following guidelines on
were adapted from similar information provided on the website of
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Norfolk, Virginia.
Norfolk, and its neighboring city, Virginia Beach are in the
south, both are resort towns with plenty of sunshine, beaches, and
outdoor recreation. What holds true there in regard to church
etiquette, applies equally to parishes throughout the United
States, including our beloved Saint Nicholas parish in Grand
On this page:
Additional Etiquette Resources from Other Orthodox Parishes:
the time when people put on their “Sunday best” to go to
church? In fact, dress clothes were often referred to as
“Sunday clothes.” In most parts of the country, this is no
longer common. Sadly, dress in church has become increasingly
should of course always dress modestly, not in a way that
would bring attention to ourselves. Here are some specific
guidelines that are used in our parishes throughout the United
areas of our lives we should offer Christ our best. And the
same is true of our dress: Christians, of all denominations,
dress neatly and modestly.
regard to the clothing we wear to church, it should be at
least as good – if not better – than anything we wear at any
other time during the week. We should offer Christ our “Sunday
best” certainly not our casual or workout clothing.
young children (under 10) should wear shorts to church, and
then only dress shorts. Athletic shorts, cut-offs, and spandex
shorts are never appropriate church wear (for children
and sandals should be clean and tied or buckled. No one should
wear T-shirts with any kind of writing on them (“This Bud’s
for You” is definitely out!).
speaking, jeans are usually too casual for church wear,
especially ones with patches or holes. This is Western
Colorado, however, so “dress jeans” may be an exception.
shorts are not appropriate church wear. If we will be
going somewhere after church where we need to dress casually,
bring a change of clothing with us and change after the
fellowship hour. Likewise, if we are out running errands
before coming to church, we simply bring a skirt (ladies) or a
pair of nice trousers (men) with us, and change before
entering the church.
should use common sense, good judgment, and good taste when
dressing for church. If there is an exceptional or unusual
circumstance, we do not avoid coming to church simply because
we might not fully meet the following “proper church clothing”
guidelines. Rather, we simply keep in mind that we do not come
to church to be seen by other people; rather we go to church
meet and worship God.
Christian woman should dress modestly at all times. A dress,
or a skirt and blouse, are typical for church wear.
(trousers) are also acceptable for women to wear in church.
They should of course be dress pants (not tight pants,
leggings, etc.). Shorts of any type, or sports (workout)
clothing, are obviously not appropriate for women to
wear in church at any time.
modest, Christian woman does not wear tank tops, strapless
dresses or tops, dresses with only straps at the shoulder,
short skirts (mini-skirts), and skin-tight dresses in public –
and these are never appropriate in church. The same is
true for dresses that are either backless or with low-cut
backs – these must not be worn in church. Dresses,
shirts, and tops that expose cleavage (or worse) are simply
crude and should neither be worn in church or in public.
A special note about women covering their hair/head in church (wearing a scarf or veil)
certainly an Orthodox tradition for women to cover their hair
(head) in church (or, to “wear a veil/scarf”). Indeed it was
customary in all Christian churches, even those in the West
(particularly in the Roman Catholic tradition), until the
in parishes of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America,
there is not an expectation that women (and
girls) must cover their heads. Some pious women may do so;
some traditional women who grew up in Greece chose to do so.
In parishes of the Slavic (Russian, Serbian, etc.) tradition,
however, it is common practice for all women and girls to
cover their heads inside the church. Many women coming from
these traditions therefore feel more comfortable doing so
whenever they are in any Orthodox church. Thus, women coming
from the Ukrainian, Russian, and OCA traditions may
choose to cover their heads when they participate in services
at our Saint Nicholas parish. It is the choice of any woman
to wear a scarf/veil to cover their head; it is their
business, and it is totally up to them.
this be clearly and unequivocally stated: At our Saint
Nicholas parish some women wear a head covering and many do
not: we will not take any notice of this whatsoever. It is
strictly the personal preference of an individual women, and
their personal choice is their own private business. And in
all cases we absolutely will not judge
visiting a men's or a women's Orthodox monastery, on the other
hand, the strict Orthodox tradition is followed: men and women
are required to wear clothing that fully covers their torsos
and arms (long-sleeved shirts/tops); men and women must wear
shoes and socks, or sandals with socks; men must wear
full-length trousers; women must wear a dress/skirt that comes
well below their knees; and women must have their heads
Christian man should dress modestly at all times. Trousers and
a shirt with collar are typical for church wear. Coat and tie
are certainly very proper attire, but not typically common
on the Colorado Western Slope.
(trousers) should of course be dress pants (not jeans, cargo
pants, etc.) and should be cleaned and pressed. Shorts of any
type, or sports (workout) clothing, are obviously not
appropriate for men to wear in church at any time.
modest, Christian man does not wear tight-fitting clothing, or
“tank top” t-shirts) in public – and these are never
appropriate in church. Shirts should have collars and be
buttoned to the collar (the actual collar button may be left
undone, but two or three buttons undone is inappropriate).
children should dress modestly at all times. Only young
children (under 10) should wear shorts to church, and then
only dress shorts. Shoes, sandals, and athletic shoes should
be clean; shoelaces should be tied and/or straps should be
Entering the Church
time to arrive at church is before the service starts.
This is common sense, and simple courtesy. Moreover, this is
courtesy primarily toward God whom we come to
worship. As disrupting as our late arrival may be, it is only
secondarily disruptive or rude toward fellow
occasional tardiness occasionally happens to all of us. Should
this happen, we try to enter the church quietly – and observe
what is happening. If the Epistle or Gospel is being read, if
the Small or Great Entrance is taking place, if the priest is
delivering the sermon, or if the faithful are kneeling during
the consecration, we wait at the back of the church until
these are finished. If it is an appropriate time to enter, we
never walk down the center aisle – which is reserved
for liturgical procession – but rather through the left or
right side aisles.
a bad habit to customarily or routinely arrive after the
Divine Liturgy has begun. Moreover, those who arrive late –
without a compelling reason – do not partake of Holy Communion.
are an important part of Orthodox worship. Orthodox Christians
customarily “light a candle” upon entering a church. This is a
tradition with profound spiritual meaning.
also symbolizes our desire to pray steadfastly. We light a candle
before the icon of Jesus Christ to show that we are praying
directly to God. We light a candle before icons of the Saints to
show that we ask them, the great cloud of witnesses, to pray to
God for us.
and foremost, we light a candle as a “whole-burnt offering” to
God. The candle indicates that our prayers and our donations
are totally given over to God.
a candle cannot be recovered once it is burned, we do not take
back prayers and donations that we have given to God.
are appropriate times and places to light candles, and also
inappropriate times and places.
we enter the narthex, we place our donation in the slot on the
pangari (candlestand), take a candle, light it, and
place it in the sand.
addition, we may also take a candle (or candles) to be placed
in one of the two manouália (candelabras) located at
the front of the church before the iconostásion.
is not proper to go up to the manouália light
candles if the Epistle or Gospel is being read, if the
Small or Great Entrance is taking place, if the priest is
delivering the sermon, or during the consecration.
Otherwise it is generally appropriate to walk up front and
light a candle.
we enter the church, it is traditional to venerate the icons.
Usually there are icons at the entrance to the church and many
churches have icon stands in the front as well.
venerating (kissing) an icon, we pay attention to where we
kiss. It is not proper to kiss an icon in the face. After all,
we wouldn’t go up and kiss the Lord or His mother on the lips!
We would kiss their hand, and only if they invited would we
even dare to kiss them on the cheek.
pay attention to what we are doing. When we approach an
icon to venerate it, we kiss the gospel, scroll or hand cross
in the hand of the person in the icon, or we kiss the hand or
foot of the person depicted.
we venerate an icon, we show proper respect to the person
depicted in the icon — the same respect we would show to that
person by venerating him or her in an appropriate place. And
we remember to blot off any lipstick (or lip balm) before
Blot that Lipstick!
you ever looked at an icon in just the right light and seen
the lip prints all over it? It’s disgusting, isn’t it? In
fact, it’s downright disrespectful.
may look fine on lips, but it looks horrible on icons,
crosses, the Communion spoon and the priest’s or bishop’s
hand. Icons have been ruined by lipstick, and even though the
cross can usually be cleaned after everyone venerates it, it
just isn’t considerate to others to impose our lipstick on
same logic applies for lip balm (“Chapstick”). We live in a
dry climate, and it is common to keep lips moist. We simply
wipe it off before venerating an icon or receiving Holy
is the answer? If we must wear lipstick to church, we blot our
lips well before venerating an icon, taking Communion or
kissing the cross or the priest’s or bishop’s hand — even
better, we wait until after church to put it on.
all, we keep in mind God is not impressed with how attractive
we look externally – our makeup or clothing – but how
attractive we are internally, our adornment with good works
Standing vs. Sitting
traditional posture for Christian prayer and worship
historically has always been to stand. Sitting was only
introduced after the Protestant Reformation of Roman
Catholicism, when the focus of church services was to listen
to the sermon. In many contemporary Protestant churches today
the atmosphere is one of entertainment.
Orthodox services the faithful participate in worship;
they do not “attend” the service. Accordingly, we stand in
active worship, praising, glorifying, and thanking God, as
well as beseeching Him for the necessary things in this life
and for eternal salvation.
the Orthodox “old countries” there have historically never
been pews in churches. Chairs or benches were placed on the
side walls merely to be used by the elderly and infirm.
immigrants to North America at first either borrowed
or purchased churches from Protestant congregations that had
pews. Later they built churches reflecting what they
considered to be the “American way,” with pews or chairs.
we have inherited churches with seating for the congregation,
we now must figure out when we may sit and when we should
of all, it is fully acceptable (even preferable) to stand
throughout the service. If we feel tired or infirm, or if we
are elderly, we may (and should) of course sit as necessary.
should definitely stand, if at all possible, at the beginning
and end of services, during the Gospel reading, at the Small
and Great Entrances, during the prayers before and after the
consecration, at the Lord’s Prayer, during distribution of
Holy Communion, whenever the priest gives a blessing, during
processions, and at the Dismissal.
addition to standing at certain points in the Divine Liturgy,
there are also specific times when we should kneel and when we
should sit. We always kneel during the Consecration, the
change of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ,
except during the fifty days from Pascha to Pentecost. We
should sit, and not stand, during the reading of the Epistle
and during the sermon.
To Cross or Not to Cross
Examples of when to Cross:
we hear one of the variations of the phrase, “Father, Son, and
Holy Spirit” at the beginning and end of the liturgical
service or in our private prayers; when entering or exiting
the church; at the time before and after Holy Communion; or
when passing in front the Holy Altar; before venerating an
icon, the cross, or the Gospel book.
Examples of when not to Cross:
the priest or bishop blesses saying “Peace be to all” in the
Liturgical services; when the deacon or priest censes us in
the Liturgical services; when we bow slightly and ask the
blessing from a bishop or a priest, we kiss his right hand but
we do not make the sign of the cross.
Parishioners: Please do not sit in the last row!
of us who are regular parishioners should avoid sitting in the
last couple of rows.
should leave these last rows for visitors as well as for
families with babies or small children. This is common
our visitors, this gives them the “comfort zone” of not having
to walk in infront of people they may not know, and it allows
them to sit back and observe when we stand, when we sit, as
well as when and how we cross ourselves.
parents with young children, this gives them the opportunity
to sit at the back where there will be less commotion when
taking a fussy infant out to be fed or changed, or when taking
a restless toddler out to stretch his or her legs.
Snacks for Children
sometimes bring snacks and a cup of fruit juice along for
children during church. For young children (0-3 years old),
this may be tolerable. Parents must clean up after
themselves and their children.
the time children are 4-5 years old, they should be able to
make it through Liturgy without eating anything.
the time children reach six or seven, the age of their first
confession, they should begin fasting on Sunday morning for
Communion or at least make an attempt at fasting by cutting
back on the amount of breakfast and eating “fasting” type
foods. It is vital to speak with your priest about this.
the infants get snacks, we do not feed them while in the line
for Holy Communion, or for Antidoron. They must come to
Communion without food in their mouths.
Crossing Those Legs
some Orthodox cultures, crossing one’s legs is considered to
be very disrespectful. In our North America culture, while
there are no real taboos concerning crossing one’s legs, we
tend to cross our legs to get comfortable while sitting.
should not cross our legs in church — not because it is
“wrong” to do so, but rather because it is too casual and too
relaxed for the purpose we are in church.
about it: when we get settled in our favorite chair at home,
we lean back, cross our legs, and then our mind can wander
anywhere it wants to.
keep in mind that sitting in church is an exception, a
concession, not the normal way of worship and prayer. We
certainly do not want to get too relaxed and let our mind
we do have occasion to sit in church, we should do so
attentively and not too comfortably. When sitting in church,
we keep our feet on the floor, ready to “stand at attention”
(which is what “Let us be attentive” means).
cross ourselves with the sign of the Cross ... but we don’t
cross our legs.
In and Out
are appropriate reasons to leave the church during the
services. In an emergency (obviously!), or to take restless
children out. Expectant and nursing mothers may need to leave
are also certain common sense matters. For instance, use the
restroom before coming to church. If we must leave out of
necessity we do so quietly and by the side aisle if possible.
On reentering, we remember the guidelines for entering late:
not during readings, sermons, processions, or Entrances.
Talking During Church
it great to come to church and see friends and family members?
Of course it is!
we wait until coffee hour to say “hi” to them. It just isn’t
appropriate to greet people and have a conversation with them
during the services.
being disrespectful towards God, it is rude towards the other
people in the church who are trying to worship.
talk to God while in church through our prayers, hymns, and
thanksgiving, and we speak with our friends in the hall
most importantly, it is extremely disrespectful to talk or
greet one another during the time for receiving Holy Communion.
we ourselves must be preparing to receive the Body and Blood
of our Lord Jesus Christ; this is not the time to be
distracted by anything else.
after we, or someone else, has just received these precious
mysteries, it is disrespect, bordering on blasphemy, to
distract ourselves or others from being focused on our
personal, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ in Holy
Leaving Before the Dismissal
the church before the Dismissal, besides being rude, deprives
us of a blessing. Worship has a beginning (“Blessed is the
Kingdom..”) and an end (“Let us depart in peace…”).
leave immediately after Communion is to treat church like a
fast food restaurant where we come and go as we please.
live in a fast-paced world where we seem to be hurrying from
place to place. But in God’s presence, we need to make every
attempt to fight this pressure to move on to the next thing on
the day’s agenda.
deprive ourselves of blessings by not being still and
participating in God’s holiness. Eat and run at McDonald’s –
but stay in church and thank God for His precious gifts!
the coffee or setting out the snacks for the fellowship hour
after the service is important. But not more important than
God’s blessing. A little preparation ahead of time, when we
first get to church (before the service starts!), can make the
coffee preparation and the setting out of snacks a matter of a
few seconds effort.
Kiss, Don’t Shake, the Priest’s or Bishop’s Hand
only proper way for an Orthodox Christian to greet a priest
or a bishop is to ask his blessing.
do so, we approach him with our right hand over our left hand
and say, “Father (or “Master” if a bishop), bless.”
priest (or bishop) will make the sign of the Cross over our
outstretched hands, and we kiss the back of his hand.
do not shake hands with a priest or bishop.
do we start a meeting and conversation without first asking
for a blessing. Only after receiving a blessing do we say,
“Good morning,” or “How are you?”
priest and bishop are not simply “one of the boys.” Rather,
they are “living icons” of our Lord, Whom they represent, and
Whom they serve in bringing us the Sacraments.
we kiss the back of their hand, we are showing respect for the
High-Priestly office of Jesus Christ. And we are showing
respect and gratitude for receiving the Sacraments from their
About the “Antídoron” — the “Holy Bread”
the bread and wine are prepared before the Divine Liturgy,
pieces are taken from the loaf and placed on the dískos (the
paten, or raised plate) and wine and water are poured into the
chalice (the cup). The remainder of the loaf is then cut into
small cubes; this is called “Antídoron,” and some people refer
to it simpla as the “holy bread.”
The portions of bread on the dískos are consecrated during the
Divine Liturgy, becoming the Body of Christ. Likewise, the
wine in the chalice becomes the Blood of Christ.
the consecration, the Antídoron is brought to the priest and
he blesses it over the Holy Altar. Please note and understand:
the Antídoron is not the Body of Christ, it is
not Holy Communion. It is blessed bread, and care
should be taken not to eat it carefully so that crumbs do not
fall on the floor and so that it is not set aside or
After receiving Holy Communion, the faithful take a piece of
Antídoron and eat it right away.
The purpose of this practice is to ensure that the Body and
Blood of Holy Communion are fully swallowed.
must be careful to take only one piece of the
Antídoron, and we are careful to consume it immediately.
Parents must teach their children to do the same: take one
piece and eat it. Parents should also watch to be sure the
Antídoron isn't put in a child’s pocket or tossed aside.
the end of the Divine Liturgy, all those present come forward
to greet the priest saying, “Father, bless.” The priest gives
each one a piece of Antídoron, and they kiss the back of his
hand as they receive it.
is certainly appropriate to take a piece for someone who
cannot come to Holy Communion. A pious practice among the
faithful is to take a piece of Antídoron home, and eat a small
portion each day at the time of their personal Morning Prayers.
A Final Thought about Etiquette from Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Norfolk, Virginia
American society in the 21th century is rather casual in its
approach to life. Don’t allow this prevailing attitude to
enter into your Orthodox Christian piety. There are surely a
lot of other areas that could be covered here. Much of church
etiquette is based on common sense and showing respect for God
and others. Always remember that you are in church to worship
God, the Holy Trinity. The priest says, “With the fear of God,
faith and love, come forth.” Let this be the way you approach
all of worship. If you do, you will probably have good church