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St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church, Wilkes-Barre, PA

Church Etiquette

CHURCH ETIQUETTE

CHURCH ETIQUETTE:
Welcome: This pamphlet was prepared for the Inquirers, guests and friends who are not yet familiar with the distinctive characteristics of Orthodox Christian worship who join us to experience the fullness and beauty of the Divine Liturgy. We also hope this brief pamphlet helps refreshes the recollections of the Orthodox Faithful as to how they might best conduct themselves in the exercise of their Orthodox Faith.
It is our fervent hope and prayer that everyone who reads this pamphlet will take to heart the important concepts it is intended to impart.
The Starting Point is the Divine Liturgy : The central act of Orthodox Christian worship is the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is the gathering of the faithful to hear God’s Word and receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord.
Orthodox worship is a living experience. It represents the manifesting, here and now, of the presence and Kingdom of God in a world that has wandered further and further away from Him. Orthodox Christians believe worship is not an intellectual exercise but rather an exercise of body and mind, heart and soul, with all coming together with others before the Lord.
When we gather together as The Church and worship, we are uniting with one mouth and one heart for that purpose for which the Church, as a whole, prays. All of us should come on time and be attentive to what is taking place with the utmost of joy, putting aside all worldly cares.
Preparing for the Divine Liturgy: Our preparation for the Divine Liturgy begins before we arrive at Church. Orthodoxy does not contemplate anyone sitting by passively while the Priest, Deacon, Choir and Alter Servers do their “jobs”. Rather, Orthodox worship requires that everyone participate in the Divine Liturgy with all their heart, mind and body.
Participate in Great Vespers on Saturday evening — In the Book of Genesis, we read at the end of the first day of creation that “ . . . there was evening and there was morning, one day.” This pattern is followed for each day of the story of Creation in Genesis and reveals to us that the day begins in the evening. Therefore, Sunday begins on Saturday evening. And what better way is there for us Orthodox Christians to begin Sunday, the day of our Lord’s resurrection, than to gather together as a Family for common worship and prayer to our God in the service of Great Vespers!
Keep our Saturday evening free from all ungodly activity — our Saturday evenings should really be kept in a quiet and peaceful atmosphere, in a state of prayerful vigilance and anticipation.
Keep our Sunday mornings free of ungodly behavior and preserve the tradition of fasting —
If expecting to receive Holy Communion, we must fast from all food and drink, as well as from smoking and chewing gum. Nothing is permitted to enter our mouths from midnight on, until we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. PLEASE NOTE: If we are on medication, or are pregnant and must eat a little something with our medicine, and are granted to do so by our spiritual father, then let it be a little something, like water and toast, and not a full course meal.
You may, if you have children, begin to teach them from early on how to fast and have them eat a lighter morning meal. As they get older, they can begin to fast from all food and drink in the morning.
It is also proper for us to fast from unnecessary noise (like blaring radios and the like) in the house and in the car on the way to Church. We should maintain ourselves in a prayerful atmosphere on Sunday mornings. This can be a little challenging to those families with children, but not impossible if we sincerely try, and teach our children to do the same.
Last but not least, please consider your attire . . . We should offer Christ our “Sunday best”, not our everyday or common wear. We should dress modestly, not in a flashy way that would bring attention to ourselves. Our dress should always be becoming of a Christian.
When You Arrive At Church . . .When entering the Church, it is important to take your seat and avoid unnecessary noise and activity. This is not the time to “catch up” with family and friends — that can be done after Church.
When entering the Church, the Faithful should venerate (kiss) the icon at the entrance and cross themselves in prayer and take their seat.
Remember that it is improper to take a seat during the following moments:
During the reading of the Epistle
During the reading of the Gospel
During the Great Entrance
During the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer
During the Consecration
If you arrive at church during the above-mentioned periods, we suggest that you wait in the Narthex until that particular period is over.
Your Conduct In Church . . . It is important to keep a reverent attitude and demeanor in the church at all times. It is not proper:
To cross your legs
To stand with your hands in your pockets or your arms crossed
To chew gum
To talk during the Divine Liturgy (except for explaining things to your children in a low voice)
Lighting candles is also an important part of Orthodox worship. We light them as we pray, making an offering to accompany our prayers. However, there are times when candles should not be lit. It is not proper to light candles
during the Epistle or Gospel readings,
during the Little or Great Entrance,
During the sermon, and/or
the Anaphora — Prayer of the Holy Eucharist.
Making the Sign of the Cross . . . It is practice of devout people to trace upon themselves the sign of the cross during the Divine Liturgy. There are specific times one ought to make the sign of the cross:
At the beginning & end of prayers and services ;
Upon entering church and leaving church;
At the mention of the Holy Trinity;
When offering glory or blessedness to God;
When the priest blesses us with the Holy Gospel or an icon;
At any prayerful invocation of God;
During the Trisagion hymn;
After receiving Holy Communion (but only after you have taken a few steps away from the chalice).
Bow Your Head Unto The Lord . . . There are certain times in the services when parishioners should bow their heads:
When the priest exclaims, “Peace be to all”;
At the exclamation, “Bow your heads unto the Lord”;
When the priest blesses the faithful with his hand or cross ;
When the celebrant censes the people;
When the celebrant bows towards the people during the services;
When the Holy Gospel is read;
During the Great Entrance.
Take, Eat, This is My Body . . . You should not receive Holy Communion if you have arrived at church after the reading of the Gospel. This does not apply to times when circumstances beyond your control prevented you from arriving earlier. To receive Holy Communion a person should…
Be a faithful, practicing Orthodox Christian;
Prepare by prayer, by repentance, and by fasting from food, from drink, and from smoking upon arising in the morning;
Approach the chalice with reverence, with arms crossed or hands folded and with one’s mind on Christ;
Say your name before the priest;
Tilt your head back and open your mouth wide.

Come Spend a Month of Sundays experiencing the beauty of Orthodox Worship. Our Divine Liturgy begins each week at 10:00 am …. Join us for Fellowship afterwards.

Quote of the Holy Fathers

A brother went to see Abba Silvanus on the mountain of Sinai. When he saw the brothers working hard he said to the old man, “Do not labor for the food which perishes (John 6:27). Mary has chosen the better part (Luke 10:42).” The old man said to his disciple, “Zacharias, give the brother a book and put him in a cell without anything else.” So when the ninth hour came the visitor watched the door expecting someone would be sent to call him to the meal. When no one called him, he got up, went to find the old man and said to him, “Have the brothers not eaten today?” The old man replied that they had. Then he said, “Why did you not call me?” The old man said to him, “Because you are a spiritual man and do not need that kind of food. We, being carnal, want to eat, and that is why we work. But you have chosen the good portion and read the whole day long and you do not want to eat carnal food.” When he heard these words the brother made a prostration saying, “Forgive me, Abba.” The old man said to him, “Mary needs Martha. It is really thanks to Martha that Mary is praised.”
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It was fitting that she, who had kept her virginity intact in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that she, who had carried the Creator as a child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles. It was fitting that the spouse, whom the Father had taken to himself, should live in the divine mansions. It was fitting that she, who had seen her Son upon the cross and who had thereby received into her heart the sword of sorrow which she had escaped when giving birth to him, should look upon him as he sits with the Father. It was fitting that God’s Mother should possess what belongs to her Son, and that she should be honored by every creature as the Mother and as the handmaid of God.
St. John of Damascus (8th century)
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It is necessary to establish a pattern of going to church as often as possible, usually to Matins, Liturgy and Vespers. Have a longing for this, and go there at the first opportunity and if you can, stay without leaving. Our church is heaven on earth. Hasten to church with the faith that it is a place where God dwells, where He Himself promised to quickly hear prayers. Standing in church, be as if you are standing before God in fear and reverence, which you express through patience, prostrations, and attention to the services without wandering thoughts.
Saint Theophan the Recluse (19th century)
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The bread you do not use is the bread of the hungry. The garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of the person who is naked. The shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot. The money you keep locked away is the money of the poor. The acts of charity you do not perform are the injustices you commit.
Saint Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia (4th century)