Visiting an Orthodox Church
Many people visiting a Coptic Orthodox Church or one of Her sister churches witness certain practices and customs that seem alien to someone coming from a non-Orthodox or even a non-Christian background. These practices and customs include, but are not limited to, clergy wearing black, believers wearing crosses around their necks, kissing the hands of bishop and priests, men and women standing on separate sides in the church, women wearing a head cover, and more.
To help clarify questions about these practices, we have prepared the following pages as a brief introduction to some of the common customs in Orthodoxy among the faithful.
Are non-Orthodox visitors welcome?
Yes, absolutely. We are a community made up of both cradle-born Orthodox Christians and those who have converted to the faith. We are very comfortable with newcomers, inquirers, and visitors. Anyone who wishes to discover ancient Coptic Orthodox Christianity is welcome. If you have questions, the parish priest will be happy to answer them. So don’t be afraid to ask questions about what we do and why.
We have books of our Divine Liturgy in English, Coptic, and Arabic to everyone. In addition, we have a large PowerPoint presentation that updates continuously during the Liturgy with the prayers. You may follow the service text, or, if you prefer, simply close your eyes and enter into the Church’s beautiful worship of God.
How long are the services?
On Saturday evenings, the Evening Raising of Incense service (Vespers) is generally 30–45 minutes in length, including a short homily in Arabic or English. On Sunday mornings, a similar service is celebrated before the Divine Liturgy. Afterwards, the Divine Liturgy is approximately 3 hours in length with an English homily and the Distribution of the Mystery of the Eucharist. We understand this may seem like a very long service, but we know that when you have participated in an Orthodox service you will feel like you have truly worshipped the living God.
Is there a dress code?
The general rule for men and women is to dress appropriately, modestly and respectfully, as before the living God. We ask that you not wear shorts, mini-skirts, tank tops, low-cut or strapless dresses.
Is childcare provided?
Each parent is responsible to take care of their child. We encourage children to be present in Church for the services. This participation is part of a child’s spiritual formation. However, if your baby or child gets fussy, talkative, or has a melt-down, please take him or her out of the nave until he or she is ready to return quietly.
Is Sunday school for children available?
On Sundays, we provide Sunday school in small groups for children in grades Pre-K through 12. Sunday school begins after the children have received the Mystery and lasts for 45 minutes.
Standing or sitting?
The traditional posture for prayer and worship in the Orthodox Church is to stand, as before the King of the universe! In many churches in Egypt, there are typically no pews in the churches. Chairs or benches on the side walls are usually reserved for the elderly and infirm. In America, we build our churches with pews or chairs, so you may sit. However, it is appropriate to stand during the Gospel reading, the Anaphora through the Institution Narrative, the distribution of the Holy Mystery, when the priest gives a blessing, and at the Dismissal.
Lighting candles is an important part of Orthodox worship and piety. We light candles as we pray, making an offering to accompany our prayers. Orthodox typically light candles when coming into the church, but there are certain times during the Divine Liturgy when candles should not be lit. You do not have to be an Orthodox Christian to light a candle and pray!
Can non-Orthodox receive the Holy Eucharist?
Orthodox priests may only serve the Holy Eucharist to baptized members in good standing of the canonical Orthodox Church, who have recently confessed, and fasted before partaking of the Holy Eucharist. This is the ancient tradition of the Holy Church for the 2,000 years of its history. The Orthodox Church understands the Holy Eucharist as a mystery of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, not simply as a memorial, or merely in a spiritual sense, as many other non-Orthodox Christians do. Rather than trying to accommodate to often varying "interpretations" or revisions of this and other doctrines of the ancient faith, we simply ask that you respect the ancient, apostolic tradition and join us in receiving the Eulogia (blessed bread), at the end of the Divine Liturgy.
What are Orthodox worship hymns like?
Between 65–75% of the traditional Coptic Liturgy involves congregational singing. Coptic Christians do not use musical instruments with the exception of the cymbals and triangle, which are used simply to keep musical time. A choir of deacons leads the congregation in harmonious chant, usually in Coptic, English, and Arabic. Our hymns are solemn, prayerful and intended to lead the faithful to worship the living God.
New visitors will find there are many new things to experience in a Coptic Orthodox Church service. Feel free to go at your own pace, ask any questions you want, and know you are most welcome to "come and see."
LA Diocese (2013). Visiting an Orthodox Church. Retrieved from http://www.lacopts.org.