- Divine Liturgy
Eucharist - Holy Communion
This is the Mystery where the bread and wine are changed by the Holy Spirit into the true Blood and Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. This gift is distributed to all Orthodox Christians who choose to partake for the most intimate union with our Lord. This is seen as the greatest of all the Mysteries. It is the climax of our main worship service the Divine Liturgy.
This was promised by the Christ on the occasion
of the feeding of the five thousand.
I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world. (John 6:51)
Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. (John 6:53-56)
Since the Apostles did not believe this, he told them about His future Ascension. Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. (John 6:61-63)
Christ knew that these words were hard to understand.
The Eucharist was established as recorded
in three of the Gospels.
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Matt 26:26-28)Same is said in Mark.
And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. (Luke 22:19-20)
It is repeated by Paul in his letter to the
The Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me. (1 Cor 11:23-25)
This wording is very clear and does not allow for any other interpretation. He does not say this is a symbol of my body, but that this is my body. It is not figurative, not by the abundance of grace, not by a simple descent of the Holy Spirit and not through a penetration of the bread. It is truly and actually changed, transubstantiated, converted, transformed into the true Body and Blood of Christ. This had been the understanding of the Church from the beginning of Christianity. There has never been any other interpretation in the Church. Changes to this view in many Protestant churches are due to the denial of the mystery that grows with it. This is the result of a scientific world view and creative reinterpretation of the Scripture.
Having given communion to His disciples, the Lord commanded, Do this in remembrance of Me. This must be performed until He comes (1Cor 11:25-26). We can see this act performed in Apostolic times in Acts (2:42, 46, 20:7) and in 1Cor (10,11). The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread. (1 Cor 10:16-17)
It is in the Eucharist that the believer is united with Christ. It also unites believers with each other. We being many, are one body, for we are all partakers of that one Bread. (1Cor 10:17)
In the Divine Liturgy, the congregation kneels and the priest lifts up the paten and the cup praying, “Once again we offer you this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood, and we ask, pray and entreat You; send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here offered. And make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ. And that which is in this Cup the precious blood of Your Christ. Changing them by Your Holy Spirit. Amen, Amen. Amen.”
The priest continues, “So
that to those who partake of them they May bring vigilance of soul,
forgiveness of sins, communion of Your Holy Spirit, fulfillment
of the kingdom of heaven, confidence before You, not judgment or
This is called the Epiclesis, yet there is not considered to be any single moment that the change occurs.
Fathers at the First Ecumenical Council said:
“At the Divine Table we should not see simply the bread and the cup which have been offered, but raising our minds high, we should with faith understand that on the sacred Table lies the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world, Who is offered as a Sacrifice by the priests; and truly receiving His Precious Body and Blood, we should believe that this is a sign of our Resurrection.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ is present in this Mystery with all His being. He is present totally even in the smallest particle. All who receive the Holy Communion receive the entire Christ. And even though there are many liturgies it is the same Christ in each one. After the transformation takes place the Body and Blood do not return to their former nature.
The bread which is used is wheat bread which has risen through the use of leaven. In the Scripture the word “artos” is used for bread which is a leavened bread. The Eastern Orthodox Church has always used leavened Bread. (In the Western Church they use unleavened bread. While the source of the difference is not clear, some believe that until the 10th century both used leavened bread.)
The Holy Eucharist by Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald
Preparing to Receive Holy CommunionBy Fr. Tom Avramis
(Written with the approval of Bishop Anthony of San Francisco)
- Do I need to fast before Communion?
- Do I need to go to Confession before Communion?
- How Frequently can I receive Communion?
The most important element in the spiritual renewal of the Orthodox Christian is the Sacrament of Holy Communion. It is the one sacrament that transcends all other sacraments. When we receive Holy Communion we receive Jesus Himself into us. So great is this mystery that we are left without any possible response which would express what God has done. Therefore, we offer the only answer we can, 'Thank you'.
The Greek word for Thanksgiving is "Eucharisto". We refer to Holy Communion as "the Eucharist" and offer thanksgiving to God for this great mystery whereby God not only sanctifies the bread and wine, but also changes them into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
The bread and wine do not change into the body and blood of Jesus Christ until the blessing and thanksgiving has been completed. This happens at every Divine Liturgy. "We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we give thanks to Thee, O Lord, and we pray to Thee, O our God". While the choir sings the above hymn, the priest prays for the descent of the Holy Sprit, who transforms the elements on the altar into the body and blood of Christ.
"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you... For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed" (John 6:53, 55).
Therefore, if receiving the Eucharist is receiving Jesus, we must take care to approach the Eucharist in a proper manner. The way we approach this awesome mystery determines whether our participation will be a blessing in our lives, or whether we are condemning ourselves.
Fasting is a discipline which is not restricted only to food. It is more than simply not eating. It is also not lying, stealing, cheating, committing adultery, gossiping, quarrelling etc. We must abstain from all forms of evil. To think that by only setting a few days aside to omit certain foods from our diet makes us worthy to receive the Eucharist is to be spiritually naive.
• It is not uncommon to hear Orthodox Christians say they are fasting on Wednesday and Friday because they plan to take Communion at Sunday Liturgy. In reality, the practice of Wednesday and Friday fasting has never been purposefully linked to participation in the Eucharist. Orthodox Christians are required to fast on those two days of the week regardless if they are going to take Holy Communion or not. [The Holy Apostles Sixty-Ninth Canon of the Church]. This same Canon requires that fasting be maintained throughout Great Lent also. No mention is made of the Eucharist. In other words, regular fasting must be a way of life.
• Many Orthodox Christians extend the Wednesday and Friday fast to Saturday. They reason that if they fast on Wednesday and Friday in preparation for the Eucharist on Sunday, it does not seem right not to fast on Saturday, the day prior to receiving Communion. However, in so doing, they violate the sixty fourth Canon of the Holy Apostles which specifically forbids ever fasting on Saturday, the day God rested after creation. Exceptions to this Canon - Holy Saturday and a few other major feast days should they fall on a Saturday.
• The Eucharistic Fast involves total abstinence from any food or drink in the morning prior to receiving the Eucharist. If therefore, you keep the Eucharistic Fast, and there exists no moral reason for you to stay away from Chalice, you become obligated to come forward and receive Christ as He is offered at the liturgy.
• To assert that one has not fasted on the previous Wednesday and Friday and therefore cannot come forward for Communion, is, by itself, an insufficient cause to abstain from the Eucharist.
So strongly did the Church feel about this that we find in the ninth Apostolic Canon of the Holy Apostle, the following: "All those faithful who enter and listen to the Scriptures, but do not stay for prayer and Holy Communion must be excommunicated, on the grounds that they are causing the Church a breach of Order". The early Orthodox Church attended liturgy for one reason - the Eucharist.
• St John Cassion, writes, "We must not avoid Communion because we deem ourselves to be sinful. We must approach it more often for the healing of the soul but with much humility and faith considering ourselves unworthy. Otherwise it is impossible to receive communion once a year, as certain people do such people manifest more pride than humility for when they receive, they think of themselves as worthy".
• Fasting was never intended to be a barrier to keep us from Christ, but a bridge to lead us to fuller participation in the life of Christ.
Do I need to go to Confession?
• In general, two views emerge concerning Confession and the Eucharist. The first sees Confession as necessary before each participation in the Eucharist. The second sees Confession as a periodic practice not required before every participation in the Eucharist.
The result of viewing Confession as a pre-requisite to every participation in the Eucharist is that it does not enhance one's spiritual life but hinders it. It hinders it because Confession becomes an excuse not to take Holy Communion, much like fasting becomes an excuse to stay away from the Chalice.
Confession itself, of course, is not a hindrance, but people make it a hindrance. It is not uncommon to hear from individuals that they are not regular participants in the Eucharist because they have not been to Confession.
• The Church, does not require a Confession from her people every time they wish to partake of the Eucharist. However, if it is your practice to receive the Eucharist only a few times per year at certain times, your Priest may rightfully insist that you go to Confession. If it is your practice to partake of the Eucharist rarely, it is probable that your whole approach to the Eucharist could, and should, be questioned.
If you resolve to be a regular participant in the Eucharist, as every Orthodox should be, you should plan on periodic Confession. This is defined by your Priest and usually it means anywhere from once a month to once every six months.
• It is not acceptable in the tradition of the Church to keep away from the Eucharist using Confession as an excuse. The Sacrament of Confession exists to enhance our approach to the Eucharist, not to impede it.
• Did you know that the first Orthodox Christians took Holy Communion every day? That's right, they could not think of going through a day without taking the Eucharist. So strongly did the early Orthodox Christians feel about this that they introduced the 9th Apostolic Canon that anyone who did not stay for prayer and Holy Communion must be excommunicated. This shows how seriously the Eucharist should be taken when offered on Sundays. Those who attend Sunday liturgy and do not take Holy Communion regularly should consider not going at all unless their intention is to receive the Eucharist.
• Christians sin constantly. Sin is part of our life. Therefore forgiveness must also be a part of our life. Constant sin requires constant forgiveness. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (John 1:8).
• The Eucharist, approached in the correct manner, takes away our sin and gives us the strength to draw closer to God. What is the correct manner? The answer is found in the liturgy itself when the Priest presents the Chalice and intones, "With the fear of God, faith and love, draw near". Therefore, if you do not have a valid reason for not partaking, you are obliged to receive the Eucharist.
• If you have kept the Eucharistic Fast (ie not eaten or drunk anything after waking up in the morning), and if you approach with "fear of God, faith and love", and there is no moral or canonical reason to impede you - you must go forward when you hear the call.
• To live a life of infrequent participation in the Eucharist means spiritual sickness. It may be you fail to be regular in your partaking of the Eucharist because you feel unworthy. In this case, the question must be asked; when will you be worthy? Of course, if you wait until you are worthy, forget it, you will never be able to approach the Chalice. One of the reasons we must constantly go forward is precisely because we are unworthy.
• Should you still not be able to accept the fact that you should be a regular participant in the Eucharist, you must question yourself. Why do you feel this way? Are you aware that there does exist someone who stands to gain by your staying away from the Chalice? That person is the devil. The longer you stay away from the Eucharist, the stronger the devil's influence in your life. Do you want to overcome the devil? Them receive Jesus Christ. The Body of God both deifies and nourishes. It deifies the spirit and nourishes the mind. It heals, purifies, enlightens and sanctifies the body and soul. It helps us to turn away from every fantasy, evil practice and diabolical activity which work subconsciously in our members. It increases virtue and perfection for Communion with the Holy Spirit as a provision of salvation and eternal life.
• If you know that you will receive the body and blood of Christ on Sunday then during the week you will begin to discipline yourself and make a determined effort to overcome your passions. You will make every effort not to sin. You will pray and fast with relative ease for you are preparing your body and soul to receive Christ. You clean and tidy your house (your heart) to receive the King to whom no other King can be compared. And once you receive the Eucharist, Christ gives you the spiritual gifts to ward off the temptations of the devil which war continuously against you and assist you to climb the ladder of divine ascent.
How Often Should One Receive the Holy Communion?
Father T. Avramis answers it this way. Did you know that the first Orthodox Christians took Holy Communion every day? So strongly did the early Orthodox Christians feel about this that they introduced the 9th Apostolic Canon that anyone who did not stay for prayer and Holy Communion must be excommunicated. This shows how seriously the Eucharist should be taken when offered on Sundays.
Christians sin constantly. Sin is part of our life. Therefore forgiveness must also be a part of our life. Constant sin requires constant forgiveness. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (John 1:8).
The Eucharist, approached in the correct manner, takes away our sin and gives us the strength to draw closer to God. What is the correct manner? The answer is found in the liturgy itself when the Priest presents the Chalice and intones, "With the fear of God, faith and love, draw near". Therefore, if you do not have a valid reason for not partaking, you are obliged to receive the Eucharist. If you have kept the Eucharistic Fast (i.e. not eaten or drunk anything after waking up in the morning), and if you approach with "fear of God, faith and love", and there is no moral or canonical reason to impede you - you must go forward when you hear the call.
You May fail to be regular in your partaking of the Eucharist because you feel unworthy. In this case, ask yourself, when will you be worthy? One of the reasons we must constantly go forward is precisely because we are unworthy.
If you are not able to accept the fact that you should be a regular participant in the Eucharist, you ask, Why do you feel this way? Only the devil stands to gain by your staying away from the Chalice. The longer you stay away from the Eucharist, the stronger the devil's influence in your life. The Body of God both deifies and nourishes. It heals, purifies, enlightens and sanctifies the body and soul. It helps us to turn away from every fantasy, evil practice and diabolical activity which work subconsciously in our members. It increases virtue and perfection for Communion with the Holy Spirit as a provision of salvation and eternal life.
If you know that you will receive the body and blood of Christ on Sunday then during the week you will begin to discipline yourself and make a determined effort to overcome your passions and make every effort not to sin. You will pray and fast with relative ease for you are preparing your body and soul to receive Christ. You will be able to approach the chalice with a contrite heart, knowing you are unworthy and seeking the help from our God, accepting His most valuable gift given freely by Him for your assistance.
It is an obligation
of every Orthodox Christian to receive Holy Communion.
Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life. (John 6:53-54)
It unites us with the Lord.
He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. (John 6:56)
It nourishes the soul and body and aids our
He who feeds on Me will live because of Me. (John 6:57)
It pledges of future resurrection and eternal
He who eats this bread will live forever. (John 6:58)
How Often Should we Receive Holy Communion? by Macarias Notaras
It is Necessary for the Orthodox to Partake Frequently of the Divine Body and Blood of our Lord by Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite in Concerning Frequent Communion of the Immaculate Mysteries of Christ.
Receiving Holy Communion
The Orthodox Church
uses one Holy Spoon and one Holy Chalice to distribute the Holy
Body and Holy Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to each
person individually and personally. Some ask if there is any
chance to contacting a disease from the common spoon.
The answer is no. What you are receiving is not simply wine and bread with some water added. It has been changed spiritually into the actual Blood and Body of Christ. It has the fullness of God’s presence and grace. They are divine (not human) gifts for our well being. They cannot harm you.
The invisible microbes that may enter our mouths from the previous communicant are harmless. From a purely experiential perspective, every chalice on Sundays is consumed in its totality by the priest, after several mouths have communed from it. No priest has ever become ill or incapacitated after consuming the Holy Gifts.
If we truly believe in God, we know quite well that God would never allow harm to come to us, most especially in the reception of Holy Communion.
A religious seal (sfrayitha) stamps a special design on the prosforo before baking. During preparation of the Eucharist, the priest conducts the proskomithi in which he first cuts out the center of the stamped design that says "IC,XC, NIKA (Jesus Christ Conquers). It becomes the Body of Christ (the Lamb). Then the large triangle on the left is cut in honor of the Virgin Mary. The nine small triangles on the right are cut to commemorate the angels, prophets, apostles, holy fathers and prelates, martyrs, ascetics, holy unmercenaries, Joachim and Anna, and all saints, including the saint of the day's liturgy. The last cuts are tiny squares to remember specific names of the living and the dead.
The sfrayitha has two sides. One side features
the full seal described above, and the other side has a smaller circle
with the letters IC XC NIKA. When a large number of people are expected
for communion, prepare extra bread, making imprints with the small
seal around the large circle or on separate loaves.
Purchase the seal at the church bookstore.
Take the prosforo to church with a list of names for the priest to mention during the Divine Liturgy. Put the first names of the living in one column of your note (including those who have baked the bread, and others you want remembered) and the names of any deceased in another column. The priest cuts the prosforo in their honor and recites their names during the service.
1/2 cup luke warm water
4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 package dry yeast
1 cup water
Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup lukewarm water with sugar and let rise until bubbly. Mix liquid ingredients. Slowly add 3 cups flour, while continuing to mix. Work the sticky dough until it forms a loose ball. Turn out on a floured surface and add additional flour until a stiff dough is formed. Knead a few minutes. Make two balls, and place one on to of the other in a cake pan that has been floured, not greased. (The double layer represents the dual nature of Christ.) Press out to edge of pan. Sprinkle the top lightly with flour. Place the sfrayitha in the center and press down as far as possible. Remove seal and make holes about an inch apart with a toothpick around the edge of the design. Cover the bread with a dry cloth, and let rise in a warm lace until double in size. Open the holes with a toothpick again. Before baking make the sign of the cross over the bread and say the “Lords Prayer” and/or a short prayer for those for whom you are baking the bread. Bake at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes. Reduce oven to 250 degrees and bake another 30 minutes or until hollow when tapped.
Above recepie taken from A Guide to Greek Traditions and Customs in America by Marilyn Rouvelas.
of Yiota Chatos of St George Community.
A step by step guide with pictures for making Prosphora
An Offering to God
by Phyllis Meshel Onest, M.Div.
The Divine Liturgy is the way the Orthodox Church conducts the Mystery or Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. There are several forms of the Divine Liturgy but the most common is the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom....
The Sacrament had its beginning with the last supper which Christ shared with His disciples before His betrayal and crucifixion. It is written:
"And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, Drink of it ye all; for this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."
The results of taking into ourselves the Body and Blood of Christ are many. "The first and most important [is] the unity of the believer with Christ and the subsequent increase of the new life of grace which arises and is maintained through it" says theologian Panafiotes Trembelas. [He] points out that frequent participation in the sacrament of Holy Communion aids in weakening our tendencies to sin and in increasing our growth in the true and abundant life. The sacrament is also a source of forgiveness of sins which are not great enough to bar us from communion as unworthy participants. ...The sacrament is called communion not only because we commune with Christ, but also because "through it we commune with and are united with one another. For because we all receive one bread, one Body of Christ and one Blood, we become members of one another--all together one body with Christ.
[In] the Holy Eucharist we receive the Body and Blood of Christ which unites us with Christ, helps us to grow into the image and likeness of God, unites us with our fellow Christians, becomes the means by which our membership in the Kingdom of God is celebrated, mediates to us the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, and reveals for us the whole divine and holy history of the saving life and work of Jesus Christ.
Above taken from Living the Liturgy by Stanely S. Harakas
Order of the Divine
I. Liturgy of the Word
The Great Litany - Pray with the priest
Antiphons - Hymns
The Small Entrance – Procession taking Gospel Book to Altar - Bringing to mind the coming to earth of our Lord and the importance of His message of salvation. .
Reading of the Epistle
Reading of the Gospel
II. Liturgy of the Faithful
The Great Entrance – Procession taking gifts to the Altar
Spiritual Litany - Pray with the priest
Confession of Faith - The Creed - Recited by all
The Consecration – Priest elevates the Gifts - Kneel at this time.
The Lords Prayer – Recited by all in Greek and English
Priest receives Holy Communion and prepares it for the congregation.
Communion is offered to all members of the Orthodox Faith - form a line in the outer aisles.
Read silently the Communion prayer before receiving Holy Communion.
Read prayers of thanksgiving after Holy Communion
Greeting Priest and receiving the andidoron
The congregation comes to the front of the Church, pew by pew, to receive from the priest Andidoron, bread that has been blessed earlier, but is not Holy Communion. This is a continuation of the ancient Agape meal celebrated by the early Christians.
Video - complete service with commentary by Father Tom Pistolis
Proskomide - The service that takes place during Orthros to prepare the bread, wine and water for the Eucharist. - video
Music and Commentary
Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as sung by the St. George Cathedral Choir and Father Tom Pistolis.
on the Divine Liturgy by Father George Pappas
(This is the commentary that is included in the Liturgy books in the pews of our cathedral).
Understanding the Orthodox Liturgy:
A guide for Partcipating in the Liturgy of St. John Chryssostom
By the very reverend Michel Najim & T.L. Frazier
The Evolution of the Byzintine Divine Liturgy
by Robet Taft S. J.
Bible and the Divine Liturgy
There Biblical references for everything that is said during the Divine Liturgy. Below is the text of the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. Under each line, this site wil show you the "Bible References:" along with the Book, Chapter and Verse(s).
This Liturgy is used during the period of Great Lent.
Be On Time
You should arrive on time for the Liturgy. This is before the Priest lifts the Gospel book and makes the sign of the cross and then says," Blessed is the Kingdom of Heaven..." You should enter the nave of the church respectively and quietly after having lit and candle and said a prayer and venerated the icons in the narthex. This is more important than a theatrical performace, a concert or movie, so make sure you plan to be on time!
Standing versus Sitting
The traditional posture for prayer and worship in the Orthodox Church has been to stand. In the Orthodox "old countries" there usually are no pews in the churches. Chairs or benches on the side walls are usually reserved for the elderly and the infirm. In North America, we have tended to build our churches with pews.
It is fully acceptable (and even preferable)
to stand for the entire service. If you prefer this it would be better
to find a place closer to the back or side of the temple so as not
to stand out or block someone's view.
When should you definitely stand? Always stand during the Gospel reading, the Little and Great Entrances, the Anaphora, the distribution of Communion, the special services for a Memorial or the Artoklasia, whenever the priest gives a blessing, at the dismissal.
Entering the Cathedral (Late!)
The time to arrive at the Cathedral is before a service starts. For some unknown reason, however, it has become a bad habit for some individuals and families to come late. If you arrive after a service begins, try to enter the nave of the Cathedral quietly and observe what is happening. If a scripture selection is being read, or an entrance is taking place, or during the Anaphora and Consecration, wait until it is finished to enter the nave. If the celebrant is delivering a sermon, stay in the back of the nave or narthex until he has finished. If in doubt, check with one of the ushers to see if it is a good time to seat yourself. Try not to interrupt a service by your entrance.
By the way, the best way to avoid the problem is to arrive on time - then you do not have to wonder whether it is appropriate to enter or not. To partake of the Eucharist correctly you should be there for the entire Liturgy.
In some Orthodox cultures, crossing one's legs is taboo and considered to be very disrespectful. In our North American there are no real taboos concerning crossing one's legs, and we tend to do so to get comfortable when sitting. Should we cross our legs in the Cathedral during services? No. Not because it is wrong to ever cross your legs, but because it is too casual, and too relaxed, for being in the Cathedral. Just think about it, when you get settled into your favorite chair at home, you lean back, cross your legs, and then your mind can wander anywhere it wants to.
Remember, sitting in the nave is a concession to human weakness; not the normative posture for prayer. Crossing your legs is an even further surrender to laxity. You surely do not want to get too relaxed and let your mind wander off too much. In fact, when you sit in the Cathedral, sit attentively - and not too comfortably. When sitting in the Cathedral, keep your feet flat on the floor, ready to stand at attention (which, after all, is precisely what "Let us be attentive!" means).
The general rule is, cross yourself with your fingers and hand - but do not cross your legs!
In and Out
In and out should not characterize the traffic pattern through our Cathedral during services. It sometimes seems that our churches must have a revolving door at the entrance; it is used by both children and adults. Use the restroom before coming to the nave; or immediately upon arrival if your journey was lengthy. You should not need to get a drink of water during the services - especially if you plan to receive Communion. Do not come to the church in order to go to the fellowship hall; come to pray.
Leaving Before the Dismissal
Leaving the Cathedral before the Dismissal is not only rude, but it deprives us of a blessing. Worship has a beginning ("Blessed is our God" or "Blessed is the Kingdom") and an ending ("Through the prayers of our holy fathers".) To leave immediately after receiving Holy Communion is to treat the Cathedral 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 light this pressure to move on to the next thing on the day's agenda. When we ultimately get to the Kingdom of Heaven there will be no follow-on agenda; likewise when we arrive and hear the words, "Blessed is the Kingdom . . ." we should be glad to sojourn in the presence of God's house.
We deprive ourselves of blessings by not being still and participating in God's holiness. Eat and run at fast food places - but stay in the Cathedral to partake of God's precious gifts and to thank Him for them.
Blot that Lipstick
Have you ever looked at an icon in just the right light and have seen the lip prints all over? It's distracting, isn't it? Lipstick may arguably look fine on lips, but not on icons, crosses, the Communion spoon, and the Bishop's or Priest's hand. Icons have been ruined by lipstick; and it is at the very least inconsiderate of others to leave your lipstick behind for them to have to deal with.
When you enter the Cathedral it is customary to venerate the holy icons. There are icons in the narthex. Newcomers to the Church are often confused or perplexed about venerating icons. It is customary when venerating an icon to make two reverences (sign of the cross followed by a bow), sign of the cross a third time followed by kissing the icon, then a final reverence (sign of the cross followed by a bow).
When venerating (kissing) an icon, pay attention to where you kiss. It is not proper to kiss an icon on the face; after all, you wouldn't go up and kiss the Lord or His Mother on the lips, would you? Rather, you would kiss their hand. Pay attention to what you are doing. When you approach an icon to venerate it, kiss the Gospel, scroll, or hand cross in the hand of the person depicted, or kiss the hand or foot. In fact, the hands and feet on some icons are covered with metal for just this purpose and so as not to damage the icon itself.
As you venerate an icon, show the proper respect due to the person depicted; the same respect you would show them in person. Remember blot off that lipstick first!
Talking During Church
Isn't it great to come to the Cathredal and see friends and family members? But wait until the coffee hour to say "Hi" to them. It just is not appropriate to greet people and have a conversation with them during the services. Besides being disrespectful towards God, it is rude towards the other people in the Cathedral who are trying to worship. Talk to God while in the church through your prayers, hymns, and thanksgiving - and to your friends in the fellowship hall afterwards.
Kiss (Don't shake) the Bishop's and
Did you know that the proper way to greet a bishop or priest is to ask his blessing and kiss his right hand? How do you do this? Traditionally, one approaches the bishop or priest with the right hand over the left hand and says, "Master (if a bishop, or 'Father' if a priest), bless." In the Byzantine tradition in this country, the faithful usually take the bishop's or priest's right hand as though to shake it, but instead kiss it.
It is not appropriate to merely shake the hand of the bishop or priest, because, after all, they are not "just one of the boys." When you kiss their hands, just as when you kiss an icon, you show reverence and respect for their holy office which is to be an iconographic icon of Christ, the one High Priest. Moreover, they are the ones who bless and sanctify you, and who offer the Holy Gifts on your behalf in the Divine Liturgy. So, the next time you greet your bishop or priest, do not shake his hand, ask for his blessing.
Remember the time when people put on their "Sunday best" to go to church? In fact, dress clothes were often referred to as 'Sunday clothes." This is not all that common today; in fact all too often the dress in our churches has become too casual. In all the areas of our lives, we should offer Christ our best; and the same is true of our dress. We should offer Christ our "Sunday best," not our everyday or common wear. And we should dress modestly, not in a flashy way that would bring attention to ourselves - and certainly not in a provocative or alluring way. Our dress should always be becoming to a Christian - especially in the temple.
Here are some general guidelines:
Children: Only young children (under 10) should wear shorts to the services - and then only dress shorts. Athletic shoes, cut-offs, spandex shorts, etc., are never appropriate for wear in the temple (for children or adults!). Shoes or sandals should be clean and tied. No one should wear a T-shirt with any kind of writing on it.
Women: Dresses should be modest. No tank tops (or dresses with only straps at the shoulders), no short skirts (mini-skirts), and no skin-tight dresses. Dresses should have backs and should not be low-cut in the front. Though it is not customary for women to wear pants to church, if women do wear pants to the services, they should be dress pants (not jeans or leggings). Shorts of any type are inappropriate.
Men: Men should also dress modestly. Coats and ties are not mandatory, but certainly always appropriate. Shirts should have collars and be buttoned to the collar (the actual collar button may be undone, but two or three buttons undone is inappropriate). Trousers should be clean. Blue (or black, or green, etc.) jeans are usually too casual for wear at the services (especially those with patches or holes). Again, shorts of any type are inappropriate.
If you are going someplace after the services where you need to dress casually, bring a change of clothing with you and change after the fellowship hour. Remember to use your best judgment and good taste when dressing for the services. After all, you do not need to be seen by everyone else - you go to meet and worship God.
Never heard of pew blocking? It is the practice of sitting right next to the aisle so that no one else can get by or sit in the middle of the pew. Everyone has seen it. In fact, the best pew blockers come early so that they can get the coveted aisle seats and then be sure no one can get past them. The most effective form of pew blocking, takes place when two people take their places on opposite ends of the same pew, thus effectively eliminating anyone else from sitting in that row.
There are two solutions to pew blocking. The first is simply to move towards tile middle of the pew, leaving the aisle seats for those coming later. For those of you who cannot handle sitting in the middle of the pew, take the outside aisle spot and graciously allow those coming after you to go past you (even by moving out so they can get by). Remember, pew blocking is not hospitable - nor is it an efficient system of seating. So don't be selfish; move on over towards the middle. Don't be a pew blocker.
To Cross or not to Cross
Anyone who has looked around during the services will notice that different people cross themselves at different times (and sometimes even in different ways). To a certain extent, when “to cross” oneself is according to personal piety, and not an issue of dogma. But there are times when it is specifically proper to cross yourself and times when you should not. Here is a brief list of when to cross and when 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 services and your private prayers; before venerating an icon, the cross, or the Gospel book; upon entering or exiting the Cathedral; when passing in front of the holy Altar Table.
Not to Cross: At the chalice before or after taking Communion (you might hit the chalice with your hand).
Snacks for Children
You can always tell where the young children have been sitting in the Cathedral. The telltale signs are graham cracker crumbs, cheerios, and animal crackers. Parents sometimes bring snacks or juice along for children during the services. Such activity is disrespectful of the sacred services and disruptive to others in attendance.
At the very most, a bottle may be brought for very small children and babies. Eating snacks (or even whole meals) is totally inappropriate. If a child has an immediate need for nourishment, they should be fed before the services, or taken outside the Cathedral to eat a snack.
If a child did eat something during the service, parents should clean up any mess before leaving the pew.
Children who are going to receive Holy Communion should learn to fast Sunday mornings by the age of seven.
By the way, chewing gum is a NO-NO during Liturgy for everyone.
Handling the Antidoron
After receiving Communion, and also at the end of the Divine Liturgy it is customary to receive a piece of Antidoron - the bread that was left over when the Holy Gifts were prepared prior to the Liturgy. While Antidoron is not Communion - the Body of Christ - it is nonetheless blessed and should therefore be eaten carefully so that crumbs do not fall all over the place. After receiving Holy Communion, take one piece of Antidoron (you do not need four or five pieces) and when you return to your seat - or get to a place where you can stop for a moment - eat the bread trying not to drop any crumbs.
If you wish to bring a piece to someone else, take an extra piece - do not break yours in half because it produces too many crumbs. And monitor your children as they take Antidoron and teach them to eat it respectfully
A Final Thought
North American society in the late 20th century is rather casual in its approach to life. Do not allow this prevailing attitude to enter into your Orthodox Christian piety.
There are surely a lot of other areas that could be covered here, but keep in mind that most of Church etiquette is based on common sense and on showing respect for God and others.
Always remember that you are in the Cathedral
to worship God, the Holy Trinity.
The priest proclaims, "With fear of God, 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.
(Editor's Note: The above is adapted from an article was printed at the direction of His Grace, Bishop Isaiah of Denver, who offered it to the faithful of his Diocese for their guidance. It was first printed in Word magazine, the official publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of New York and all North America. It was subsequently reprinted in The Diocesan Observer, the official publication of the Serbian Orthodox New Gracanica Metropolitanate-Diocese of America and Canada The author is Father David Barr, Pastor of Holy Resurrection Church in Tucson, Arizona, a parish of the Antiochian Archdiocese.)