Let’s start off with a story: On a walk one morning, Daniel passes a modest little building he never really paid attention to before. The sign on the lawn says, “St. Stephen’s Orthodox Church.” Daniel frowns at the sign. He has never heard of the Orthodox Church before. Daniel goes home and decides to do some research on the Church. After hours of reading, he hesitantly decides to visit. But Daniel has no idea how to prepare for it. What should he wear? How should he greet the priest? Could he receive communion like he did at his Catholic church when he was younger? Daniel poked around on the internet some more, and he found this wonderful guide to Church Etiquette that you’re about to read. He felt fully prepared for his visit to the church, and has been attending ever since.
In this blog post, we will discuss the essence of church etiquette in the Orthodox tradition. This will be the first in a series called Church Etiquette 101. In this series, we will explore the basics of etiquette in the Orthodox Church, which are quite different from the traditions of most modern Christian churches. From greeting priests to learning the difference between a metania and a prostration, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to feel comfortable visiting an Orthodox parish!
What is church etiquette?
The accepted definition of “etiquette” is, according to the Cambridge English Dictionary, “the set of rules or customs that control accepted behavior in particular social groups or social situations.” So, Church etiquette, then, is simply a set of customs for behavior while in the church or on the church grounds. Knowing and practicing proper etiquette can mean the difference between success or failure in many aspects of life. This includes places of work, public spaces, and electronic communities.
Etiquette is even more important within the Holy Orthodox Church. After all, she is the manifestation of the Kingdom of God on earth. She is a sacred place that deserves our respect, reverence, and attentiveness. We, as Christians, ought to reflect the image of Christ both externally and internally at all times. And how much more so should we make the effort when inside the very House of God?
Up next in this series
Throughout our Church Etiquette 101 Blog Series, we will talk about all the different sorts of guidelines the Orthodox have in place, both for themselves and for visitors. Different communities of Orthodox Christians may differ on the more subtle things (like head coverings, for example). But for the most part, we all follow the same guidelines for proper attire and conduct during worship.
This does not mean we will judge you or give you the stink eye for not following these rules! Our focus in coming to the church is to pray and worship God. If we judge or look down upon anyone, we act in opposition to Christ’s teachings.
In our next post, we will talk about the way to properly greet and receive a blessing from Orthodox priests and/or bishops. Any topics you would like to see in our Church Etiquette 101 series? We’d love to hear them in the comments below!