NORMS FOR BEHAVIOR IN ORTHODOX CHURCHES
from the instructions of +Igumen Kallistos (at the time Fr Constantine)
for St John Chrysostom Parish in St Louis, Mo (about 1984)
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Upon entering the Church each person makes the sign of the cross and bows three times and then venerates each of the icons, usually beginning with those on the right and then moving to those on the left. Whenever crossing in front of the Royal Doors it is appropriate to pause, sign the cross and bow unless it is impractical to do so (carrying something such as a candle when serving, etc.) The sign of the cross is also made when driving or walking past an altar of an Orthodox Church.
Sitting and Standing
All participants should stand throughout the services except at appropriate moments. More specifically, it is appropriate to sit through the reading of the Kathisma at vespers and at Matins, but not through the sung portions or the Glorias. Throughout the rest of the portions of all services it is most appropriate to stand. It is permissible to sit through other portions of the services when due to necessity or bodily weakness. However, it is entirely inappropriate to sit during certain portions of the services. These are as follows: when the priest or bishop is giving a blessing; during a censing; during the entrances with the censer, or with the Gospel Book or with the Holy Gifts both before and after Holy Communion; during the reading of the Epistle, and even more particularly during the reading of the Gospel at any service; during the Nicene Creed; during the Anaphora (which immediately follows the Creed and continues until the litany before the reading of the Lord's Prayer); during the Lord's Prayer; at the Elevation ("Holy things are for the Holy"), and during the communions (of the priests and during the communions of the laity whether or not one is communicating himself).
Talking should be kept at a minimum during Divine Services and should be limited to necessity and to subjects pertaining directly to the services. Children, of course, need direction during services. If that direction becomes prolonged or disrupting to other worshippers that direction should be carried on either
very quietly or outside. Visiting before and after services should be done in hushed tones and not at all if prayers are being said in the Church (the Hours, or Psalm reading, or during Thanksgiving Prayers). Our little Church is too small to hide even the softest voice entirely and casual conversation is a distraction to all in the Church in such a small space as ours.
Clothing in general should be modest and not attention getting. Women should wear skirts of moderate length or more and blouses that are not tight fitting or with immodestly low necklines. As a rule women worship on the left side of the church and the men worship on the right. Men should wear modest pants (not tight fitting or exceedingly stylish) and long sleeved shirts with all but the top button buttoned.
Order for receiving Holy Communion or Blessings
Before partaking of Holy Communion it is appropriate to venerate all the primary icons of the Church, if not all the icons. In the larger churches it is often customary for all the men to receive Holy Communion first, beginning with the eldest (first considering rank, then considering age), and working toward the youngest. Then the women receive Holy Communion observing the same order. This means that high ranking clergy receive first, the lower ranking clergy, then monks, then seminarions, then older men beginning with the oldest, then younger men ending with the youngest, then women, observing the same order (nuns, novices, older women, etc.)
It is also customary for the most newly baptized to receive first before all the other laity for a period of eight days. In parish Churches it is often practical and quite acceptable for babes-in-arm and very young children to receive Holy Communion and blessings first, starting with the youngest and then for the adults to follow.
In our small mission Church we need to be aware of these things and follow these customs as far as is practical. It becomes more practical when there are more than eight or ten of us in Church. If we are aware of these customs now and keep them in mind, then our actions will be natural when we go visiting or receive visitors.
It should be noted, that the above order for receiving Holy Communion is also applicable to the Kissing of the Cross at the end of Liturgy, and to the systematic receiving of any blessing from a priest or bishop.
Please note: When a bishop is within proximity, you receive the bishop's blessing and not the priest's. In a cathedral or when a bishop is present you will notice that the choir chants “Master Bless!” instead of “Father Bless!” and the priest pronounces a blessing, but does not bless with his hand.
Arrival at Church and Departure
Arrive a few minutes early -- and no less than 15 minutes early for those who are serving in the altar or at the cliros.
Those serving must receive the priest's blessing before serving and before taking leave of their service. For servers this means specifically before vesting and unvesting.
For all people it is customary to receive the blessing from a priest upon entering the temple and upon departure from Church.
Although different from the above subject, the priest in this parish begs your prayers at all times. A special time for offering prayers for the priest is at, of course, the Proskomidi, but less obviously, at the Great Entrance. When the priest offers the petition for clergy & monastics...and all you Orthodox Christians, it is customary for the faithful to return the petition quietly by saying "May the Lord God remember Thy priesthood in His Kingdom both now and ever and unto ages of ages.”