Orthodox Christianity is the Church of the Apostles and Martyrs, unbroken through time, whose liturgy dates back to the early church in Jerusalem. It is rich in sacramental practices, Byzantine iconography, and ancient musical modes. The basis of Orthodoxy theology and practice is rooted in its Eucharistic liturgy. Below are selected resources that may better help you to understand Orthodox theology and its church traditions. Better yet, join us for worship and experience it for yourselves.
Getting to the Church
Directions to our Church are under the tab “Driving Directions” on this website.
What You’ll Find
On Sunday morning our service is Eucharistic in nature and is called the Divine Liturgy. The beauty of Orthodox worship must be experienced to be understood. The Divine Liturgy expresses the entire Christian faith in a continuous song of praise and prayer addressed to God. It is focused on God, not on us. There is nothing just for amusement or entertainment. Since much of the service is the same every week, worshipers know it and can participate personally, either by singing along or by prayerful attention. Worshipers are surrounded by icons (images of Christ and the saints), which remind us that while on earth, we are participating in the worship of God with all the angels and saints who are in heaven. The entire service, except for the sermon, is sung. No organ or other instruments are used. The words are all from Scripture or ancient Christian texts — no rhyming metrical hymns are used. All our services are in the English language.
Participating in the Services
· Body Worship — Orthodox worship encompasses all of then senses. We see the images, we hear the singing and join our voices to the choir’s, we smell the sweet fragrance of the incense, and if Orthodox, we partake of Holy Communion which is the Body and Blood of the Lord. You will see people making the sign of the cross on their bodies, making bows, kissing Icons and lighting candles. Visitors are invited to participate as much as you wish.
· Holy Communion is the real presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, not a sign or a symbol. Therefore only prepared Orthodox Christians may receive Communion since through the use of the word Communion we mean that we are one, in belief and practice. Those not yet in full union, that is, members of the Orthodox Church, may not receive the Sacred Mystery of Communion. In fact, Orthodox should not receive unless they have recently been to Confession, said the pre-communion prayers and have eaten and drunk nothing since the night before. Orthodox who are not known to the priest should speak to him before the service so he will know they are communicants; just ask a member to send word to him.
The bread and wine given at the end of Liturgy are not Communion, but are given as a sign of fellowship, and are called antidoron. This is frequently given to visitors as a gift out of love. The bread is blessed and set apart before communion and should be eaten reverently.
· Standing (and kneeling) are the Biblical postures for prayer and Orthodox traditionally stand at Sunday services. But for most people this takes some “getting in shape”, so feel free to sit as much as you wish. We don’t normally kneel on Sundays, as Sunday is the Day of Resurrection and kneeling is considered penitential; we kneel a good bit at weekday services during the Great Fast.
· Children — we don’t have a nursery during the services because we believe it is appropriate and beneficial for children to be in the services as much as possible. It may take a few visits, but young children can learn to settle down, and it’s surprising how much even toddlers absorb. It’s no problem if they move about quietly but please be considerate and take them out briefly if they become very noisy.
· Visitors Welcome — Orthodox do not talk or visit during the services, If you come in after the service begins it may be that no one will greet you until the service is over. After Sunday services we have Common Hour, a time of food and drink together in the Parish Hall; you’re invited to join us there so we can get to know each other. No one will put any pressure on you to join the Church; many people “visit” our Church for years.
The Divine Liturgy
The normal Sunday morning service is called the Divine Liturgy. With sermon, it lasts about an hour and a half. A small booklet is available in the back of the church to help you follow the service. It includes most of the peoples sung parts that are the same for each service which is as follows:
· Responsive prayers called litanies.
· Praise, usually Psalms 103 and 147 and the Beatitudes (St. Matthew 5: 3-12)
· Procession with the Gospel Book
· Hymns of the day, on Sundays especially of the Resurrection, and the hymn Holy God.
· Epistle and Gospel readings and sermon
· The Great Entrance, a solemn procession carrying the Gifts of bread and wine to the altar, representing the offering of our lives to God
· The Nicene Creed, the summary of the Faith
· The Eucharistic Prayer. We “lift up our hearts” to join the angels in singing Holy, Holy, Holy and offering thanksgiving (Eucharist) to God for all His works, especially remembering Christ’s saving work, and asking the Holy Spirit to transform our Gifts into Christ’s Body and Blood. It concludes with the Lord’s Prayer.
· Communion. Orthodox who are prepared by prayer, repentance, a recent confession and fasting receive the Holy Gifts as a means of union with Christ. Our children receive because God’s work in us is not limited to what we can understand.
The Saturday Evening Service is called Great Vespers. It lasts about an hour. Orthodox Christians, like the Jews before them, believe the new day starts on the evening before. Great Vespers is a preparation for, not a substitute for, worship at the Sunday Liturgy.
It consists mainly of singing of Psalms, especially Psalms 104 and 141, the “evening offering of incense, and the hymns “O Gladsome Light . . .” and “Now dost Thou dismiss Thy servant . . .” (Luke 2:29). The service has themes of Creation and Resurrection as the “eve” of the Day of Resurrection, the first day of the week.
Vespers is also served on Wednesday evenings in our parish. This follows our daily structure of prayer which starts with Vespers. Then Compline, First Hour, Matins, Third Hour, Sixth Hour, Divine Liturgy and Ninth hour complete the daily cycle.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does Theotokos mean? Theotokos (Mother of God) is a title for the Virgin Mary. Orthodox love and honor but do not worship her because God Himself loved and honored her and because of our union with her Son. The attention given her in the Church also expresses our faith that Jesus Christ is truly human, born of a woman as we are, yet remains truly God, so His human mother can be called the Mother of God. In many hymns she is a sign of the Church as the beloved bride of God; her exaltation as “more glorious than the Seraphim” is a sign of the exaltation awaiting all who “hear the Word of God and keep it” as she did.
What are Icons? Icons are paintings of Christ and the Saints. They must be painted according to a strict tradition because they are an important way the Faith is handed down and taught. Icons and crosses are kissed (”venerated”), but not worshipped, as a sign of our belief that in Christ God took a physical body, and became part of our physical world so we could know Him. Through the Icon the ones depicted become present to us and we ask them to pray to God for us. This is why Icons are called “Windows into Heaven.”
Incense, vestments, candles are part of the imagery of heavenly worship in the Book of Revelation. In the Liturgy we participate while still in this world in the worship of the angels and saints in heaven. Many people buy candles and place them in the church as an offering to the Lord, who is our Light and told us to let our light shine.
Ancient prayers and hymns are used rather than extemporaneous or modern ones because they contain the accumulated insights of many centuries of Christians, and they are packed with Biblical quotations. They are repetitious because in that way they become rooted in our minds. They are chanted or sung rather than spoken so we are less conscious of the personality of the individual reader.
How Can I Join This Church? We don’t hurry anyone to join; many people “visit” for a long time, some for years. But after visiting a while, if you wish to be a member, speak to the priest. Those wishing to be members are received as catechumens (learners), and usually spend at least a year attending the services and learning the Faith. Then if they have not already received Christian Baptism they are Baptized, and then are Chrismated, anointed with Chrism oil with the words “The Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit,” and then they receive Holy Communion, which completes their entry into the Church.