Church Etiquette (Lesson 6)
The things that Miss Manners Left Out
"...and he touched me..."
Many people like to touch the hem of the priest's phelonion (outer garment) as he processes during the Great Entrance (primarily). This is a nice, pious custom by which people "attach their personal prayers" to the prayers of the entrance with the holy gifts. At the same time, be careful not to grab too hard and trip up the Great Entrance, nor push people out of the way in the process.
"The Kiss of Peace"
In the early Church when the priest would exclaim, "Let us love one another…." This was the time in which the clergy and faithful alike would greet one another with a "holy kiss." That is to say a polite exchange of kisses on the cheek while quietly saying the greeting – Christ is in our Midst. With the response – "He is and ever shall be."
Fr. Alexander Schmemann in his book The Eucharist, indicates that the ancient call to love one another was a summoning of the gathering to "greet one another." Due to the growth of the Church and crowded assemblies this rite was reduced to either a formality or disappeared altogether. Today this act of greeting is largely performed by the clergy, however many communities are returning to this ancient practice of greeting.
It is in keeping with Christ's words, "a new commandment I give you, that you love one another," (Jn 13:34), that we should return to this practice of greeting one another at this point in the Liturgy. It is a perfect opportunity to welcome the guest or stranger, strengthen the bond of friendship and demonstrate unity among the faithful. In doing this, it is NOT required to be overly demonstrative. Merely recognize and show your sister or brother in Christ that you are glad to see them and that you join with them in spirit and in prayer.
"Receive the Body of Christ..."
Receiving Holy Communion is the ultimate blessing one can receive during the course of a Liturgy. Why doesn't everyone partake? Well according to the Canons (universal guidelines) of the Orthodox Church, only baptized, chrismated Orthodox Christians, who have properly prepared themselves through prayer, confession and fasting may receive Holy Communion. While there are many cultural practices as to how one prepares and how often one receives the Holy Mysteries, it is understood the regular participation (i.e. weekly) in the reception of Holy Communion is the norm for most churches in America.
If you are visiting another church, be sure that you contact the local priest, if you are unknown to him. Don't just assume that you will be given Holy Communion. You may even be required to present a letter from your pastor indicating that you are an active, confessed Orthodox Christian. That pastor may indicate that you conform to that parish's practice of prayer and fasting prior to receiving Holy Communion. This is why it is important for you to first introduce yourself to the priest (state your name, your parish, your bishop's name and the name of your parish priest).
When you approach the chalice to receive Holy Communion, you should do so with the utmost reverence, silently (no chit chat), with your arms crossed right over left, across your chest. State your name for the priest (especially if you are visiting another parish) and open your mouth wide enough that the priest doesn't accidentally spill the contents of the holy spoon. This parish practice includes venerating the base of the chalice (on which several icons are present) prior to moving to partake of the antidoron.
One should refrain from receiving Holy Communion if you enter the church after the reading of the Holy Gospel.