I’ve attended services at a local Orthodox church a number of times and I always feel awkward in not knowing how much I’m supposed to “do as the Romans do”—to use a very poor figure of speech.
I suspect that I’m the only one watching my actions, but it is wrong to not cross myself, or kiss the icons, since I’m just exploring the faith now?
I know that I’m not privileged to take communion, and respect that. But what about the kissing of the cross at the end of the service?
Yikes! There’s so much to learn and I feel like an oaf just sitting or standing there, and even more foolish when I try to mimic the actions of the other worshipers. Thanks for your insight.
Many thanks for your enquiry. Your situation is a rather common one, but one over which there is no need to fret!
The principle thing here is not doing what is “right” or “wrong”, but, rather, doing what is comfortable at this point. This, of course, helps if you are attending a community in which people are focused on the Liturgy rather than on what visitors are or are not doing.
When someone first comes to the Orthodox church, many things appear foreign and strange. As time goes by, that which seemed exotic becomes commonplace, as one grows used to observing what is being done and understanding why it is being done. For each action, it might be best to ask yourself, “Do I understand what I am doing, or am I just mimicing those around me? Now that I know why this or that is being done, does it serve as an external expression of my faith?”
For example, one could make the sign of the Cross every time those around are doing it. In such cases, the objective is to display conformity with those surrounding you, not to express our acceptance of Christ by “sealing” yourself with the sign of His Holy Cross. When should you begin making the sign of the Cross, for example? When you feel that it is an expression of that which you accept and believe. Then it is being done, not as a sign of conformity, but as an expression of faith.
As you journey closer to Orthodoxy, I would recommend that you begin assimilating such practices into your experience as your comfort level rises. If there is something you do not understand, simply ask the priest—he will be more than happy to explain things to you. Gradually embrace that which is happening as your level of understanding and acceptance grows. And try not to let your focus on what others are doing overshadow your focus on Christ and the Liturgy. I think you will find that this is a “natural” way to grow into the Orthodox Christian Faith as well as a guarantee that the external expressions of our faith serve the purposes for which they are intended. Never try to “rush” things.
Often people ask, “How will I know that I am comfortable with the Orthodox faith?” I often reply, “When the incense no longer makes you sneeze!” The point is this: that which may seem exotic or unusual at one point in time will eventually become commonplace weeks, months, or even years later.
Persevere, and I guarantee you that in time you will be helping new visitors to understand the very things you are now learning!
God bless you, and may you have a most spiritually rewarding celebration of the Divine Liturgy each Sunday.