The Briefest of Glimpses into Orthodox Services

(With thanks to our Ottawa cathedral for content.)

Those who have been here are likely to notice that there aren’t many pews in the church. This is because the Orthodox pray standing before God and when they do kneel to prostrate themselves, pews get in the way…. If you find it difficult to stand throughout the service it is perfectly all right to sit. It is, however, customary to stand for the reading of the Gospel and during the consecration of the Holy Gifts at the Divine Liturgy.

The iconostasis, or icon screen, delineates the sanctuary from the nave. It is there to remind us that we are pilgrims on the way to the kingdom of heaven – the reasons for our being in the world. Facing us are the icons of Christ and saints declaring that, in Christ, our fallen human nature is redeemed and taken into the life of heaven.

Psalms, Epistles, Gospel readings, the Creed, prayers of consecration, the Lord’s prayer and Communion make up the liturgy and are familiar to all Christians. An Orthodox service is always a dialogue between celebrant and people. Intercessory prayers and litanies occupy a prominent place in our services and are chanted by a deacon to which the choir replies “Lord, have mercy” or “Grant this, O Lord”. It is our tradition to sing the services without instrumental accompaniment.

Holy Communion is reserved for Orthodox Christians. Anyone, however, who enters “in faith, reverence, and in the fear of God” is able to participate in worship, by attending to the words and actions of the service and by being open to the presence of God. At a Great Vespers or Vigil service, you may approach to venerate the Gospel book, to be anointed with oil, to receive a blessing, or to partake of blessed bread and wine.

The lighting of candles is a declaration of joy and a prayerful gesture to Christ, the Theotokos (Mother of God) and His Saints. In practical terms the lit candles undoubtedly helped the early Christians to read the Gospels more easily for they often had to worship in caves and other unlit places. Nevertheless, the reference is to the Light of Christ. The censing of the icons and people during the service is in reverence to the image of God in each of us. At the end of the Liturgy, everyone is invited to come and venerate the Cross and to receive a small piece of prosfora as a sign of Christian fellowship. On most Sundays, coffee and potluck lunch is served downstairs after the Liturgy – we hope you will join us.

The best way to learn about Orthodox Christianity is to go to a service and see for yourself. However, remember that a single service doesn’t display the full richness and variation of the entire church year. If you live outside Calgary, there may well be an Orthodox community near you – a list of the parishes of the Diocese of Canada and clergy is available on the Archdiocese website.

We hope you enjoy your visit to this church. We are happy to share our faith and church life with you. If you have questions which are not covered in these paragraphs, CLICK HERE to go to the OCA website and Fr. Thomas Hopko’s booklets on the Orthodox Faith. Alternatively, Fr. Phillip will be glad to help you.