CHURCH ETIQUETTE: PART 2
(This article has been reprinted in numerous forms, but its contents warrant reprinting here.)
Talking During Church
It is wonderful to come to church and see friends and family members, but we should wait until coffee hour to say hello to them. It isn't appropriate to greet people and have a conversation during services. Besides being disrespectful towards God, it is rude towards the other people in the church who are trying to pray. Talk to God while in church, through prayers, hymns, and thanksgiving - and to friends in the hall afterwards.
Kiss (Don't Shake) the Priest's or Bishop's Hand
Did you know that the proper way to greet a priest or bishop is to ask his blessing and kiss his right hand? How do you do this? Approach the priest or bishop with your right hand over your left hand and say "Father (or "Master" in the case of the bishop), bless." [He will make the sign of the cross, and place his right hand over yours.] This is much more appropriate (and traditional) than shaking their hands. When we kiss their hand, we show reverence for the hand which holds the Body of Christ at Communion; even priests kiss each other's hand for this reason. Next time you greet your priest or bishop, don't shake his hand: ask for his blessing.
Remember the time when people put on their "Sunday best" to go to church? All too often, dress in church has become too casual. In all areas of our lives, we should offer Christ our best, and the same is true of our dress. This means dressing modestly, not in a flashy way that would bring attention to ourselves. Our dress should always be becoming of a Christian - especially at church.
Short pants, beach wear, and t-shirts with any kind of writing are not appropriate for church. Shoes or sandals should be clean and tied. Shoulders and midriffs should be covered; miniskirts and tight-fitting dresses or skirts should be avoided. Dresses should be modestly cut, with full backs, and not be cut low in the front. Shirt buttons should be done up (the actual collar button may be left undone, but two or three buttons undone is inappropriate). If you're going somewhere after church where you need to dress casually, bring a change of clothing with you and change after the service. Remember, good judgment and good taste when dressing for church. After all, we don't go to be seen by everyone else - we go to meet and worship God.
To Cross or Not To Cross
To Cross: When you hear one of the variations of the phrase, "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit"; at the beginning and end of the liturgical service or your private prayers; entering or exiting the church, or when passing in front of the Holy Altar; before venerating in icon, the cross, or Gospel book.
Not to Cross: At the chalice before or after taking Communion (you might hit the chalice with your hand); when the priest or bishop blesses saying, "Peace be to all" - bow slightly and receive the blessing; when receiving a blessing from a bishop or a priest (kissing the right hand of the bishop or priest is appropriate, but not making the sign of the cross).
Touching the Hem of the Priest's Garments
Some people touch the hem of the priest's phelonion as he goes through the congregation for the Great Entrance (this is common among Greeks, but not among Slavs - Ed.). This is a nice, pious custom by which you "attach" your personal prayers to the prayer of the entrance with the holy gifts. At the same time, be careful neither to grab too hard and trip up the Great Entrance, nor to push people out of the way. Be sure to help your children so that they observe these guidelines as well.
Snacks for Children
Very young children (two and under) may need to eat before Sunday Liturgy, or possibly to snack or nurse. For such young children, this is acceptable, but it should always be done outside the nave (usually in the parish hall). By the time children are 3-4 years old, they should be able to make it through Liturgy without eating anything, and by the time they reach six or seven (the age of their first confession), they should begin fasting on Sunday morning for Communion (or at least make an attempt at fasting by cutting back on the amount of breakfast and eating "fasting"-type foods - talk to your priest about this). As is the case for adults, it is not appropriate to chew gum in church at any time.
Handling the Holy Bread
After taking Holy Communion and at the end of the liturgy, it is traditional to eat a piece of holy bread (antidoron) - the bread that was left over after Holy Communion was prepared. While antidoron is not Holy Communion, it is blessed bread and as such, should be eaten carefully so that crumbs don't fall all over the place. After taking Communion or kissing the cross at the end of the Divine Liturgy, take one piece of antidoron (you don't need four or five pieces, unless you are taking it to partake of each day before breakfast, with holy water), and eat it, trying not to drop crumbs. If you want to give a piece to someone else, go ahead and take an extra piece - don't break yours in half (it produces too many crumbs). Monitor children as they take the antidoron and teach them to eat it respectfully.
A Final Thought
North American society in our century is rather casual in its approach to life. Don't allow this prevailing attitude to enter into your Orthodox Christian piety. There are surely a lot of other areas that could be covered here. Much of church etiquette is based on common sense and showing respect for God and others. Always remember that you are in church to worship God, the Holy Trinity. The priest says, "With the fear of God and faith and love, draw near." Let this be the way you approach all of worship. If you do, you will probably have good church etiquette. +
- Adapted from an article by Father David Barr Tucson, Arizona.