Rules of behavior in Church
“I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.” I will enter Thy house by Thy grace, O Lord, teach me Thy truth and straighten my path before Thee, for my enemies’ sake that I may glorify without obstruction the One God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. (Ps. 122:1)
The Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church gathers all of us around our Lord Jesus Christ by its holy liturgical unity. It is here and only here, that all are equal: the rich and the poor, the simple and the learned, male and female, young and old. Here we stand as one soul, unified by faith and prayer in Christ’s gospel.
“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them…. Anything that they ask, it will be done for them by my father in Heaven.” (Mat. 18:19-20)
Let us learn well, brothers and sisters, the honorable examples of church behavior and by worthy bearing let us give thanks to the Lord who strengthens our souls by His presence, and who by His man-loving mercy forgives repented and confessed sins.
Man is an icon of God, therefore let our relationships towards one another be loving and kind, let us hate sin, but love men, for sin comes from the devil, but man is the work of God. Sin is not only the doing of evil, but also the absence of good deeds, as the apostle Paul teaches us: “Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.” (Rom. 12:9).
The sanctity of the church requires that we have an attitude of reverence. The Apostle Paul says, “Let all things be done decently and in order,” when Christians gather for prayer (1 Cor. 14:40.) To this end the following rules have been laid down for guidance.
- To derive spiritual profit from going to church, it is very important to put yourself into a prayerful mood on the way to church. Consider that we are going to be standing before the King of heaven, before Whom billions of angels and saints stand with trembling.
- To those who approach Him reverently the Lord is not terrifying; rather, He mercifully calls all to Himself, saying, “Come to Me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Tranquility, strength and enlightenment of soul — these are our goal in coming to church.
- To come to church you should wear clean and appropriate clothing, as required by the holiness of the place. Women should exercise Christian modesty and decency and not come in dresses that are too short or revealing or in slacks. Even before entering the church women should wipe off their lipstick, so that when they kiss the icons, the chalice or the Cross they do not leave behind the red imprint of their lips.
- On entering the church, you should make the sign of the Cross in an unhurried manner and make a bow towards the altar, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” or “O God, cleanse me, a sinner, and have mercy on me.”
- Next purchase one or several candles and place them before the icons, as an offering to God. If you have come for the Divine Liturgy, buy a prosphora and have it taken to the priest with a list of names or a book of commemoration, to remember those near and dear to you by praying for the health and salvation of the living and the repose of the deceased.
- After you have venerated the patronal icon of the church, and such other icons as you wish, go quietly, without disturbing anyone, to the place in the church where you are going to stand in prayer during the service. If you pass before the royal doors, reverently make the sign of the Cross and bow towards the altar. It is customary for men to stand on the right side of the church and women on the left. Do not linger in the narthex, since others will be coming in.
- As stated elsewhere, do not wear lipstick while taking Holy Communion, or when kissing the cross, an icon, the priest’s or bishop’s hand, or any sacred object. It is best not to wear it at all in the church. Lipstick looks terrible smeared on icons, crosses, the communion spoon, and the priest’s or bishop’s hand. Hand-written icons have been ruined by lipstick; and even though the cross or spoon can usually be cleaned after everyone venerates, it’s not very considerate to those who follow. What is the answer? If one insists on wearing lipstick to church, please blot your lips well before venerating and do not approach the chalice to receive Holy Communion while wearing lipstick.
- Always come to church for the beginning of the service. If for some serious reason you happen to be late, try not to disturb the prayer of those who have come earlier. If you enter the church during the reading of the Gospel, during the singing of the Cherubic Hymn, during the Eucharistic Canon (from “It is meet and right” to “It is truly meet”) or during the Lord’s Prayer, remain in the narthex until these most important parts of the Liturgy are finished and only then go quietly to your place.
- If you see friends and acquaintances in church, greet them with a silent bow. Never stop to shake hands or ask questions, even if they are your closest friends. While you are standing church, do not be curious; do not stare at those around you. Never, under any circumstances, indulge in private conversations or jokes in church; that is a sin.
- While in church you should stand, not sit. Only if you are ill or very weak is it permitted to sit down.
- Pray as one who is taking part in the church service, not merely attending it. Let all the prayers and hymns come from your heart.
- When you hear the words of a blessing directed to the congregation (e.g., “Peace be unto all,” or “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ …”), bow your head, without making the sign of the Cross. Likewise, respond to the censing with a bow of the head.
- Do not leave the church until the end of the service. Otherwise, you show disrespect for the holiness of the house of God and distract others from prayer.
- 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. Approach Holy Communion with reverence. Cross your hands over your breast, with the left hand over the right. Having received Communion, kiss the chalice without making the sign of the Cross, so as not to upset the chalice. After you have partaken of Holy Communion, return to your place, giving thanks to God. Women should approach the chalice with their heads covered and without lipstick.
- If you see anyone who is not dressed properly, or who is violating these rules of behavior, tell the warden or his assistant about it. Do not make remarks to others in church.
On leaving the church, make the sign of the Cross. For the rest of the day strive to guard the grace which you have received in church.
“Illumine our hearts, O Master Who lovest mankind, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing unto Thee. For Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, Who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages”. Amen.