vs. Sitting - The traditional posture
for prayer and worship in the Orthodox Church has been to stand. In the
Orthodox “old countries”, there are usually no pews in the churches. Chairs
or benches on the side walls are usually reserved for the elderly and infirm.
In North America, we have tended to build our churches with pews, and since
we have them, we need to figure out when we may sit and when we should
stand. First of all, it is fully acceptable (even preferable) to
stand for the entire service. If you prefer this, it would be better to
find a place closer to the back or side of the church so as not to stand
out or block someone’s view.
you definitely stand? Always during the Gospel reading, the Little and
Great Entrances, the Anaphora, the distribution of Holy Communion, whenever
the priest gives a blessing, and the Dismissal. In many parishes, the Divine
Liturgy books in the pew have suggested times when sitting is acceptable.
Follow those instructions (it’s probably safer than to follow what the
people are doing in the first couple of rows). When in doubt, stand. It
is never wrong to stand in church.
Many parishes also follow the practice of kneeling on Sundays during the
Cherubic Hymn, consecration, and the “Our Father”. Strictly speaking, this
is not correct, because every Sunday is a “little Pascha” in which the
Resurrection is remembered — hence, no kneeling. The “kneeling prayers”
said five weeks after Pascha, are said after the Sunday Liturgy, “reinstating”
kneeling for Vespers, Matins, and weekday Liturgies only. If the tradition
of the parish you are visiting is to kneel, and everyone kneels, it’s better
to do so than to stick out like a sore thumb. If there is a mixture of
standing and kneeling, then stand.]
Candles - Lighting candles is an important
part of Orthodox worship. We light them as we pray, making an offering
to accompany our prayers. Orthodox typically light candles when coming
into the church - and that is usually the best time to light them, but
there are times when candles should not be lit. It is not proper to light
candles during the Epistle or Gospel readings, during the Little or Great
Entrances, the sermon, and most of the times when the faithful are standing.
If you find yourself arriving to church after the Liturgy has begun, a
good rule of thumb to remember is - if everyone is standing, wait until
they are sitting to light a candle (unless they are sitting for the sermon,
of course). Other than that it is probably all right to light a candle.
the Church (Late) - The time to arrive
at church is before the service starts, but for some unknown reason, it
has become the custom — or rather the bad habit — for some to come to church
late. If you arrive after the Divine Liturgy begins, try to enter the church
quietly — and observe what is happening. If the Epistle or Gospel is being
read or the Little or Great Entrance is taking place, wait until it is
finished to quickly find a seat. If Father is giving the sermon, stay in
the back until he has concluded. If in doubt, check with one of the ushers
to see if it is a good time to seat yourself. Try not to interrupt the
Liturgy with you entrance. By the way, the best way to avoid this problem
is to arrive on time — then you don’t have to wonder if it’s okay to come
in or not. People who come late to the Liturgy should not partake of the
Those Legs? - In some Orthodox
cultures, crossing one’s legs is taboo and considered to be very disrespectful.
In our North American culture, while there are no real taboos concerning
crossing one’s legs, we tend to cross our legs to get comfortable while
sitting. Should we cross our legs in church? No. Not because it is “wrong”
to ever cross legs, but rather because it is too casual — and too relaxed
— for being in church. Just think about it, when you get settled in your
favorite chair at home, you lean back, cross your legs, and then your mind
can wander anywhere it wants to. Remember that sitting in church is a concession,
not the normative way of prayer. You surely don’t want to get too relaxed
and let your mind wander off too much. In fact, when you do sit in church,
you should sit attentively - and not too comfortably. When sitting in church,
keep those feet on the floor, ready to stand at attention (which is what
“Let us attend” means). Cross yourself with your fingers and hand — but
don’t cross your legs!
In and Out
- On some Sundays, it almost seems like we have a revolving door in the
back of the church — and it is used by both children and adults. Use the
restroom before coming to church. You shouldn’t need to get a drink of
water during the service (especially if you are taking Communion!). Don’t
come to church to go to the fellowship hall — come to pray.
little ones out is a different matter. If a child is disruptive, take him/her
quickly and quietly out of church, just long enough to settle him/her down,
then return to Liturgy. Follow the rules for entering late: not during
readings, sermons, or Entrances.
Before Dismissal - Leaving
church before the Dismissal - besides being rude - deprives us of a blessing.
Worship has a beginning (“Blessed is the Kingdom…”) and an end (“Let us
depart in peace…”). To leave immediately after Communion is to treat church
like a fast food restaurant where we come and go as we please. We live
in a fast-paced world where we seem to be hurrying from place to place.
But in God’s presence, we need to make every attempt to fight this pressure
to move on to the next thing on the day’s agenda. We deprive ourselves
of blessings by not being still and participating in God’s holiness. Eat
and run at McDonald’s — but stay in church and thank God for his precious
Lipstick! - Have you ever
looked at an icon in just the right light and seen the lip prints all over
it? It’s disgusting, isn’t it? In fact, it’s downright gross. Lipstick
may look fine on lips, but it looks horrible on icons, crosses, the Communion
spoon and the priest’s or bishop’s hand. Icons have been ruined by lipstick;
and even though the cross can usually be cleaned after everyone venerates
it, it just isn’t considerate to others to impose your lipstick on them.
What is the answer? If you insist on wearing lipstick to church, blot your
lips well before venerating an icon, taking Communion, or kissing the cross
or the priest’s or bishop’s hand. Even better, wait until after church
to put it on. After all, God is not impressed with how attractive you look
externally — your makeup or clothing — but how attractive you are internally,
your adornment with good works and piety.
Icons - When you enter the church,
it is traditional to venerate the icons. Usually there are icons at the
entrance to the church and many churches have icon stands in the front
as well. When venerating (kissing) and icon, pay attention to where you
kiss. It is not proper to kiss an icon in the face. You wouldn’t go up
and kiss the Lord or His mother on the lips, would you? You would kiss
their hand, and only of they invited you would you even dare to kiss them
on the cheek. Pay attention to what you are doing. When you approach and
icon to venerate it, kiss the gospel, scroll, or hand cross in the hand
of the person in the icon, or kiss the hand or foot of the person depicted.
As you venerate and icon, show proper respect to the person depicted in
the icon — the same respect you would show the person by venerating him
or her in an appropriate place. And remember, blot off your lipstick before
Church - Isn’t it great to come to church and see friends and family
members? But wait until coffee hour to say “Hi” to them. It just isn’t
appropriate to greet people and have a conversation with them during the
services. Besides being disrespectful towards God, it is rude towards the
other people in the church who are trying to worship. Talk to God while
in church through your prayers, hymns, and thanksgiving, and to your friends
in the hall afterwards.
Shake) the Priest’s or Bishop’s Hand -
Did you know that the proper way to ggreet a priest or bishop is to ask
his blessing and kiss his right hand? How do you do this? Approach the
priest or bishop with your right hand over your left hand and say “Father
(or “Master” in the case of the bishop), bless.” [He will make the sign
of the cross, and place his right hand over yours.] This is much more appropriate
(and traditional) than shaking their hands. After all, the priest and bishop
are not just “one of the boys.” When you kiss their hands, you show respect
for their office — they are the ones who “bless and sanctify” you and who
offer the holy gifts on your behalf. So next time you greet your priest
or bishop, don’t shake his hand, ask for his blessing.
- Remember the time when people put on their “Sunday best” to go to church?
In fact, dress clothes were often referred to as Sunday clothes. In some
parts of the country, this is not common today. In fact, all too often,
dress in church has become too casual. In all areas of our lives, we should
offer Christ our best. And the same is true of our dress. We should offer
Christ our “Sunday best”, not our everyday or common wear. And we should
dress modestly, not in a flashy way that would bring attention to ourselves.
Our dress should always be becoming of a Christian - especially at church.
Here are some specific guidelines we use in our parishes:
Only young children (under 10) should wear shorts to church — and then
only dress shorts. Athletic shorts, cut-offs, and spandex shorts are never
appropriate church wear (for children or adults!). Shoes or sandals should
be clean and tied. No one should wear T-shirts with any kind of writing
on them (“This Bud’s for You!” is definitely out).
should be modest. No tank tops or dresses with only straps at the shoulders,
no short skirts (mini-skirts), and no skin-tight dresses. Dresses should
have backs and not be cut low in the front. If women wear pants to church,
they should be dress pants (not jeans, leggings, etc.). Shorts of any type
are not appropriate for church.
Men should also dress modestly. While coat and tie are not mandatory, shirts
should have collars and be buttoned to the collar (the actual collar button
may be left undone, but two or three buttons undone is inappropriate).
Slacks should be cleaned and pressed. Jeans (of any color) are usually
too casual for church, especially ones with patches or holes. Again, shorts
are not appropriate church wear. If you’re going somewhere after church
where you need to dress casually, bring a change of clothing with you and
change after coffee hour. Remember, use your best judgment and good taste
when dressing for church. After all, you don’t go to be seen by everyone
else — you go to meet and worship God.
- Never heard of pew blocking? It’s that practice of sitting right next
to the aisle so that no one else can get by to sit in the middle of the
pew. Everyone has seen it. In fact, the best pew blockers come early so
they can get their coveted aisle seats and then be sure that no one can
get past them. The most effective form of pew blocking takes place when
two people take their places at opposite ends of the pew, occupying both
the center and aisle seats. This effectively eliminates anyone else from
sitting on that row. There are two solutions to pew blocking. The first
is to move towards the middle of the pew, leaving the aisle seats for those
coming later. And for those of you who just can’t handle sitting in the
middle of the pew, take the outside aisle spot and graciously allow those
coming after you to go past (by moving out for them so they can get by).
Remember, pew blocking isn’t hospitable - nor is it an efficient method
of seating. So don’t be selfish. Move on over towards the middle. Don’t
be a pew blocker.
or Not To Cross - Anyone who has
looked around on a Sunday morning will notice that different people cross
themselves at different times (and sometimes in different ways). To a certain
extent, when to cross oneself is according to personal piety and not an
issue of dogma. But there are times when it is specifically proper to cross
yourself, and times when you should not. Here is a brief list of when to
cross and when not to cross:
When you hear one of the variations of the phrase, “Father, Son, and Holy
Spirit”; at the beginning and end of the liturgical service or your private
prayers; entering or exiting the church, or when passing in front of the
Holy Altar; before venerating in icon, the cross, or Gospel book.
Not to Cross:
At the chalice before or after taking Communion (you might hit the chalice
with your hand); when the priest or bishop blesses saying, “Peace be to
all” — bow slightly and receive the blessing; when receiving a blessing
from a bishop or a priest (kissing the right hand of the bishop or priest
is appropriate, but not making the sign of the cross).
Children - Parents often bring snacks
and a cup of fruit juice along for children during church. And for young
children (0 - 3 years old), this is fine. But by the time children are
4 - 5 years old, they should be able to make it through Liturgy without
eating anything, and by the time they reach seven (the age of their first
confession), they should begin fasting on Sunday morning for Communion
(or at least make an attempt at fasting by cutting back on the amount of
breakfast and eating “fasting”-type foods — talk to your priest about this).
For those children who get snacks, please don’t feed them while in the
line for Holy Communion (this applies to holy bread as well). They need
to come to Communion without food in their mouths. And one last note: try
to keep the snack mess down to a minimum. The floor shouldn’t be covered
with Cheerios! Chewing gum during Liturgy is a No-No for everyone!
the Holy Bread - After taking Holy Communion
and at the end of the liturgy, it is traditional to eat a piece of holy
bread or antidoron — the bread that was left over after Holy Communion
was prepared. While antidoron is not Holy Communion, it is blessed bread
and as such, should be eaten carefully so that crumbs don’t fall all over
the place. After taking Communion or kissing the cross at the end of the
Divine Liturgy, take one piece of antidoron (you don’t need four or five
pieces) and when you return to your seat or get to a place where you can
stop for a moment, eat the bread trying not to drop crumbs. If you want
to give a piece to someone else, go ahead and take an extra piece — don’t
break yours in half (it produces too many crumbs). And monitor your children
as they take the antidoron and teach them to eat it respectfully.
Thought - North American society in the
late 20th century is rather casual in its approach to life. Don’t allow
this prevailing attitude to enter into your Orthodox Christian piety. There
are surely a lot of other areas that could be covered here. Much of church
etiquette is based on common sense and showing respect for God and others.
Always remember that you are in church to worship God, the Holy Trinity.
The priest says, “With the fear of God and faith and love, draw near.”
Let this be the way you approach all of worship. If you do, you will probably
have good church etiquette. AMEN.