We warmly welcome you to join us in worship at St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Church. The first thing that you may notice when you visit is that our worship engages all the senses. The burning candles and oil lamps, the color, form and placement of the icons, the music of the choir, and the fragrance of the incense all work to focus our entire being on the worship of the Living God.
There are a lot of customs and traditions that are important parts of our worship. Some are cultural; some are pious customs. First-time visitors to an Orthodox Church usually have many questions about what to expect and we hope this page will help answer some of your questions…
Standing vs. sitting
In the manner of the Heavenly and the Old Testament Church, Orthodox Christians have maintained the custom, since apostolic times, of standing during divine services. St. Innocent continues the tradition. We believe that in church we stand in the very presence of God, and that we join the saints and heavenly hosts in joy and prayer and worship. We do provide benches and a few chairs for the elderly and infirm who are unable to stand.
To stand before God and His holy saints during the church services is the only acceptable posture for the faithful, both for the ones who art serving, and the ones praying, for does a servant sit before his master The faithful are all servants of the Lord, redeemed by His blood. (Luke 17: 10; 1 Cor. 6:19, 20
St. Innocent also retains the ancient Orthodox custom by which the men and women stand on opposite sides of the Church (men on the left, women on the right).
The Sign of the Cross is an important expression of our faith. In fact, it has been said that as long as Orthodox Christians are taught to properly make the Sign of the Cross, the Orthodox Faith will remain safe, since this symbol encapsulates so much of our core theology. In the Orthodox Churches, the Sign of the Cross is made with the right hand. The thumb is joined with the first two fingers at the tip, symbolizing the Holy Trinity. The remaining two fingers are closed at the palm symbolizing the dual nature of Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Who entered time as the God-Man Jesus Christ. The Sign of the Cross begins with the right hand touching the forehead, the abdomen, the right shoulder, and finally the left shoulder. The Sign of the Cross is typically made at the mention of the Holy Trinity, when the priest blesses the congregation, at the beginning and end of the reading of the Holy Gospel, and as a response to the petitions in the litanies.
A bow of reverence is made when entering and leaving the church, passing in front of the altar, and in front of the holy icons. This bow is a sign of respect and submission to God, and to God’s people.
Upon entering the Church, Orthodox Christians bow, cross themselves three times, then enter and proceed to venerate the icons. To venerate an icon means to bless oneself and bow before the icon, twice, then to reverentially kiss the icon, and then to bless oneself and bow a third time.
Icons are images of Christ, of His angels, of His saints, and of events such as the Birth of Christ, His Transfiguration, His Death on the Cross, and His Resurrection. Icons are windows to heaven, not only revealing the glory of God, but also becoming to the worshiper a passage into the Kingdom of God. Orthodox Christians do not worship icons, but we honor them greatly because of their participation in heaven’s reality.
When venerating (kissing) and icon, pay attention to where you kiss. It is not proper to kiss an icon in the face. You wouldn’t go up and kiss the Lord or His mother on the lips, would you? You would kiss their hand, and only of they invited you would you even dare to kiss them on the cheek. When you approach an icon to venerate it, kiss the gospel, scroll, or hand cross in the hand of the person in the icon, or kiss the hand or foot of the person depicted. As you venerate and icon, show proper respect to the person depicted in the icon – the same respect you would show the person by venerating him or her in an appropriate place.
Lighting candles is an important part of Orthodox worship. We light them as we pray, making an offering to accompany our prayers. Orthodox typically light candles when coming into the church – and that is usually the best time to light them, but there are times when candles should not be lit. It is not proper to light candles during the Epistle or Gospel readings, during the Little or Great Entrances, and the sermon.
Please understand that non-Orthodox visitors are not permitted to receive Holy Communion in the Orthodox Church. Reception of the Divine Gifts identifies a person with the Orthodox body of believers exclusively. It has been thus since the first Mystical Supper in the upper room. While no one at all is considered worthy of Holy Communion, including the clergy, the Orthodox Church does not admit any Orthodox person to Communion who is not prepared. An indispensable element of preparation for Holy Communion is considered to be regular participation in the Mystery of Holy Confession. Another indispensable element is total fasting, preferably from the preceding evening, but at least from the midnight prior to morning reception of the Mystery of Holy Communion.
After taking Holy Communion and at the end of the liturgy, it is traditional to eat a piece of holy bread or antidoron – the bread that was left over after Holy Communion was prepared. Everyone is welcome to come up to the priest for a blessing and to receive a piece of blessed bread!