Orthodox Christian Church Life, Etiquette and Church Life

My beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord, Redeemer, God and Only True Savior,

CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!

ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN CHURCH LIFE, ETIQUETTE AND ATTIRE

Every Orthodox Christian priest is among other things, the spiritual guide and teacher of the church. It is his responsibility to teach his flock everything pertaining to the Faith, Holy Tradition, and the Sacramental life of the Church.

The Orthodox Christian Church has the holy Canons to guide both clergy and laity. In other words, it is the discipline of the Church. Without discipline, no country, city, state, institution, church, organization, ministry, or individual, can function and it will inevitably lead to its demise, to failure and ruin.

It is therefore important and necessary that we are informed of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable according to our Holy Orthodox Church and why?

Church Etiquette

The Church is the earthly heaven in which the heavenly God dwells and moves.

"An Orthodox Church is that part of God's creation which has been set apart and "reclaimed" for the Kingdom of God. Within its walls, the heavenly and earthly realms meet, outside time, in the acts of worship and Sacrifice offered there to God. Angels assist the Priest during the Divine Liturgy, and Saints and members of the Church Triumphant (Heavenly Church) participate in the divine Services. The Blessed Theotokos, the Mother of God, is also present and, of course, our Lord Jesus Christ is invisibly present wherever two or three gather in His Name, just as He is always present in the reserved Holy Eucharist preserved on the Holy Table of Orthodox Churches.

Given these very significant spiritual realities, we should always approach an Orthodox Church with the deepest attitude of reverence. Even when passing an Orthodox Church on foot or in a car, we always cross ourselves out of respect for the presence of God therein. It is, indeed, unthinkable that we should ever pass in front of an Orthodox Church without showing such reverence. Therefore, it is obvious that we must approach our meeting with the heavenly realm during Divine Services with careful and proper preparation.

When preparing for Church, we should always dress as we would for a visit to an important dignitary. After all, we are about to enter into the very presence of God. Therefore, casual apparel is not appropriate. For example, shorts should never be worn in an Orthodox Church by either sex, under any circumstances. Men should wear a dress white shirt, a tie (optional) and dark pants. Women should wear dresses or skirts (but not mini-skirts). The style and color of clothes worn by Orthodox Christians should be subdued and modest. Tight clothing, sleeveless tops, and garish T-shirts should be avoided. In fact, the rule of thumb for proper dress both in and out of the church building is this: Avoid wearing anything which would draw attention to oneself. This includes jewelry, make-up, the ostentatious use of perfume (or cologne for men). When we enter the Church, we should always strive to develop an attitude like that of the humble publican. Thus, anything in our appearance which would conflict with an attitude of humble piety should be considered inappropriate.

Upon Entering the Church

We venerate or kiss the holy icons (preferably on the Saint's right hand, if the Saint is blessing or holding a Cross) and cross ourselves. Because we should not smudge or otherwise deface the holy icon, women should avoid wearing lipstick to Church.

Orthodox Churches always have candles available at the back (pangari) of the church. One should normally light one of these before an icon as he enters the Church. If you have a special need or wish to remember someone prayerfully, you can make this know to God by lighting a candle as a pious offering to God. Saint John of Kronstadt writes:

 

"The candles burning on the altar represent the non-created light of the Holy Trinity, for the Lord dwells in an unapproachable Light. They also represent the fire of Divinity which destroys our ungodliess and sins. The candles lit before the holy icons of the Savior signify that He is the True Light which lighteth evey man that cometh into the world (St. John 1:9); at the same time, He is a Fire which engulfs and revives our souls and bodies.

The candles lit before the holy icon of the Theotokos are a symbol of the fact that she is the Mother of the Unapproachable Light, and also of her Most Pure and burning love for God and her love for mankind.

The candles lit before holy icons of Saints reflect their ardent love for God for Whose sake they gave up everything that man prizes in life, including their very lives, as did the holy Apostles, martyrs, and others. These candles also mean that these Saints are lamps burning for us providing light for us by their own saintly living, their virtues and their ardent intercessions for us before God. through their constant prayers day and night. The burning candles also stand for our ardent zeal and the sincere sacrifice we make out of reverence and gratitude to them for their solicitude on our behalf before God."

After having reverenced the holy icons in the Narthex of the Church and having lit a candle, we then assume our places in the Church proper.

Arriving at the Church

The time to arrive at church is before the divine service or Divine Liturgy begins. If you arrive after the Divine Liturgy begins, try to enter the church quietly, and observe what is happening. If the Epistle or Gospel is being read, or the Little or Great Entrance is taking place, or if the Priest is giving the sermon, stay in the Narthex until it is concluded. Try not to interrupt the Divine Liturgy with your entrance.

Crying Infant

We all know that sometimes our little ones may not be able to sit for over an hour during services or may need to be fed of changed. If your son or daughter goes into one of those moments, please be courteous to others who are trying to worship and remove your child or baby and yourself to the Cry-room where you can hear the Divine Liturgy but the people are not disturbed by the crying or noise of the child.

A Final Thought

North American society in the late 20th century is rather casual in its approach to life. Don't allow this prevailing attitude to enter into your Orthodox Christian piety. There are surely a lot of other areas that could be covered here. Much of church etiquette is based on common sense and showing for God and others. Always remember that you are in church worship God, the Holy Trinity. The priest says, "With the fear of God, faith and love, draw near." Let this be the way you approach all of worship. If you do, you will probably have good Church etiquette.

Your Priest has attempted to avoid embarrassing anyone and has exercised patience but unfortunately some of you are not listening. There are some that enter the Narthex without venerating the holy icons of lighting a candle, others that arrive extremely late without any respect for the Divine Liturgy which taking place, others who talk in church, others that walk in out during the service, others who receive Holy Communion without any preparation, ladies that walk in with pants or jeans, no matter how dressy, stylish, or smart, one may feel they are.

What I find astonishing is that when someone is not sure whether something is appropriate or not, they do not ask their parish priest.  Instead they ask Mrs. Kalomera or just anyone in the parish.

Please do not make the mistake that everything is up to the individual or that everything is optional. I don't wish to begin preaching how one should conduct himself/herself or how they should dress in Church from the pulpit on Sundays. It is not pleasant for me or for anyone else. Therefore, I ask you all, conform to the teachings of our Holy Church and do not be stubborn or defiant.

In Our Risen Lord and Savior,
+Father George