Many times people ask me about what is "the done thing" at Church. So I decided to dedicate some space here to answering common questions like what are the different parts of the Church, when do I do my Cross, when should we be standing during services and similar questions. I hope you find the information here useful remembering of course that it acts as a guide and not simply as a list of "dos and don'ts".
The Church Building is divided into three parts called the Narthex, Nave and Sanctuary:
The Church holds many services. Matins is a morning prayer service usually held before the Divine Liturgy on Sunday and other Feast Days. Vespers is an evening prayer service usually held on the eve of a feast. The most frequently attended service is the Divine Liturgy held every Sunday and major feast day throughout the year. Here at St. George we also hold the Divine Liturgy in English every Saturday Night. The Divine Liturgy is sometimes also referred to as the Divine Eucharist. The Liturgy is the Service in which we have Holy Communion. During each service the Priest stands at the Altar. He is human, a member of God's people, but vested with the authority to offer the Eucharist and lead the worship. It is the proper custom to be at Church for the beginning of the Liturgy or at least before the Epistle and Gospel Readings.
The Cross is the most powerful Symbol in Christianity, because Christ died on it. The proper Orthodox Cross is made by holding the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand together and resting the remaining two fingers on the palm. The three fingers together represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the remaining two on the palm represent the two natures of Christ as God and man. This is a summary of the Christian Faith. The fingers and thumb are placed first on the forehead, then the stomach, the right shoulder, then the left shoulder. (The right shoulder is touched first because the Bible teaches that Christ sits at the right hand of the Father). The motion of making the Cross should be continuous and distinct, and certainly not rushed. Sometimes a person will make the sign of the Cross and then bow and touch the floor. This is common in traditional Orthodox worship and is known as a Metania or Prostration. Touching the ground is a reminder of where we come from and where we will return, namely the earth.
Stand and Sit during the Following Times:
The Clergy in the Orthodox Church are the ordained leaders of the Community. St. Paul says in the Bible that they will answer before God for the people in their care. Their responsibility is very great and they are heavily involved with the people of their community. During their ordination the people must give their approval by calling out Worthy during the Sacrament of Ordination. The community has high expectations of the clergy and generally has much love for it as well.
There are three orders within the ordained ministry of the Orthodox Church. A Deacon is the first step in ordination. The Deacon helps at services, in parishes, or may be attached as an assistant to a Bishop. He is not given authority to lead services on his own and thus he cannot officiate at the Eucharist or other Sacraments on his own. A Priest (also known as a Presbyter) is the second level in the ministry. He is vested with the authority to lead worship and officiate at all Sacraments except that of Ordination, which only a Bishop can effect. The Priest is usually assigned a Parish in which he ministers both the Word of God and the Sacraments. Like the Deacon he is allowed to marry so long as he does so before ordination. His wife, because of her special role as Mother in the community is called Presbytera. Presbytera is the feminine form of the word Presbyter, which literally translated from Greek means Elder. The Deacon's wife is called Diaconisa. The highest level of Ordination is that of the Bishop. Ultimately he carries most responsibility before God for the community. In Greek he is called Episkopo which literally translated means Overseer. All Bishops are equal in the Orthodox Church, and there is nothing like the Pope as Supreme Pontiff. For administrative reasons there are Bishops who have a title that equates to extra responsibilities, such as Archbishop or Metropolitan. Since the 7th century, Orthodox Canon Law has not allowed married men into the Episcopacy.
All clergy in the Orthodox Church can trace their ordination through the laying on of hands to the Apostles. This is called Apostolic Succession and is very important from an Orthodox point of view in safeguarding our apostolic inheritance. It is a strong Orthodox custom to show respect toward the Priest as one responsible before God for leading the community. One physical expression of this is to kiss his hand. This is an ancient custom signifying respect and love. The Church believes there is a blessing for the person who does this.
Bishops: Archbishop Your Eminence
Bishop - Your Grace
Priests: All - Father
Priest's Wife: Presbytera
Deacons: All - Deacon
Deacon's Wife: Deaconess
Again I hope the above has been a useful guide for you. Remember when in doubt just ask !!!
from Voice in the Wilderness,
July-Sept. 2000, v. 8(3),
published by the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George, Brisbane QLD