There are many customs, practices, and traditions that have become important expressions of piety in worship. Many are observed throughout the Orthodox world. Some are cultural; some are pious customs handed down from generation to generation. We do well to imitate these expressions of godliness.
These instruct us in how we may express our Orthodox faith in commonly acceptable ways, without drawing undue attention to ourselves. Practicing them also enables us to "fit right in" and feel comfortable in any Orthodox church we visit.
In church, we step into the presence of God who is invisibly present with us. Proper attire, therefore, is modest and respectful. Clothing should help lift the human heart to heaven and away from the distractions of earthly beauty.
Let us consider our brother and sister for the sake of love. A good rule of thumb is that we wear our best.
For Women - It isn't proper to wear tightly-fitting skirts, strapless tops/dresses, or clothing with a revealing neckline. Many Orthodox traditions require women to wear clothing that covers the shoulders and the back. In some traditions, women are encouraged to cover their heads.
For Men - You should dress as if you're on your way to an important meeting. This is especially true for anyone serving in any capacity. Clothing with logos or printed material can be distracting to others.
For all - It isn't our tradition to wear shorts, beachware, gym clothes, or camo clothing to church.
Occassionally, there are circumstances that preclude us from observing these guidelines. Let us not be rigid and judge one another. In such cases, it's better to be in church and pray than to stay away. Stay toward the back and pray silently. Above all, let brotherly love, humility, and understanding prevail. We're a family.
Lighting candles is an important part of prayer and worship. We light candles when we first arrive at church. These simple physical acts are often combined with prayer and intercession. The lighting of a candles symbolizes our prayers rising to heaven. We remind ourselves:
You may light candles for others, too. Young children should be assisted by an adult. It's customary to leave a donation for candles, but by no means required.
Venerating icons is an expression of piety. You should always venerate the icons in the Narthex when you arrive. Make two small prostrations (deep bows). Kiss the icon. Make one more small prostration. Then, move to the next.
We live in an age of connectivity and mobile devies. These can easily become a interruption and a hinderance to prayer and worship. Here are a few guidelines:
Try to arrive before the service begins. In some traditions, it's a custom to make three prostrations (deep bows) upon entering the Nave. There are times during a service when you should remain standing wherever you are:
Please remember, it isn't proper to converse in the Nave of the church. If you do greet another - keep it brief and whisper quietly.
Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:14).
We worship together as a family; this is where kids belong. To be sure, that presents a few challenges for a growing community. They make noise; they get rambunctious.
But they can learn to be quiet, respectful, and have good manners in God's house. It takes time. We must be patient and loving with them.
We're all to have the very best of manners in God's house. Love is at the top of the list. Gradually, a child will learn to have proper church behavior.
Our worship is physical. The body wants to ascend just as much as the mind and soul. We bow during worship. A simple bow of the head will do. Here are some of the practices. We bow:
Making the sign of the Cross is a physical expression of worship too. Make the sign of the Cross when:
You can make the sign of the Cross at others times. However, it isn't necessary to make the sign of the Cross when the priest blesses you or when greeting him.
It's a pious custom in some parishes for the faithful to touch the hem of his vestment during the Great Entrance as he passes by carrying the bread and wine about to be consecrated.
The tradition calls to mind the woman with the issue of blood, and many others of the sick who were healed by Jesus simply by touching the hem of His garment. (Matthew 9:20-21, 14:35-36)
Sitting in church isn't the normative form of prayer and worship. It's a concession. For many, it's the custom to stand throughout a service.
Sometimes there are health considerations that prevent one from standing as much as one would like. Please feel free to sit down when you need to do so. Whenever you sit, you should be seated attentively. Keep both feet on the floor and be ready to stand.
There are times, however, when it is proper for everyone to stand. These include:
Note: When a hierarch is present, out of respect, we follow his example by standing or sitting as he does.
The ancient tradition of the Church is frequent communion. The Divine Liturgy assumes you are properly prepared.
Note that we practice a Eucharistic Fast prior to receiving Holy Communion. At a minimum, the Eucharistic Fast consists of abstaining from food and water (tobacco as well) beginning at midnight before receiving communion the next morning. Medical considerations should be discussed with the priest.
While practices vary, here's how we're to receive Holy Commuion at this parish:
It's the tradition to remain standing, if you're able, until the Dismissal of the Divine Liturgy. This is done out of respect that we've been deemed worthy to partake of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
In our culture, we greet one another with a handshake or maybe a hug and a kiss on the cheek. That isn't the custom when greeting a hierarch. We don't shake hands with an Archbishop or a Bishop. We bow, kiss his hand, and ask for a blessing.
Address an Archbishop as Your Eminence. Address a Bishop as Your Grace. When greeting either, it's proper to:
When a hierarch is present, he's the only one who blesses. The faithful receive blessings from him. Chanters and altar servers bring their robes to him for a blessing. Likewise, chanters and altar servers receive a blessing from him before removing their robes.
When a hierarch enters a room, it's the custom for everyone to stand until the hierarch bids you to be seated. After the hierarch is seated, then you may be seated.
Address the priest as Father, as he's the spiritual father and confessor of the flock. It's the custom of some to make a small prostration (deep bow) before greeting a priest; others don't. It isn't expected. When you greet a priest:
Some priests may not allow you to kiss their hand. If that's the case, ask for a blessing, but do as they wish.