Христос посеред нас! Christ is amongst us!
I have been receiving several questions of late as to how we should enter the church and proper things to be doing while in church. In this month's article I will be focusing on some of the practical aspects of entering and worshiping in an Orthodox Church.
Venerating Icons - When you enter the church, it is traditional to venerate the icons. The main icon is located on the Tetrapod at the front of the church. When venerating (kissing) and icon, pay attention to where you kiss. It is not proper to kiss an icon in the face. When you approach and icon to venerate it, kiss the gospel, scroll, or hand cross in the hand of the person in the icon, or kiss the hand or foot of the person depicted. As you venerate and icon, show proper respect to the person depicted in the icon — the same respect you would show the person by venerating him or her in an appropriate place. And remember, blot off your lipstick before kissing.
Lighting Candles - Lighting candles is an important part of Orthodox worship. We light them as we pray, making an offering to accompany our prayers. Orthodox typically light candles upon entering the church, after venerating the icons. If a service is already in progress, and the candle stands are up front, it is important to wait for a proper time. Candles should not be lit during the Epistle and Gospel reading or during the Sermon, and most times when people are standing. A good rule of thumb is if people are sitting (other than the sermon) you may light candles.
Kiss (Don't Shake) the Bishop’s and Priest’s Hand- The proper way to greet a bishop or priest is to ask his blessing and kiss his right hand. How do you do this? Approach the bishop or priest with your right hand over your left and say “Father (“Master,” in the case of a bishop), bless.” This is appropriate and traditional, rather than shaking their hands. When you receive such a blessing it is Christ Himself who offers the blessing through the hand of the priest or bishop. Who of us would not want all of Christ’s blessings we can get?
Making the Sign of the Cross - A person looking around on a Sunday morning may notice that different people cross themselves at different times. To a certain extent, when to cross oneself is a matter of personal piety and not of dogma. However, there are times in the service when crossing oneself (thumb and first two fingers touching each other, third and fourth fingers folded into the palm: touching head first, to stomach, right shoulder to left) is called for:
· To cross: when you hear one of the variations of the phrase “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”; before venerating an icon, Gospel, or Cross; when blessed with an icon, Cross, Gospel, or Chalice; entering and exiting the temple; when passing before the Altar.
· Not to Cross: (only bowing of the head): when blessed with hand (as in “Peace be unto all”), or censed. In receiving a blessing from a bishop or priest one does not make the sign of the Cross beforehand. “In this way ought we to distinguish between reverence toward holy things and toward persons”
Handling the Holy Bread / “Antidoron” - After taking Communion, at the end of the Divine Liturgy, and at Vespers with a “Litya” or “Blessing of Bread", it is traditional to eat a piece of holy bread or antidoron—the left-over bread from which Holy Communion was prepared and various commemorations made. While antidoron is not the Body and Blood of Christ, it is blessed bread, and as such, we should take precaution to eat it carefully so that crumbs don’t fall to be trampled underfoot. Monitor the children as they take the antidoron, teaching them to eat respectfully.
A Word About Lipstick - Lipstick has a tendency to leave smeared lip prints on icons, crosses, the communion spoon, and the priest’s or bishop's hand. This detracts from the beauty of the act of veneration and can be disturbing to others venerating after you. What is the answer? If one insists on wearing lipstick to church, blot your lips well before venerating or wait until after the Divine Liturgy to apply your lipstick.
These are just some of the practical guidelines for how we approach worshipping and entering the Church. Should you have any further questions or would like some further clarity on any of the above topics, please feel free to contact me!
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Peter Haugen