Welcome back to Church Etiquette 101! Last time, we talked about the different postures Orthodox Christians use during worship services. In this post, we take a look at several different behaviors we have seen through the years, some good, some bad. We’ll take a look at those that are good (pious) first, and then list some behaviors from which you should refrain while in church.
If you’ve ever attended an Orthodox Liturgy, you probably noticed the faithful doing many strange things, from venerating icons and lighting candles, to prostrating and crossing themselves.
One Orthodox Christian may do these things differently than another. Understand that these variations don’t mean either one of these believers is being disrespectful. If you ever wonder if a particular behavior is acceptable, ask the priest. He is there to guide you!
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Here are some pious behaviors acceptable in the Orthodox Church:
- Crossing yourself.
Many Orthodox cross themselves at different times throughout the Liturgy. We cross ourselves a certain way, expressing our Creed (beliefs) physically with our bodies. If you are not Orthodox, you don’t have to do this. However, if you wish to, you can learn how to do so here.
- Lighting Candles.
Before entering the temple, Orthodox Christians light candles in the narthex, or entrance to the church. Some faithful may offer prayers as they light them. These candles symbolize our faith and hope in God’s help, and they express our love for Him who died for our sake.
- Bowing and Kneeling.
Orthodox Christians traditionally bow at particular times throughout services – for example, when we pray to Christ or ask the Theotokos for intercessions. We also kneel at times, but not as often.
- Covering the head.
This one is for the ladies. While most Orthodox churches in the United States don’t require it, many Orthodox women choose to cover their heads during worship. Veiling of the hair, along with dressing modestly, shows piety and humility before God. It also helps our brothers focus on worship, rather than on the beautiful girls standing near them.
- Touching the priest’s vestments.
Many Orthodox may touch the hem of the priest’s vestments as he passes by during the Great Entrance. They do this in remembrance of the woman who received healing by touching Christ’s robe. If you also feel compelled to do this, take care not to interrupt the procession or pull on the garment.
Remember, we go to church to worship God and thank Him for all He has done for us. Because we are in God’s house, we must take care NOT to do the following things:
- DON’T talk during services.
You can greet your friends and family during fellowship hour after church. Don’t worry. No one will find your focus on God (and not on them) rude. A simple smile is enough to let them know you are happy to see them, and will gladly catch up with them later. Talking during the liturgy distracts others from their worship; it serves as a stumbling block to your brothers and sisters, which St. Paul tells us we should never do (Romans 14:13).
- DON’T text or take phone calls.
This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many times a phone will go off in the middle of liturgy. Please take care to silence (do not disturb, not vibrate) your phone or turn it off completely. If you have an emergency, you can step out of the temple to make/take a call.
- DON’T save seats.
We should not save seats for other family members coming later. To do so is not neighborly to our non-Orthodox friends. Visitors also sometimes become intimidated when they see all the seats at the back of the church already filled. Please make room for those people and allow them to feel welcome.
- DON’T wear lipstick.
Again, this one is mainly for the ladies. Lipstick can ruin icons and sacred objects like the cross, Communion spoon, or chalice. We recommend simply not wearing lipstick at all when attending church. After all, you come to worship God, not to show off your makeup. God loves you the way He made you – au naturale. If you insist on wearing lipstick, blot your lips well before venerating anything, and do not approach the chalice to receive Holy Communion.
- DON’T chew gum.
Gum chewing during worship distracts those standing near us. A general rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t do it in the court of a king or queen, why would you do it in the house of your God?
- DON’T take pictures.
In some instances, photography and video are acceptable. But do not take pictures or videos of other faithful without their express consent, especially if you intend to use your footage on a public forum or in a YouTube video. If you do film or take pictures, we ask that you do not do this from behind the priest. We also ask that you do not stand in front of the altar, because that is where our Lord is present.
These are some of the behaviors that are and are not acceptable during Orthodox worship. We haven’t covered everything here – just the basics! As we said earlier, if you have a question about something, ask the parish priest.
In our next Church Etiquette 101 post, we discuss how to handle your little ones while in church. Have any suggestions for our Church Etiquette 101 series? Let us know in the comments below!