10 Things to know before attending an Orthodox Church
1. ARE WE THERE YET?!
Although a 2.5 hour Liturgy may seem long, believe it or not, this is actually the short version! I know you might have great ideas of how to paraphrase certain things but each prayer is intentional and critical to the service. It helps to remember that the core of our life as a church family is the Holy Eucharist (Communion) and each prayer is prayed in preparation for receiving the Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
2. TAKE A SEAT…NOW STAND…NOW SIT…NOW….STAND.
As per Orthodox tradition, we are to stand during most of the service; however, you will likely find pews or chairs in most churches so feel free to use them. Standing gets easier with practice.
3. THE SIGN OF THE CROSS
You may notice that we cross ourselves quite a few times during service; some of us even do it when we yawn! However, it’s usually done when the Trinity is invoked, to venerate an icon, or when we hear the words “worship” and “glorify”. This isn’t set in stone but rather a personal behaviour.
Here’s how to do it: Traditionally we hold our hands in a prescribed way – right thumb and first two fingertips pressed together, last two fingers pressed down to the palm, cross from left to right. Can you figure out the symbolism? Three fingers together for the Trinity; two fingers brought down to the palm for the one nature of Christ that is both fully human and fully divine, and His coming down to earth.
4. EXCHANGING A KISS OF PEACE
So you’re probably wondering why (and how) the Orthodox Church includes a kiss in the liturgical service. Well my friend since a kiss is an expression of sincere love you can catch us kissing icons, relics of saints, and a priest’s hand upon greeting him. During the liturgical service you’ll hear the deacon say “Greet one another with a holy kiss…” (1 Peter 5:14). Fear not, you too can participate and it’s not as intense as you may imagine: both palms touching with thumbs crossed over each other, touch the hands of your neighbour and then kiss your own hand. Repeat. This kiss of peace reminds us that it is Christ’s Spirit which unites us all, even if we don’t know one another very well.
5. WE’RE NOT JUST BREAKING BREAD AT THE OLIVE GARDEN
The focus of the entire liturgical service is The Holy Eucharist as we believe it is the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. As such, it is reserved for those who are baptized in any one of the 6 non-Chalcedonian Churches. This is not meant to create exclusion but rather it is reverence for the treasure which is reserved for those who have united themselves with the Church.
After the liturgy the bread which you may spot being distributed is not the Eucharist; however, it was prayed on by the priest during the “offering of the Lamb” and everyone is welcome to it as a sign of fellowship. The bread itself carries – you guessed it – much symbolism: it is a circle to symbolize that God has no beginning or end and it is stamped to symbolize Christ’s wounds, His apostles and more.
6. GIVING FASTING A WHOLE NEW MEANING
Orthodox Christians fast without animal products more days out of the year than we days with a regular diet, needless to say this can be tough to swallow (pun intended). We don’t consume meat, fish or dairy products nearly every Wednesday and Friday and during five other periods of the year. This practice is not one size fits all and is guided by one’s Father of Confession based on both physical and spiritual capability. It is a personal practice and is frankly no one else’s business. The important bit to remember is this – fasting is used as a tool by the Church to discipline our bodies and feed our spirit. It is an exercise that with practice, is meant to yield spiritual growth.
And you thought there’d be no such thing! But it’s true we like to get real crazy with the triangle and cymbals just kickin’ it old school, like King David old. In addition, you will notice the congregation sings responses in the Liturgy, if you are moved to do so don’t be shy…please sing along! The words and tune of the hymns carry meaning and you will notice that different seasons have a different tune.
8. UM, DO I NEED TO STOP, DROP AND ROLL RIGHT NOW?
Negative! The raising of incense is meant to engage our senses. The incense which is released from the censor held by the priest represents prayers and repentance ascending to heaven; “Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” Revelation 5:8
9. OUR CHAMPIONS THE SAINTS
Orthodox worship includes veneration of the saints and especially the Virgin Mary. We believe the saints which have departed this world are still alive and remain part of the Church. They are the victorious as they have finished the race and received the prize of eternal life and since we remain the struggling church here on earth we ask for their prayers. It’s the same idea as asking a friend, family member, or clergy to pray for you; you aren’t praying to them but asking for their advocacy before the Lord.
10. WHERE DOES A NON-ORTHODOX FIT IN?
You might find that some Orthodox churches hold fast to their diaspora and remain unsure as to why outsiders would take an interest; however, here at COR we want to share the treasure of Orthodoxy with everyone. Our goal is to leave no question unanswered and in so doing, we hope that you begin to feel Orthodoxy and the Church is not so unfamiliar but instead that it begins to feel more like home.