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Practices of the Orthodox Christian Faith
More on Church Etiquette
Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
Grand Junction, Colorado

Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (AD 73)
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (AD 1922)
Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver (AD 1979)

METROPOLIS OF DENVER

Church Etiquette

The following guidelines on Church Etiquette 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 Junction, Colorado.

On this page:
Proper
Attire
Entering
Church
Lighting
Candles
Venerating
Icons
Blot that
Lipstick
Standing vs.
Sitting
When to
Cross
The Back
Row Pews
Snacks for
Children
Crossing
Legs
In and
Out
Talking
in Church
Don’t Leave
Early
Greeting
the Priest
About the
Antídoron
A
Final Word

Additional Etiquette Resources from Other Orthodox Parishes:
Saints Constantine and Helen, Annapolis, MD Holy Ascension, Norman, OK
Sunday Dress
Remember 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 too casual.
In all 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.

In 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.

We 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 States:

General:
Only 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 or adults).
Shoes 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!).

Generally 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.

Again, 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.

We 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.
Women:
A Christian woman should dress modestly at all times. A dress, or a skirt and blouse, are typical for church wear.
Pants (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.
A 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)
It is 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 1960s.

Today, 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.

Let 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 anyone.

When 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 covered.

Men:
A 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.
Pants (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.

A 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:
Christian 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 buckled/fastened.
Entering the Church
The 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 parishioners.
Nonetheless, 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.
It is 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.
Lighting Candles
Candles 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.
First 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.

Just as a candle cannot be recovered once it is burned, we do not take back prayers and donations that we have given to God.

The candle 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.
There are appropriate times and places to light candles, and also inappropriate times and places.

Whenever 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.

In 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.

It 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.

Venerating Icons
When 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.

When 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.

We 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.

As 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 kissing.

Blot that Lipstick!
Have 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.
Lipstick 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 them.
The 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 Communion.

What 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.

Above 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 and piety.

Standing vs. Sitting
The 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.
In 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.

In 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.

Orthodox 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.

Since we have inherited churches with seating for the congregation, we now must figure out when we may sit and when we should stand!

First 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.

We 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.

In 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:
When 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:
When 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!
Those of us who are regular parishioners should avoid sitting in the last couple of rows.

We should leave these last rows for visitors as well as for families with babies or small children. This is common courtesy.

For 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.
For our 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
Parents 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.

By the time children are 4-5 years old, they should be able to make it through Liturgy without eating anything.

By 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.

If 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
In 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.

We 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.

Think 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.

Also 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 wander off.

When 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).

We cross ourselves with the sign of the Cross ... but we don’t cross our legs.

In and Out
There 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 temporarily.

There 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
Isn’t it great to come to church and see friends and family members? Of course it is!

But 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.

Besides being disrespectful towards God, it is rude towards the other people in the church who are trying to worship.

We talk to God while in church through our prayers, hymns, and thanksgiving, and we speak with our friends in the hall afterwards.

And, most importantly, it is extremely disrespectful to talk or greet one another during the time for receiving Holy Communion.

First, 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.

Second, 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 Communion.

Leaving Before the Dismissal
Leaving 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…”).

To leave immediately after Communion is to treat church like a fast food restaurant where we come and go as we please.

We 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.

We 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!

Making 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
The only proper way for an Orthodox Christian to greet a priest or a bishop is to ask his blessing.

To do so, we approach him with our right hand over our left hand and say, “Father (or “Master” if a bishop), bless.”

The priest (or bishop) will make the sign of the Cross over our outstretched hands, and we kiss the back of his hand.

We do not shake hands with a priest or bishop.

Neither 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?”

The 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.

When 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 hand.

About the “Antídoron” — the “Holy Bread”
When 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 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.

Following 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 disregarded.

After 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.

We 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.

At 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.

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
North 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 etiquette.

Email: fr.luke@denver.goarch.org
© 2003-2016, Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
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