What To Expect When You Visit
If you have a Protestant or non-Christian background, you may be surprised by the sights, smells and sounds that surround you during our services. Those with liturgical backgrounds (such as Lutherans, Episcopalians or Roman Catholics) may be familiar with the format of our services and possibly some of the traditions that we keep or the hymns that are used. We invite everyone to ask about the reasons behind our practices, especially where it differs from your experience.
What you might see, hear or smell:
- Icons: In early days of the Church, illiteracy and the lack of printed materials restricted the movement of the gospel message. The Church “writes” icons to be visual representations of Scripture, thereby telling the story of the Gospel in artistic medium. We do not worship icons or the people in them. Just as you might carry a photo of your family in your wallet, icons help us to honor our loved ones in the Body of Christ.
- Movement: You will find that there is a lot of movement in the service! The deacon leads the service in prayer, and he is often moving in and out of the altar and around the building. The parishioners use their hands, heads and feet in the services for crossing, bowing and standing. It is a flurry of activity, but it helps us to keep our minds focused when we make our bodies follow along. Do not feel obliged to join in the activity — do what is comfortable for you.
- Music: Even today, many Orthodox churches make do without any musical instruments; the chant tradition is kept in our parish by a dedicated group of singers. Virtually every Sunday, changes in the hymns are made for not only the epistle and gospel readings, but for the “feast” that is being celebrated. If you listen closely, you will hear theological teaching come through in the service just as it had in the 1st century – by spoken word.
- Incense: Incense represents prayers of the saints lifting up into the heavens before God. This is evident from Scripture that is sung in the Vespers service: “Let my prayer be set forth before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice” (Psalm 140:2). In the book of Revelation, there are two places where incense is mentioned in the context of being a worship tool: Revelation 5:8 and Revelation 8:4. Historically, incense also filled a practical role in helping the early Christians worship in tombs and catacombs where they could escape the rage of Nero and other rulers who sought their destruction.
Helpful Hints For Visitors
- Dress comfortably. You may see ladies with hats or gentlemen in nice slacks, but “proper attire” is secondary to being in worship. Our only request is that ladies wear modest clothing.
- Bread may be offered to you during Liturgy. Some visitors are confused by such an offering, but we assure you: it is NOT Communion bread. The bread that is offered to visitors (and that we offer to each other) is called “antidoron,” or blessed bread. As with most other Orthodox practices, this tradition has practical reasons: it serves as a break for our morning fast. The bread is baked new for each service according to a very ancient tradition, and it’s unlike anything you will find in the grocery store!
- Reference the Divine Liturgy book. These are located in the pews and can be used to follow along with the service. Inside the book, you will see boxes containing explanations about the things that we do in the service, often referencing Scripture where appropriate.
- We are happy to help. If you need any help finding a seat or if you need assistance of any kind, please let one of the ushers in the back of the church sanctuary know about your need. We will be most glad to help.
- Meet with us after church. You are cordially invited to spend time with us in coffee hour after the Divine Liturgy on Sunday. This usually involves a morning meal or snack and an opportunity to meet others in the church as well as ask questions that you may have. In addition, our bookstore is usually open, allowing you to browse the items that we have for sale, including books on theology and prayer, icons, jewelry and candles.
- Stay in touch. Fill out one of our Visitor Cards on the podium in the sanctuary so we can stay in contact with you. You may hand any completed card to an usher.