During the coffee hour last week after church, the wife and I got into a conversation with a couple who converted to Orthodoxy only a year or two ago. His wife was mostly minding their young child, so we were pretty much talking to him. We were talking about our faith journey and some of the issues we're still dealing with in regards to Orthodoxy and possible conversion. He said he and his wife dealt with many of the same things and, in what is becoming a frequent refrain, that his wife had a much greater problem with these things than did he. But things kind of clicked for his wife one day, ironically, as she prepared to ask a rabbi a question. She worked in a potato-chip factory and once a month the factory would make a run of kosher products under the supervision of a rabbi. Her question was about Temple worship and why the Jews stopped worshipping that way (I assume she didn't know the Temple was destroyed by the Romans). She realized, though, that what she was seeing at St Nick's every Sunday morning was precisely that. She saw the elements and architecture of the OT brought into fruition and relationship with Christ. The Temple architecture, the decorations/icons, the incense, the sacrifice and the priests - it was all there right in front of her. So things clicked for her and they joined later that year.
A couple of days later, the wife and I were out doing our Bible study. We try to go through a book of the Bible, one chapter per week, and talk about what we've read; questions, things that jumped out at us and insights or connections we've made. Right now we're working through Hebrews, and last week we looked at chapter 8. I hadn't really thought about our conversation with that couple at all that week until I got to verse 5 and then something hit me - where is the throne in Protestant worship? Hebrews draws elaborate parallels between Christ and the high priest of the OT, between Christ's sacrifice of Himself and the high priest's yearly atonement sacrifice, and between the high priest's entering into the Holy of Holies and Christ's "taking his seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven." (Hebrews 8:1) In the heavenly things upon which the Temple and its worship was based, the Holy of Holies is the throne room and the Ark of the Covenant is the Father's throne. God is present on his throne, which is why the Holy of Holies could only be entered once a year by the high priest, and him alone. We see the same pattern in Orthodox worship. Only the priest and those specially appointed may enter into the altar area because Christ, through the Eucharist, is present on the throne of the altar. God's presence sanctifies that area and it connects the mundane to the divine, opening something between heaven and earth. Those heavenly types upon which OT Temple worship was based have not been done away with. No, they are eternal and thus are still the example we should follow, the pattern to which we should adhere but with the new dimensions Christ introduces through the Church.
With this in mind, my thinking instantly flashed back to the Protestant church I recently worked at. I pictured the west-facing auditorium, the wide, flat stage, the lack of decoration and any kind of Christian symbol. I pictured the lack of sanctity in that place, the raucuous music and irreverent spirit. I pictured the coffee stains and bagel crumbs on the floor. But I saw no throne. I saw no seat for God, no place where Christ is made present to us. So is that still worship, biblically understood? Can we worship without the throne?