The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 2 “On Pews, Standing, & Overall Comfort”

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“I’m exhausted” I whisper to my husband “Do these people never sit?” We were attending Divine Liturgy, a service that had my husband’s face raised to the Resurrection Icon with a look of holy expectation, a service that had me shaking my head thinking “why can’t I sit?”

Orthodox churches differ in how many pews they have, but a common characteristic in all of them is that you stand. A Lot.

And I’m not used to standing, unless I’m speaking at a workshop. In fact, my body isn’t used to much discomfort. Too cold? I put on heat. Too warm? I put on a fan or go to the ocean. Too tired? I lay down. Too hungry? I eat. Too angry? I vent.

In a word, the world I live in is ‘comfortable’. I don’t say ‘no’ to self on a regular basis.

And that’s where my mind ends up going – thinking about how quickly I physically get uncomfortable and want to ease my discomfort. About how much I have to learn about giving up self, giving up comfort, focusing on worship and love of my Lord. The discomfort and agony of the cross is textbook discomfort for me, theory that I’d just as soon dismiss rather than shudder through, rather than really face.

If there is one thing I am learning on this journey toward Orthodoxy it is this: the church will not bend for my comfort. This strikes me as a startling revelation. So much of church shopping today is done according to comfort. “If I can’t go in my shorts, holding my large Hazelnut Latte, then it’s not the church for me.” is a quote I have heard in various versions in diverse areas of the country for the past 10 years.

And yet here I am in a church where comfort is not high on the agenda. Neither is creating an atmosphere that will make your local coffee shop aficionado feel like it’s their ‘place’. Rather, I am participating in a service and pursuing a faith that speaks in awe and reverence about the saints and their posture as they head toward their deaths. A church that hasn’t changed much since the first century. A church that invites me to look at worship in a new way. It is a church that takes the words in the book of Philippians seriously: “That I may know Him, and the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death.”

I am in a church that stands in awe, prostrates in reverence, fasts in remembrance.

And so I stand, and I open my ears to listen to the words I am hearing from the a cappella choir, I begin to pray that I will stand with strength, that my reluctant heart will be drawn beyond the weakness of the physical to the strength of the eternal.

Lord Have Mercy on this soft, squishy, reluctant Orthodox.

13 thoughts on “The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 2 “On Pews, Standing, & Overall Comfort”

  1. “Too cold? I put on heat. Too warm? I put on a fan or go to the ocean. Too tired? I lay down. Too hungry? I eat. Too angry? I vent.” – Well that’s to what Churchill attributed his longevity: “never do anything standing up, that you could do sitting down, never do anything sitting down that you could do lying down” … It’s also amazing that they stand so much during worship as most religions prefer some prostration during services. But then, hasn’t prostration two meanings?

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  2. I had the same problem in Charismatic churches, even though the atmosphere is very different! It was not uncommon to have an hour of stand-up worship. But there was usually the freedom to sit.

    I suspect the hymns or canticles used by the Orthodox church are considerably more substantial than those we sang.

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    1. They are pretty substantive! In fact – probably miles from the charismatic experience! One of my new Orthodox friends pointed out that until the 16th century all services were ones where parishioners stood. Then when the pulpit was introduced, the focus became less the altar and worship, and more the pulpit and teaching.

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    1. I like this linked article. Yes, the Orthodox Church is harsh and strict, but as this linked article suggests, it also allows freedom of movement. I am glad you posted this Marilyn as it reminds me of a post I have wanted to do for some time on pews. I’ll try to kick one out in the next few days now that the issue is burning in at least one person’s mind.

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    2. Loved that article. Thanks for sending. I’m realizing that this series is valuable in opening up the conversation so that I learn more instead of sitting in my ignorance and wonder!

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