The center of Orthodox Christian life is worship. The main worship service of the Church is the Divine Liturgy. Every Sunday morning and on the mornings of the Great Feasts of the Church, St. Innocent Orthodox Church serves the ancient Divine Liturgy handed down through the Church from the Apostles until today. The Divine Liturgy is the worship of the first Christians and is centered on the Eucharistic meal established by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The faithful join together with the heavenly hosts and participate in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
Join us in prayer and the contemplation of God as experienced from the earliest days of Christianity. We welcome all visitors and invite you to join in the worship of the Undivided Trinity.
After the Divine Liturgy, refreshments are served..
Each Saturday evening and the evenings before the Great Feasts of the Church, St. Innocent Orthodox Church offers the traditional prayers of the earliest Christians to mark the beginning of the liturgical day called the Vespers Service. The hymns and Psalms of ancient Christianity are sung a cappella in a prayer service imbued with the Holy Scriptures. Following Vespers, there will be an anointing of worshipers with oil for healing.
The following essay may help you know what to expect when you visit an Orthodox Church.
First Visit to an Orthodox Church
the early part of the service the church may seem to be in a hubbub,
with people walking up to the front of the church, praying in front of
the iconostasis (the standing icons in front of the altar), kissing
things and lighting candles, even though the service is already going
on. In fact, when you came in the service was already going on, although
the sign outside clearly said “Divine Liturgy, 9:30.” You felt
embarrassed to apparently be late, but these people are even later, and
they’re walking all around inside the church. What’s going on here?
As a result of this state of continuous flow, there is no point at which everyone is sitting quietly in a pew waiting for the entrance hymn to start, glancing at their watches approaching 9:30. Orthodox worshipers arrive at any point from the beginning of Matins through the early part of the Liturgy, a span of well over an hour. No matter when they arrive, something is sure to be already going on, so Orthodox don’t let this hamper them from going through the private prayers appropriate to just entering a church. This is distracting to newcomers, and may even seem disrespectful, but soon you begin to recognize it as an expression of a faith that is not merely formal but very personal. Of course, there is still no good excuse for showing up after 9:30, but punctuality is unfortunately one of the few virtues many Orthodox lack.
the Orthodox tradition, the faithful stand up for nearly the entire
service. Really. In some Orthodox churches, there won’t even be any
chairs, except a few scattered at the edges of the room for those who
need them. Expect variation in practice: some churches, especially those
that bought already-existing church buildings, will have well-used
pews. In any case, if you find the amount of standing too challenging
you’re welcome to take a seat. No one minds or probably even notices.
Long-term standing gets easier with practice.
say that we make the sign of the cross frequently would be an
understatement. We sign ourselves whenever the Trinity is invoked,
whenever we venerate the cross or an icon, and on many other occasions
in the course of the Liturgy. But people aren’t expected to do
everything the same way. Some people cross themselves three times in a
row, and some finish by sweeping their right hand to the floor. On first
entering a church people may come up to an icon, make a
“metania”—crossing themselves and bowing with right hand to the
floor—twice, then kiss the icon, then make one more metania. This
becomes familiar with time, but at first it can seem like
secret-handshake stuff that you are sure to get wrong. Don’t worry, you
don’t have to follow suit.
we don’t kneel. We do sometimes prostrate. This is not like prostration
in the Roman Catholic tradition, lying out flat on the floor. To make a
prostration we kneel, place our hands on the floor and touch our
foreheads down between our hands. It’s just like those photos of
middle-eastern worship, which look to Westerners like a sea of behinds.
At first prostration feels embarrassing, but no one else is embarrassed,
so after a while it feels OK. Ladies will learn that full skirts are
best for prostrations, as flat shoes are best for standing.
kiss stuff. When we first come into the church, we kiss the icons
(Jesus on the feet and other saints on the hands, ideally). You’ll also
notice that some kiss the chalice, some kiss the edge of the priest’s
vestment as he passes by, the acolytes kiss his hand when they give him
the censer, and we all line up to kiss the cross at the end of the
service. When we talk about “venerating” something we usually mean
crossing ourselves and kissing it.
Orthodox may take communion, but anyone may have some of the blessed
bread. Here’s how it works: the round communion loaf, baked by a
parishioner, is imprinted with a seal. In the preparation service before
the Liturgy, the priest cuts out a section of the seal and sets it
aside; it is called the “Lamb”. The rest of the bread is cut up and
placed in a large basket, and blessed by the priest.
We also handle the Eucharist with more gravity than many denominations do, further explaining why we guard it from common access. We believe it is truly the Body and Blood of Christ. We ourselves do not receive communion unless we are making regular confession of our sins to a priest and are at peace with other communicants. We fast from all food and drink—yes, even a morning cup of coffee—from midnight the night before communion.
This leads to the general topic of fasting. When newcomers learn of the Orthodox practice, their usual reaction is, “You must be kidding.” We fast from meat, fish, dairy products, wine and olive oil nearly every Wednesday and Friday, and during four other periods during the year, the longest being Great Lent before Pascha (Easter). Altogether this adds up to nearly half the year. Here, as elsewhere, expect great variation. With the counsel of their priest, people decide to what extent they can keep these fasts, both physically and spiritually—attempting too much rigor too soon breeds frustration and defeat. Nobody’s fast is anyone else’s business. As St. John Chrysostom says in his beloved Paschal sermon, everyone is welcomed to the feast whether they fasted or not: “You sober and you heedless, honor the day…Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast.”
The important point is that the fast is not rigid rules that you break at grave risk, nor is it a punishment for sin. Fasting is exercise to stretch and strengthen us, medicine for our souls’ health. In consultation with your priest as your spiritual doctor, you can arrive at a fasting schedule that will stretch but not break you. Next year you may be ready for more. In fact, as time goes by, and as they experience the camaraderie of fasting together with a loving community, most people discover they start relishing the challenge.
our experience, we don’t have any general sins; they’re all quite
specific. There is no complete confession-prayer in the Liturgy.
Orthodox are expected to be making regular, private confession to their
About seventy-five percent of the service is congregational singing. Traditionally, Orthodox use no instruments, although some churches will have organs. Usually a small choir leads the people in a cappella harmony, with the level of congregational response varying from parish to parish. The style of music varies as well, from very Oriental-sounding solo chant in an Arabic church to more Western-sounding four-part harmony in a Russian church, with lots of variation in between.
This constant singing is a little overwhelming at first; it feels like getting on the first step of an escalator and being carried along in a rush until you step off ninety minutes later. It has been fairly said that the liturgy is one continuous song.
What keeps this from being exhausting is that it’s pretty much the *same* song every week. Relatively little changes from Sunday to Sunday; the same prayers and hymns appear in the same places, and before long you know it by heart. Then you fall into the presence of God in a way you never can when flipping from prayer book to bulletin to hymnal.
there a concise way to say something? Can extra adjectives be deleted?
Can the briskest, most pointed prose be boiled down one more time to a
more refined level? Then it’s not Orthodox worship. If there’s a longer
way to say something, the Orthodox will find it. In Orthodox worship,
more is always more, in every area including prayer. When the priest or
deacon intones, “Let us complete our prayer to the Lord,” expect to
still be standing there fifteen minutes later.
constant feature of Orthodox worship is veneration of the Virgin Mary,
the “champion leader” of all Christians. We often address her as
“Theotokos,” which means “Mother of God.” In providing the physical
means for God to become man, she made possible our salvation.
Orthodox church will have an iconostasis before its altar.
“Iconostasis” means “icon-stand”, and it can be as simple as a large
image of Christ on the right and a corresponding image of the Virgin and
Child on the left. In a more established church, the iconostasis may be
a literal wall, adorned with icons. Some versions shield the altar from
view, except when the central doors stand open.
Not at all. All these Orthodox churches are one church. The ethnic designation refers to what is called the parish’s “jurisdiction” and identifies which bishops hold authority there. There are about 6 million Orthodox in North America and 250 million in the world, making Orthodoxy the second-largest Christian communion.
The astonishing thing about this ethnic multiplicity is its theological and moral unity. Orthodox throughout the world hold unanimously to the fundamental Christian doctrines taught by the Apostles and handed down by their successors, the bishops, throughout the centuries. One could attribute this unity to historical accident. We would attribute it to the Holy Spirit.
Why then the multiplicity of ethnic churches? These national designations obviously represent geographic realities. Since North America is also a geographic unity, one day we will likewise have a unified national church—an American Orthodox Church. This was the original plan, but due to a number of complicated historical factors, it didn’t happen that way. Instead, each ethnic group of Orthodox immigrating to this country developed its own church structure. This multiplication of Orthodox jurisdictions is a temporary aberration and much prayer and planning is going into breaking through those unnecessary walls.
Currently the largest American jurisdictions are the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, The Orthodox Church in America (Russian roots), and the Antiochian Archdiocese (Arabic roots). The liturgy is substantially the same in all, though there may be variation in language used and type of music.
I wish it could be said that every local parish eagerly welcomes newcomers, but some are still so close to their immigrant experience that they are mystified as to why outsiders would be interested. Visiting several Orthodox parishes will help you learn where you’re most comfortable. You will probably be looking for one that uses plenty of English in its services. Many parishes with high proportions of converts will have services entirely in English.
Orthodoxy seems startlingly different at first, but as the weeks go by it gets to be less so. It will begin to feel more and more like home, and will gradually draw you into your true home, the Kingdom of God. I hope that your first visit to an Orthodox church will be enjoyable, and that it won’t be your last.