What to Expect
It is with great joy that we welcome all visitors and guests to worship with us! We are located at the corner of East Howell and 13th Avenue on Capitol Hill in Seattle. If you follow the alley behind the church, you will find our large parking lot where you are welcome to park on Sunday morning.
There are several items on the literature table as you exit the Church pertaining to the Orthodox teaching on Holy Communion and teachings on the Orthodox Church in general. Please feel free to take a copy as you exit the Church. We also have an Orthodox bookstore in our Fellowship Hall next door where you are welcome to browse for books on Orthodoxy and Orthodox living.
Also, please feel free to approach Fr. Dean after services with any questions you may have regarding your worship experience with us.
Before your first visit, there are eleven helpful hints to know...
1. There is Movement Before and During Worship...
During the early part of the service the church you may see people walking up to the front of the church, praying in front of the iconostasis (the standing icons in front of the altar), kissing things and lighting candles, even though the service is already going on.
In fact, when you came in the service was already going on, although the sign outside clearly said "Divine Liturgy, 10:00 am." What's going on here?
In an Orthodox parish there is only one Eucharistic service (Divine Liturgy) per Sunday, and it is preceded by an hour service of Matins or Orthros (8:45 am). Matins is a preliminary service celebrating the good news of Resurrection of Christ which make the Liturgy possible which follows. On some Sundays Memorial services for the departed are sung, which are approximately 10 minutes in length and begin around 11:30 am.
Orthodox worshipers arrive at any point from the beginning of Matins through the early part of the Liturgy.
2. We Stand When We Pray
In the Orthodox tradition, the faithful stand up many times during the service. If you find the amount of standing too challenging you're welcome to sit at any time.
The Liturgy at the Assumption Church begins at 10:00 am. By 10:30 am we hear the reading of the Epistle (everyone sits) and then the Gospel lesson for the day is read (everyone stands). The Liturgy continues until approximately 11:15 am when Communion is first given to children, who then depart for Sunday School and the parents remain in church for the conclusion of the Liturgy, which is usually by 11:30 am.
3. People Make the Sign of the Cross
We sign ourselves whenever the Trinity is invoked, whenever we venerate the cross or an icon, and on many other occasions in the course of the Liturgy. People however, aren't expected to do everything the same way. Some cross themselves three times in a row, and some finish by sweeping their right hand to the floor. On first entering a church people may come up to an icon, crossing themselves and bowing with right hand to the floor, then kiss the icon, then make one more bow.
4. Orthodox People Venerate
When we first come into the church, we kiss the icons. You'll also notice that some kiss the chalice, some kiss or touch the edge of the priest's vestment as he passes by, the acolytes (altar boys) kiss his hand when they give him the censer, and we all line up to kiss the priest's hand at the end of the service as we received the blessed bread. When we talk about "venerating" something we usually mean crossing ourselves and kissing it.
The reason for kissing the hand of the priest has to do with our understanding that during the Liturgy the hands of the priest are the hands that give out the body and blood of Christ (Communion).
5. Blessed Bread and Consecrated Bread.
Only Orthodox Christians may receive Holy Communion, but everyone may have some of the blessed bread offered at the conclusion of the Liturgy. During Communion non-Orthodox people are invited to approach the priest for a blessing at the same time as those receiving Communion. Just ask for a blessing when you arrive at the chalice. As we file past the priest, we come to an altar boy holding the basket of blessed bread. People will take portions for themselves and for visitors and non-Orthodox friends around them. If someone hands you a piece of blessed bread, do not panic; it is not the eucharistic Body. It is a sign of fellowship.
Visitors should not be offended that they are not allowed to receive Communion. It is important to know that this Sacrament is not given out as a means of hospitality. Anyone who is not Orthodox may receive Holy Communion if they wish to attend classes and convert to Orthodox Christianity. Orthodox believe that receiving Communion acknowledges faith in historic Orthodox doctrine, and a commitment to a particular Orthodox worshipping community. There's nothing exclusive about this; everyone is invited to make this commitment to the Orthodox Church. But the Eucharist is the Church's treasure, and it is reserved for those who have united themselves with the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church practices closed communion, not for triumphalist reasons, but for very important theological reasons. In doing so we follow the practice of the ancient Church. “Open communion” is a relatively recent innovation and was not the practice of the Church beginning in the New Testament period.
We also handle the Eucharist with more gravity than many denominations, further explaining why we guard it from common access. We believe it has been changed from ordinary bread and wine to the Body and Blood of Christ. Holy Communion is a Sacrament of the church. It is not merely a symbolic gesture or right of passage. We ourselves do not receive Communion unless we are making regular confession of our sins to a priest and are at peace with other communicants. We fast from all food and drink - yes, even a morning cup of coffee - from midnight the night before receiving this Sacrament.
6. How Do We Greet the Clergy?
The role of the priest is that of a spiritual father, preacher of the gospel, and the one who offers the Sacraments. Part of his role is to continue the earthly ministry that St. Paul brought to the people. He is referred to in respect as “father,” because he is both a servant of the Lord, and also called to be the leader of the congregation. Just as St. Paul referred to himself as father of his flock in 1 Corinthians 4:14-15, the faithful refer to him in the same way as a way to honor the position of the priesthood. His wife also holds a special role as parish mother, and she gets a title "Presbytera" (Greek), which means "priest's wife."
7. Hymnology That Draws Us To Pray
At the Assumption Church everyone is encouraged to sing! The choir is meant to lead the people in congregational singing. Traditionally, Orthros hymns are chanted a capella.
8. We Call the Virgin Mary “Theotokos”
A constant feature of Orthodox worship is veneration of the Virgin Mary, the "champion leader" of all Christians. We often address her as "Theotokos," which means "Birthgiver of God." In providing the physical means for God to become man, therefore she had a pivotal role in our salvation.
We honor her, as Scripture foretold ("All generations will call me blessed," Luke 1:48). When we sing "Most Holy Theotokos save us" we don't mean that she grants us eternal salvation, but rather that we seek her prayers for our protection and growth in faith. Just as we ask for each other's prayers, we ask for the prayers of Mary and other saints as well. They are not dead, after all, just departed to a heavenly life! Icons surround us to remind us of all the saints who are joining us invisibly in worship. One reference to the saints surrounding us Hebrews 12:1 - "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses..."
9. The Three Doors
Every Orthodox church will have an iconostasis before its altar. "Iconostasis" means "icon-stand", and it can be as simple as a large image of Christ on the right and a corresponding image of the Virgin and Child on the left. The basic set-up of two large icons creates, if you use your imagination, three doors. The central one, in front of the altar itself, is called the "Holy Doors" or "Royal Doors," because there the King of Glory comes out to the congregation in the Eucharist. Only the priest and deacons, who distribute the Eucharist, use the Holy Doors.
The openings on the other sides of the icons, if there is a complete iconostasis, have doors with icons of angels; they are termed the "Deacon's Doors." Altar boys and others with business behind the altar use these, although no one is to go through any of the doors without an appropriate reason.
10. Do you have to be Greek to be Greek Orthodox? NO!
There are about 6 million Orthodox in North America and 350 million in the world, making Orthodoxy the second-largest Christian church. Orthodox Christians throughout the world hold unanimously to the fundamental Christian doctrines taught by the Apostles and handed down by their successors, the bishops, throughout the centuries. One could attribute this unity to historical accident. We would attribute it to the Holy Spirit.
Being ethnically Greek is not a requirement to be Greek Orthodox, just as someone can be Roman Catholic without being Roman. Because only Greek was spoken for approximately the first 300 years in the Christian church, the original church was sometimes referred to as the “Greek Church.” It is the rule of the Orthodox Church to speak the language of the local people, therefore at the Assumption Church we celebrate the Liturgy in English and Greek.
Currently the largest American jurisdictions are the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, the Orthodox Church in America (Russian roots), and the Antiochian Archdiocese (Arabic roots). The Liturgy is substantially the same in all, though there may be variation in language used and type of music.
11. What should I Wear to Church?
There is no formal dress code for attending church services. However, Orthodox parishioners tend to be more formally dressed for services, wearing modest clothing that typically ranges from business casual to formal wear.
Orthodoxy seems startlingly different at first, but as the weeks go by it gets to be less so. It will begin to feel more and more like home, and will gradually draw you into your true home, the Kingdom of God. We hope you will join us and that your first visit to an Orthodox church will be enjoyable... and that it won't be your last!