COMMON CHURCH DECORUM
In the Orthodox Church, our life is permeated with many good customs and traditions. Many of these began in the varying cultures where Orthodoxy has existed for generations. It is fitting that these would find their way into a congregations as varied as St. Cyril’s. Below we will expound on some of the more common and regular customs as well as church etiquette. It is important to address these issues so there is a norm within the Orthodox Churches and found at St. Cyrils.
For Orthodox Christians, we frequently accompany our prayers in church by light candles as an offering which accompanies our prayers. This practice has existed for many centuries, and usually occurs as one enters the Church and venerates the icons. However, since we minimize as much distraction as possible we do not light candles at important moments of the services. For example, we do not light candles while the Epistle of Gospel are read, while the priest is giving the homily, or during any entrances. If in doubt, a church usher is available to guide you.
We strive to arrive by the time the priest says, “Blessed is the Kingdom…” at the Divine Liturgy, or “Blessed is our God,” at most other services. This is the beginning of the “corporate” prayers of the whole Body of Christ. Thus, it is proper to arrive before the service starts. If forced by external circumstance to arrive late, one must enter quietly, minimizing distraction, and preserving the spirit of worship. It has become common practice to refrain from communion if one arrives after the Gospel reading. If one arrives during the Epistle or Gospel readings, the homily, or the Great Entrance remain at the back of the church until complete. Arriving in a timely fashion avoids distracting one’s brothers and sisters in Christ, and prevents inadvertently drawing our attention away from our worship of our Good God.
Standing is the Orthodox position of prayer. Of course, not all can stand for extended periods of time to which we say, “sit down.” However, it is important to note that it is typical in virtually every Orthodox culture to refrain from crossing one’s legs in Church. In some cultures this is actually very disrespectful and serves to distract the congregation. In Orthodoxy, we stress being attentive in the services. While the point is not to create a state of great anxiety, crossing one’s legs, or arms, or extending out one’s legs and crossing the feet, in American culture are expressions of getting comfortable. Apart from creating an inner state that actually becomes conducive to wandering thoughts, it can distract. A number of concessions exist in Orthodoxy due to existing in American culture, pews and sitting being such concessions. While sitting is not the typical position for prayer if one must sit, we should remain attentive, keep both feet on the floor, and be ready to stand at the highest point of our worship.
CLOTHING & COSMETICS
In the Orthodox Church, we desire to offer the best we have to God. Thus, when we come to Church we come clean and wear our best clothing. Again, one great driving principle in our corporate worship it to avoid distraction, to avoid taking the attention away from our adoration of God. Thus, men and women should wear modest clothing. Revealing clothes should be avoided. Thus, no spagetti straps, overly short sleeves, bare midrifts, short skirts, oroverly-tight fitting clothing, or cleavage. Regarding cosmetics, if women if they choose to wear lipstick, they should avoid leaving any residue by blotting their lips well before venerating an icon, receiving Communion, or kissing the cross or the priest’s or bishop’s hand.
We ask to withhold any extensive conversation until after the service is concluded. Voices ought never drown out the prayers being read, thus better to avoid conversations until afterward.
“LET US DEPART IN PEACE”
Just as we would never arrive late or leave early from a meeting, film, or other valued event, we should apply the same principle in the Church. Our worship has a beginning and end. If we leave church before the dismissal we are deprived of a blessing. We want to live into our life in Church, and raise it up to be the most important aspect of our lives. Leave immediately after Communion is to treat the church like a restaurant, and we ought never think of the life in the Church or treat it in a worldly way.
As mentioned above, it is typical for an Orthodox Christian to venerate the icons upon entering the church. It is very common to venerate as follows: by bowing while making our cross twice, then kiss the icon, and then bow while making our cross one final time. Please blot your lips if you are wearing lipstick and avoid kissing the face.
HANDLING THE HOLY BREAD (ANTIDORON)
Antidoron is blessed bread having come from the same loaf as the bread which is consecrated in the Liturgy. It should be treated and eaten with reverence and attention, avoiding dropping crumbs. It is modern custom to partake of the blessed bread to clear the palate after receiving Holy Communion. However, bear in mind that in the more ancient times the anidoron was intended for those Orthodox who did not receive communion for whatever reason. It is very common to take a piece home and to place it in one’s prayer corner for consumption during the week. One may take a small portion of the saved antidoron with Holy Water after one completes one’s morning or evening prayers.