Orthodox Church Etiquette
Or how we show love through considerate behaviour
Like Russian Orthodox Churches generally, the following helpful behaviour should be observed when attending Saint Patrick Mission services. That said, we realise that attending an Orthodox service can be a very different type of experience to attending the services of other Christian groups. Don't worry! We do understand that it may take you a while to get used to the way we do things in the Orthodox tradition.
Mobile Phones - Switch them OFF!
Please switch off mobiles or put them into silent/vibrate mode BEFORE stepping into Church. If your mobile does go off accidently then do not answer it in church and start speaking loudly. If you must answer the call, do so outside the church. Walk out of the church quietly and calmly. Do not dash or run out of the church when this happens. Let the caller wait. Usually one incident like this will make you remember to always switch off before stepping into church.
During services photography is not allowed unless a special permission/blessing has been received from the Rector.
All Orthodox Christians are welcome to have Communion at the Mission provided they have made their Confession the night before receiving Communion. Confession can be heard by Father Peter or by your own parish priest/spiritual father. It can be very inconvenient if you ask Father Peter for Confession during the Liturgy, and should only be done if you have genuinely extenuating reasons, or are extremely frail, ill or disabled. It is tradition in the Russian Orthodox Church to have Confession prior to Communion and we ask all our Orthodox guests to honour this practice. "Prior to Communion" doesn't mean 6 or 12 months ago or even two weeks ago. Also, insisting at the Holy Chalice that you have a blessing from your spiritual father to have Communion without the necessary preparation is unacceptable.
The traditional posture for prayer and worship in the Orthodox Church has been to stand. The Mission has only a few seats (reserved for the elderly and disabled). When should you definitely stand? First of all, it is fully acceptable (even preferable) to stand for the entire service if you can. But always during the Gospel reading, the Little and Great Entrances, the Anaphora (i.e. straight after the Creed), the distribution of Holy Communion, whenever the priest gives a blessing, and the Dismissal. It is never wrong to stand in church.
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, from the Creed to the end of the Eucharistic Canon, and during "Our Father" or during the sermon.
The time to arrive at church is before the service starts. 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, or if Father is giving the sermon, stay in the back until it is concluded.Try not to interrupt the Liturgy with your entrance.
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.
When venerating (kissing) an icon, pay attention to where you kiss. It is not proper to kiss an icon in the face. 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 an icon, show proper respect to the subject depicted in the icon.
Isn’t it great to come to church and see friends and family members? But wait until AFTER the service to talk to them. It just is not 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 or outside afterwards.
Did you know that the proper way to greet 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, ” they are the ones who “bless and sanctify” you and who offer the Holy Gifts on your behalf. When you kiss their hands, you show respect for Christ, whom they represent. So next time you greet your priest or bishop, do not shake his hand, ask for his blessing.
Athletic shorts, cutoffs, and spandex shorts are never appropriate church wear (for children or adults). Shoes should be clean and tidy. No T-shirts with any kind of excessive writing or inappropriate images.
Dresses should be modest. No tank tops or strapless dresses that would expose the back or low cut at the front. No mini-skirts. Skirts should be at knee or lower. If women wear pants to church, even though this is not preferred, should be dress pants (not jeans or leggins, etc.). Shorts of any type are not acceptable. Head coverings should be worn, at least by married women.
Coat and tie are not mandatory, shirts should have collars and should be buttoned to the collar (the actual collar button can be left undone, but two or three buttons undone is inappropriate). Torn jeans, with patches and loose fitting are not acceptable. No T-shirts or shorts.
To Cross 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 an icon, the Cross, or Gospel book.
Do not 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).
Handling 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 and to drink some wine (zapivka). 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. Monitor your children as they take the antidoron and teach them to eat it respectfully.