I will never forget my visit to the Grand Canyon several years ago. I had seen countless pictures and read numerous stories, but no picture and no words can express the emotion as the expanse of the Grand Canyon was before me.
That is the feeling I experienced today as I visited an Orthodox service. For several years I have read Orthodox blogs and read about Orthodox history, but it did not prepare me for what I experienced today. I visited a local parish of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Not knowing exactly what to expect, I walked in and quietly sat on the back pew. I looked around, and less than 20 people were present. Before the liturgy, several people were walking around, burning incense, kissing icons, and singing the Psalms. As the liturgy began, I stood with the rest of the congregation, and my senses were soon teaming with experiences. I smelled incense, and my eyes were drawn to the numerous candles and icons. What I would call the ‘choir’ seemed to be an informal gathering at the front right of the church, with participants coming and going. The entire liturgy was a continuous expression of musical chants, with both male and female participants throughout the congregation. Except for a short sermon, everything was a melodious chant, from scripture readings to prayers to responses to creeds to psalms. The chants were worshipful, reverent, calming, and inspiring all at the same time.
For several years, I have read Orthodox blogs and other writings, but I never found the Orthodox equivalent of a Western “Systematic Theology”. I realize now why I haven’t. The Orthodox do not see theology in the way the western branch interprets scripture. Their belief system seems to have been carried forward through the Divine Liturgy and the liturgical calendar.