F.A.Q's for First-Time Visitors
Welcome to St. Symeon Orthodox Church. We hope you will stay and visit with us after the service so we can welcome you more personally. Because Orthodox Christianity is unfamiliar to many people, we have prepared this FAQ page to help you pray with us.
First, a word about communion.
Communion is the most sacred of all trusts that Christ left for His church. Every priest is reminded at his ordination that he will answer for how well he guarded this most wonderful of all mysteries. For us, the Eucharist is not a symbolic act, but rather one that connects us deeply and spiritual with Christ Himself.
Who are the Orthodox?
The Orthodox Church is the Church which existed continuously in the Middle East and Greece from the time of the Apostles, and is the Faith of the majority of the Christians in Greece, Russian, Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia. With the exception of Rome, the local churches mentioned in the New Testament, which existed continuously until today (i.e. Corinth, Thessaloniki, Antioch, etc.), are Orthodox churches.
How do the Orthodox worship?
The Saturday evening service is called Great Vespers. The Sunday morning service is called the Divine Liturgy. Including the sermon, it lasts about two hours. Services during the week services are usually Vespers as well, sometimes with slight variations.
Is there a book to help me along with the service?
Yes, we do have books for the services. They are next to the candle stand. For most people, however, trying to follow along in a book is distracting. You may miss out on the flow of the services. Reading the text just isn’t the same as experiencing the worship going on around you.
So where are the pews?
Standing, kneeling, and prostrating are Biblical postures for prayer and worship. We traditionally stand during Divine Liturgy. This takes some getting used to. Feel free to sit on the side pews as much as you need. There will be a few times when you may be motioned or asked to move toward the center as our priest and/or deacon come around with the censor. Just remember to relax and try to bring comfortable shoes!
What about a nursery for the kids?
Our children are our greatest gift from God. We do not have a nursery because we want them to benefit fully from the grace that comes from our services. This can be stressful for those visiting for the first time, but don’t worry, they do learn to settle down after time. Feel free to take them back to the vestibule or to the cry room if they are restless. We’ve all had to do it from one time to time, so don’t think you’re the first or that your going to be run out. Everyone that has a child (and most in our parish do) understand and feel what you are going through!
Who is the "Theotokos"?
Theotokos (means “Mother of God”) is the title for the Virgin Mary designated by 3rd Ecumenical Council of the Church in 431 AD. Orthodox love and honor (but do not worship) her because of her love for her Son and Lord Jesus Christ. The honor given to her also expresses our faith that Jesus Christ is truly human, born of a woman, as we are, yet has always been the Son of God, so we call His mother the “Mother of God” to identify her Son’s divinity.
What are icons?
Icons are paintings of Christ, His mother and the Saints. They must be painted according to a strict tradition because they are ways the Faith is handed down and taught. They are kissed, venerated, but not worshiped, as a sign of our belief that Christ God took a physical body, became part of our physical world so we could know Him. Other human beings who unite their lives with Christ become holy and the image of God shines through them. We honor them as friends of God.
Why are standard prayers used?
Standard prayers and hymns (not made-up prayers) are offered because these are inspired by the Holy Spirit from the earliest of times of the Church. They contain the accumulated insights of many centuries of Christians, and are packed with Biblical quotations. They are repetitive because that way these holy thoughts become rooted in our hearts and minds. They are chanted and sung rather that spoken because heavenly worship is filled with song. Also, it moves our attention from the personality of the reader, so we focus on the Word.
What else should I expect to see in an Orthodox service?
Incense, vestments, and candles are all part 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. The icon screen, or iconostatis, separating the altar from the congregation expresses the reality that although the Kingdom of Heaven is “at hand” and we are still separated from it because of sin and our need to grow in spiritual purity. Many people buy candles ($1.00 offering) and offer them in the Church as a sign of prayer to the Lord and as a reminder of the Light of Christ, “the true Light Who enlightens every man that comes into the world.”
The normal Sunday morning service is called Divine Liturgy. It includes:
Vespers The normal Saturday evening service is called Great Vespers and lasts for about 45 minutes. It is followed by a 10 minute service of Preparation of Communion. Confession follows at the end the service. Vespers is a service of chanting and singing of Psalms and hymns celebrating the themes of Creation and Resurrection as the eve to the Lord’s Day.
Litiya is a short service that is done following Vespers served for a feast. We ask for God’s blessings for our parish, each other, our city, country, and the world. We pray for peaceful times for ourselves and those that live around us. Bread, wine and oil are blessed (this is NOT to be confused with the Eucharist). We are anointed with the oil and given a piece of the bread dipped in the wine. Visitors are welcomed to participate.
The Akathist is a collection of hymns and prayers, usually for the Mother of God or one of the saints.