirit, prepare each Christian for the possibility of martyrdom.

If one cannot give up some time for church or prayer, how can he sacrifice his life for the Lord? If one cannot fast from food, how can he be spiritually stable enough to sacrifice his life for God? If one cannot sacrifice his money, even all his money, how can he believe that he is ready for martyrdom? Most Christians are not aware of how much they love this world and the lives they have here. Even good Christians during the Roman and Communist persecutions, as well as those suffering under Islam, have balked at martydom and imprisonment, preferring to compromise some of their Christian faith for safer and more comfortable lives. It is difficult even for Christians who have lived a life of constant worship through apostolic rituals to accept martyrdom and/or torture. This is why it is so important not just to have rituals, but to have the most apostolic rituals.

The ancient rituals of the Early Church and the Eastern Orthodox church, since they are one and the same, were designed precisely to purify one's body and mind, to wrench souls from earthly attachments, as well as to prepare Christians for a total life of personal sacrifice, even torture and martyrdom. The idea that monks and nuns give up all their money, time, and even marriage is not because these people are over-reacting, it is because of the practical value of Christ's teachings through the apostles in the Holy Spirit for themselves and for others who seek their wisdom and devotional experience. Though not all Christians must first be spiritually prepared through living a life of apostolic rituals before being martyred, in most cases spiritual preparation is necessary. Hence, there are a number of examples in Church history amplifying the need for devotional and ritualistic preparation before one's martyrdom. For instance, in the 1780's, Zacharias the Furrier from Arta, Greece during the Muslim occupation had become a Muslim and then repented. He became a monk for penance and then was guided by the Holy Spirit to be a martyr. He asked his abbot for permission to do this, but the abbot told him that he must first be spiritually prepared by fasting, praying, and holy reading for 40 days. During this time, he and the abbot talked, and the abbot understood that Zacharias was still not ready, since he had in his mind the martyrdoms of the Roman Empire. The abbot said that because the tyranny of Islam is worse than the tyranny of the Roman Empire, Zacharias required much more spiritual awareness. After some discussion, the abbot finally realized that he was spiritually ready to witness for the Lord Christ before the Muslims. So Zacharias went before the Muslim authorities and confessed that he had ceased being a Muslim, which in Islam is punishable by death. After the judge recognized that Zacharias was not insane (since, like the Communist system, Muslims often attribute rejections of Mohammed with mental problems), Islamic law required that he be tortured in order to force him to return to Islam. But Zacharias died in the process and was thus made a saint. Other stories from the martyrs repeat this idea of spiritual preparation for salvation and martyrdom.

There are many reasons why rituals are so important, especially the original apostolic rituals. But some of the most obvious are the concepts behind personal sacrifice in theoretical and practical bodily and mental imitation of Jesus Christ in His ministry and on the Cross. Rituals are bodily prayers which require some degree of mental sacrifice. Learning to submit to sacrifice and even to spiritually advance by it has always been the essence of Christianity. This is why apostolic rituals are so necessary for the faith and why the Early Christians and their successors have insisted that anyone who changes them or regards them as mere symbolic gestures has destroyed the Apostolic Faith to some extent.