FIRST TIME VISITORSWe warmly welcome all visitors and seekers to our church
We welcome anyone visiting for the first time, and we trust that your experience here will be an uplifting and enriching one. The Orthodox Christian Church is actually a community of local Churches, whose roots are the ancient and native Christian communities of the biblical world, with centers in Jerusalem, Syria, Egypt, and Asia Minor, and by extension in Greece, Cyprus, Russia, North America, and throughout the world.
As a continuation of the ancient Church, we engage the whole person, heart, mind, and all senses in divine worship. This experience has been so powerful to seekers in the past that it was often said “We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. We knew only that there God dwelt among men” (Russian Primary Chronicle). That experience of heaven on earth and God in our midst forms the heart of all Orthodox worship.
Our worship culminates in the sharing of Holy Communion, which not only unites us with the Divine, but also expresses the deep unity in faith and life among all Orthodox believers. Since Holy Communion expresses that deep unity in belief and practice alike, it is reserved for observant Orthodox Christians, who have properly prepared themselves with prayer, fasting, and recent confession. This is because the Orthodox choose not to make an external display of unity with other Christian groups when actual unity of faith and practice does not exist.
While working to restore the full communion that did exist among Christians in antiquity, today we offer the blessed bread (antidoron) at the conclusion of the Liturgy, as a gift of hospitality and of growing unity that is offered to all present. If you would like to learn more about the Orthodox way of life, or have any questions about worship or Holy Communion, please approach Fr. Michael or one of the other clergy following the Liturgy.
Thank you for visiting our website. Please join us for one of our many services, either on Sunday morning or during the week. Please see our calendar for a complete schedule of services. If you have questions, you may contact our parish office: 412-833-3355 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
10 Things You Should Know Before Your First Visit to an Orthodox Church
1. There is Movement Before and During Worship
During the early part of the service, you may see people walking up to the front of the church, praying in front of the iconostasis (the standing icons in front of the altar), kissing things and lighting candles, even though the service is already going on.
In fact, when you came in the service was already going on, although the calendar clearly said “Divine Liturgy, 9:30 am.” What’s going on here?
In an Orthodox church, there is only one Eucharistic service (Divine Liturgy) per Sunday, and it is preceded by the morning prayer service called Matins or Orthros (8:15 am). Matins is a preliminary service celebrating the good news of Resurrection of Christ, since it is the Resurrection which makes the Liturgy possible which follows. Memorial services are approximately 15 minutes in length and begin around 11:00 am.
Orthodox worshipers arrive at any point from the beginning of Matins through the early part of the Liturgy.
2. We Stand When We Pray
In the Orthodox tradition, standing is the normal posture for worship. The reason for this is that we understand worship to be an offering to God. Sitting is a casual position, not one that you would assume before royalty, let alone the King of Kings. We believe that when we are in the presence of God we should all stand. If you find the amount of standing too challenging, you are welcome to sit at any time.
The Liturgy at Holy Cross Church begins at 9:30 am. When we hear the reading of the Epistle, everyone sits. When the Gospel lesson for the day is read, everyone stands. The faithful are seated for the sermon and then stand for most of the rest of Liturgy. The liturgy continues until 10:40 am, when Communion is first given to children who depart for Sunday School, and the rest of the faithful remain in church for the conclusion of the Liturgy, at approximately 11:00. Following the announcements, a second sermon may be given, and the congregation is dismissed around 11:30 am.
3. People Make the Sign of the Cross
We sign ourselves whenever the Trinity is invoked, whenever we venerate the cross or an icon, and on many other occasions in the course of the Liturgy. People, however, aren’t expected to do everything the same way. Some cross themselves three times in a row, and some finish by sweeping their right hand to the floor. On first entering a church people may come up to an icon, crossing themselves and bowing with right hand to the floor, then kiss the icon, then make one more bow.
4. Orthodox People Venerate
When we first come into the church, we kiss the icons. You’ll also notice that some kiss the chalice, some kiss or touch the edge of the priest’s vestment as he passes by, the acolytes (altar boys) kiss his hand when they give him the censer, and we all line up to kiss the priest’s hand at the end of the service as we receive the blessed bread. When we talk about “venerating” something we usually mean crossing ourselves and kissing it.
The reason for kissing the hand of the priest has to do with our understanding that during the Liturgy the hands of the priest are the hands that give out the Body and Blood of Christ (Holy Communion). It is also through the laying on of hands that ordinations are done by the bishops. The laying on of hands traces back to the Apostles of Christ.
We greet each other before we receive Communion (“Greet one another with a kiss of love,” 1 Peter 5:14). The usual greeting is, “Christ is in our midst.” The response is, “He is and always shall be.” Don’t worry if you forget what to say. Some of the faithful greet each other by shaking hands, while others kiss each other on each cheek. This greeting or “kiss of peace” is a liturgical act, a sign of mystical unity.
5. Blessed Bread and Consecrated Bread
As explained above, only Orthodox Christians may receive Holy Communion. Everyone in the congregation may have some of the blessed bread offered at the conclusion of the Liturgy. As we file come up to the priest, he gives us one or two pieces of blessed bread as a blessing. Some people will take extra portions for themselves and for visitors and non-Orthodox friends around them. If someone hands you a piece of blessed bread, do not panic; it is not the Eucharistic Body. However, it is still blessed, so please be careful to consume the crumbs.
Visitors should not be offended that they are not allowed to receive Communion. It is important to know that communion is not given out as a means of hospitality. Anyone who is not Orthodox may receive holy communion if they wish to attend classes and convert to Orthodox Christianity. Orthodox believe that receiving communion is broader than me-and-Jesus; it acknowledges faith in historic Orthodox doctrine, obedience to a particular Orthodox bishop, and a commitment to a particular Orthodox worshipping community. There’s nothing exclusive about this; everyone is invited to make this commitment to the Orthodox Church. But the Eucharist is the Church’s treasure, and it is reserved for those who have united themselves with the Church, and have full knowledge of what holy communion is.
We also handle the Eucharist with more gravity than many denominations do, further explaining why we guard it from common access. We believe it has been changed from ordinary bread and wine to the Body and Blood of Christ. Holy Communion is a sacrament of the church and not a symbolic gesture or right of passage. We ourselves do not receive communion unless we are making regular confession of our sins to a priest and are at peace with other communicants. We fast from all food and drink – yes, even a morning cup of coffee – from midnight the night before communion.
6. How Do We Greet the Clergy?
The role of the priest is that of a spiritual father, preacher of the gospel, and the one who offers the sacraments. Part of his role is to continue the earthly ministry that St. Paul brought to the people. The priest is referred to as father, out of respect, because he is both a servant of the Lord and also called to be the leader of the congregation. Just as St. Paul referred to himself as father of his flock (1 Corinthians 4:14-15), the faithful refer to him in the same way as a way to honor the position of the priesthood. His wife also holds a special role as parish mother, and she gets a title too: “Presbytera” (Greek), which means “priest’s wife.”
7. Hymnology That Draws Us To Pray
At Holy Cross Church, the choir is meant to lead the people in congregational singing. Traditionally, the hymns of Matins are chanted a capella. Most Liturgies are sung with an organ.
8. The Virgin Mary
A constant feature of Orthodox worship is veneration of the Virgin Mary, the “champion leader” of all Christians. We often address her as “Theotokos,” which means “Birthgiver of God.” In providing the physical means for God to become man, she had a pivotal role in our salvation. We honor her, as she herself foretold in the Scripture (“All generations will call me blessed,” Luke 1:48). When we sing “Through the intercession of the Theotokos, Savior, save us,” we do not mean that she grants us eternal salvation, but that we seek her prayers for our protection and growth in faith. Just as we ask for each other’s prayers, we ask for the prayers of the ever-Virgin Mary and the other saints as well. They are not dead, after all, just departed to the other side. Icons surround us to remind us of all the saints who are joining us invisibly in worship. One reference to the saints surrounding us is found in Hebrews, chapter 12: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…”
9. The Three Doors.
Every Orthodox church building will have an iconostasis before its altar. “Iconostasis” literally means “icon-stand.” It can be as simple as a large image of Christ on the right and a corresponding image of the Virgin and Child on the left. The basic set-up of two large icons creates, if you use your imagination, three doors. The central one, in front of the altar itself, is called the “Holy Doors” or “Royal Doors,” because there the King of Glory comes out to the congregation in the Eucharist. Only the priest and deacons, who distribute the Eucharist, use the Holy Doors.
The openings on the other sides of the icons, if there is a complete iconostasis, have doors with icons of angels; they are termed the “Deacon’s Doors.” Altar boys and others with business behind the altar use these, although no one is to go through any of the doors without an appropriate reason.
10. How Does a “non-Greek” Fit In?
There are about 6 million Orthodox in North America and 350 million in the world, making Orthodoxy the second-largest Christian community. Orthodox throughout the world hold unanimously to the fundamental Christian doctrines taught by the Apostles and handed down by their successors (the bishops) throughout the centuries. One could attribute this unity to historical accident. We would attribute it to the Holy Spirit. Being Greek ethnically is not a requirement to be Orthodox, just as someone can be Roman Catholic without being Roman. Because only Greek was spoken for approximately the first 300 years in the Christian church, the original Church was sometimes referred to as the Greek Church. It is the rule of the Orthodox Church to speak the language of the local people, therefore at Holy Cross Church, we speak mostly English. We also use a small amount of Greek, Spanish, and Church Slavonic, because we have parishioners from those backgrounds.
Currently, the largest American jurisdictions are the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, The Orthodox Church in America (Russian roots), and the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese (Arabic roots). The Liturgy is substantially the same in all, though there may be variation in language and type of music used.
Orthodoxy seems startlingly different at first, but as the weeks go by it gets to be less so. It will begin to feel more and more like home, and will gradually draw you into your true home, the Kingdom of God. We hope that your first visit to an Orthodox church will be enjoyable and that it won’t be your last.