When we are attentive to how we dress, speak, and act in Church, we make great strides in our salvation. When we offer the details of our lives to God, especially in His holy places, we are changed. The stories of our Saints are filled with examples of "liturgical piety." Etiquette is not merely good manners, but a form of piety, and therefore an aspect of our sanctification.
In many cultures, there are long held traditions as to how one should behave in holy places. In the United States, this is generally not the case, for many reasons. Consequently, it is necessary that the clergy humbly instruct the faithful about these matters so that following generations of American believers will know not only how to honor holy places, but how to grow in their salvation by means of their dress, words, and actions in church.
First we must be attentive to where we are. If we are on the parish property, we are on holy ground. It has been set apart, prayed over, and anointed. Why? Because every Sunday, God manifests Himself, in the flesh, on our small parcel of land. This mysterious fact requires that as we enter the parish property, we should be attentive to our dress, words, and actions. This attentiveness allows us to be in harmony with our surroundings. Certainly, we are aware of more mundane examples of this in our daily lives: "Formal Attire Only," "Business Casual," and, finally, "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service."
Modesty is integral to our faith: (V). Modesty is a form of quietude, or invisibility, which grants us freedom to be attentive during our worship. When we are modest we are like the angels with whom we worship: silent and awestruck. Modesty, we see, is not prudish, but profound.
Christ is the Head of the Church. Likewise, our head is a focal point of our body and deserves proper attention. Is our hair properly cared for? Has it been washed, brushed, and prepared appropriately? "Bedhead" or casual hats are not appropriate.
The matter of headscarves for women can be contentious in the United States, simply because it is misunderstood. No religion honors women more highly than the Orthodox Faith. Women choose to wear a headscarves for different reasons. Maybe it was how they were raised. Others appreciate the modesty and privacy the headscarf provides. Mysteriously, our beloved Apostle Paul states that covering the head is also done "for the sake of the angels" (1 Cor. 11:10). In our parish, there is no requirement in this regard. Nor should we judge the actions of others.
Our mouths should be reasonably quiet throughout the services, unless we are reading, singing, or must speak to our neighbor. Conversations are best held in the parish hall during Coffee Hour.
We fast from food and drink before partaking of Communion. Therefore, there is no reason to smoke, chew gum, or use cough drops during services. If cough drops must be used, then it is best to abstain from Communion.
Never wear lipstick while venerating the icons or partaking of Communion. Lipstick destroys icons and dirties chalices and spoons. Therefore, we can say, that lipstick, in it's very "sticky" nature, ruins holy things.
Most people prefer to smell incense, not perfume or cologne. As the saying goes, "just enough so your spouse can smell it."
Modesty of dress is not merely "dressing like a mummy." It is, rather, to dress in a manner that does not draw attention to ourselves. A person can wear nice clothing and attend to many fashions of the day and still remain modest. Revealing clothing, for men or women, is simply a distraction for everyone. Excessive deliberations about our Sunday outfit ("because everyone is looking"), is energy that would be better directed towards pre-Communion prayers.
Children that are well-dressed are complimented by their parents and fellow parishioners. This shows them that they are well-cared for and loved. They also learn how to honor the Lord with how they dress and act. Church is a "big deal," and kids understand that if they are asked to dress up, even if they don't like itchy sweaters or sport coats!
There are many times during the services when we should cross ourselves. Generally, this is done whenever there is an exclamation that addresses "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." There are other times that the Faithful cross themselves, which often varies according to local tradition. It would be best to follow the most common practice in our parish in this regard.
When making the sign of the cross, we should do so with subtle, but clear, articulation. Our fingers should be properly together and placed on our forehand, stomach, and shoulders in an orderly fashion. If we do so sloppily we can look like we are, as some say, "swatting flies."
We often have the occasion to greet a bishop or a priest. How should we do so?
First, we must remember that clergy have been tasked by the Church for a specific duty: the administration of the Sacraments. They are, in a sense, the hands of Christ Himself. This is most evident at the consecration of the Gifts during the Divine Liturgy, and the prayer of absolution at Confession, among other times. So, we see that Christ uses the hands of the hierarchs and priests.
Although common custom in the United States is to shake hands, it is more appropriate to ask for a blessing from a bishop or priest. This is done by placing our right hand over our left and saying, "Master, bless," (or in the case of a priest, "Father, bless"). The bishop or priest, in what appears in contradiction to our request, does not offer his blessing, but says, "the blessing of the Lord be upon you," and makes the sign of the cross over us. He concludes by placing his hand in ours, which we in turn kiss. We kiss, not because it is his hand, but because it is the hand the Lord uses to bless us. Unfortunately, in our context, this is often entirely misunderstood as a matter of power or authority. What an incredible gift, to be able to receive the sign of the cross and a blessing from the Lord Himself.
It is customary to ask for a blessing upon initial greeting or departure from a bishop or priest. It is highly recommended that the faithful ask a bishop for a blessing. Parishioners may ask the priest for a blessing if they desire, but it is not required. It is, however, recommended that they greet visiting clergy (or clergy that they are visiting) in such a manner.
We do not make prostrations on Sundays. These are the days of the Resurrection, so we stand. An exception, of course, is the Kneeling Vespers of Pentecost, which are often served on Sunday after the Divine Liturgy.
It is best to arrive before "Blessed is the Kingdom," and to remain until after the veneration of the Cross, or after the Prayers of Thanksgiving. Arriving after the Gospel indicates that we should refrain from Communion.
If we were to host a wedding we would prepare the meal in advance and give the guests reasonable time to acclimate before eating. We would not, however, leave in the middle of the wedding to turn on the coffee pot or crock pot. We may serve the Liturgy frequently, but that doesn't mean it isn't as important, or even more important, than a wedding. Coffee hour can be prepared before or after the Liturgy.
We attend the services to participate. Standing and facing the altar are clear signs of participation. The crossing of legs is a sign of spectatorship and relaxation, and promotes a casual atmosphere in the Temple. For most of us, this is done unconsciously and simply out of habit. With practice it ceases quickly.
Flip-flops are suitable for beaches and casual environments, not formal events, and therefore certainly not Church. So it is with "light-up" children shoes. The wedding analogy is fitting here as well.
Most priests are parents themselves. They are aware of the great effort that is required to dress children, get them in the car, and attend to them during the services. Often parents want to be in a quiet church, just like everyone else. But, they find themselves in the parish hall with a screaming child, or, worse yet, on the receiving end of a glare from someone that was apparently never a child themselves.
Parenting is its own ascetic labor. Parents and their children deserve our patience. Yet, considering the natural squirminess of children, parents must have reasonable expectations. Young families are not always able to remain in services for very long. When children are in the "screeching toddler," "terrible two," or "threenager" phases, a parent must not assume that they will make it through a Liturgy, or even a vespers without a break. It's best to make a plan. Give the kids a break after the Small Entrance, or some other appropriate time.
A screech or two is one thing, but a continuous scream is another. If the parishioners are not able to hear the homily, or prayers, it's worth exiting the nave. It's normal and there is nothing to be ashamed of.
There is no need to bring noisy toys to services. The more the parents can engage the child in the service the better ("see, now the priest will come out with the Gospel book," etc.). If we are passionate about the Liturgy it will spark curiosity within our children.
Children, generally, are able to fast from food and drink before communion at the age of 7.
We have considered how to be attentive to our manner of dress, speech, and actions while on sacred ground. May these admonitions be a source of piety and joy for our parish. These are not a measuring stick by which we can judge our neighbor. Should we see a fellow parishioner, or a guest, behave in a manner not in accord with these recommendations, then we thank the Lord for them–and allow our mouths to remain silent.
With Love in Christ,