Am I welcomed as a visitor?
Absolutely! Many in our congregation are converts from different backgrounds and nationalities. We welcome anyone who is seeking a closer relationship with God the Holy Trinity, and looking to find the Church that has existed from the Day of Pentecost, which gave us the Bible, and which has neither added to, nor subtracted from, the Faith and Teaching of the Holy Apostles which they learned from the Lord Jesus himself.
Although Orthodox Christians make up the second largest group of Christians world-wide and although there are about 6 million in the United States, few Americans know much about us. It has been said that the Orthodox Church is, unfortunately, the best kept secret in America!
We have a light lunch following our service, and we invite you to join us as our guest. Our priest, Father Nikolay, is always happy to meet you and answer any questions you may have, and no question is foolish. If, however, you need to leave, that is certainly understandable. We hope you will visit us again soon.
You just called your priest, “father,” but didn’t Jesus tell us not to call anyone “father?”
Yes, and no. While Jesus does say not to call anyone on earth father (Matthew 23:9), if Jesus meant this as an absolute rule, he himself contradicted it, for he taught “the one loving father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37); and in his parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man cries out, “Father Abraham!” and begs Abraham saying “father, send Lazarus to my father’s house….” (Luke 16:19-31). Therefore, the Church has understood this prohibition to be a typical example of exaggeration for emphasis which Jesus sometimes used, such as “a camel going through the eye of a needle.”
The title “father” was used by the early church for their leaders, and St. Paul called the Corinthians “my beloved children,” and reminded them that “I became your father through the Good News” (1 Cor 4:14-15). It is in this context that we call our clergy, “father;” not that they take the place of God, but because they are called to “father” us in the gospel, caring for us spiritually as a father cares for his children, and to have fatherly authority over us.
How many services do you have, and which should I come to?
If this is your first visit to an Orthodox Church, you might consider the shorter Vesper Service on Saturday Evening at 6 p.m. which lasts about 45 minutes. This service consists of psalms, prayers and “hymns,” preparing us for Sunday morning’s Liturgy, and much of the Church’s theology is found in Vespers. Confessions follows Vespers for our members, but you are free to leave once Vespers ends.
Sunday morning begins with The Hours, during which the priest and deacon liturgically prepare the bread and wine which will become the Body and Blood of Christ, while a reader chants a selection of psalms and prayers. This service begins around 9:10.
The Divine Liturgy (the Eucharist/Holy Communion) begins around 9:30, immediately after the Hours. and lasts a little over 2 hours. As Orthodox, we celebrate only one Divine Liturgy per Sunday, so we do not have several service times to choose from. We are one family gathered together to be with the Lord and each other.
Is there a service book I can use to follow the service?
Yes, we have Service Books at the back of the church. Our Greeter or other parishioners will help you find one of these. If you get lost during the Liturgy, please feel free to ask our members where we are. We will be glad to help you find the right page again.
Is there a dress code?
While we do not have a specific dress code, we do expect you to dress modestly and respectfully, as we believe we are in God’s presence. In that spirit of modestly, we ask that you not wear clothes that may distract others.
Is child care provided?
Because we are a family, children are expected to be present in Church, and parents are responsible for the care of their children. We are used to children in our midst, and we believe that their being present is a part of their spiritual formation. However, if your child becomes fussy, please feel free to step outside with your child. Also, if you need to use our restroom facilities, please feel free to do so. You won’t be interrupting us.
There seems to be a lot going on! Am I late?
Because our members arrive at various times from the beginning of the Hours through the early part of the Divine Liturgy, people may be moving about and prayers may be being chanted when you arrive, but that does not mean you are late. Orthodox feel “at home” in church, so there is freedom of movement during the service.
Orthodox worship is very different than most Western church services, because we use our body in our worship of God (Romans 12:1). When we enter the Church, we cross ourselves (from right to left), and bow before the icons and kiss them; and we light a lot of candles. The candles symbolize our offering to God, and they symbolize God’s presence among us, since “God is light” (1 John 1:5). The kissing of the icons is a sign of respect and honor given to the person portrayed on the icon, much like family members might kiss one another when greeting them.
You will also see many of us crossing ourselves and bowing during the prayers and at other times throughout our services. Making the sign of the Cross is a very ancient practice of Christians, and St. Athanasius the Great of Alexandria (died in 373) commends it usage. As a visitor, however, we do not expect you to do everything we do!
Where are the pews? Where do I sit?
Although some Orthodox churches have pews, at All Saints we follow the ancient tradition of the Church of standing during the service. This hearkens back to an ancient custom when only the royal family could stand in the presence of the Emperor; his subject people usually knelt before him. As baptized Christians, we are members of the royal priesthood of Christ (1 Peter 2:9) and we have been “raised up together with Christ” (Eph. 2:6), so we have been made worthy to stand before Christ our King and our God! Most of us sit on the floor for the sermon, however.
As a visitor, if you are uncomfortable standing for several hours, chairs are provided around the walls. Please feel free to find a chair and you may simply sit and watch. If all the chairs seem to be taken, please ask someone to help you find a chair. We’ll be glad to help you!
What’s that wall with pictures on it?
The wall with three doors in it, is called an iconostasis, or “icon stand,” and the pictures are called icons. The iconostasis is probably the most distinctive feature of any Orthodox church. The icons are of Jesus seated in glory, the Virgin Mary holding the young Jesus, St. John the Baptist and other Saints. Above the large icons there are smaller icons showing the major events in our Lord’s life. Icons are “the Word of God” pictured, whereas the Bible is “the Word of God” printed.
While we have icons in our church, we do not have statues. Moses was instructed to adorn the Tabernacle with images of the Cherubim on the curtains (Exodus 26:1); however, he was also commanded not to make any “graven image” (Ex. 20:4) which means “a carved stone,” or a statue.
The area behind the iconostasis represents Heaven, and so the Holy Table (Altar) is located there; the area in front of the iconostasis represents Earth, were we, the Faithful, are. The iconostasis ties heaven and earth together.
What’s that smell?
Incense! This is what worship smells like according to the Bible! Moses was told to build an altar of incense in the Tabernacle (Exodus 30:1-7); the prophet Malachi declared that “in every place incense shall be offered to my name” (Mal. 1:11); the father of John the Baptist met the Archangel Gabriel when he went in to burn incense (Lk. 1:9-11); the Magi brought frankincense when they prostrated themselves before the little child Jesus (Matt. 2:11); and an angel in heaven was given “much incense” to offer with the prayers of the saints (Revelation 8:3).
Incense is used to show honor to what is being censed, therefore the Holy Table, the Book of the Gospels, the icons and the clergy are all censed. But there’s more! All of us, the people, are also censed! In Genesis 1:26, we are told that God made all people in his image and after his likeness. We may not be very God-like after the Fall, but as Orthodox, we believe that everyone, believer and unbeliever, the just and the unjust (cf Matthew 5:45), is still the image (icon) of God and therefore worthy of respect and honor, so everyone is censed!
Why is there a curtain?
From the earliest Tabernacle in the wilderness to the last Temple in Jerusalem, God commanded that a curtain separate the Holy of Holies (the Sanctuary where it was understood that God’s presence dwelt on the Mercy Seat) from the rest of the building (Exodus 26:33b). This was done because God, in his holiness, is too great for us mortals to encounter directly. Some may say the curtain was done away with at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion when it was torn in two, but the Orthodox understanding is that that was a sign that God no longer dwelt in the Temple, but was now accessible to all people. The Orthodox Church, following the command of God in Exodus, maintained a curtain out of reverence for the Holiness of the Sanctuary (where God is physically present in the Body and Blood of Christ reserved on the Altar, the new Mercy Seat). However, the curtain no longer stays closed continually, but is opened to show God’s presence coming forth to us.
Do you have guitars and drums and keyboards?
No. Our worship is the offering of ourselves, so everything is chanted or sung a cappella, without instruments, which has been the norm for Christian worship from the beginning. For example, we are told that following the Last Supper, Jesus and his Apostles “sung a hymn” (Matthew 26:30); certainly this would have been a psalm which they chanted a cappella.
The only musical instruments you will find in an Orthodox church are bells. At the present time, All Saints is presently without bells; but bells are being hung in our new church building.
What is it you call the Virgin Mary in the prayers?
We call the Virgin Mary the Theotokos, a Greek title given her by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. which means “God-bearer,” or “Mother of God.” This title is not to exalt Mary, but to affirm that the Son she bore is not only a human being, but also God, who took his flesh and blood (his DNA) from her.
It is our teaching that Mary is the Virgin prophesied by the prophet Isaiah (7:14); that she was born from elderly, pious parents (an “immaculate conception” was not necessary); that she was raised in the temple from an early age, and following puberty she was visited by the Archangel Gabriel, and with her “Let it be” became pregnant without human seed with God the Word; that Joseph, an elderly widower married her but never had marital relations with her; that she died a natural death, and was taken up bodily into heaven following her burial. In Orthodox churches, Mary is never seen by herself alone, but she always has Jesus with her, and if you look closely, you will see she is always pointing to her Son.
May I receive Communion?
No, but please do not be offended that you cannot receive, because we treat the Holy Mystery with great reverence. We believe that the Body and Blood of Christ is actually present (although we do not try to define how) which is given to those who “rightly believe.” We ourselves do not receive Communion unless we have prepared ourselves by preparatory prayers, fasting from midnight the night before and having made a recent confession to God before our priest. Little children are the only exception to this, for in the Orthodox Church, a baby is baptized, “confirmed,” and given Holy Communion at the same time. Because the child is young and being nurtured by Orthodox parents, we take seriously the words of Jesus, “Let the little children come to me and do not forbid them, for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14).
There is blessed bread which is taken from a basket after one has received the Holy Communion. If our members bring you a piece of blessed bread, please feel free to accept it as a sign of our love for you (Romans 12:10).
How do I join this Church, if I decide to do so?
We don’t hurry anyone to join. In fact, many people visit us for a long time before they make that very important decision. However, should you feel that God is leading you to become a member of the Orthodox Church, speak to Fr. Nikolay. The process that the Church has followed from the earliest days is that one becomes a catechumen (a “learner”), and is expected to attend the services and be instructed in the Faith from Father. After a period of time, one then receives Holy Baptism, Chrismation with oil, and then receives Holy Communion.
In conclusion, we are glad you wish to visit. Orthodoxy might seem strange at first, but we pray that you will continue to “come and see” what we have to offer in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.