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Author Topic: Visiting an Orthodox Church for the first time  (Read 1329 times) Average Rating: 0
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Deborah
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« on: May 30, 2012, 04:37:29 AM »

I'm going to attend a Divine Liturgy for the first time this coming Sunday. Smiley  I'm excited, but kind of nervous as well.  I've read the article "12 things I wish I'd Known", but still have lots of questions.  I'd really appreciate some input on the questions below:

1. What is the dress standard for women?  Head coverings? Dress or skirts only?  Is there a minimum length for skirts and sleeves?

2. Is seating mixed or segregated by gender?  If segregated, where do women sit?

3. How do you behave toward or in the presence of a priest, apart from calling him Father _________?

4. On the kissing side of things, is it a seriously bad social gaffe or offensive if you don't kiss everyone during the proscribed greeting/kiss of peace/benediction part of the service (sorry I'm not sure what the term is in Orthodoxy)?  What about at the end of the service when people line up to kiss the cross and priest's hand?

5. Does the sign of the cross have to be made with a certain hand?  I know the Orthodox way to cross; however, I'm left-handed, and if I do it without too much thought I'm likely to use my left hand.

6. With the antidoron - what is the process around receiving that for non-Orthodox?  Do you line up with everyone else who is receiving the Eucharist?  Do you ask the priest for a blessing? (I'm thinking it might be safer to sit that one out and watch...)

Thanks
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« Reply #1 on: May 30, 2012, 05:44:23 AM »

1. What kind of parish are you going to?

2. Traditionally women stand on the left of the church - i.e. at the right hand of Christ with the Mother of God.

3. If you feel comfortable with it, kiss his hand when you greet him, though he won't be offended if you don't.

4. Only the priests exchange the kiss of peace during the Liturgy, so you won't have to worry about that one. As for the kissing of the Cross, watch the person in front of you and follow suit if you're comfortable with doing so.

5. The sign of the Cross should always be made with the right hand.

6. Antidoron literally means 'instead of the gifts', and is the blessed bread given out after the end of Liturgy to those who didn't receive Holy Communion (though most people who commune also take antidoron nowadays). The bread (and in Slavic practice, also wine) given out immediately after Communion is something else, so you won't be lining up with those receiving the Eucharist.
« Last Edit: May 30, 2012, 06:05:23 AM by Orthodox11 » Logged
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« Reply #2 on: May 30, 2012, 06:23:30 AM »

Don't be intimidated. Anyone who is Orthodox at heart will never make you feel embarrassed or ashamed. Attend the Divine Liturgy with a prayerful heart, follow along as best you can, and ask questions during the coffee hour or fellowship time afterwards. If anyone does anything to make you feel awkward, please know that they are not representing the true spirit of Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy truly is grace in the fullest Christian sense. Of course, not everyone understands that. I have been a baptized Orthodox Christian for 5 years, and I am still constantly learning. The day I think I that have truly "learned Orthodoxy" is the day I am in deep, deep trouble.


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« Reply #3 on: May 30, 2012, 06:44:08 AM »

Hi Deborah and welcome to the boards.

A lot of your questions depend on which parish you're going to.  For example - we don't do the kiss of peace at our parish, women don't generally wear headcoverings, and seating is mixed.  But, don't worry - no one will look down on a visitor who doesn't know what is going on.  When you first arrive, if there's someone by the candle stand tell them this is your first visit.   Hopefully they'll give you a little primer on their particular parish.

We make the sign of the cross with our right hand.  I don't think I've ever seen anyone do it with their left hand before - except the little kids who are just learning.  Don't worry, it will be okay. 

If you have a chance to meet the priest call him Father. 
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« Reply #4 on: May 30, 2012, 09:33:43 AM »

Don't worry about making mistakes. Probably no one will be paying much attention anyway. Watch others and participate as you feel comfortable. Much of the details (dress, headcoverings etc.) depend on the parish you will be attending, although Orthodox are always expected to dress "modestly."
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« Reply #5 on: May 30, 2012, 10:24:57 AM »

I'm going to attend a Divine Liturgy for the first time this coming Sunday. Smiley  I'm excited, but kind of nervous as well.  I've read the article "12 things I wish I'd Known", but still have lots of questions.  I'd really appreciate some input on the questions below:

1. What is the dress standard for women?  Head coverings? Dress or skirts only?  Is there a minimum length for skirts and sleeves?

2. Is seating mixed or segregated by gender?  If segregated, where do women sit?

3. How do you behave toward or in the presence of a priest, apart from calling him Father _________?

4. On the kissing side of things, is it a seriously bad social gaffe or offensive if you don't kiss everyone during the proscribed greeting/kiss of peace/benediction part of the service (sorry I'm not sure what the term is in Orthodoxy)?  What about at the end of the service when people line up to kiss the cross and priest's hand?

5. Does the sign of the cross have to be made with a certain hand?  I know the Orthodox way to cross; however, I'm left-handed, and if I do it without too much thought I'm likely to use my left hand.

6. With the antidoron - what is the process around receiving that for non-Orthodox?  Do you line up with everyone else who is receiving the Eucharist?  Do you ask the priest for a blessing? (I'm thinking it might be safer to sit that one out and watch...)

Thanks
Excited but a little intimidated
Deborah

1.  You are in the United States, right?  Unless you are going to a monastery church, you are likely over-thinking this.  Modesty should be the only standard.  No one will be measuring hem length at the door. 

2.  If seating is segregated it will be obvious.  It probably won't be though.

3.  With respect.  Like we should for every human being.  While I was a catechumen, I met His Grace, Bishop Michael of New York and New Jersey right after his consecration.  I panicked and forgot how to address him properly and stuttered something out.  He put his left hand on my shoulder, shook my hand with his right, and said, "Hi, my name is Michael.  It's lovely to meet you."

4.  Don't feel that you need to kiss anyone or anything.

5.  Right arm is the norm.  Again, don't feel that you need to make the sign of the cross if you don't feel comfortable or ready.

6.  Might be best to ask.  I think that can vary depending on the Bishop.
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« Reply #6 on: May 30, 2012, 10:41:56 AM »

2. Is seating mixed or segregated by gender?  If segregated, where do women sit?

Very few parishes still segregate by gender (in fact, I've only seen this done at a monastery church). If a church is so conservative that they still do this, then they will certainly not have seating (other than a few chairs or a bench at the rear for the elderly or infirm). If you walk in and the church has no pews *and* you want to be extra cautious about this, then women stand on the left (as you enter), the same side as the icon of the Theotokos on the iconostasis.

Quote
3. How do you behave toward or in the presence of a priest, apart from calling him Father _________?

*You* say "Hello Father, I'm Deborah and this is my first time in an Orthodox Church." :-) From there, if you have any other questions (for example, "I'd like a blessing but...") just ask him.


Quote
4. On the kissing side of things, is it a seriously bad social gaffe or offensive if you don't kiss everyone during the proscribed greeting/kiss of peace/benediction part of the service (sorry I'm not sure what the term is in Orthodoxy)?  What about at the end of the service when people line up to kiss the cross and priest's hand?

Do not feel like you have to kiss anything (or anyone) you don't feel comfortable kissing. At the end of the service, you don't have to get in the line. Or if you do get in the line, you can kiss the cross but not the priest's hand if you are comfortable with one but not the other, etc. Or you could kiss your fingertips and lay those on the cross if that makes you feel more comfortable. You're an inquirer and are not required to do things just because we do them.


Quote
5. Does the sign of the cross have to be made with a certain hand?  I know the Orthodox way to cross; however, I'm left-handed, and if I do it without too much thought I'm likely to use my left hand.

Technically the right hand. But see above.

Quote
6. With the antidoron - what is the process around receiving that for non-Orthodox?  Do you line up with everyone else who is receiving the Eucharist?  Do you ask the priest for a blessing? (I'm thinking it might be safer to sit that one out and watch..

Do not join the line for Communion. Someone may notice you are new/haven't joined the line and bring you some of the blessed bread, in which case its fine for you to partake of what you're given. At the end of the service, if you do join the line to kiss the cross, then there is normally a basket with blessed bread that people pass after kissing the cross (exact location may vary, and the priest might even be handing it out as people kiss the cross), feel free to take some. Again, if you are not comfortable, it is fine if the first time around you don't join the line, don't kiss the cross, don't take any antidoron.
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« Reply #7 on: May 30, 2012, 05:19:32 PM »

I hope you enjoy your visit.
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« Reply #8 on: May 30, 2012, 06:02:29 PM »

1. What is the dress standard for women?  Head coverings? Dress or skirts only?  Is there a minimum length for skirts and sleeves?

It varies from Parish to Parish, but just use common sense and you should be fine. It is not like you are going to get in trouble for not following the rules to the very letter. As long as you do not undecently expose yourself you should be fine.

Quote
2. Is seating mixed or segregated by gender?  If segregated, where do women sit?

Most Orthodox Churches do not have seating at all because we stand for most of the service, but in the few instances when we do sit down, usually women sit down on the side with the Icon of St. Mary the Theotokos while the males sit down on the side with the Icon of Jesus Christ; look at the Icons, that will determine which side to sit down on.

Quote
3. How do you behave toward or in the presence of a priest, apart from calling him Father _________?

If he extends his hand, do not shake it but kiss it or at least bow your head.

Quote
4. On the kissing side of things, is it a seriously bad social gaffe or offensive if you don't kiss everyone during the proscribed greeting/kiss of peace/benediction part of the service (sorry I'm not sure what the term is in Orthodoxy)?  What about at the end of the service when people line up to kiss the cross and priest's hand?

Depends on the Parish to be honest, but I'm sure that most congregations will be understanding if you are not comfortable with that yet. As for kissing the Cross and the Priest's hand, that is optional, but you are allowed to do it and I would highly recommend doing it. Just do not get into the line to receive the Communion because you have to be a Baptised member to receive the Eucharist.

Quote
5. Does the sign of the cross have to be made with a certain hand?  I know the Orthodox way to cross; however, I'm left-handed, and if I do it without too much thought I'm likely to use my left hand.

Generally it is seen as proper to do it with the right hand, but if you are left-handed then by all means use your left hand and if people get offended tell them you are left handed and ignore them.

Quote
6. With the antidoron - what is the process around receiving that for non-Orthodox?  Do you line up with everyone else who is receiving the Eucharist?  Do you ask the priest for a blessing? (I'm thinking it might be safer to sit that one out and watch...)

Show extreme respect when this is happening, but do NOT get in line until you are a Baptised member. You can however receive Blessed Bread and Wine, which most people will probably offer to you seeing that you are a guest.

Thanks
Excited but a little intimidated
Deborah


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« Reply #9 on: May 30, 2012, 06:19:32 PM »

It is very easy to be nervous the first time you go somewhere new and unfamiliar. You'll be fine though. I've only been to one parish that didn't have someone at the door to greet people. Unless it is a very small parish, the one you go to will probably have one as well. He or she can answer questions for you as well for things that might vary from parish to parish - like head coverings and seating. They might even introduce you to someone to stand with at Divine Liturgy who can help you feel more comfortable. Relax and enjoy!
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« Reply #10 on: May 30, 2012, 07:18:48 PM »

Hi everyone, thanks for all your responses and reassurances.  Sorry I'm on my way out the door so this a reply in brief, but I'll answer your posts in more detail later today.

The church I'll be attending is a small Antiochian mission parish that meets in an Anglican church, so there'll most likely be solid wooden pews.  I know about only baptised Orthodox Christians receiving communion, so I know to avoid that one.  I got the impression from the "12 things" article that visitors file up with those taking communion, but they only take antidoron and possibly receive a blessing from the priest instead. 

I think first time round I'll watch rather than participate in formalities I'm not sure about or don't fully understand.  I've emailed the priest to introduce myself and let him know I'll be there, and I'll make a point of arriving early to hopefully chat with or sit with someone who can give me some guidance.  Thanks again and I'll reply more fully later.

Deborah


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« Reply #11 on: May 30, 2012, 07:38:44 PM »

Quote
Generally it is seen as proper to do it with the right hand, but if you are left-handed then by all means use your left hand and if people get offended tell them you are left handed and ignore them.

JamesR, this is not good or proper advice. Being left-handed is not reason enough to warrant crossing oneself with the left hand. All the left-handed priests and laymen I know all cross themselves with their right hands. It must be the right hand, unless the person is an amputee, or his right arm is paralyzed or otherwise disabled.
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« Reply #12 on: May 30, 2012, 09:07:35 PM »

Quote
Generally it is seen as proper to do it with the right hand, but if you are left-handed then by all means use your left hand and if people get offended tell them you are left handed and ignore them.

JamesR, this is not good or proper advice. Being left-handed is not reason enough to warrant crossing oneself with the left hand. All the left-handed priests and laymen I know all cross themselves with their right hands. It must be the right hand, unless the person is an amputee, or his right arm is paralyzed or otherwise disabled.
As a Leftie, I agree.
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« Reply #13 on: May 30, 2012, 09:31:07 PM »

Hi everyone, thanks for all your responses and reassurances.  Sorry I'm on my way out the door so this a reply in brief, but I'll answer your posts in more detail later today.

The church I'll be attending is a small Antiochian mission parish that meets in an Anglican church, so there'll most likely be solid wooden pews.  I know about only baptised Orthodox Christians receiving communion, so I know to avoid that one.  I got the impression from the "12 things" article that visitors file up with those taking communion, but they only take antidoron and possibly receive a blessing from the priest instead. 

I think first time round I'll watch rather than participate in formalities I'm not sure about or don't fully understand.  I've emailed the priest to introduce myself and let him know I'll be there, and I'll make a point of arriving early to hopefully chat with or sit with someone who can give me some guidance.  Thanks again and I'll reply more fully later.

Deborah


Awesome.  At an Antiochian mission parish the chances are high that the majority of folks there are converts and know exactly what it is like to be in the Orthodox Church for the first time and will be sensitive to that.  I pray that it is a welcoming and endearing experience.

Edit:  I just noticed that you are in NZ.  I was assuming that you were in the US.  Sorry. 
« Last Edit: May 30, 2012, 09:34:57 PM by KBN1 » Logged
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« Reply #14 on: May 31, 2012, 11:00:33 AM »

Quote
Generally it is seen as proper to do it with the right hand, but if you are left-handed then by all means use your left hand and if people get offended tell them you are left handed and ignore them.

JamesR, this is not good or proper advice. Being left-handed is not reason enough to warrant crossing oneself with the left hand. All the left-handed priests and laymen I know all cross themselves with their right hands. It must be the right hand, unless the person is an amputee, or his right arm is paralyzed or otherwise disabled.
As a Leftie, I agree.

Agreed, and I am also left-handed. FWIW, I have never, consciously or unconsciously, used my left hand to cross myself. If I can use a right-handed can opener or scissors, I can cross myself righthanded, no problem.
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« Reply #15 on: June 07, 2012, 07:19:12 AM »

Hey Orthodox11, Gebre, PrincessMommy, katherineofdixie, KBN1, Witega, biro, JamesR, Marat, LBK, ialmisry...thanks so much for your advice and kind words. Smiley

KBN1, you're right, I was overthinking things too much!  I went to the service, and it was fine.  It was a public holiday weekend in New Zealand, so fewer people than usual were there.  The priest's wife invited me to sit with her, helped me to follow the liturgy and explained little bits here and there as it unfolded.  The priest welcomed and introduced me to the congregation just after the sermon, and briefly explained that only baptised Orthodox Christians could partake of communion, but I was welcome to come forward for some blessed bread at the end of the service.  I didn't cross myself or anything, but just participated as best I could while trying to take in all the detail and what was happening around me.  I did go up for the blessed bread when the priest invited everyone to do so.  Afterwards, the priest explained a little bit about the liturgy and what each part symbolises. 

You know how people say on this forum that you've got to go to divine liturgy to really experience and *get* Orthodoxy?  They are right, absolutely right.  I didn't have a chance to read through the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom before going, so a lot of it went over my head because of unfamiliarity, everything else happening during the service and tiredness from a long weekend and travelling.  After I got home, I read through it, plus some Orthodox prayer links others have given me through the forum.  Talk about blown away...THIS is worship, in spirit and in truth.  I know a bit about Orthodoxy from reading books, internet articles and this forum, but the beauty and Christ-centredness of the liturgy and prayers resonated on a deeper level than anything else I've read so far.  I know now Orthodoxy is where I want to be, just the opportunity and timing is up to God.  I want to go to another service as soon as circumstances permit.  So now I'm asking myself, how to move forward from here?

Thanks again everyone Smiley

Deborah 
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« Reply #16 on: June 07, 2012, 08:40:03 AM »

Hi Deborah,

I'm so glad your first experience was so positive.   If you're thinking about what to do next, keep going to church as much as you are able and call the priest.  He's really your best resource for learning more about the faith.
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« Reply #17 on: June 07, 2012, 11:41:06 AM »

Quote
Generally it is seen as proper to do it with the right hand, but if you are left-handed then by all means use your left hand and if people get offended tell them you are left handed and ignore them.

JamesR, this is not good or proper advice. Being left-handed is not reason enough to warrant crossing oneself with the left hand. All the left-handed priests and laymen I know all cross themselves with their right hands. It must be the right hand, unless the person is an amputee, or his right arm is paralyzed or otherwise disabled.
As a Leftie, I agree.

Agreed, and I am also left-handed. FWIW, I have never, consciously or unconsciously, used my left hand to cross myself. If I can use a right-handed can opener or scissors, I can cross myself righthanded, no problem.

If I am holding a child during the liturgy (which is often), I use whichever hand is free.

If both are free, I always use right, but I am naturally right-handed.
« Last Edit: June 07, 2012, 11:41:38 AM by Agabus » Logged

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