Church Etiquette (Lesson 1)
The things that Miss Manners Left Out
"...and get me to the church on time."
The time to arrive at church is at least 5-10 minutes before the priest begins the service. When you arrive at church all pagers or cell phones should be either turned off or placed on a silent setting so as to not interrupt the service.
As a reminder, Sunday, Divine Liturgy starts at 9:30 AM; Saturday evening, Great Vespers begins at 5 PM. For some unknown reason- whether it is a custom or simply a bad habit - some people come to church late.
If you arrive late to Divine Liturgy please enter quietly and observe what is happening. If the Epistle or Gospel is being read or the Little or Great Entrance is taking place, remain standing where you are, make the sign of the cross, then find a seat quickly upon their conclusion. If Father is giving the sermon, remain in the back of the church until he is completed, then find a seat. You may venerate the icon in the center of the church, but refrain from lighting candles and venerating icons in the front of the church as it is disruptive.
Try to enter the church in a reverent manner, not drawing unnecessary attention to yourself. That is to say, your entrance should not be the time to meet and greet everyone, stay for fellowship hour to chat.
The best way to avoid this problem is to arrive on time - then you don't have to wonder if it's OK to come in or not.
"This little light of mine..."
Lighting candles has been a long and important part of Orthodox worship. We light them as we pray, making an offering to accompany our prayers. We usually light candles when we enter the church or after venerating an icon, which is generally the best time to light them. However there are certain times that candles should not be lit. It is not proper to light candles during the Epistle or Gospel reading or the Little or Great Entrance, during the sermon, or generally when the faithful are standing.
If you arrive after the service has already started a good rule of thumb to use, if you feel the need to light a candle immediately, is to quietly walk down the side aisles to light your candle. This way you may avoid disturbing others who are participating in the service.
Every local church in America has developed its own customs concerning standing and sitting during services. The usual and Traditional posture for prayer and worship in the Orthodox Church is standing. In most churches in "the old country" there are usually no pews. Chairs or benches were sometimes placed along the perimeter of the church allow the elderly and/or infirm to sit. Since chairs are part of our local practice some people get confused about when to sit or stand.
First of all, it is fully acceptable (and even preferable) to stand throughout the entire service. If you prefer this, please be considerate of where you choose to stand so that you do not intentionally block another's view.
When should we definitely stand? Always stand during the incensing of the church, at the Gospel reading, the Little and Great Entrances, the Anaphora and Consecration of the Holy Gifts, during the distribution of Holy Communion, whenever a priest gives a blessing and during the Dismissal.
If you absolutely need to sit during these parts of the Liturgy, by all means do so. It is better to sit than to risk an accident because of weakness or illness.
Kneeling - some people have a practice of kneeling during certain portions of the Liturgy. On Sundays, often referred to as "a little Pascha" when we commemorate the Lord's Resurrection, kneeling in penitence is not appropriate. It is always appropriate to kneel in reverence and awe.
Please be considerate of others piety and practices, but when in doubt, stand. It is never wrong to stand in church.