Christ the Saviour FAQs for First-Time Visitors
Welcome to Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church. We hope you will stay and visit with us after the service so we can welcome you more personally. Because Orthodox Christianity is unfamiliar to many people, we have prepared this FAQ page to help you pray with us.
First, a word about Communion
Communion (the Eucharist) is the most sacred of all trusts that Christ left for His Church. Every priest is reminded at his ordination that he will answer for how well he guarded this most wonderful of all mysteries. For us, the Eucharist is not a symbolic act, but rather one that connects us deeply and spiritually with Christ Himself.
To partake of Communion is, in essence, affirming your belief in the Orthodox Church and all She stands for. Communion is for those Orthodox who have fasted properly and been to Confession recently. We do not offer Communion to those outside the Orthodox Church. If you are Orthodox and wish to receive Communion, please try to introduce yourself to Fr. Benedict ahead of time. Otherwise, be prepared to provide answers about your jurisdiction, your bishop and the last time you went to Confession when you receive Communion. You are more than welcome to stay for the entire service, but we do ask to respect this most Blessed Gift.
Who are the Orthodox?
The Orthodox Church is the Church which has existed continuously in the Middle East and Greece from the time of the Apostles, and is the Faith of the majority of the population in Greece, Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Ukraine, and other countries. With the exception of Rome, the local churches mentioned in the New Testament that have existed continuously until today (i.e., Corinth, Thessaloniki, Antioch, etc.) are Orthodox churches.
The Orthodox Church in America, or OCA, is the successor of the first mission to North America begun by St. Herman and other Russian monks in Alaska in 1794. The OCA has been in America since that time and was granted autocephalous (self-governing) status by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1970. At the time, we took the name “Orthodox Church in America” because our mission is to be a Church for all peoples in America, and not to any particular ethnic group. We are in full communion with the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches and the other Orthodox Churches throughout the world.
How do the Orthodox worship?
The Saturday evening service is called Great Vespers. The Sunday morning service is called the Divine Liturgy. Including the sermon, Divine Liturgy lasts about an hour and a half. The Vespers service is also often served during the week, sometimes with minor variations.
Is there a book to help me along with the service?
Yes, we do have books for the Divine services. They are at the entrance to the church next to the candle stand. For most people, however, trying to follow along in a book is distracting. You may miss out on the beauty and the flow of the Divine services because reading the text just isn’t the same as experiencing the worship going on around you.
Where are the pews?
Standing, kneeling, and prostrating are Biblical postures for prayer and worship. We traditionally stand during Divine Liturgy and all other Divine services. This takes some getting used to. Feel free to sit on the side benches as much as you need. There will be a few times when you may be motioned or asked to move toward the center as our priest and/or deacon come around with the censer to cense the icons and the people. Just remember to relax and try to bring comfortable shoes!
What about a nursery for the kids?
Our children are our greatest gift from God. We do not have a nursery because we want them to benefit fully from the grace that comes from our Divine services. This can be stressful for those visiting for the first time, but don’t worry, they do learn to settle down after time. Feel free to take them outside for a few minutes if they are restless. We’ve all had to do it from time to time, so don’t think you’re the first or that you'll be the last. Everyone who has a child understands and feels what you are going through!
Who is the “Theotokos”?
Theotokos (means “She-Who-Gave-Birth-to-God”) is the title for the Virgin Mary designated by the 3rd Ecumenical Council of the Church in 431 A.D. Orthodox love and honor (but do not worship) her because of her love for her Son and Lord Jesus Christ. The honor given to her also expresses our faith that Jesus Christ is truly human, born of a woman, as we are, yet has always been the Son of God, so we call His mother the “Theotokos” to identify her Son’s divinity.
What are icons?
Icons are paintings of Christ, His mother and the Saints. They must be painted according to a strict tradition because they are ways the Faith is handed down and taught. They are kissed, venerated, but not worshiped, as a sign of our belief that Christ God took a physical body and became part of our physical world so we could know Him. Other human beings who unite their lives with Christ become holy and the image of God shines through them. We honor them as friends of God.
Why are standard prayers used?
Standard prayers and hymns (not made-up prayers) are offered because these are inspired by the Holy Spirit from the earliest times of the Church. They contain the accumulated insights of many centuries of Christians, and are packed with Biblical quotations. They are repetitive because that way these holy thoughts become rooted in our hearts and minds. They are chanted and sung rather than spoken because heavenly worship is filled with song. Also, chanting the prayers and readings moves our attention from the personality of the reader so that we will be more focused on the words themselves and the Holy Spirit can speak to us without the personality of the reader being a distraction.
What else should I expect to see in an Orthodox service?
Incense, vestments, and candles are all part 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. The icon screen, or iconostasis, separating the altar from the congregation expresses the reality that although the Kingdom of Heaven is “at hand”, we are still separated from it because of sin and our need to grow in spiritual purity. Many people buy candles (25 cent offering) and offer them in the Church as a sign of prayer to the Lord and as a reminder of the Light of Christ, “the true Light Who enlightens every man that comes into the world.”
The normal Sunday morning service is called the Divine Liturgy. It includes:
Responsive prayers called litanies
Praise, especially the singing and chanting of the Psalms
Little Entrance - a procession with the Gospel book
Hymns of the day - especially of the Resurrection on Sundays, and the hymn “Holy God”
Epistle and Gospel readings and a Sermon
Great Entrance - a solemn procession, carrying the Gifts of bread and wine to the altar, representing the offering of our lives to God
Nicene Creed - the ancient Church summary of the Christian Faith
Eucharistic Prayer – We “lift up our hearts” to join the heavenly choir and angels singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” and offering thanks-giving (Eucharist) to God for all His works. We especially remember Christ’s saving works, and asking the Holy Spirit to transform the Gifts into the Mystery of Christ’s Body and Blood. This concludes with the Lord’s Prayer.
Holy Communion – Orthodox who are prepared by Confession and fasting receive the Holy Gifts as an essential encounter of union with Jesus Christ. Our children receive because God’s work in us is not limited to what we understand.
The normal Saturday evening service is called Great Vespers and lasts about 45 minutes. It is a service of chanting and singing of Psalms and hymns celebrating the themes of Creation and Resurrection as the eve to the Lord’s Day and Divine Liturgy.
Litya is a short service that is done following Vespers served for a feast. We ask for God’s blessings for our parish, each other, our city, country, and the world. We pray for peaceful times for ourselves and those that live around us. Bread, wine and oil are blessed (this is not to be confused with the Eucharist). We are anointed with oil and given a piece of the bread dipped in the wine. Visitors are welcome to participate.