What is Going on Here?
We would like to offer explanations* of a few things that may seem new to you if this is the first time you have attended an Orthodox service.
What’s all the activity?
During the early part of the service, the church may seem to be in a hubbub with people praying in front of icons, kissing icons, and lighting candles, even though the service is about to begin or is already in progress. Many Orthodox Christians go through private prayers and devotional practices upon entering a church. This is often distracting to newcomers – or may even seem disrespectful – but if you attend several services, you will begin to recognize it as an expression of a faith that is not merely formal, but very personal.
We Stand Up
In the Orthodox tradition, the faithful stand for nearly the entire service. If you find this amount of standing physically challenging, then you are welcome to take a seat. Long-term standing gets easier with practice.
A Physical Expression of our Love
People naturally express affection, as in kissing a loved one. We, too, express our devotion, love and respect in various activities that we call “veneration.” For example, when we first enter the Church, we may kiss, and make deep bows before icons that represent Saints whom we love and respect.
Our Champion Leader
A constant feature of Orthodox worship is our veneration of the Virgin Mary, the “champion leader” of all Christians. We often address her as “Theotokos,” which means, “the one who gave birth to God Himself,” or – more properly – “God-bearer.” In providing the physical means for God to become man, she made possible our salvation. We honor her, as the Bible foretells: “All generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). We venerate her and ask her to protect us and help us by her prayers, just as we might ask one of our friends or family to pray for us. We do not worship her – we offer that activity to God alone.
Venerating the Cross
At the end of the Divine Liturgy (our communion service) we line up to venerate the cross being held by the priest. You are welcome to:
- not come forward at all; or
- come forward and say hello to the priest (who would like to meet you), and not kiss the cross; or,
- come forward, say hello to the priest, and kiss the cross as your own personal expression of gratitude for the saving work our Lord Jesus Christ performed for us through His crucifixion.
After Divine Liturgy, we have a time of food and fellowship. We call it “Coffee Hour” for lack of a more creative term and we would love for you to join us. There is a special table downstairs for first-time guests to receive a gift from our parish.
After venerating the cross – or immediately following the announcements if you prefer – just go downstairs, get yourself a cup of coffee, and make yourself at home. And while we invite you to get a cup of coffee, it is our practice not to eat refreshments until after a blessing by one of our clergy.
*adapted with permission from 12 Things I wish I’d Known: First Visit to an Orthodox Church by Frederica Mathewes-Green