A Guide To Church Etiquette

The Church is the Body of Christ on earth, the fellowship of the faithful. It is the “Ecclesia”, the gathering of the people of God who assemble to worship together the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As a consequence of their belief in Christ, as Son of the living God, they have been baptized, chrismated and receive His precious Body and Blood regularly. They have chosen to help and love one another as Christ Himself commanded. They repent for their shortcomings which offend God’s law and receive forgiveness. They seek God’s help and the help of their fellow Christians to do better.
If our faith needs practical expression, then we need the Church. A vague belief in God, a few occasional moments of something like devotional feeling, and a good deed once in a while, are hardly a real expression of the Orthodox Christian Faith. To do a good job in anything requires organization. Every good idea and goal must be planned well in order to be successful. The Church, a living organism, is a treasury, a storehouse of centuries of accumulated wisdom in humanity’s efforts to relate to God and all people. Truly, what we know of our Faith we have ultimately received from the Church, as well as, the church in the home. Those of us who have received and cherished this heritage have an obligation – a duty – to pass it on to future generations. It takes this organization we call “Church” to give Christianity to those who will follow. This is why we need to be “active” and “concerned” members of Christ’s Body – His Church!
Please note that in the Holy Gospels, God offers us a new life. The Church and only the Church brings that Gospel to the people. No other group or organization shares God’s gift of life in Christ.
It is a blessing to present this booklet regarding “Church Etiquette”. May of the things in this text have been taught to us by our grandparents and parents, while others may not have had this opportunity. In either case, it is time to clarify several practical expressions of our Christian Orthodox Faith.

When attending Divine Services we all have the responsibility of maintaining proper decorum and atmosphere in the church. The very first thing to keep in mind is that we are to be at Divine Services on time.
Remember! The church is the House of God. Reverence and good manners are required at all times. No irreverent or irrelevant conversations should go on in the Narthex or in the church proper. There are certain times during the Divine Services when no one should be moving about or entering the church or being seated at a pew. Wherever a person happens to be at these moments, he or she should stop and stand reverently until the proper moment to be seated. These times are:
1. During the Doxology, while the Priest is censing.
2. During the Small Entrance - The procession of the priest and altar boys with the Holy
3. When the priest censes the Altar, icons, and congregation throughout the Divine Liturgy.
4. During the reading of the Epistle and Gospel.
5. During the sermon.
6. During the Great Entrance - the procession of the priest and altar boys with the Holy Gifts. 
7. During the recitation of the Creed and Lord's Prayer.
8. During the Consecration of the Holy Gifts. (Se Imnoumen)
9. During Holy Communion. To receive Holy Communion the faithful should come forth from the side aisles and exit via the center aisle to return to their pew.
10. When receiving any sacrament of the church, use your baptismal/chrismation name.
11. During any special services such as Memorials or Artoclasia, special doxologies, etc.

The general rule is that whenever the Priest is outside the Holy Altar either with the censer or for giving a blessing, there should be no movement in the church. Also, we remind everyone that we should attend the Divine Liturgy and all services of divine worship from the beginning.
Please remember that Parish Council members are obligated to maintain order and decorum in the church during worship.

When an Orthodox Christian enters the narthex of the church, he/she makes the sign of the Cross, makes an offering for a candle, venerates all the icons, and lights the candle while saying a prayer. Candles are lit as an expression of our belief that Jesus Christ is the “Light of the world.”
A candle may be lit for the health and well being of someone or in memory of a departed loved one. In particular, the seven day candles may be lit for the same reasons. The seven day candles are placed in the special stands located at the foot of the soleas. Please remember the procedure for when one should enter during Divine Services.
Godparents of newly baptized and/or chrismated Church members may come down to light candles when the Priest calls the faithful to receive the Holy Eucharist “With the fear of God, with faith and with love”, even though the Priest is facing the congregation.

“The saints, during their earthly life, are filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit. After their departure the same grace remains in their souls as in their bodies. The very same grace is present and active in their sacred images and icons” (St. John of Damascus). It is the practice of the Church to venerate, not worship icons. The Orthodox Church calls for the elaborate use of symbolism and iconography in the interior decoration of the church building. Icons are not simply portraits representing people, but graphic presentations of spiritual truths that are visual aids to contemplation and prayer. When we venerate icons the honor is directed to Christ or to the Saint depicted on the icon, not to the wood, paint, or colors of the icon.
In the Orthodox Church the icons bear witness to the reality of God’s presence with us in the mystery of faith. We are to look beyond the external and deep into the spiritual meaning of living the Christian life. Icons are the witnesses of the presence of the Kingdom of God to us, and so our own presence to the Kingdom of God in the Church. It is in the Orthodox Christian Faith that icons are not only permissible, but are spiritually necessary because "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). Christ is truly man and, as man, truly the "icon of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15, 1 Cor. 11:7, 2 Cor. 4:4).

We make the sign of the Cross as a public profession of our Orthodox Christian faith. The first two fingers and thumb of the right hand come together symbolizing the Holy Trinity. The two remaining fingers symbolize the Humanity and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Therefore, in our right hand, we hold the two major doctrines of our Christian Orthodox Church each time we make the sign of the Cross.
We make the sign of the Cross before we eat, sleep, drive, pass by, enter or leave the church, travel or begin any major endeavor, acknowledging our desire to include God in these activities. In church, make the sign of the Cross:
1. When you venerate the icons;
2. When you light a candle;
3. If you are an Altar Boy when you enter the Holy Altar and when you pass behind 
the Altar;
4. When you hear “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal,
have mercy on us,” “the Theotokos,” “Peace be to all;”
5. When the Priest censes in your direction;
6. At the end of the Gospel reading;
7. During the Creed when we say Articles 8 and 9: “And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, 
the Giver of Life…” and “In one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church;”
8. Before and after receiving Holy Communion.


The proper posture in which we attend church is to stand throughout Divine Services. Since we do have pews in our church, there are moments when you may be permitted to sit down. Please follow the direction given by the Priest as to when it is the acceptable time to be seated. If, however, you wish to stand throughout the service, please do so near the back so that the view of the Holy Altar is not blocked for those who are seated.

While sitting during the service, one is not to observe the service as you would a movie or a TV show. Divine Services are not meant to “entertain” but to call the people of God to be attentive and worship Him. Therefore, it is not appropriate to posture yourself in a casual manner, such as crossing the legs or arms in church.

During Divine Services there may be appropriate times to kneel. Kneeling is an expression of prayer that has two characteristics: penance and/or prayer. Commemorating the Resurrection each Sunday, the Canons of the Church prohibit kneeling.
Recognizing the sanctity of the descent of the Holy Spirit during the Consecration of the Holy Gifts, it is acceptable to kneel in prayer at that time during the Divine Liturgy. Please remember, however, that from Pascha to Ascension Day, in celebration of the Resurrection, we do not kneel. We resume kneeling at the Liturgy for the Ascension.

One of the pious practices of the Church is to reach out and touch the Priest’s vestments as he passes by in the Great Entrance. This practice is in imitation of the woman who was healed by touching the hem of Christ’s robe (see Matt. 9:20-22). When touching the Priest’s vestments, one should not step into the procession, pull on or tug at the vestments or push anyone away.

As frequently as possible. However, this is the greatest of responsibilities. Preparation to received Holy Communion includes fasting and the reading of the communion prayers. One should not receive Holy Communion unless he/she has made serious preparation to do so, which may also include scheduling the Holy Sacrament of Confession prior to receiving Holy Communion. When the Priest chants: “With the fear of God, with faith and with love draw near”, an invitation is given to join oneself to the purity and beauty of the life in God.

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven’.” (Matt. 19:14) Our Christian Orthodox Church baptizes and chrismates children at a young age to make them full members of the Body of Christ, the Church. As members of the Church, parents are to instruct them to be respectful and quiet during Divine Services. Please be mindful of fellow worshippers if a child becomes too disruptive and go into the “Cry Room” as quietly as possible. Once the child has calmed down, come back into the church. This is where they belong but remember that we come to church to pray and to worship God.
It is never appropriate to allow a child to run down or play in the aisles. In addition, toys that make noise are not permitted in church. Children should be taken to the restroom before church begins; do not allow them to come and go during Divine Services.
Should a young child need a snack, please clear away any leftover pieces. The child should not have anything in his/her mouth when coming forward to receive Holy Communion. Remember, it is strictly forbidden to chew gum in church at any time and by anyone.
It is a good practice to bring young children to church when Divine Services are not scheduled so that they might learn proper church behavior. They should be taught that the church is God’s House and that special manners are expressed there.

Coming to church involves preparation of oneself for a serious and sacred encounter and is not a casual experience! We dress accordingly out of love and respect for our Lord who we meet in a mystical manner in church each time we celebrate the Divine Services.
Our clothing reveals much about us – our lifestyle, outlook on life, and even our self-esteem. When it comes to Church attendance, our clothing can convey many messages: modesty, discretion, simplicity, indifference or vanity. For Orthodox Christians, there are several principles that must be considered in referring to what is appropriate attire for church.
As Christians we are called to offer to Christ our best in all areas of our life, and the same is true of our attire. There was a time when people referred to times when they wore their “Sunday best.” In the past, dress clothes were often referred to as “Sunday clothes” because people wore their very best to church. When we dress up for Church it is a reflection of the importance we place on church attendance.

An important word to keep in mind is respect – respect for God, respect for oneself, and respect for those in whom we share in Christian Orthodox fellowship. Equally as important as respect is - modesty. We should dress modestly, not in a flashy way that would call attention to us. We must also realize that many of the styles that are popular today, especially among young people, are not appropriate for Church. For example, exposed midriffs, pants or skirts worn very low, t-shirts with any kind of writing or slogans, shorts and mini-skirts, along with any kind of extreme hairstyles, or body-piercing and exposed tattoos, are not appropriate for either men or women. Also, not appropriate are tank-tops and sleeveless shirts, or tops that are low cut in either the front or back. Women’s dresses and skirts should be at an appropriate length.
One more thing to consider is that proper church attire means that men and women wear clothing that is particular to their sex. God created us “male and female” and the distinctions between the sexes are important. In the Book of Deuteronomy we read that “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord” (Deut. 22:5).
For this reason, and to reinforce our Christian teachings in relation to the distinction between the sexes, the Church continues to ask men and women to dress in a manner appropriate to their sex. It is true that styles change and, certainly, we must acknowledge that it is more of an issue for women than men since men’s styles have not really changed much over time. As a result, it has become common in many places for women to wear pants to Church. However, we must realize that it is still the commonly accepted practice of the Church that women wear dresses or skirts when attending Divine Liturgy and other services.
One final point that is of paramount importance is that we should not focus on what other people are wearing but, instead, focus on ourselves and our own spiritual life. Remember, judging others is a far greater sin than dressing inappropriately. Look within yourself and evaluate where your priorities are and make sure that your own attire reflects your faith as an Orthodox Christian.

Refrain from socializing during Divine Services. Communicating with fellow parishioners should be done during Fellowship Hour. In Divine Services our focus must be on God and in bringing ourselves to worship Him.
Please remember to turn off your cell phone and/or pager during the celebration of Divine Services. Texting is also prohibited when attending Divine Services. If there is a professional or emergency situation that requires one to have access to a cell phone, it should be kept on “silent” or “vibrate”. In this case, one should sit at the end of a pew so that should there be an emergency, it will not be a distraction for others when leaving.
Avoid reserving seats for family or friends that may come late to Divine Services. Make room for all that come to attend Divine Services and in particular, visitors so that they feel welcomed.
When venerating an icon, the cross, when receiving Holy Communion, or kissing the hand of the Clergy, please do not wear lipstick.
One must be attentive when attending Divine Services. Crossing of the legs or arms is considered disrespectful when attending Divine Services. 
It is not appropriate to gather in the Fellowship Hall, the kitchen, administrative offices or Classroom Building during Divine Services. 
Chewing gum in church is never permitted.
Once Divine Services have concluded, please depart from church appropriately. This may mean that the faithful come forward to receive the Antidoron or venerate the cross held by the Priest. 
When receiving the Antidoron at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, please remember to venerate the hand of the Priest and try not to drop the crumbs since this bread is offered as a blessing.

To insure the proper dignity and solemnity of Divine Services, in particular, weddings and baptisms, pictures/videos may only be taken if the photographer/videographer speaks with the Parish Priest at least one half hour prior to the service.

Every Sunday the Orthodox Family observes the day of the Lord commemorating His Resurrection and triumph over death. The usual preparation takes place Saturday night when social affairs are avoided, so that parents and children may go to church together in the morning and worship the Lord in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. They arrive on time, not just at any moment of the Divine Liturgy, Doxology and the opening words of the Liturgy, "Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto the ages of ages". Upon entering the church, they bow their heads in reverence before God and cross themselves as a sign that they are followers of the Crucified Lord, Jesus Christ. They light candles, venerate the icons of the Saints, and take their seats quietly.
In church, no one talks, for church is the place where God speaks to His children and they listen carefully. God speaks through the service, the readings of the Scriptures, the sermon, the icons, and the Sacrament itself, through which the gift of God is given to all faithful Orthodox Christians who are in attendance. This gift is the saving grace of the Holy Spirit which overshadows all present, united in prayer, in faith, love, and hope.
Those who neglect to attend commit a sin in that they neglect the commitment to Christ implied in being an Orthodox Christian, and hinder the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Only in church is the Gift imparted. Only in togetherness of prayer is the Body of the Church formed mystically and Christ the Head of the Body enlivens the faithful, the members of His body, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. He feeds them with the Sacrament of Holy Communion and strengthens the bond of their unity so that they may be inheritors of His Kingdom. For this reason the Fathers of the Church emphasize the importance of church attendance, and the frequent reception of Holy Communion. "The Divine Liturgy is truly a heavenly service on earth, in which God Himself, in a particular, immediate and most close manner is present and dwells with men, for He Himself is the invisible celebrant of the service; He is both the Offerer and the Offering. There is on earth nothing higher, greater, more holy, than the liturgy; nothing more solemn, nothing more life-giving" (Father John of Kronstadt).
Private prayers and devotions are prayers of enlightenment and guidance and must culminate in common prayer with the other faithful in church at the Divine Liturgy. Therefore, it is a sacred duty and responsibility of the Orthodox family to attend the Divine Liturgy every Sunday avoiding all other engagements and work. Private prayer is necessary, but incomplete without corporate prayer. Those who truly pray regularly in private feel very deeply the need of praying in church with others.

Every Sunday is a special day, it is the Lord's Day. It is the day when we gather as a family to worship and celebrate Christ's presence among us in the Holy Eucharist. It is when the Church as the people of God, the Body of Christ, is truly realized, and we become sacramentally what God intended us to be: united to Him in faith and love, and through Him, to one another. It is in love and faith and worship that we are truly members of the Church.
From this standpoint, one can more clearly see that a local parish lives up to its true task and is a most genuine expression of the Church when its activity and its life center on the heart of the matter, true membership, expressed in faith, love, and worship. This is the ideal which each parish, and each Orthodox Christian holds before him.
One very important way of striving toward this ideal is preparation for and partaking of Holy Communion, the purpose for which the Divine Liturgy is celebrated. In our churches everywhere this Sacrament as well as the Sacrament of Holy Confession or Penance, are always touchstones of personal and parish renewal.
Orthodox Christians receive Holy Communion no less than four (4) times a year; Christmas, Easter, the Feast of the Holy Apostles (June 29), and the Feast of the Falling Asleep of the Theotokos (August 15). In every Divine Liturgy, however, the faithful are expected to approach and receive the Lord. Christian Orthodox should approach the Holy Chalice and receive the precious Body and Blood of Christ as often as possible following proper preparation, not just three or four times a year (See Jn. 6:53-58, Mt. 26:26-28, 1 Cor. 11:17-34).
What of the preparation for Holy Communion? The best preparation is itself spiritual and has to do with our inner self, our soul and its disposition. Thinking that we are to take Communion is obviously the most important part, accompanied by a sincere effort to examine our life, its goals, values, aspirations, and characteristics. Where am I going? What are my values and priorities? What do I hold most dear? These are some of the questions one should ponder. How tremendous if parents would discuss some of the questions with their children!

Secondly, heartfelt prayer is an essential pre-requisite to preparing for Holy Communion. Nothing prepares the soul for receiving Christ as much as sincere prayer, asking God for His forgiveness and thanking Him for all the many blessings and gifts He bestows upon us. This is most effective when accompanied by a firm resolve to live a renewed Christian life.
Finally, there is fasting - meaningless without points one and two above. Fasting is both a means of self-discipline and a tangible reminder that one is indeed to receive Christ in Holy Communion. We have been taught many things about fasting. Unfortunately, many of our beliefs about fasting fall short of the true canonical practice of preparation for Holy Communion in that we forget that fasting and prayer must go hand in hand.
Each of us has been taught various things about "Fasting". We have been told so many things that we tend to neglect everything we have been taught completely. The Orthodox Church, regarding man as a unity of soul and body, has always insisted that the body must be trained and disciplined, as well as, the soul. The Orthodox Christian understanding of fasting is based upon Holy Scripture.
We read in Genesis 2:15-3:24 that Adam and Eve were directed by the Lord God to fast from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They chose to disobey God and since they did not keep this simple fast, they were expelled from Paradise.
In the New Testament we see that Christ is the New Adam. In His earthly ministry, Christ set the example of fasting for all of us to follow. Christ experienced temptation and hunger, but He did not sin. He kept the fast! In Luke 5:33-35, we see how the Jewish leaders asked Christ why His disciples were not fasting. The Lord responded, "The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days." From this we learn that following His Passion, Christians would be expected to fast. In obedience to the Lord, this is why we fast!
People fast for different reasons. The most common fast can be considered "earthly", rather than "spiritual". People fast to lose weight or they fast for health reasons. Of course, these things also happen when one fasts, but these are not the spiritual reasons for fasting. The purpose of a spiritual fast is to overcome the passions. "A passion is anything that has control over us, be it over-eating, smoking, watching too much television, lustful thoughts, gossiping, etc., etc., etc. All of these things captivate the soul, subjecting the man created in the image and likeness of God to things that are earthly." If one truly desires to overcome such passions, one must allow fasting and prayer to go hand in hand.
Another reason for fasting is to grow closer to God. The Orthodox living process called Theosis teaches us to be illumined and transfigured by God. We see this in the following passages from Holy Scripture: 1.) Exodus 24:18, Moses fasted for 40 days and stood in the presence of God and conversed with Him; 2.) In 3 Kings 19:8, Elias the Prophet also fasted 40 days before speaking with God on Mt. Horeb; 3.) Matthew 4:1-17, Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights and overcame the temptation of the devil before He began His public ministry; 4.) In Acts 10:10, Peter was in a state of hunger and fasting when he received a revelation from God; 5.) Acts 13:2 and 14:22, the Apostles received guidance from the Holy Spirit when they were fasting; and 6.) In Matthew 17:21, the Lord scolded His disciples for attempting to act in His name without prayer and fasting.
In the first century text entitled, "The Teaching of the Apostles", or Didache, we find instruction for fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays. The Christian Orthodox faithful fasts on Wednesday, because Judas betrayed Christ on this day and Friday, because our Lord was crucified on that day. Whenever we act contrary to the Lord's teachings, we too betray Him! St. Seraphim of Sarov said, "One who does not observe the fasts is not a Christian, no matter what he considers or calls himself."
Fasting is also a necessity when preparing oneself for Holy Communion. One should not eat or drink anything from the time one goes to sleep the night before he plans to partake of the Holy Eucharist. By receiving Holy Communion, we literally receive God Himself, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,..." (John 6:53-54) Upon partaking of Holy Communion we are illumined by divine grace and the actual presence of God within us transforms us -- body and soul! Therefore, our preparation for Holy Communion is not only spiritual, involving the soul through repentance, Holy Confession, and prayer, but also physical by fasting.
Here are some common questions many ask about fasting:
"Besides Wednesdays (the day Judas betrayed Christ), and Fridays (the day of our Lord's crucifixion), when are we supposed to fast?" There are four fast periods throughout the year: 1.) Great Lent; 2.) Apostles' Fast, Monday after the week following Pentecost and ends on June 29, Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul; 3.) Dormition Fast, August 1-14; and 4.) Christmas Fast, which begins November 15 and ends Christmas Day. The fast before the great feasts is intended to familiarize us with the great events we celebrate and prepare us spiritually for the celebration of these events. During these fasts which have been established by the Church, all who are able to fast should fast, whether they are going to take Holy Communion or not!
"How do we fast?" The Holy Fathers of the Church teach that the best kind of fast is a simple fast. "Fasting has to always be tempered by obedience: one does not decide for himself how he will fast, but must always fast only with the blessing of his Spiritual Father."
"What do we eat?" On fast days one may eat the normal number of meals or fewer meals but seldom do we do without food altogether. The thing we do is to change the types of food we eat. On fast days we abstain from meat or meat products, dairy products (eggs, milk, cheese, etc.), fish, all alcoholic beverages including wine, and oil. What one does eat is fruit and vegetables. When preparing food for fast days it should be simple rather than rich. This does not mean that the food should taste terrible, but it should not be a gourmet meal either. The reason for eating is to nourish the body and this should be remembered. The Fathers teach that we should always leave the table feeling a bit hungry since too much food removes the desire to pray.
Always remember to keep the spirit of the fast, not just the rules. On fast days we are to pray and reflect upon our lives and the stewardship we offer to God. Besides prayer, we must also practice almsgiving, i.e., helping those in need. In the book of Isaiah the Prophet, chapter 58:3-8, we are warned about proper fasting.
Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, a professor at Oxford University and convert to the Orthodox Christian Faith, writes in his Introduction to the "Lenten Triodion": "Here utmost care is needed, so as to preserve a proper balance between the outward and the inward . On the outward level, fasting involves physical abstinence from food and drink, and without such exterior abstinence a full and true fast cannot be kept; yet the rules about eating and drinking must never be treated as an end in themselves, for ascetic fasting has always an inward and unseen purpose. Man is a unity of body and soul, 'a living creature fashioned from natures visible and invisible' (Lenten Triodion: Vespers for Saturday of the Souls); and our ascetic fasting should therefore involve both of these natures at once. The tendency to over-emphasize external rules about food in a legalistic way, and the opposite tendency to scorn these rules as outdated and unnecessary, are both alike to be deplored."
Let us remember the guidelines of fasting laid down by our Lord and Savior Jesus Himself, Who said: "And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:16-17).
Orthodoxy insists on a strict fast before Communion, and nothing can be eaten or drunk after the previous midnight. In cases of sickness or genuine necessity, a Father Confessor can grant dispensations from this communion fast. The night before receiving Holy Communion one should read the Communion prayers, retire early, avoiding social engagements. Before going to church, children ask their parents for forgiveness, and parents, likewise, ask forgiveness of their children. Whether preparing to receive Holy Communion or not, we should not eat or drink anything prior to attending the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is our invitation to partake of the Lord's banquet and we are to receive the Holy Gift, in other words, Holy Communion, or the "antidoron", which means, "instead of the Gift".

The loaf of bread which is used in church for the Divine Liturgy is called the "Eucharistic Bread", or "Prosforon" in Greek. It is made of pure flour and yeast, and is imprinted with the seal bearing the inscription "Jesus Christ Conquers", IC XC NI KA. The prosforon is brought to church together with wine and the family Diptych which contains the names of the living and deceased members of the family which the priest commemorates during the Office of Preparation or "Proskomide", when he prepares the Eucharistic Bread for the Divine Liturgy.