These services include:
We know that the Orthodox Church, and the way we worship, may not be familiar to everyone. This page will fill you in on some of those details.
“Jesus said, ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7.7)
What are Icons?
One of the first things you will notice upon entering an Orthodox Church are the icons. Icons are holy images of Christ, the Saints, events from the Scriptures, and Church history. At their most basic level, they are like the “family photo album” of the Church, and a visual way of teaching the faith. But they are really more a means of theology than simply being “art.” Icons are painted according to an established tradition because they are an important way the Faith is handed down and taught. Icons and crosses are treated with great respect by Orthodox believers. This is called “veneration.” They are not worshipped, since the Scriptures teach us that only God Himself – the Creator of all things – is worthy of worship. Holy icons are a sign of our belief that in Christ God took a physical body, and became part of our physical world so that we could know Him; “For God so loved the world…” (John 3.16). The universal Church affirmed the truth and goodness of having icons in the Churches at the 7th Ecumenical Council in 787 A.D.
Incense, vestments, candles
Everything we do in Church is intended to be “on earth as it is in heaven.” The Bible describes the glory of the worship of God in heaven. Incense, vestments, candles are part of 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. Many people buy candles and place them in the church as an offering to the Lord, who is our Light and told us to let our light shine.
What does “Theotokos” mean?
Many of our prayers mentioned the “Theotokos.” Theotokos (Mother of God) is a title for the Virgin Mary, Jesus’ Mother, which was given by the 4th Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. Orthodox love and honor – but do not worship her – because God Himself loved and honored her and because of our union with her Son. That title was given to counter those who were saying that Jesus was merely human and not fully God, so it is really more a statement about who Jesus is. The attention given her in the Church also expresses our faith that Jesus Christ is truly human, born of a woman as we are, yet remains truly God, so His human mother can be called the Mother of God. In many hymns she is a sign of the Church as the beloved bride of God; her exaltation as “more glorious than the Seraphim” is a sign of sanctification awaiting all who “hear the Word of God and keep it” as she did. In the Orthodox Church’s icons, she is always pointing the way to Jesus Christ, and holding him close to her heart.
Ancient prayers and hymns
Ancient prayers and hymns are used in our services rather than extemporaneous or more modern ones because they contain the accumulated insights of many centuries of Christians, and they are packed with the words of the Holy Scriptures themselves. They do include repetition because in that way they become rooted in our minds. They are chanted or sung rather than spoken so we are less distracted by the “reading style” of the individual reader.
How Can I Join This Church?
We don’t hurry anyone to join; many people “visit” for a long time, some for years. But after visiting a while, if you wish to be a member, speak to the priest. Those wishing to be members are received as catechumens (learners), and usually spend a period of time attending the services and learning the Faith. Repentance and the participation in the Holy Mystery of Confession are an important part of this preparation. Then, if they have not already received Christian Baptism, they are Baptized, and then are Chrismated, anointed with Holy Chrism (a special holy oil) with the words “The Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” Then they receive Communion of the Holy Eucharist, which we believe is truly the Most Pure Body and Blood of Christ. In the Orthodox Church, it is those who have been Baptized, Chrismated, and have spiritually prepared themselves by prayer and fasting who partake of Communion. This participation fully unites a person to Jesus Christ and fulfills their entry into the Church.