Church Etiquette

The Church is the Body of Christ on earth, the fellowship of the faithful. It is the Ecclesia, the gathering of the people of God who assemble to worship together the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As a consequence of their belief in Christ, as Son of the living God, they have been baptized, chrismated and receive His precious Body and Blood regularly. They have chosen to help and love one another as Christ Himself commanded. They repent for their shortcomings which offend God’s law and receive forgiveness. They seek God’s help and the help of their fellow Christians to do better.

If our faith needs practical expression, then we also need the Church. A vague belief in God, a few occasional moments of something like devotional feeling, and a good deed once in a while, are hardly a real expression of the Christian Orthodox Faith. To do a good job in anything requires organization. Every good idea and goal must be planned well in order to be successful. The Church, a living organism, is a treasury, a storehouse of centuries of accumulated wisdom in humanity’s efforts to relate to God and all people. Truly, what we know of our Faith we have ultimately received from the Church, as well as, the church in the home. Those of us who have received and cherished this heritage have an obligation – a duty – to pass it on to future generations. It takes this organization we call Church to give Christianity to those who will follow. This is why we need to be “active” and “concerned” members of Christ’s Body – His Church!

Church Conduct

When attending the Divine Services we all have the responsibility of maintaining a proper decorum and atmosphere in the church. The very first thing to keep in mind is that we are to arrive on-time. In order to fully participate in our worship we should be in church from the beginning of the Divine Liturgy as well as, all of the Divine Services.

Remember! The church is the Temple or House of God. Reverence and good manners are required at all times. No irreverent or irrelevant conversations should take place in the Narthex or in the Nave of the church. In addition, there are certain times during the Divine Services when no one should be moving about, be entering or exiting the church or be seated at a pew. Wherever a person happens to be at these moments, he or she should stop and stand reverently until the proper time to be seated. These times are:

  • During the Great Doxology at the end of Orthros, while the Priest is censing
  • During the Small Entrance – The procession of the holy Gospel
  • When the Priest censes or blesses the church or faithful
  • During the Readings (Epistle [sit] and Gospel [stand])
  • During the Sermon (sit)
  • During the Great Entrance – The procession of the Holy Gifts
  • During the recitation of the Symbol of Faith (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed) and the Lord’s Prayer
  • During the Consecration of the Holy Gifts
  • During Holy Communion
  • During any special services (Memorials, Artoklasia, special Doxologies, etc.)

(Please Note: To receive Holy Communion the faithful should come forth from the center aisle and exit via the side aisle to return to their pew. Also, when receiving any Holy Sacrament, please offer your baptismal/chrismation name.)

Please remember that Parish Council members are obligated to maintain church order and etiquette during our worship. Please try to understand us. Cooperate with us. We are here to serve you. Your cooperation in maintaining Church order will help us greatly in offering you assistance for all of your spiritual needs.


Lighting Candles

When an Orthodox Christian enters the narthex of the church, he/she makes the sign of the Cross, makes an offering for a candle, venerates all the icons, and lights the candle while saying a prayer. Candles are lit as an expression of our belief that Jesus Christ is the “Light of the world.”

A candle may be lit for the health and well-being of someone or in memory of a departed loved one. In particular, the larger votive candles may be lit for the same reasons. These candles are placed in the special stand located near the front of the Nave. Please remember when one should and should not enter during Divine Services.


Venerating Icons

“The saints, during their earthly life, are filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit. After their departure the same grace remains in their souls as in their bodies. The very same grace is present and active in their sacred images and icons” (St. John of Damascus). It is the practice of the Church to venerate, not worship, icons. The Orthodox Church calls for the elaborate use of symbolism and iconography in the interior decoration of the church building. Icons are not simply portraits representing people, but graphic presentations of spiritual truths that are visual aids to contemplation and prayer. When we venerate icons the honor is directed to Christ or to the Saint depicted on the icon, not to the wood, paint, or colors of the icon.

In the Orthodox Church the icons bear witness to the reality of God’s presence with us in the mystery of faith. We are to look beyond the external and deep into the spiritual meaning of living the Christian life. Icons are the witnesses of the presence of the Kingdom of God to us, and so our own presence to the Kingdom of God in the Church. They serve as windows to Heaven.  It is in the Christian Orthodox Faith that icons are not only permissible, but are spiritually necessary because “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).  Christ is truly man and, as man, truly the “icon of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15, 1 Cor. 11:7, 2 Cor. 4:4).  Just as the Holy Scriptures are God’s words in symbols of ink letters: icons are God’s words in symbols of color.

When venerating an icon we first make a prostration, make the sign of the cross, venerate by “kissing” the icon, and make another prostration.  Please consider our fellow worshippers and refrain from wearing lipstick when venerating icons as it can leave a residue on the icon and is considered disrespectful.


Sign of the Cross

We make the sign of the Cross as a public profession of our Christian Orthodox Faith. The first two fingers and thumb of the right hand come together symbolizing the Holy Trinity. The two remaining fingers symbolize the Humanity and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Therefore, in our right hand, we hold the two major doctrines of our Christian Orthodox Church each time we make the sign of the Cross.

We make the sign of the Cross before we eat, sleep, drive, pass by, enter or leave the church, travel or begin any major endeavor, acknowledging our desire to include God in these activities. In church, make the sign of the Cross:

  • When you venerate the icons
  • When you light a candle
  • When you hear “…Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us,” “…the Theotokos,”
  • At the beginning and end of the Gospel reading
  • During the Symbol of Faith when we say Articles 8 and 9: “And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Creator of Life…” and “In one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church”
  • Before and after receiving Holy Communion
  • For Altar Servers, when you enter the Holy Altar, and when you approach, leave from or pass behind the Holy Table

(Please Note: When the Priest blesses or censes the faithful it is more correct to slightly bow than to make the sign of the Cross since they are receiving the blessing rather than proclaiming their faith. Also, it’s not uncommon to make the sign of the Cross following each petition of the litanies.)


When to Receive Holy Communion

Orthodox Christians are encouraged to receive (we do not say “take”) Holy Communion as frequently as possible. When the Priest intones: “With the fear of God, faith, and love, draw near”, an invitation is given to join oneself to the purity and beauty of the life in God.

However, this is the greatest of responsibilities. Care must be given to properly prepare to receive Holy Communion. This includes:

  1. Regular daily prayer, and the reading of the pre- and post- Communion prayers
  2. Fasting as prescribed by the Church Calendar and the priest
  3. Almsgiving, practicing proper Stewardship of the gifts given to us from God

One should not receive Holy Communion unless he/she has made serious preparation to do so. The most important of these preparations includes repentance or “metanoia”. This should be part of the daily cycle of prayer and should include the regular scheduling the Holy Sacrament of Confession prior to receiving Holy Communion.


Children in the Church

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven’.” (Matt. 19:14)  Our Christian Orthodox Church baptizes and chrismates children at a young age to make them full members of the Body of Christ, the Church. As members of the Church, parents are to instruct them to be respectful and quiet during Divine Services. Please be mindful of fellow worshippers if a child becomes too disruptive and enter the side transept located at the left side of the Soleas as quietly as possible. Please note that this area is not a playroom and should not be used as such. Once the child has calmed down, come back into the church. This is where they belong but remember that we come to church to pray and to worship God.

It is never appropriate to allow a child to run down or play in the aisles. In addition, toys that make noise are not permitted in church. The child should not have anything in his/her mouth when coming forward to receive Holy Communion. Remember, it is strictly forbidden to chew gum in church by anyone, at any time. Please remember to bring your children to Church when Divine Services are scheduled. They should be taught that the church is God’s House and that special manners are expected there.


Greeting the Clergy

The Orthodox Christian respects and loves the clergy. Knowing that the clergy are servants of God and man, that they are men who are devoting their life for the salvation of their flock, the Orthodox Christian expresses his/her gratitude and respect to them on every occasion.

When speaking with the clergy, the following terms are proper:

  • To the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople: “Your All-Holiness”
  • To all other Patriarchs: “Your Beatitude”
  • To the Archbishop or a Metropolitan: “Your Eminence”
  • To an Auxiliary Bishop: “Your Grace”
  • To a Priest: “Father”
  • To a Deacon: “Father” or “Deacon”

Orthodox Christians address the Priest as “Father”, for he is the Spiritual Father of his flock; he is their teacher, confessor, sanctifier, and healer. There are people that belong to Christian denominations that do not call their clergy, “Father”. But let us consider the words of St. Paul, “For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15). When we also read the Gospel according to St. Luke, we find the rich man calling up to Abraham in heaven with Lazaros in his bosom and addressing him as “Father Abraham” (See Luke 16:20-31). Abraham’s response was not, “Do you not realize that only God the Father is to be called Father?” Rather, he replied, “Son, remember.”

When people greet a Priest or Hierarch (Bishop) they kiss his hand as an expression of respect, as recognition of his Priesthood, and as a veneration to the holiness of his sacred office and duties. The proper way to do this is to approach the clergyman with right hand over the left, palms facing up and then bow slightly while saying: “Master, bless” to a Hierarch or “Father, bless” to a Priest.

The fact that the Priest or Bishop handles the Holy of Holies, that is, the Body and Blood of Christ, when he offers the Divine Liturgy, is recognized by Orthodox people, at all time throughout the world, as a great and awesome privilege. The hands that touch and offer the Bloodless Sacrifice on the Holy Altar; the hands that give to us the Body and Blood of Christ; the hands that baptize and anoint us with Holy Chrism; the hands that absolve us in the Sacrament of Penance; the hands that bless our wedlock in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and anoint our bodies with the healing oil of the Sacrament of Holy Unction; the hands that sprinkle upon us the Holy Water of Sanctification; the hands that bless us, alive and dead, these hands are the instruments of salvation! For this reason Orthodox Christians through the centuries have kissed the hand of the Priest when he is greeted either in church when he distributes the Antidoron at the end of the Divine Liturgy or outside the church whenever he is present.


Church Attire

Coming to church is not a casual experience! Instead, it involves preparation of oneself for a serious and sacred encounter and we dress accordingly out of love and respect for our Lord who we meet in a mystical manner in church each time we celebrate the Divine Services.

Our clothing reveals much about us – our lifestyle, outlook on life, and even our self-esteem.  When it comes to Church attendance, our clothing can convey many messages: modesty, discretion, simplicity, indifference or vanity. For Orthodox Christians, there are several principles that must be considered in referring to what is appropriate attire for church.

As Orthodox Christians we are called to offer to Christ our best in all areas of our life, and the same is true of our attire. There was a time when people referred to times when they wore their “Sunday best.” In the past, dress clothes were often referred to as “Sunday clothes” because people wore their very best to church.  When we dress up for Church it is a reflection of the importance we place on church attendance.

An important word to keep in mind is respect – respect for God, respect for oneself, and respect for those in whom we share in Christian Orthodox fellowship. Equally as important as respect is modesty. We should dress modestly, not in a flashy way that would call attention to us. We must also realize that many of the styles that are popular today, especially among young people, are not appropriate for Church. For example, exposed midriffs, pants or skirts worn very low, t-shirts with any kind of writing or slogans, shorts and mini-skirts, along with any kind of extreme hairstyles, or body-piercing and exposed tattoos, are not appropriate for either men or women. Also, not appropriate are tank-tops and sleeveless shirts, or tops that are low cut in either the front or back.  Women’s dresses and skirts should be at or below the knee in length.

One final point that is of paramount importance is that we should not focus on what other people are wearing but, instead, focus on ourselves and our own spiritual life. Remember, judging others is a far greater sin than dressing inappropriately. Look within yourself and evaluate where your
priorities are and make sure that your own attire reflects your faith as an Orthodox Christian.


More to Consider When Attending Church

  1. Refrain from socializing during Divine Services. Communicating with fellow parishioners should be done during Coffee Hour in the Community Center and not prior to it. In Divine Services our focus must be on God and in bringing ourselves to worship Him
  2. Please remember to turn off your cell phone during the celebration of Divine Services. Texting is also prohibited when attending Divine Services. If there is a professional or emergency situation that requires one to have access to a cell phone, it should be kept on “silent” or “vibrate”. In this case, one should sit at the end of a pew so that should there be an emergency, it will not be a distraction for others when leaving
  3. Avoid reserving seats for family or friends that may come late to Divine Services. Make room for all that come to attend Divine Services and in particular, visitors so that they feel welcomed
  4. When venerating an icon, the Cross, when receiving Holy Communion, or kissing the hand of the Clergy, please do not wear lipstick
  5. One must be attentive when attending Divine Services. Crossing of the legs or arms is considered disrespectful when attending Divine Services
  6. It is not appropriate to gather in the Community Center, the kitchen, or the Parish Priest’s Office during Divine Services
  7. Chewing gum in church is never permitted
  8. Only Sunday Church School teachers and students are permitted to depart early from the Divine Liturgy as their classes commence
  9. Once Divine Services have concluded, please depart from church appropriately. This may mean that the faithful come forward to receive the Antidoron or venerate the Cross held by the Priest
  10. When receiving the Antidoron at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, please remember to venerate the hand of the Priest and try not to drop the crumbs since this bread is offered as a blessing