Living an Orthodox Life: Worship

Behavior During Divine Services

Q: "How should Christians stand in church during services, how should they pray, and what duties do they have when they go to church?"

A: Christians should stand in church with faith, fear of God, and attention. They should force themselves as much as possible to pray without distraction and with feeling of heart. Also, Christians have the following duties: to go regularly to church, for whoever often misses the services, except for the sick, are barred from the Holy Mysteries; to be reconciled with all men and to ask forgiveness of anyone they have hurt; to preserve their purity at least two days before going to church and at least one day after; to come early to the divine services in order to have time to venerate in peace and hear Matins. Every Christian should offer some gift to the Lord according to his ability, even if it is very small, as a sacrifice from the work of his hands. They should give names for commemoration, and ask the priest to take out parts (from the prosphora) for the living and dead members of their families. Christians should stand in church modestly and in good order, the men on the right and the women on the left. They should wear clean and modest clothes, and women should have scarves on their heads. It is forbidden to talk during services without great need. After Divine Liturgy starts, everyone should remain in his place and not move about to venerate the icons. They should follow the Liturgy with pious attention, and listen to the prayers and singing of the choir, the Epistle and Gospel readings, and the sermon. No one should leave the church before the end of the Liturgy without great need. Those who have confessed and prepared for Holy Communion should read the appropriate prayers before Communion in advance, and before they approach the Holy Gifts they should ask forgiveness of all the faithful. After the Liturgy, those who received Communion should read the prayers of thanksgiving, spending that day in spiritual joy and guarding themselves from all temptations. Parents should bring their children to church regularly, taking care that they receive communion of the Body and Blood of Christ. After the end of the divine services, Christians should reverently return to their homes, spending the rest of the day thinking of holy things, reading spiritual books, and visiting the sick. They are also obligated to tell those at home who didn't come to church about what they heard and learned in church from the troparia, readings, and the sermon. These are the most important duties of Christians when they go to church on Sundays and feast days.

Interview with Elder Cleopas (Ilie) of Sihastria Monastery.
From The Orthodox Word (Vol. 28, No. 1 (162)), pp. 19-20.

AT ALL TIMES in church one should stand as still and quietly as possible and vigorously train children to do the same, but there are times when there should be absolutely no moving about in church, and perhaps it would be helpful to remind people of some of these: during the reading of the Six Psalms (at the beginning of Mattins or about a third of the way through a Vigil Service—when the psalm reader stands in the centre of the church), during any reading of the Gospel, during the reading of special prayers by the priest, in the Divine Liturgy during the Cherubic Hymn and again from the beginning of the Creed until the end of the consecration (i.e. until the priest blesses after the consecration with the words: "And the mercies of our great God...."), during any recitation of the Lord's Prayer, at "Holy Things for the holy," and at the blessing. If you come into church late, it is a good idea to stand for a moment and listen to ascertain whether it is appropriate to move around, venerate icons or offer candles at that point.

A "Practical Tip" from the Orthodox Shepherd.


Rules of Piety: helpful remarks about how we should behave in Church.

On the Respect Due to the Church of God, and to the Sacred Mysteries, by St. John Chrysostom.

On Standing Reverently in Church, excerpts from the Scriptures and the Fathers

Why Orthodox Christians Stand During Divine Services. An excerpt from the book The Concern of the Orthodox Church for the Salvation of the World by Rev. G. S. Debolsky.

Why We Are Not Allowed to Kneel on Sundays and From Pascha Until Pentecost, from Orthodox Life.

On Lifting Hands and Saying Amen: Fr. Alexander Lebedeff comments on this fairly recent liturgical phenomenon.

Children In Church, by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky.

Where Can One Go in an Orthodox Church?: A Brief Discussion of Holy Space. From The Shepherd, Vol. XV.

Proper Etiquette in Church, a letter from Russia.

O Lord, I Have Loved The Beauty of Thy House: How We Should Conduct Ourselves in Church.

On Greeting One Another During the Divine Liturgy

How to Worship

Various articles on Liturgy and Etiquette, from St. John Cathedral.

How to Keep the Church Typicon, by St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco.

When No Priest is Available: Reading the Service Books While Traveling or at Home, by Archpriest Sergei Shukin

On the Use of Bells in the Orthodox Church. From Archpriest Rostislav Gan's explanations of the Divine services.

Holy Communion

Frequent Reception of the Holy Mysteries is Beneficial and Salvific: An Excerpt from Concerning Frequent Communion, by Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite.

Proper Confession and Communion: a pamphlet prepared by the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Washington, DC.

On Holy Communion, the Purifying Treasure, by St. Theophan the Recluse. On the necessity of frequent communion.

Excerpts from Life in Christ, by St. Nicholas Cabasilas. On the Holy Eucharist: a comparison with Holy Baptism and the necessity of our struggle against sin.

The Proper Use of Antidoron, a compilation from Orthodox Tradition.

Miscellaneous Topics

Feasts and Holidays. An Excerpt from With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man, by Blessed Elder Paisios the Athonite (+1994).

Why Christians Are Not Permitted to Arrange Amusements on the Eves of Sundays and Feast Days, by Archbishop Averky

Against Those Who Have Abandoned the Church and Deserted It for Hippodromes and Theatres, by St. John Chrysostom. A Homily of St John Chrysostom.

Living in the Liturgical Cycles of the Church. A talk presented at the Southern Missions Conference of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (2003).

The Liturgical Effectiveness of Pews, from DOXA, Pascha, 1995.

Guidelines for Altar Servers. A compilation of rules for altar servers written by St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, with another more detailed list compiled by Father Deacon Dimitri Jakimowicz.

On the Duties of a Choir Singer,  an excerpt from Letters to a Beginner: On Giving One's Life to God, by Abbess Thaisia

A Homily on the Holy Eucharist and on Not Judging Others or Remembering Wrongs by the Holy Hieromartyr, Patriarch Anastasios II of Antioch.

“Monogamous Communion”: A Defense of “Closed” Communion, by Fr. Michael Shanbour.

Letter to Januarius, by St. Augustine of Hippo. Answers questions about varieties in Orthodox practice. Written centuries ago but very relevant for today.

Worship Resources

Orthodox Liturgical Texts and Resources, a compilation by Father Deacon John Whiteford. This is a very helpful collection of materials for anyone interested in conducting both parish and reader services. Home of the Reader Service Horologion.

General Menaion: excellent translation and formatting.

Orthodox Christian Services, texts and explanations

The Third and Sixth Hours, as they are read before the Divine Liturgy, with selected Troparia and Kontakia.

Anastasis: website of Orthodox scholar and philologist Archimandrite Ephrem. Contains numerous translations of patristic and liturgical texts.

As Holy Week Approaches, by Father Rodney Torbic.

A Liturgical Explanation for the Days of Holy Week, by Father Alexander Schmemann.


Concerning Church Attendance and Activities on Sundays and Great Feasts

"One day of the week... is called the Lord's day (Sunday), because it is consecrated to the Lord, Who on that day arose from the dead, disclosing and giving prior assurance of the general resurrection, when every earthly activity will come to an end. And you must not engage in any worldly activity that is not essential and you must allow those who are under your authority and those who live with you to rest, so that together you may all glorify Him Who redeemed us through His death and Who arose from the dead and resurrected our human nature with Himself. You should bring to mind the age to come and meditate upon all the commandments and statutes of the Lord, and you should examine yourself to see whether you have transgressed or overlooked any of them, and you should correct yourself in all ways. On this day you should go to the temple of God and attend the services held there, and with sincere faith and a clean conscience you should receive the holy body and blood of Christ. You should make a beginning of a more perfect life and renew and prepare yourself for the reception of the eternal blessings to come.... In this way you will sanctify the sabbath, observing it by doing no evil deeds. To the Lord's day you should join the days dedicated to the great feasts, doing the same things and abstaining from the same things."

St. Gregory Palamas. From A New Testament Decalogue 4, GrPhilokalia, 951-952; trans. The Philokalia, vol. 4, 326. Quoted in Concerning Frequent Communion, p. 159.

In these days there are a lot of people who come to me and tell me that they are forced to work on Sundays and great feast days. "Father, I have to go to work on Sunday, if I don't, then I'll be fired." Let me tell you something! Do not get upset by this; whatever money you earn on Sunday, give to the poor! Mercy and almsgiving surpass the observation of a special day.

Do you remember when the Savior was in the synagogue and healed the woman who had been bent over for eighteen years? Remember how the leaders of the synagogue came forward in their hypocritical zeal for the law? They could not speak against Christ directly, for the people would have killed them since they loved Him. But the hypocrites said, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day (Lk. 13:14)....

You know that the apostles picked ears of grain and ate them on the Sabbath. How many miracles the Lord worked on Sabbath days, overturning the ideas of those who worshiped the Sabbath in mock righteousness. What? The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mk. 2.27).

So if you are forced by your employer to work on Sunday, then work, but work honestly, conscientiously, and do not steal anything, and whatever income you have from working on Sundays or feast days, give to the poor, for almsgiving and mercy are greater than the observance of a day!

Elder Cleopa of Romania. Translated by Mother Cassiana. From The Veil, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Dormition Fast, 2006).
The Veil is a publication of the Protection of the Holy Virgin Orthodox Monastery in Lake George, CO.

"How should we keep the festivals? We must celebrate in them either the event (with a view of investigating the greatness of the event, its object, and the fruits it brought to those who believe) or the person; as, for instance, our Lord, the Mother of God, the angels and saints (with the view of investigating the relation of that person to God and to mankind and his beneficial influence upon God's Church in general). It is necessary to investigate the history of the event or of the person whose festival we solemnize, to approach it or him with our whole heart, to absorb them, so to say, into ourselves; otherwise the festival will be incomplete, and not pleasing to God. The festivals ought to influence our life, to vivify and kindle our faith in future blessings, and maintain in us a pious and gentle disposition. Yet they are mostly spent in sin and folly and met with unbelieving, cold hearts, often wholly unprepared to feel the great mercies which God has vouchsafed to us through the particular event or person whose festival is celebrated."

St. John of Kronstadt. From My Life in Christ, p. 48.