Visiting An Orthodox Church: What To Know Before You Go

Chances are, your first experience in visiting an Orthodox Church will not be like visiting just another Protestant denomination or non-denominational church.  This One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is pre-denominational and has traditions that go back to the Apostles themselves.  I recommend that you speak with a friend or priest before you make your first visit that will help guide you in exploring the faith.  But, there are a few quick things to know before you go for the first time:

Tom, Jon, Orlando, and Ian hanging out at the Conference.

Tom, Jon, Orlando, and Ian hanging out at the Conference.

  1. You need not carry your Bible = It was funny.  I was the only one with a Bible when I started attending Orthodox worship.  For the first 300 years of Christianity, there was no Bible.  After the Biblical canon was accepted in 398 AD, it isn’t like they were sold at the local book shops.  The epistle and Gospel is read each day and the Psalms are prayed before the Divine Liturgy.  So, the Bible is a part of the worship.
  2. Late and on time for Divine Liturgy = If you are on time for Liturgy, there is already worship going on.  Orthros or Matins is a series of prayers offered before the Liturgy.  The priest reads the Gospel, hears confessions, begins preparing the Eucharist.  Chanters, readers, and sub deacons offer prayers and psalms.  There is no break between the morning prayers and morning worship.
  3. Let us stand aright … and for most of the service = There were no pews in ancient Christianity. One was to stand in the presence of God, not kick back and relax for the singing and sermon.  Visitors and members are welcome to make use of the pews and seats that are provided.
  4. The priest is not sitting down on the pulpit = Nah, he isn’t in that cushioned chair (or 2 piece love seat combo in some non-denominational contemporary churches).  He is standing behind this wall of pictures, walking around with burning incense, holding up the Gospel Book and a cross.  The worship is the Divine Liturgy.  Liturgy means work of the people.  If the congregation has to stand up, so does the priest.
  5. The sermon is over already? = While a 20-30 minute three points and a “whoop” is a standard (especially for African-Americans) in Protestant churches, Orthodoxy is all together different.  Most homilies are 15 minutes or less.  Inspiration must be found in the words of the message and not in the style of the messenger.
  6. Looking at the pictures = Good.  That’s why the icons are there.  We worship with all of our senses including vision.  Looking at pictures of Jesus, Mary, and the other holy images can help keep your focus on God instead of the upcoming sporting event or last night’s TV show.
  7. Crossing theology = No, we don’t do it fore good luck.  We worship God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (thumb and first two fingers held together).  Jesus was fully human and divine (last two fingers together in the palm).  He came down from heaven (head) to earth (chest) we confess him as Lord as the thief on the right side of the cross (start from the right) and we follow him (move to the left).
  8. No communion for you = Some priest will give you a blessing when you come forward.   We do share the Blessed Bread after the service with all who attend the Divine Liturgy.  A member may give you a piece of the bread during the service.  But, even though you may be baptized, born again, Holy Ghost filled, sanctified, and everything else, unless you have been catechized into the doctrine and chrismated as well as baptized in the name of the Trinity, you may not partake of the Eucharist.
  9. About Christian radio music = You can hear that on your own time.  Divine Liturgy has the traditional hymns and chants that go back a century or two.  In some parishes, there are beloved songs from Christian cultural traditions (a Negro Spiritual is not out of the question) other than Arabic Byzantine, Ethiopian, or Slavic.  But, contemporary Christian music does not make it into any part of Orthodox worship.
  10. No pressure = The priest will not “open the doors of the church.” Members will invite you to come again.  But, no one is going to hound you to become a member.  All we ask is that you take the time to learn about church history and the Orthodox faith.


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