Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Come, Let Us Worship by Fr. Patrick B. O'Grady

As promised some months back, I received a copy of this book and the below is a review of Come, Let Us Attend. It's a tidy little book that you could read in a few sittings, but I think for its intended audience it will also serve as a reference text to open up after having attended few Divine Liturgies to answer questions as they arise.

Come, Let us Worship is a small book (some 134 pages with the appendices and glossary thrown in) is not quite what I expected. I thought it was going to join that legion of texts that tell you what the priest or the choir or the people are doing at certain times during the Divine Liturgy. This certainly does that, but is also provides the Orthodox "optics" for what is going on. You aren't being given information as a narrator might deliver it, but as someone who is trying to instruct the reader in how an Orthodox person thinks.

"When an Orthodox Christian places his first priority on the remembrance of God, he begins the new week by attending the service of Vespers on the evening before the first day of the week..." and other such insights don't just tell the reader about the service but how an Orthodox Christian views what is happening. The context might be surprising to some inquirers from other faith backgrounds and these points of reference are comprehensively added to the book from beginning to end. So, where another book might talk about what you'll experience on a Sunday service, Come, Let us Worship goes into why one can't just say prayers on the living room couch and instead must go to church as well. This is the common "God is everywhere. Of course He can make house calls" argument popular among teens and the proverbial Sunday sleepaholic. Fr. Patrick responds to such questions as that might come up. As a bonus this instruction often comes with helpful patristic quotes.

The Slav-minded part of me doesn't like all the non-English terms being in Greek, but that is to quibble as the book is littered with footnotes on jurisdictional differences. The glossary will be very helpful for the person with no background in Orthodoxy. Early on there's a section about moving around in an Orthodox church. It's filled with little tidbits on expectations. While many articles on this topic read more like a rulebook, this feels more like a guidebook for people who don't want to bother the priest with a thousand questions. E.g., Prostrations: "Why is he on the floor?" / Icons: "Can I kiss that picture if I'm not Orthodox?" / Candles: "Do I have to light one every time I visit?"

The main body of the book is of course the Divine Liturgy itself. Fr. Patrick walks you through the entire service. For many the Liturgy is quite confusing: people are coming in and out of the altar, the litanies alternate with the prayers, certain music comes out of seemingly nowhere, and then the priest says things are almost over... and then it doesn't end for quite a while. All of this is described with theological (and at times historical) notes. He also clearly defines the different portions of the Liturgy and why each is significant.

So, who would benefit from this book? It is not a complete beginner's guide to Orthodox beliefs or even a historical analysis of what the Orthodox Church is. Met. Kallistos (The Orthodox Church) is the author of that book. Nor is it an exhaustive text poring over every facet of the Liturgy down to the smallest detail. Hieromonk Gregorios (The Divine Liturgy: A Commentary in the Light of the Fathers) or Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis (The Heavenly Banquet: Understanding the Divine Liturgy) would fill that need.

But, if you have a friend who you've invited to church with you and they seem interested, I think this would be a fine text to answer their questions with. Also, if you're Orthodox and have never considered what is going on in the service in a systematic way, this is a very approachable read. It doesn't talk down to you and it doesn't fill every paragraph with terms that make the author look learned while leaving you confused. Finally, it's a great addition to a church bookstore as it hits a key book buying demographic and answers the question "Do you have something that helps me understand the Liturgy better?" quite well.

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