In the Genesis account, Cain and Abel sought to worship God by bringing a sacrifice to Him. This was well before the institution of sacrifice as the Jews would know it. Yet both men had an inherent longing for communion with their Creator and as Saint John Chrysostom taught, their consciences told them to do this. Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable to God, but Cain’s was rejected.
“But Cain and his sacrifices He regarded not.”
Cain’s act of worship was good in his own eyes, yet the Lord explained the rejection.
“Why art thou become very sorrowful and why is thy countenance fallen? Has thou not sinned if thou hast brought it rightly, but not rightly divided it? …Cain brought of the fruits of the earth a sacrifice to the Lord. And Abel brought of the firstborn of his sheep and of his fatlings.”
In the Old Testament, the manner in which man was to worship his Creator was specifically given by God. When Christ came in fulfillment of the Law, the New Covenant was instituted. But that Covenant was not so vastly different from the first. (Remember the first was a shadow of the True). Christ was a Jew, raised in the Jewish tradition, raised in the synagogue and the temple, and the model for proper worship for these new followers of The Way didn’t change. Indeed, most of the first Christians were converted Jews who understood God did not change His way for us to worship but, rather, fulfilled it as the sacrificial Lamb. He did not abolish right worship!
Thus, the worship of God performed by the first Christians was given by Christ, Himself, and continued by His Apostles. Obviously, there had to be some “tweaking” to the manner of worship. At the Last Supper, Christ fed His Disciples and gave them a new revelation and manner of Eucharistic worship, breaking bread and telling them, “This is My Body.” This was the significant departure from the temple sacrifice which covered sin, with His followers now called to a literal communing with Him by sharing in His very essence and grace by taking Him into themselves via the Eucharist. In New Testament worship, Christ is the sacrificial Lamb.
The Divine Liturgy became the single greatest act of worship for these new Christians and was first penned by Saint James, the brother of the Lord. This was (and is) the model. This was and is the acceptable worship given by Christ and maintained to this day in His very Church.
It was this Church which Christ began. Today we are surrounded by a myriad of denominations, groups, and sects, all having one thing in common: they have developed their own personalized versions of the truth and worship practices which are designed to be ‘marketed to the masses’. And usually, these assorted doctrines and practices stem from their belief that “what we believe is based on the Bible.” This idea is obviously rife with problems. Just how many versions of Truth can there possibly be? Common sense should tell us that both Baptists and Methodists (to name but two denominations) cannot possibly both be right. Are we to believe Christ founded more than one Church? As Saint Paul asked, “Is Christ divided?”
America is the land of choice with its citizens familiar with the notion that we can pick and choose our pleasures. When it comes to religion, there is a full menu of choices and there is obviously no shortage of the aforementioned denominations and groups for one to choose. Bishop Basil of the midwest has called America “the land of John Wayne Christianity” with everyone able to choose on his own how he will worship God, where, when, and why. We are able to dictate this for ourselves never considering what God ever said about the matter.
It is in this supermarket of church choices where confusion and division reign supreme, with this preacher or that preacher telling us “Here’s the truth.” Faced with so many choices, how are we to know what to believe? How are we to know what is Truth?
I once spoke with an atheist who rattled off all his grievances with God. A further inquiry into the matter demonstrated that his exposure to God had been limited to evangelical circles. In other words, his image of God was painted by a Baptist brush. The only God he knew was the God that had been presented to him. He was somewhat taken aback when I told him, “Yes, I reject that god as well.”
It is difficult for the western mind to grasp the notion that Christ founded but one Church (as He promised) wherein the Holy Spirit has maintained the deposit of Truth (as He also promised) to this day. In this context, the Holy Trinity does not conform to what our own notions of worship are. It is given to us to conform to the worship Christ has already given. Whether this mode of worship seems abstract or odd to us is simply a hurdle we must overcome.
The western God is rational and analytical. The eastern mind (Christianity was birthed in the East) is given to mystery and accepts by faith that which God has given. This mystery is the essence of the true Faith and cannot be overstated. After all, a god which is completely understood and explained is not the incomprehensible God.
The rational god is a fashion of man’s fanciful imagination. It is a god man can grasp, control and manipulate to comply with his own personal, carnal notions. The Protestant god is a golden calf and comes complete with a do-it-yourself package of all sorts of rehashed innovative doctrines and worship styles, heresies which the Church has already addressed hundreds of years ago.
But, the western man knows what he likes, and likes what he knows.
All manner of heretical teachings raised their heads in the first centuries of the Church’s existence and these heresies had to be answered. Thus, the Holy Spirit would lead the Patriarchs and Bishops of the Orthodox Church to various Ecumenical Councils to combat heresy and expound on right worship and doctrine.
The First Ecumenical Council in Nicea was convened in the year 325 against the heresy of Arius, in the city of Nicea in Bithynia under the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Constantine the Great.
The Second Ecumenical Council was convened in the year 381 against the heresy of Macedonias, by the emperor Theodosius the Great.
The Third Ecumenical Council was convened in the year 431 against the heresy of Nestorius, in the city of Ephesus by the emperor Theodosius the Younger.
The Fourth Ecumenical Council was convened in the year 451, against the Monophysite heresy, in the city of Chalcedon under the emperor, Marcian.
The Fifth Ecumenical Council “Concerning the Three Chapters”, was convened in the year 553, under the emperor Justinian the Great.
The Sixth Ecumenical Council during the years 680-681, was against the Monothelite heresy, under the emperor Constantine Pogonatos.
The Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicea II) was convened just like the First Council, at Nicea, but in the year 787 against the Iconoclast heresy, under the emperor, Constantine and his mother Irene.
Each heresy we see before us today in Protestantism is simply a repackaging of what has come before. When heretics such as Arius or Nestorius would promulgate a new doctrine concerning the Holy Trinity, the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, would answer against the heresy with one unified voice.
At the sixth Ecumenical Council, the Church combatted the heresy of Monothelitism. Monothelitism (a Greek word meaning “one will”) is a particular teaching about how the divine and human natures relate in the person of Jesus, known as a Christological doctrine. Specifically, Monothelitism teaches that Jesus Christ had two natures but only one will. It was with great urgency that the Church responded to this heresy, for Monothelitism is contrary to the Orthodox interpretation of Christology, which teaches that Jesus Christ has two wills (human and divine) corresponding to his two natures. Monothelitism is a development of the Monophysitism position in the Christological debates. It enjoyed considerable support in the seventh century before being rejected as heretical at the Sixth Ecumenical Council in 680.
This is a very important note for Americans who claim to be Christian: we simply cannot offer our own personal definitions of who God is and then worship this image according to our own ideas, while spurning the truth about the Holy Trinity and how the Holy Trinity is to be worshipped, which is maintained in the Orthodox Church. It is the height of hypocrisy and arrogance to place a man on a performance stage in a dress shirt with rolled up sleeves and loosened necktie who causally prances around with an open Bible declaring his own personal truth to the thousands of devotees, or sit in padded chairs listening to a “Christian” rock and roll concert under the guise of Christian worship, while demanding of Orthodox Christians a Scriptural basis for the use of incense and icons in worship.
And is it simply too impossible to believe that Christ actually meant what He said that He would build His (one) Church? Is this really too impossible to believe?
Most Americans who claim to be Christian embrace the “invisible Church” theory, the idea that all one must do in order to be in the Church, and to be saved, is simply “believe in Jesus.” But how can this be? This has never been the case in the history of the Faith. Indeed, even the demons believe in Jesus!
What we believe about the Holy Trinity is of utmost importance. Correct theology cannot be understated, for it is the blueprint which guides us through life. It is the chassis upon which the vehicle sits. It saves us from all manner of heresies . It tells us Who God is, and how He is to be worshipped.
As a friend of mine once stated: Let’s say we are both big fans of Superman, and we’re having a conversation about him one day. I say to you, “I love Superman. I love his green outfit, and the way he shoots spider webs out of his wrist. You would say to me, ‘You’re crazy! That’s not Superman!”
Yet, this is what Protestantism does with their god. They redefine and refashion him according to their own carnal imaginations, then worship this god according to their own whims.
It is the sin of Cain.
It is not Christian worship.
If we are to find God, if we are to enter into communion with the Holy Trinity, if we are to worship Him as He has shown, and if we are to find salvation for our souls, we will find ourselves in the Church, “the pillar and ground of truth.” As Saint Cyprian taught in the first century, “”Outside the Church, there is no salvation.”