Church Etiquette can be daunting for someone who grew up in a very different church environment than that of an Orthodox Parish. The “smells and bells” alone can be overwhelming, not to mention the beauty, yet after a short time one can ask themselves, “Am I doing all this quite right?”
To answer that question we've listed some helpful guidelines. Many of these are sort of common sense and probably already well known, but some may be new.
We hope these little bits of etiquette are not overwhelming for anyone who may not be familiar with them. But all families have ways of doing things, customs that when observed, help make their life together more pleasant, and churches are definitely families. As always, it is important to remember not to judge the behavior of others harshly, especially visitors and newcomers.
Entering the Tabernacle
The narthex (belltower) is the entrance to the church/temple. It is a place to begin or complete the worship of the nave. Please talk in a soft voice in the narthex. Chatting before services (as others are praying in the nave) and after services (as others may be making confessions) is better reserved for the Parish Hall. Greeting visitors is encouraged, of course, but any extended conversation should be conducted outside the narthex.
In the Nave
When in the nave of the church/temple, realize that you are in the Throne room of God! So, when moving from one side to the other, cross yourself and bow before the Holy Altar (the Throne!), even when in the back of the nave. Keep a prayerful attitude and do not have social conversations or do or say anything that is not appropriate to worship. Also, Bp Basil, when he consecrated the temple, specifically mentioned not having any food or drink in the nave, not even to carry a cup of coffee through on the way to the sacristy.
The icons are to be venerated in this order: the Icon of the Day, immediately inside the door of the nave. Next move to the iconostasis to venerate the Icon of Christ, the Icon of the Theotokos, and if you wish, the Icon of the Forerunner (St John), the Icon of the Elevation of the Cross and/or the Relic of the Cross on the Crucifix.
Venerate the icons by making two metanias1, crossing yourself, lighting a candle if you wish, offering a brief prayer, crossing yourself, kissing the foot or hand in the icon (but if an icon of Christ, kiss near but not on the figure), and making one metania – made by crossing oneself and then bending down to touch the floor with the fingertips of the right hand, palm facing forward to give glory to God or the saint in front of us.
When venerating the icons on the solea – platform in front of the iconostas — do not walk by the Altar on the solea. Step down, cross yourself once and bow toward the Altar then step back up on the other side.
Children may not run in the church nor should they be lying sprawled on the floor. They should either stand or sit (at parent’s feet) facing the Altar.
When sitting in the nave, do not cross your legs. Sit up straight with both feet on the floor. Our posture shows our reverence.
When standing, if you are not holding a book or a child, have both hands down by your sides.
There should be no movement (e.g. to venerate the icons or light a candle) during the reading of the Epistle/Gospel, during the Six Psalms at Matins, or when the priest or deacon is using the censer.
If you read the Old Testament Lesson or the Epistle, stand on the solea.
Odds & Ends
When the priest or deacon are outside the altar area and standing on the solea for any reason, no one should be standing there with them.
Always address Father Gregory as “Father” or “Father Gregory.” When writing to him the envelope is addressed: “The Very Rev. Fr. Gregory Mathewes-Green.” “Very” is used for an Archpriest. Deacon Mark is addressed as “Deacon Mark” (Antiochian - Greek tradition) or “Father Deacon Mark” (Slavic tradition). An envelope is addressed to him as “The Rev. Deacon Mark O’Dell.”
When singing or speaking, moderate your voice to those around you.
While standing in line to receive Communion, and as it is received, hands should be crossed against the chest, right over left. Give your Chrismation name to the priest as you approach the chalice.
Take only one piece of Antidoron, whether immediately after receiving Communion or after venerating the Cross. This bread has been blessed. Be careful to consume all of it and not let any crumbs fall on the floor.
Be aware that confessions are often heard after services, especially after Saturday Vespers, and that minimal distraction (walking about, talking) is appreciated during those times.
Furniture in the nave used for liturgical purposes (Bishop’s Chair, lectern, chanters’ stand, artoklasia table in the back of the nave) are considered sacred and should not be used otherwise (e.g. for coats or other items).