Church Etiquette According to Our Orthodox Tradition

Martyr Eulampia at Nicomedia

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


"Holiness befits Your House, O Lord, for evermore" (Psalm 93:5).

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. In the US, we have churches with pews, and since we have them, we need to figure out when we may sit and when we should stand. First of all, it is fully acceptable to stand for the entire service. If you prefer this, it would be better to find a place closer to the back or side of the church so as not to stand out or block someone's view. When should you definitely stand? Always during the Gospel reading, the Little and Great Entrance, the Anaphora, the distribution of Holy Communion, whenever the priest gives a blessing, and the Dismissal.

Lighting Candles

Lighting candles is an important part of Orthodox Christian worship. We light them as we pray, making an offering to accompany our prayers. Orthodox Christians typically light candles when coming into the church-and that is usually the best time to light them.

Entering the Church (Late)

The time to arrive at church is before the service begins, but for some unknown reason, it has become almost a 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 respectfully.

Crossing your legs?

Crossing one's legs in church is considered very disrespectful. Remember that sitting in church is a concession, not the normative way of prayer. When sitting in church, keep those feet on the floor, ready to stand at attention (which is what "Let us stand and attend" means).

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 Holy Communion is to treat the Sacrament like a fast food restaurant where we come and go as we please. We deprive ourselves of blessings by not being still and participating in God's Holiness.

Blot that Lipstick!

If you insist on wearing lipstick to church, blot your lips well before venerating a holy icon, taking Holy Communion, or kissing the cross or the priest's or bishop's hand. Even better, wait until after church to put it on. After all, God is not impressed with how attractive you look externally-your makeup or clothing-but how attractive you are spiritually and internally, your adornment with good works and piety.

Dress code for Women

I see more and more of the ladies of our parish wearing pants and I find it alarming. Traditionally Orthodox Christian women wear dresses or skirts that fall below the knee. Dresses should be modest. No tank tops with only straps at the shoulders, nor short skirts (mini-skirts), and no skin-tight dresses. Dresses should have backs and not be cut low in the front. While we will not impress the Lord with clothing, we honor Him with our modesty, respect and piety. As the Holy Scripture say, "Holiness befits Your House, O Lord, for evermore." ( Psalm 93:5).

Dress code for men

Men should also dress modestly. While coat and tie are not mandatory, shirts should have collars and be buttoned to the collar. Slacks should be cleaned and pressed. Jeans are too casual for church, especially ones with patches or holes. Shorts are not appropriate church wear.

Handling the Holy Bread (Antidoron)

After taking Holy Communion and at the end of the Divine 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. Please monitor your children as they take the antidoron and teach them to eat carefully and respectfully.

A Final Thought

Our American society has become very casual with just about everything but we must not allow this prevailing attitude to enter into our Orthodox Christian piety. Much of church etiquette is based on respect for God, the church that has been consecrated to the Glory of God and our church divine services and Sacraments. Always remember that you are in church to worship God, the Holy Trinity Who is present. The celebrant priest says, "With the fear of God and faith and love, draw near." Let this be the way you approach all of holy worship. If you do, you will probably have good church etiquette.

There is absolutely a discipline that we, as Orthodox Christians, must adhere to. I believe that I have made it very clear over the years that there is nothing left to the individual person to decide. It is not optional and it is not left to the discretion of the Orthodox Christian. It is a matter of obedience to our Holy Church Tradition. Open defiance and disrespect to your priest and your church is not the way to attend the Divine Liturgy and receive the Sacraments.

With sincere agape in Christ,

+Father George