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November - December 2011

CHURCH ETIQUETTE: PART 1

(This article has been reprinted in numerous forms, but its contents warrant reprinting here.)

Standing vs. Sitting

The traditional posture for prayer and worship in the Orthodox Church is standing. There are usually no pews in the churches. Chairs or benches on the side walls are usually reserved for the elderly and infirm. When should you definitely stand? Always during the Gospel reading, the Little and Great Entrances, the Anaphora, the distribution of Holy Communion, whenever the priest gives a blessing, and the Dismissal. When in doubt, stand. It is never wrong to stand in church. Strictly speaking, kneeling on Sundays is not correct, because every Sunday is a "little Pascha" in which the Resurrection is remembered. If the tradition of the parish you are visiting is to kneel, and everyone kneels, it's better to do so than to stick out like a sore thumb. If there is a mixture of standing and kneeling, then stand.

Lighting Candles

Orthodox Christians light candles as we pray, making an offering to accompany our prayers. Orthodox typically light candles when coming into the church - and that is usually the best time to light them. There are times when candles should not be lit, including during the Epistle or Gospel readings, during the Little or Great Entrances, and during the sermon.

Entering the Church Late

The time to arrive at church is before the service starts, but for some unknown reason, it has become the custom - or rather the bad habit - for some to come to church late. 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, wait until it is finished to quickly find your place. If the priest is giving the sermon, stay in the back until he has concluded. Try not to interrupt the Liturgy with you entrance. Those who arrive at the Liturgy after the Gospel has already been read should not partake of the Eucharist.

Crossing Those Legs?

In some Orthodox cultures, crossing one's legs is taboo and considered to be very disrespectful. In North American culture, we tend to cross our legs to get comfortable while sitting. Should we cross our legs in church? No. Not because it is "wrong" to ever cross legs, but rather because it is too casual - and too relaxed - for being in church. Think about it: when you get settled in your favorite chair at home, you lean back, cross your legs, and then your mind can wander anywhere it wants to. Remember that sitting in church is a concession, not the normative way of prayer. When you do sit in church, you should sit attentively - and not too comfortably. When sitting in church, keep those feet on the floor, ready to stand at attention (which is the meaning of "Let us attend").

In and Out

"In and out" shouldn't be the traffic pattern by the back door during services. On some Sundays, it almost seems like we have a revolving door in the back of the church - including both children and adults. Use the restroom before coming to church. You shouldn't need to get a drink of water during the service (especially if you are taking Communion). Don't come to church to go to the fellowship hall, to prepare for the lunch, or to talk with firends - come to pray. [Note: Taking restless little ones out is a different matter. If children are disruptive, take them quickly and quietly out of church, just long enough to settle down, then return to Liturgy. Follow the customary practices for entering late.]

Leaving Before Dismissal

Leaving church before the Dismissal - besides being rude - deprives us of a blessing. Worship has a beginning ("Blessed is the Kingdom...") and an end ("Let us depart in peace..."). To leave immediately after Communion is to treat church like a fast food restaurant where we come and go as we please. We live in a fast-paced world where we seem to be hurrying from place to place. But in God's Presence, we need to make every attempt to fight this pressure to move on to the next thing on the day's agenda. We deprive ourselves of blessings by not being still and participating in God's holiness.

Blot that Lipstick!

Have you ever looked at an icon and seen lip prints all over it? Lipstick may look fine on lips, but it looks horrible on icons, crosses, the chalice and the priest's or bishop's hand. Icons have been ruined by lipstick; and even though the cross can usually be cleaned after everyone venerates it, it just isn't considerate to others to impose your lipstick on them. What is the answer? If you insist on wearing lipstick to church, blot your lips well before venerating an icon, taking Communion, or kissing the cross or the priest's or bishop's hand. Even better, wait until after church to put it on. God is not impressed with how attractive we look externally, but how attractive we are internally, our adornment with good works and piety.

Venerating Icons

When you enter the church, it is traditional to venerate the icons, before we do anything else. Usually there are icons at the entrance to the church and many churches have icon stands in the front as well. It is not proper to kiss an icon on the face. When we approach and icon to venerate it, we kiss the gospel, scroll, or hand cross in the hand of the person in the icon, or kiss the hand or foot of the person depicted. As one venerates an icon, we show proper respect to the person depicted in the icon - the same respect you would show the person by venerating him or her in an appropriate place. Remember to blot off any lipstick before kissing.

- Adapted from an article by Father David Barr Tucson, Arizona. Part 2 will appear in the next newsletter.

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