As our guest at the Divine Liturgy, there is no aspect of the service in which you are expected to participate. Just find a spot to stand, or sit, and follow along. On the other hand, you may want to participate, and here are some pointers to help you know what to do.
Standing before the altar is priestly, so Orthodox generally stand during worship, exercising their priesthood… “the priesthood of all believers.” However, those who need to rest may seek a place to sit at any time. Orthodox try to avoid sitting at times of blessing, such as when the Gospel is being read, during the Great Entrance, when the priest makes the sign of the cross over the people, or censes towards them with incense.
MAKING THE SIGN OF THE CROSS
The sign of the cross is made with the right hand (index finger and middle finger on thumb tip, remaining two fingertips on palm, then touching one’s forehead, chest, right shoulder, and left shoulder). It is a gesture made freely, whenever one is moved to, but most commonly when the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is mentioned.
The simplest form of venerating holy icons is by going up to one, making the sign of the cross, and bowing to kiss the holy image, or for some, touching one’s forehead to the image in reverence. Physical reverence for holy things is integral to Orthodox spirituality which is always conscious that the Word of God himself took on physical being and sanctifies it.
Candles are outward expressions of inner prayerfulness and may be lit and placed in the candle stands near icons when one enters the church. Feel free to do this, and to venerate icons, whenever you enter the church, even if the service is underway, except during the Gospel reading or the sermon.
The prayerful offering of incense, a sacred practice described in the Old Testament and the New Testament, permeates our worship and is a central image in many of our prayers and hymns. “In every place incense shall be offered unto my name,” declares the prophet Malachi.
Orthodox music is traditionally sung without accompaniment. Even for a first-time visitor, it is often possible to sing along with the Lord’s Prayer, the “Lord have mercy” refrains, and other musical phrases which are simple and are repeated often. Feel free to join in.
For Orthodox this sacramental meal is a Passover or Pascha, bearing all the spiritual weight and community-forming prayer of the Old Testament Passover and, in Christ, a real entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven and sacramental union with the very person of God. This Passover is based in the conscience of the community, not in the conscience of individuals alone. For this reason, only the Orthodox faithful who are regular communicants in their home parish may approach to receive Holy Communion.
END OF THE SERVICE
At the end of the service, everyone is welcome to come up to venerate the handcross, receive the priest’s blessing, and to share the blessed church bread. This bread is also called antidoron and is not the same as Holy Communion. Some people kiss the cross when they come to venerate it as they would venerate any other icon.