First of all, you'll receive a warm welcome! Many of our members came to Orthodoxy from other faith traditions, so our parish is full of people who remember making that first visit, and will be delighted to help you find your way around.
The Divine Liturgy is the main Sunday morning service and, most likely, it will be the first Orthodox service you will attend. In our parish the Divine Liturgy starts at 10:00 AM, although the morning service, Matins, is already ongoing as you and others enter just before 10:00. As worshipers enter the church you will see them stop to kiss several icons in the first room and the second. Kissing or “venerating” icons is the traditional way to show love and respect for the saint(s) pictured. The people may also light candles as a sacrifice well-pleasing to God, for themselves and for their loves ones. Feel free to imitate them as much as you can and are comfortable.
The congregation stands during the service, as much they are able, facing the sanctuary in prayer. The Liturgy is a long worship offered to God between the clergy and the people. The choir leads the people's responses, but all the faithful are encouraged to sing with them or take in the words silently.
The Divine Liturgy has two main sections. The first section, centering around the proclamation of the Word of God, begins with the singing of Psalms, the Beatitudes, some hymns of the day, and the Thrice Holy Hymn ("Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us"). The clergy process through the sanctuary with the Gospel Book, then the Epistle reading is chanted by a member of the congregation and the Gospel reading by the priest or deacon. Then follow the sermon and prayers for the catechumens, the ones on their way to becoming Orthodox. These prayers bring the first part of the Liturgy to a close.
The second part of the Divine Liturgy focuses on the Eucharist. The clergy make a second procession through the church carrying the gifts of bread and wine. The Nicene Creed is then recited by all and the Eucharistic Prayer begins, the prayer during which the gifts are consecrated. After the prayers of consecration the clergy and the people pray the Lord's Prayer together, first in English and then in all the second languages of those present. When all is ready the people are invited forward to receive Holy Communion.
Only baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christians who have prepared themselves may approach the chalice with the Body and Blood of Christ. Everyone who isn't going to communion just stays at their place, but standing, in respect for the presence of the Holy Things among them. Those receiving Communion also take some blessed but unconsecrated bread and wine from another table (called "antidoron") and will usually offer some of this bread to those remaining at their places as a gesture of friendship and welcome. Feel free to take it!
After some concluding prayers the priest invites everyone to come forward and kiss the cross he holds. You should feel welcome to do this, or just observe, if you like. At St. George's an important third part of the Sunday worship is our fellowship hour which immediately follows the Divine Liturgy. Teams of cooks take turns providing a simple meal, and almost everyone stays to eat and chat. Visitors are warmly invited - it's a great chance to get to know us better!
Now, here are some things we Orthodox do or do not do in church, for many reasons. Please be mindful of the reverence we show to God and join us in these practices!
- We do not eat or drink anything except what we receive from the liturgy itself.
- We do not cross our legs if we sit, since this is terribly rude even in the presence of other people and even more so in front of secular authorities. For example, we wouldn't do such a thing in a court of law, so it is clearly not acceptable in front of the Judge of all.
- We do not put our hands in our pockets, nor cross them behind our backs or in front, but rather we keep them down our sides.
- We stand as much as we can. As a matter of principle, in Orthodox tradition one does not sit during worship; that is to say, it is improper to sit in front of God, unless one has to, due to age, weakness, or illness. Therefore, as much as we can, we stand.
- Certainly, we do not sit under any circumstances at certain times of the service (for example, during the opening blessing and the end prayers of every service, during litanies (that is, repeated petitions ending with the choir singing "Lord, have mercy" or "Grant, O Lord"), censings (the Priest or Deacon will use a hand-held censer to cense the icons, the church, and the people), and entrances (the Priest and others will come out of the sanctuary in precession and will return into the sanctuary), when the Priest calls for the bowing of heads, during gospel readings (announced clearly by the one who reads), during the prayer “Our Father,” during the eucharistic prayer of the Divine Liturgy (through which the bread and the wine are consecrated), during special hymns to the Theotokos, etc.
- Every time the Priest says “Let us bow our heads to the Lord,” we all stand and bow our heads toward the sanctuary. If you are not Orthodox, please stand even if you do not bow your head.
- Every time the Priest blesses (such as with “Peace to all”), we Orthodox bow our heads (and even cross ourselves) as a sign of having received the blessing. Do not cross or bow if you are not Orthodox, but do stand up in respect for our reverence toward God.
- We take the antidoron at the Divine Liturgy (the blessed bread mentioned above) with one hand and place it immediately in the other hand, in its cupped palm; we cup that palm and we eat the antidoron over it so that we don’t drop crumbs of it on the floor, but rather at the end we suck all the crumbs off this cupped palm.