Author Topic: Proper Church Conduct and Attire for Parishioners and Visitors  (Read 1375 times)

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Offline kelfar

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Proper Church Conduct and Attire for Parishioners and Visitors

Standing 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.

When should 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. When in
doubt, stand. It is NEVER wrong to stand in church.

Lighting 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, during the Anaphora, and
during the sermon.

Entering 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. Try not
to interrupt the Liturgy with your 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 Eucharist!

Crossing 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 [outside of church], 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!

Leaving 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 gifts. [Some hierarchs have compared leaving church before
the dismissal to Judas leaving the Mystical Supper early.]

Venerating 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) an
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 if they invited you would you even
dare to kiss them on the cheek. Pay attention to what you are doing. When you
approach an 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 person depicted
in the icon -- the same respect you would show the person by venerating him or
her in an appropriate place. [We need to ask that women refrain from wearing
lipstick in church. Icons, crosses, the communion spoon, and the hand of the
priest when we receive a blessing, are no place for this substance. It has been
noted that lipstick on the Communion spoon will create a greasy residue on the
chalice, which will be most difficult for the priest to contend with! God views
your internal beauty, not the external.]

Talking During 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.

Kiss (Don't Shake) the Priest's or Bishop's Hand

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." 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

Sunday Dress

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:

Children: 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).

Women: Dresses 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.
Shorts of any type are not appropriate for church. [Women should not wear pants
to church.]

Men: 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. After all, you don't go to be seen by everyone
else -- you go to meet and worship God.

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:

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.

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" (blow 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 no making the sign of
the cross).

Snacks for Children

You can always tell where young children have been sitting
in the church. The telltale signs are graham cracker crumbs, Cheerios, and
animal crackers. Parents often bring snacks and a cup of fruit juice along for
children during church. [If the children must eat during the service for some
reason, please take them outside and return when they are through.] By the time
children are 3-4 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.
For those children who get snacks, please don't feed them in church, and
certainly not 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. Chewing
gum during Liturgy is a No-No for everyone!

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 -- 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.

A Final 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.

from an article published in The Word in January, 1997