Services in this Orthodox Church may be very different than you are used to. We want you to feel comfortable and very welcome, joining with us in joyful worship. We will not single you out or do anything to embarrass you. Here are a few things that may help orient you a bit to our services:
We believe that in this church, we stand in the very presence of God, and that we join the saints and heavenly hosts in joy and prayer and worship. For that reason, we try to avoid “chit-chat” in church, but to stand with reverent awe and attention to God.
We don’t at all want to be unfriendly! We want to say “Hello!” and to welcome you, and get to know you, and help you get to know us and about our Church! But during the actual services in church, and also before the services, as people are silently preparing to worship, we try to avoid conversation.
So, during the services, please join with us in joyful and reverent prayer and worship. And after the services, please join us for conversation and have some coffee or tea and a bite to eat, where we can welcome you and try to get to know each other, and answer any questions you may have.
We are grateful to God for bringing you to visit us here online today -- we look forward to meeting you in person!
In the Holy Scriptures, the typical posture of prayer was standing. Jesus said, “When ye stand, praying...” (Mark 11:25) The ancient Christian practice has always been standing to pray. Orthodox Christians traditionally hold fast to the ancient ways. By all means, those who are unable to stand may sit in chairs and benches provided.
Orthodox worship involves the whole person: the mind, the heart, the senses, the entire body. We engage our bodies in prayer as we make the Sign of the Cross as an expression of our faith in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and when at times we bow or make a prostration before God in repentance, humility, and worship.
Orthodox Christians do not worship icons! We worship God, and God alone. Many people will treat photographs of loved ones with special care, putting them in lovely frames, in a special place, etc.. It is not the paper photograph they honor, but the person in the photograph. “Icon” means “image,” and Orthodox Christians “venerate” (honor) the person represented in that image by bowing and even kissing the icon.
Jesus and his Apostles prayed in many different ways, sometimes privately, sometimes together. Jesus respected the Temple as his Father's house, and prayed and preached there. The services of the Temple included formal liturgical services composed of prayers that all present heard together and prayed together. The word, “liturgy” comes from a Greek word meaning “the work of the people,” and it refers to people gathered together, praying with one mind and one heart. Many people do not realize that the first Christians regularly prayed together in liturgical prayer. The Apostles and many of the first Christians were Jews, and were accustomed to praying in liturgical services in the Jewish Temple. St. James, for example, continued to pray in the Temple until he was martyred for Christ.
The Divine Services of the Orthodox Church developed over centuries as people of prayer, filled with the Holy Spirit, prayed and sang to God. The services in our church are entirely in English, so even if you are not familiar with this type of prayer and worship, you can hear and understand, and pray together with us and with the saints and angels:
They are prayers that poured out of the hearts of saintly men and women when, moved by the Holy Spirit, they expressed before God the desires of their heart. The spirit of prayer is contained in them; so, if you [pray] them as you should, you too will be filled with this spirit.
Orthodox Christians view Holy Communion as deeply, awesomely holy, and are mindful of St. Paul’s words, “whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.” (1 Cor 11:27-28) We know that it is not our own efforts but only God’s grace that can make us worthy of Communion with Him. But to prepare and “examine ourselves” before coming for Communion we fast, pray, examine our hearts and our actions and repent and confess our sins, seeking absolution from God. All are called to God’s table, but please respect this ancient and venerable Christian practice, and do not come up for Communion without speaking to our priest before the services begin about appropriate preparation.
You will hear, "Lord, have mercy" frequently in our services. To many people, “mercy” is what one asks for when one is about to be judged or killed, so some visitors might suppose we are cowering in fear before a vindictive or hateful God. Nothing could be farther from the truth! We know God as the Lover of Mankind, infinitely compassionate, and infinitely loving!
The original ancient Greek words translated into English as “Lord, have mercy,” have a very different meaning than what many of us today tend to think of in their English translation:
The word mercy in English is the translation of the Greek word eleos. This word has the same ultimate root as the old Greek word for oil, or more precisely, olive oil; a substance which was used extensively as a soothing agent for bruises and minor wounds. The oil was poured onto the wound and gently massaged in, thus soothing, comforting and making whole the injured part. The Hebrew word which is also translated as eleos and mercy is hesed, and means steadfast love. The Greek words for “Lord, have mercy,” are “Kyrie, eleison” that is to say, “Lord, soothe me, comfort me, take away my pain, show me your steadfast love.” Thus mercy does not refer so much to justice or acquittal, a very Western interpretation, but to the infinite loving-kindness of God, and his compassion for his suffering children! It is in this sense that we pray “Lord, have mercy,” with great frequency throughout the Divine Liturgy.
Some people like to wear their very best. Others choose less formal clothing. In general, clothing in church should be modest, clean and unobtrusive. There is a wide variety of clothing styles in our church, and we want you to feel welcome and comfortable.
Children are very welcome in God’s house! “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” (Mk 10:14) If children become so restless or loud that they are disturbing others’ prayer and worship, their parents may briefly escort them outside. In general, we try to avoid disrupting Divine Worship by coming and going, but this must be tempered with love, and small children may need for loving parents to take them out, briefly, to return when they are able to do so.
12 Things I wish I'd known. . ., written by Frederica Mathewes-Green, a beloved Orthodox author, is also a very helpful resource for a first visit to an Orthodox church.