Frequently Asked Questions
What does “Theotokos” mean? Theotokos (Mother of God) is a title for the Virgin Mary. Orthodox love and honour (but do not worship) her because of her union with her Son. The attention given to her in the Church also expresses our faith that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man – truly human and born of a woman as we are, yet existing from eternity as the Son and Word of the Father. Thus His human mother can also be called the Mother of God (Luke 1:35,43). In many hymns she is a sign of the Church as the beloved bride of God (Rev. 21:2); her exaltation as “more glorious than the Seraphim” is a sign of the exaltation awaiting all who “hear the Word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28) as she did.
What are Icons? Icons ("windows to heaven") are paintings of Christ, the Theotokos, the Saints and Feasts. They must be painted according to a strict tradition because they are an important way through which the Orthodox Faith is handed down and taught. Icons and crosses are kissed (“venerated”), but not worshiped, as a sign of our belief that in Christ God took a physical body, became part of our physical world so we could know Him. Other human beings who unite themselves with Christ become holy and the image of God becomes visible in them so we honour their icons, as well. We also venerate icons in order to verify that we are created in God's image. God was the fist icon painter, so seeing the icons we are reminded and we can believe and trust in God's word.
Incense, vestments, and candles were a significant part of Israel’s worship in the Tabernacle and Temple of the Old Testament (Exodus 28; 30:8; Leviticus 16). They carried over into the early Church and are even noted as part of the imagery of heavenly worship in the Book of Revelation (1:12; 8:3-4). In the Divine Liturgy we participate still in this world in the worship of the angels and saints in heaven. Many people buy candles and place them in the church as an offering of light to the Lord, who told us to let our light shine (John 1:4-5; 8:12; Matthew 5: 16). Also to sustain the vigilance of our prayer we light a candle. Incense we know is a way prayer is uplifted to God, in vespers we sing “May my prayer be excepted as incense before you”.
Standard prayers and hymns are used rather than extemporaneous or modern ones because they contain the accumulated insights of many centuries of Christians, and most of them are packed with Biblical quotations. They are repetitious so that they become rooted in our minds. They are chanted or sung rather than spoken so we are less conscious of the personality of the individual reader. Also these structured prayers can be used in world wide Orthodox prayer creating a mystical unity, not relaying on an individual's charismatic emotion or wording. The latter can be the case for personal private prayer, but not ecumenical united orthodox prayer.