Church Etiquette

Common Prayers

The Lord’s Prayer 

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

The Nicene Creed

I believe in One God, Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God,begotten of the Father before all ages.
Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father, through whom all things were made.
Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary and became Man.
He was crucified for our salvation under Pontius Pilate,and suffered and was buried.
And he rose on the third day, according to the Scriptures.
He ascended into Heaven and sat at the right hand of the Father.
And He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
His Kingdom shall have no end.
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Creator of Life,
Who proceeds from the Father, Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who spoke through the prophets.
In one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, I confess one baptism for the remission of sins.
I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the ages to come.

Common Frequently Asked Questions

When does worship begin for Sunday service?

During the early part of the service the church you may see people walking up to the front of the church, praying in front of the iconostasis (the standing icons in front of the altar), kissing icons and lighting candles, even though the service is already going on.  In an Orthodox church there is only one Eucharistic service (Divine Liturgy) per Sunday, and it is preceded by an hour service of Matins or Orthros (9:00am). One begins as soon as the previous ends. Matins (Orthros) is a preliminary service celebrating the good news of Resurrection of Christ which make the liturgy possible which follows. Orthodox worshipers arrive at any point from the beginning of Matins through the early part of the Liturgy. 

Do we stand when we pray?

In the Orthodox tradition, the faithful stand up for nearly the entire service. The reason for this is that we understand worship to be work. Sitting is a form of rest. We believe that when in the presence of God we should all stand. If you find the amount of standing too challenging you’re welcome to sit at any time.  When we read the Epistle (everyone sits) and then the Gospel lesson for the day is read (everyone stands). The liturgy continues until 11:15 am when Communion is first given to children who depart for Sunday School and the parents remain in Church for the conclusion of the liturgy between 11:30 and noon. Following the announcements the sermon is given and Church is dismissed around noon.

When do we make the sign of the cross?

We sign ourselves whenever the Trinity is invoked, whenever we venerate the cross or an icon, and on many other occasions in the course of the Liturgy. People however, aren’t expected to do everything the same way. Some cross themselves three times in a row, and some finish by sweeping their right hand to the floor. On first entering a church people may come up to an icon, crossing themselves and bowing with right hand to the floor, then kiss the icon, then make one more bow. 

When do we venerate?

Icons are painted pictures which depict an event from the life of Christ or the portrait of a person who reached sainthood.  We do not worship them but just venerate them and pray on them. They are also called “windows to heaven”. During the course of the history of the church some icons became miraculous because of the miracles they performed through the command of God. The veneration of the icons has been in practice from the first day of Christianity; the catacomb walls are filled with frescoes.  The veneration of icons was also confirmed with the decision of the VIIth Ecumenical Synod in VIIIth century. We do not worship icons, we only venerate them with faith, great respect and pray on them.

When we first come into the church, we kiss the icons. You’ll also notice that some kiss the chalice, some kiss or touch the edge of the priest’s vestment as he passes by, the acolytes (altar boys) kiss his hand when they give him the censer, and we all line up to kiss the priest’s hand at the end of the service as we received the blessed bread. When we talk about “venerating” something we usually mean crossing ourselves and kissing it.

The reason for kissing the hand of the priest has to do with our understanding that during the liturgy the hands of the priest are the hands that give out the body and blood of Christ (communion). It is also the laying on of hands that ordinations are done by the bishops. The laying on of hands goes back to the Apostles in the Orthodox Church.

We greet each other before we take communion (“Greet one another with a kiss of love,” 1 Peter 5:14). The usual greeting is “Christ is in our midst” and response, “He is and always shall be.” Don’t worry if you forget what to say. Some of the faithful greet each other by shaking hands, while others kiss each other on each cheek. This greeting or “kiss of peace” is a liturgical act, a sign of mystical unity.

What is the blessed bread?

Only Orthodox Christians may receive communion, but everyone may have some of the blessed bread offered at the conclusion of the liturgy. As we file past the priest, we come to an altar boy holding the basket of blessed bread. People will take portions for themselves and for visitors and non-Orthodox friends around them. If someone hands you a piece of blessed bread, do not panic; it is not the Eucharistic Body. It is a sign of fellowship.

Visitors should not be offended that they are not allowed to receive communion. It is important to know that communion is not given out as a means of hospitality. Anyone who is not Orthodox may receive holy communion if they wish to attend classes and convert to Orthodox Christianity. Orthodox believe that receiving communion is broader than me-and-Jesus; it acknowledges faith in historic Orthodox doctrine, obedience to a particular Orthodox bishop, and a commitment to a particular Orthodox worshipping community. There’s nothing exclusive about this; everyone is invited to make this commitment to the Orthodox Church. But the Eucharist is the Church’s treasure, and it is reserved for those who have united themselves with the Church, and have full knowledge of what holy communion is.

We also handle the Eucharist with more gravity than many denominations do, further explaining why we guard it from common access. We believe it has been changed from ordinary bread and wine to the Body and Blood of Christ. Holy communion is a sacrament of the church, and not a symbolic gesture or right of passage. We ourselves do not receive communion unless we are making regular confession of our sins to a priest and are at peace with other communicants. We fast from all food and drink – yes, even a morning cup of coffee – from midnight the night before communion.

How do we greet the clergy?

The role of the priest is that of a spiritual father, preacher of the gospel, and the one who offers the sacraments. Part of his role is to continue the earthly ministry that St. Paul brought to the people. He is referred to in respect as father, because he is both a servant of the Lord, and also called to be the leader of the congregation. Just as St. Paul referred to himself as father of his flock in 1 Corinthians 4:14-15, the faithful refer to him in the same way as a way to honor the position of the priesthood. His wife also holds a special role as parish mother, and she gets a title too “Presbytera” (Greek), which means “priest’s wife.”

The Virgin Mary

A constant feature of Orthodox worship is veneration of the Virgin Mary, the “champion leader” of all Christians. We often address her as “Theotokos,” which means “Mother of God.” In providing the physical means for God to become man, therefore she had a pivotal role in our salvation.

We honor her, as Scripture foretold (“All generations will call me blessed,” Luke 1:48). When we sing “Through the intercession of the Theotokos, Savior, save us,” we don’t mean that she grants us eternal salvation, but that we seek her prayers for our protection and growth in faith. Just as we ask for each other’s prayers, we ask for the prayers of Mary and other saints as well. They’re not dead, after all, just departed to the other side. Icons surround us to remind us of all the saints who are joining us invisibly in worship. One reference to the saints surrounding us Hebrews 12:1 – “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…” 

Why and when do we light candles?

The candles represent the sacrifice that we do for God; before Christ people slaughtered animals as a sacrifice.  With the ressurection of Christ, the sacrifice is represented with the purchase of a candle for the health of each member of the family or friend. Also we light candles for the soul of a deceased Orthodox person.

With this purchase you give something of your own to God, and at the same time you help the House of God, which is explained in the New Testament by St. Paul the Disciple.  When Christians go into the church, they buy and light several candles which also represent the light of Christ and the hope of everlasting life. When we light a candle, we pray for the person for whom we lit it for. So the candles have to be respected and to let them burn for respected times.

The Three Doors

Every Orthodox Church will have an iconostasis before its altar. “Iconostasis” means “icon-stand” and it can be as simple as a large image of Christ on the right and a corresponding image of the Virgin and Child on the left. The basic set-up of two large icons creates, if you use your imagination, three doors. The central one, in front of the altar itself, is called the “Holy Doors” or “Royal Doors,” because there the King of Glory comes out to the congregation in the Eucharist. Only the priest and deacons, who distribute the Eucharist, use the Holy Doors.

The openings on the other sides of the icons, if there is a complete iconostasis, have doors with icons of angels; they are termed the “Deacon’s Doors.” Altar boys and others with business behind the altar use these, although no one is to go through any of the doors without an appropriate reason.

The Greek Orthodox Church Building

The church is the Temple of God, the House of God where the Holy Spirit lives and dwells in it since its consecration.  It is a Holy place that is why we have to be very respectful while we are in the House of God.  We should also be dressed appropriately. His precious Body and Blood are in the Tabernacle 24 hours a day 365 days a year.

This is the reason that we cross ourselves when we pass from an Orthodox Church.  This is also the place where people enroll in Christianity, through baptism and become a member of the Body of Christ.  This is the place where Christians come to save their souls and find refuge and comfort to their personal problems.  This is the factory of prayer and rescue of sins of every Christian soul.  That is why we have to be respectful and walk in it with great respect and fear of God.

The three parts of the Church are as follows:

  • Narthex (Narthica)

    The first part is the Narthex (Narthica),  which represents the outside world and where a few icons stand.  The Pangari, the furniture from where we purchase the candles, is also located here.  Always on the right of the Narthex stands the icon of the Virgin Mary and to the left the Patron Saint of the church.  Also on the right, is the stand holding the icon of the feast of the day, and on Sundays, the icon depicting the Gospel, which is put there during the matins service.

  • The Main Church

    The second part is the Main Church, which represents the faithful Christians on this world who pray to God.  The Main Church is divided to 2 spaces.  The first space of the Main Church is where the seats are, where the faithful stand and follow the services and pray.  The second space is called the SOLEA.  It is the space where all the sacraments and processions take place.  In the Solea the throne of the Bishop is located to the right, on the left, the pulpit where the Gospel is read when there is a deacon or a Bishop in the Divine Liturgy, and the stand for the chanters.

  • The Altar (IERON VEEMA)

    The Third part is the Altar (IERON VEEMA) representing the Heaven.  It is separated from the Solea with an icon screen, which is called ICONOSTASION.  The icon screen has 3 doors.   The Center door is called the Royal Door; only clergy can pass through the Royal Door; on the left and on the right are two doors depicting the icons of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel as guardians to the Gates of Heaven.  On the top of the Icon screen is the sign of the Cross. Under the Cross are the icons depicting the main events in the life of Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ.  On the top of the Royal Door is the icon of the Last Supper giving the message that this is the place where the Last Supper takes place every Divine Liturgy.  At the old churches under the icon of the Last Supper at the top arch of the Royal Door a sun shaped icon hangs.  In the center of this icon an eye is depicted.  It is the eye of God that sees everything on the world.

    This comes from the beginning of the Old Testament, from the story of Cain and God in the book of Genesis.  Facing the Altar on the right of the Royal door, is the icon of Jesus Christ, He sat at the Right Hand of the Father, and next to Him is always the icon of Saint John the Baptist, who Baptized Him.  On the left side of the Royal Door is the icon of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus Christ and next to Her on Her right is the icon of the Saint or the event to which the Church is dedicated.

    In the center of the Altar is the Altar table, which represents the tomb of a martyr.  A martyr is a person who died by shedding his /her blood for the Christian faith.  Relics of the martyrs are kept in a special compartment of this Altar table, which has on it the Gospel Book representing Christ.  The Tabernacle holding the Precious Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and candles are also on the Altar table.  Behind the Altar are the fans representing the great angels Cherubim and Heroubim who fly around the throne of God.  There is a big Crucifix just behind the altar table to remind us of the extreme sacrifice of the Son of God on Golgotha.  With His Holy and Precious Blood He washed the sins of the world, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

    On the left side is the Oblation table (Proskomidi) representing the cave of Bethlehem and that is where the icon of the Nativity is placed.  In this place the priest prepares the communion; behind it is the place where he washes his hands before preparing the Holy Communion.  Therefore every part of the Church is considered Holy Ground.