What to expect when I visit
What is a Liturgy and how long is it?
There are four different liturgies that are celebrated throughout the year. The Divine Liturgy that we typically celebrate was written by Saint John Chrysostom of Constantinople around 400 A.D. Yes, much of today's liturgy is over 1,600 years old!
A typical Sunday liturgy lasts about 90 minutes. (Weekday liturgies are often shorter.) The first half is focused on hymns, scripture, and the sermon, and the second half is focused on the consecration and distribution of the Eucharist. At Saint Catherine, we also celebrate a service called Matins or Orthros just before the Divine Liturgy. Orthros lasts about an hour. Feel free to come to Orthros, or arrive just before the Divine Liturgy starts. Our Services calendar indicates the start times for both.
Is there a dress code?
Strictly speaking, there is no dress code at church. Everyone is invited to come and worship. You will find that most people tend to dress in styles ranging from business casual to dresses and suits. This reflects the degree of respect and honor that we desire to convey as we stand in God's presence, much as we would if meeting with an important political leader. Essentially we may wear our “Sunday best” to honor God. That will vary from person to person. We encourage modesty as matter of respect for God and others. But please don't ever let a lack of nice clothes prevent you from coming to services—the important thing is for us to worship together.
Do I have to stand all the time?
Various Orthodox traditions allow for standing or sitting during different parts of the service. At Saint Catherine, there are a few times where it is important to stand: during the procession of the elements through the congregation, during the reading of the Gospels, the reciting of the Creed and Lord’s Prayer, and during the distribution of the Eucharist. Otherwise, feel free to sit if you need to, or to stand along with the congregation. It will feel like there's a lot of up and down, but you'll get the hang of it pretty quickly.
Standing, sitting, crossing... How will I know what to do during Liturgy?
Your first visit to an Orthodox Liturgy can seem strange and overwhelming, especially if you come from a Protestant or non-Christian background. Just remember that many of us have been where you are, and we love to help! You will meet greeters as you enter the church, so just let one of them know that you're visiting. They'll be happy to introduce you to people who can help answer questions and demonstrate the various things we do during liturgy. If you don't feel comfortable crossing yourself or singing the responses, that's okay. We are all here to worship, and we're glad that you've joined us.
Please remember that the most important thing you can do in litugy is to be present. Rather than focusing on imitating the actions of the people around you, we recommend that you simply enter into worship and focus on God's beauty and majesty as revealed in the service. You'll get the hang of the actions soon enough.
I'm not Greek. Am I still welcome?
YES! Our services are almost entirely in English, with some Greek (and occasionally other languages) woven in to keep us connected to the ancient roots of the Christian faith.
We are a parish under the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and we have many families in our community with Greek heritage, but we are first and foremost a family of Orthodox Christian faithful with many different ethnic and faith backgrounds.
About one-third of Saint Catherine parishioners are "cradle" Orthodox, and two-thirds of us came to the church from various faith traditions—or no faith at all. Whatever your background or current status, you'll find someone at Saint Catherine who has walked in your shoes.
Am I allowed to take Communion?
Those who have been baptized as Orthodox Christians or have been chrismated (anointed with holy oil, or chrism, and received into the Church) may receive communion, if they are spiritually prepared. Others, including believing Christians from other traditions, may not.
At Saint Catherine, we also invite the non-Orthodox to come forward during communion to receive a blessing.
What denomination is Orthodoxy?
Orthodox Christianity pre-dates modern denominations, and together with the Roman Catholic Church comprised the original Christian Church for the first millennium after Christ’s Resurrection. Orthodoxy encompasses the fullness of the Christian faith as expressed in Scripture and the teachings of the first seven Ecumenical Councils.
The Orthodox faith has been handed down and preserved from the time of the Apostles through "apostolic succession." Every bishop of the Orthodox Church can trace his ordination and spiritual lineage back through time directly to Christ's Apostles. In fact, our bishop, Metropolitan Isaiah, can trace his succession directly back to the Saint Andrew the Apostle. That succession then continues to the priests and deacons whom the bishops ordain.
Originally, the early Christian Church was led by five patriarchs in Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Rome. These patriarchs, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, made decisions together in council and operated as one until AD 1054, when the Great Schism occurred. The four Eastern patriarchs remained in unity, but there was a separation from the bishop, or pope, of Rome. For the first time in history, the Christian faith was divided into two churches, East and West. Five hundred years later, the Protestant Reformation resulted in a split in the West as the Reformers and those who followed them broke away from the Catholic Church and, over time, splintered into multiple groups. The result in history is the existence of three branches of Christianity: Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism with its many denominations.
Greek, Russian, Antiochian... Why are there so many different Orthodox churches?
For the first thousand years of Christian history, the Church was united—one Church with five Patriarchal centers: Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople. These Patriarchates formed a cohesive whole, living in full communion and community with one another. Occasionally, heretical disputes (errant teachings) would occur, and the responses to these were recorded in what is now known as the Seven Ecumenical Councils. Some schismatic groups did depart from the Church at various times, yet her core was unified until the 11th century, when the Roman Patriarch separated from the rest, resulting in the Great Schism. (See above, “What denomination is Orthodoxy?”)
For the nearly thousand years after the Great Schism, the other four patriarchal centers have remained in full communion and virtually identical in practice to the Apostolic church since New Testament times.
In the United States—a very young country—immigrants from all over the world came from their old countries and established churches according to their ethnic backgrounds, still under the oversight of the bishop of their country of origin. Thus you see Russian, Greek, Syrian, and other Orthodox churches in neighborhoods, but we all have the same Faith. All of the bishops worldwide recognize that there should ultimately be a unified oversight of the Orthodox Church in North America and are working together to determine the healthiest way to address the current situation.
Do you believe in the scriptures?
Absolutely. We believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God. The Bible and Holy Tradition are the two sources of authority in the Church. Holy Tradition is defined as the working of the Holy Spirit in the Church over time. In fact, the New Testament as we know it today was not officially recognized until the early fourth century. It was within this context, guided by the Holy Spirit, that the 27 books of the New Testament were canonized in the early 300s. Essentially, Holy Tradition within the Church gave birth to the New Testament.
As Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald writes, “The Holy Scriptures are highly regarded by the Orthodox Church. Their importance is expressed in the fact that a portion of the Bible is read at every service of Worship. The Orthodox Church, which sees itself as the guardian and interpreter of the Scriptures, believes that the books of the Bible are a valuable witness to God’s revelation.” (http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith)
Do you believe that the bread and wine are the literal body and blood of Christ?
The Orthodox Church celebrates the Holy Eucharist as the divine mystery of Christ’s real presence. This was the universal belief of all Christians until the 1500s, when the Reformation led to multiple denominations in the West and conflicting doctrines. However, unlike other faith traditions, we do not attempt to define precisely what happens during Communion. Rather, we trust and believe that Christ is truly and mystically present in the elements.