So, it's been almost a year since I was chrismated. The first six months after chrismation, I attended an ACROD parish. However, I was forced to return home, and after a month or two in attending an Antiochian church while looking for a job, I started attending an OCA church. I'm finding the experience to be quite different. I'm a little bewildered by some things, and I'm hoping someone here can shed some light.
1) Confession. I used to confess before the Christ icon, and I would kiss the priest's epitrachelion after absolution. Now, when my new priest has confession, it's at a stand containing the Gospel and a cross, and the priest doesn't offer me his epitrachelion to kiss at the end.
What accounts for this difference in confession?
2) "Father Bless." I'm finding in this OCA parish more people, when they enter the church, coming to the priest and saying "Father Bless" and then cupping their hands to kiss the priest's hand. This is quite new to me. At my last parish, I used to kiss the priest's hand at the veneration of the Cross at the end of Liturgy, and a few other times when the priest offered me his hand and I would kiss it. Is it impolite not to ask for a blessing when meeting the priest?
3) Blessing for (spiritual) activities. This evening I went to my weekly Orthodox Bible Study. The study is always led by an Orthodox priest. However, this evening the priest did not show up. We did not realize this until we found out that he is sick and could not come. So, it was only us lay people. We all had our Orthodox Bibles, and we already had traveled to meet for Bible study. I recommended that, since the priest could not come, we still prayerfully read some of the Scripture together, perhaps one or two of the Psalms. One of the other members, who primarily organizes the times for the study, was against it, saying that we did not have a blessing to read and discuss the Scripture without a priest. I understood his position and did not disagree with him, but I was wondering if someone could explain what activities one needs a blessing for.
In years past, even when Catholic, I'd go to my priest to receive his advice and guidance on important matters, or to prescribe for me some helpful prayers or spiritual books. Whenever I asked a priest for a blessing, it was not so much for permission to do a specific task as for God's guidance in performing a holy activity, or more generally, in living a good Christian life.
4) Venerating icons. I like venerating icons. When I went to a Ruthenian church several years ago, I would bow, make the sign of the Cross, kiss the icon, and then make the sign of the cross again. I'd usually say "thank you [saint's name]," and/or invoke the saint in prayer, and be reverent and thankful to be in the presence of the saint. I continued this at the ACROD church. I thought this was good to show my appreciation and reverence. Now, at the church I'm presently attending, I'm finding several people doing metania's in veneration of all icons, as well as throughout the Divine Liturgy. I know they are sincere in their intent. I wonder, though, if this is a Russian custom, or if this is simply normal in non-Russian Orthodox Churches as well. Can anyone shed some light on this for me?
5) The Prayer Before Holy Communion. It's different! In the Ruthenian/ACROD churches, the wording was different, and we refrained "remember me when you come into your kingdom" three times, making the sign of the cross each time. I notice that in the Antiochian church and in the church I now attend, this refrain is taken out. Is the Ruthenian/ACROD form of the prayer different from all other Orthodox Churches? Are there other forms of the prayer different from the one I hear at the OCA church? Do all Eastern Orthodox Churches contain this prayer in some way or another in the Divine Liturgy?
That's all for now!