Parish EtiquetteThe SacramentsFor ProtestantsFor Roman Catholics


  • Great Entrance — The Gifts of bread and wine are carried in solemn procession from the table of oblation, into the middle of the church, and through the Royal Doors of the iconostasis to the altar table.
  • Iconostasis — The iconostasis or icon screen in the Orthodox Church exists to show our unity with Christ, his mother and all the angels and saints. It exists to show our unity with God. T
  • Little Entrance — If the priest is serving the Divine Liturgy alone, without a bishop, the Little Entrance is made by the clergy circling the altar table and then to the middle of the church with the Gospel Book. Then he enters the altar through the royal doors of the iconostasis accompanied by the hymn of Entrance.
  • Narthex — Sometimes called the vestibule. Not only does the vestibule serve as a “buffer” of sorts between “the world” and “the Kingdom” as represented by the church building proper, but it also used for several rites in the church.
  • Nave — The main part of every Orthodox church is known as the nave. It is here that the faithful gather for worship, that icons are available for veneration, that the singers, readers and chanters fulfill their functions, etc.
  • Royal Doors — The central doors in the iconostasis, separating the nave from the sanctuary.

Frequently Asked Questions

Parish Etiquette

  • Question?


Frequently Asked Questions

The Sacraments

  • What’s the difference between the mysteries and the sacraments?

    You'll hear both terms used ... they're really the same thing. Sacrament is the term that tends to be used by Roman Catholics for historical reasons. An explanation from the Orthodox Wiki: 

    The term sacrament is derived from the Latin sacramentum, meaning "a consecrated thing or act," i.e., "something holy," "to consecrate;" which itself was a Church Latin translation of the Greek mysterion, meaning "mystery."

  • How many sacraments are there in the Orthodox Church?


  • Why do you do chrismation and baptism at the same time? What about confirmation?


  • A pre-communion prayer asks for forgiveness for our sins. Why do we need private confessions as well?


Frequently Asked Questions

Orthodoxy and Protestantism

  • Why do you pray to saints?

    To be accurate, we pray with the saints, not to them. Much the same as you would ask your friends, family or other Christians to pray for you, we ask the saints to intercede on our behalf. It's important to remember that the saints who are in paradise are alive! And as they are alive, they are able to pray for us!

  • What’s with all the icons?

    Icons are our family album. In the same way that many people keep photo albums to help them remember people and events, we keep the icons to remind us of people and events. They adorn the walls of our worship spaces so that we are "surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses" as the author of Hebrews reminds us. Most Orthodox Christians have an icon corner in their home where they display icons of Christ, the Theotokos and the saints.

    Icons are not just items made of wood and paint. Human beings are icons of God (that is, we are made in the image and likeness of God). Jesus Christ is called "the exact image (icon)" of God. In the end, icons point only back to God. Reverence which is made through these "windows into heaven" is directed at the image of God found in each of the saints depicted.

  • Why do you mention Mary so much? Why is she so important? Why do you pray to her?

    It boils down to this: She's Jesus' mom! The issue really isn't that we show her so much respect, but why other Christians don't!

    Why is she so important? Mary is the guarantor that Jesus Christ is fully man! The early Christians made a point of inserting into the Creed the statement that Christ was "Born of the Virgin Mary" to ensure there was no confusion on this matter!

    As for prayers, we pray with Mary, and ask her to intercede on our behalf. It's no different than asking your mom to pray for you. And in this case, we're asking Jesus' mom to pray for us! The question really is why anyone would pass up that opportunity?

  • Why do you cross yourselves?

    Jesus calls us to "take up our cross" and this is a visible identification with that command of our Lord. We make the sign of the cross to remind us that we were bought and paid for by our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the cross, we are freed from bondage to sin and to Satan!

    This isn't a new phenomenon – Protestants, including Martin Luther used the sign of the cross, and some continue to do so still today.

  • Don’t you get tired of singing the same hymns every week?

    Our hymns change every day. Yes, there are some hymns which we sing regularly, but each day different hymns are sung to celebrate a feast, or the life of a saint or some other event in the life of the Church. If an Orthodox Christian participates in Vespers (evening prayer), Matins (morning prayer) and the Liturgy, at least 15 different hymns will be heard! And even with the ones that are repeated at every service, very often verses appropriate to the day are inserted between the "standard" verses that we sing.

    Like most churches, we have a large and varied hymnbook, and some of the hymns are used more than others. Keep track in your church over the course of a year and see!

  • Why do you repeat the same prayers all the time?

    Because they are good ones! Seriously, why is it necessary to rewrite the prayers every week? There is no such call in Scripture. There we are told to refrain from "vain repetition" but that does not mean that all repetition is bad!

    That said, listen carefully to the prayers used in your church. Week in and week out, the prayer will be nearly the same in content, if not in words! Try it sometime!

  • Why do you use incense?

    Our worship is not merely mental – we use all our senses, sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. Isaiah and the Revelation of Jesus Christ tell us that incense is used in heavenly worship. Incense wafting upwards symbolizes our prayer rising to God in heaven.

  • Do you have to be Orthodox to be saved?

    In a word, no. We believe that Orthodoxy represents the fullness of the faith – that is, the most complete and accurate expression possible by man. God honors truthful belief and proper faith anywhere it is found.

    Then why become Orthodox? Simply put, the fullness of the faith is found here, the fullness of the truth is found here, and the fullness of worship is found here. Why would anyone want only partial measures?

  • Why do you fast so much?

    Fasting is one of many tools that we use to "buffet our bodies" as St. Paul said, so that we might be pure and holy. Jesus said that when He had gone, his followers would fast. Like the early Christians, we fast so that we may learn to control our appetite for all things that are not good and holy. It is not about earning salvation, it is a tool to help us work out our salvation in fear and trembling.

    Specifically, we fast each Wednesday to commemorate the day when Jesus was betrayed and each Friday to commemorate His death on the cross. In addition, we fast during the entire Lenten period and the entire Advent period, as well as during other times during the year.

    Orthodox fasting practice, when followed strictly, means that the believer does not partake of any animal products from vertebrates ( i.e. no meat, dairy, eggs, etc), nor of olive oil, nor wine. These choices reflect the desire to do no harm on these days, as well as giving up certain staples of life.

  • Do you believe the Eucharist is REALLY the Body and Blood of Christ?

    What do you mean by "REALLY"? There are several ways to approach this. Although Orthodox Christians certainly recoil at the sacrilige of testing it using the scientific method, there is little doubt that you will find only wine, water and bread with such tests. And to most Westerners, this settles the question. But does it really?

    We don't think it settles the question at all. In fact, it's not even the right question! The Eucharist is very much really, truly the body and blood of our Lord. But this can be appraised only by our spiritual sight, what the early Christians called the "nous" – the eyes of the soul. Without this spiritual insight, we could not understand the mystery of the Eucharist.

    To address a question that often arises, we do not view the Eucharist as a "re-sacrifice" or a "re-presentation" of the Sacrifice of the Cross. Rather, in the Eucharist, the Church is brought up to heaven to participate in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb – the future communion of all believers with Christ when He comes again.

  • What do the Orthodox think about the Bible? Do you agree with Sola Scriptura?

    Much of the content of Orthodox worship services consists of readings from the Scriptures, especially the Psalms. Readings from the Gospel occur at most services, along with regular readings from the Epistles.

    There are not now, nor have there ever been, any restrictions on the laity with regard to reading the Scriptures – they are, and always have been, encouraged to read them.

    As for Sola Scriptura we believe that the Scriptures are the “canon” – the measuring stick – which must be applied to all doctrine, but it is not the only source of doctrine. In other words, not all doctrine is found in the Scriptures, but no Orthodox doctrine contradicts the Scriptures.

  • Does tradition override the Scriptures?

    Some place Scripture and Tradition in opposition to each other, but this is not the Orthodox position. Others place Scripture and Tradition on the same level and set them up as co-equal, but neither is this the Orthodox position. For Orthodoxy, there is but one deposit of faith that contains everything that God has given to the Church via the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures are part of this deposit of faith, and thus are part of Holy Tradition.

    The Scriptures are not "overridden" or "trumped" by tradition, but are the cornerstone of tradition. They are the "canon" - the measuring stick - by which all doctrine must be judged. No Orthodox teaching is in contradiction to the Scriptures, nor can it be, for if it is, it most certainly could not be part of the deposit of faith. The Holy Scriptures, as interpreted by the Church, have the final say over any and all matters of faith and practice. They do not have the only say. (see 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 3:6-7; 1 Corinthians 11:1-2; 2 Timothy 2:1-2; 1 Timothy 3:14-15).

    The Scriptures are themselves a product of the oral tradition of the early Church. The gospels were preached orally, later being written down by the leading of the Holy Spirit. Once can also see in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew usage of the Gospel of Mark - the use of prior tradition. The use of oral tradition in the Scriptures has precedents in both the Old and the New Testaments - the authors were simply following accepted practices. Similarly, both Luke and Matthew had access to some collection of sayings that they used in common which do not appear in Mark. This collection could have been oral, written or a combination of both.

Frequently Asked Questions

Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism

  • What is necessary for Christian unity between Rome and the Orthodox Church?

    It's simple - the Pope must confess the Orthodox faith, completely, with no reservations. For a detailed view by one Orthodox theologian on the necessary conditions, please see the article Roman Presidency and Reunion in Our Time by Fr. Thomas Hopko. 

  • Do Orthodox Christians pray the Rosary?

    The Rosary dates from the 1400's, well after the split between East and West, so the use of the Rosary is unknown in the East. In Orthodoxy there is, however, the practice of praying the Jesus Prayer - "O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner" - on a set of prayer beads. But only this single prayer is associated with the beads, and there is no notion of decades or of meditation upon specific Mysteries while using the prayer beads. So using the prayer beads is a much simpler devotion in practice than praying the Rosary.

  • What about Purgatory?

    Purgatory was developed in the West to explain how the dead can work off the residual "debt" due to sin prior to the Second Coming. The assumption is that the slate needs to be clean before a person can come before the judgement seat. The Orthodox view of salvation is more process-oriented, and does not assume that sin and grace are quantifiable "substances" that must somehow be in balance before someone can enter God's Kingdom. There is just sin, and although some are more serious than others, Orthodox do not make the distinction between mortal and venial sins that Roman Catholics do. All sin is believed to be serious in Orthodoxy. We work toward holiness (deification or theosis), and this is a process that will not be completed in this lifetime. Indeed, the work of holiness is an eternal one, since God's holiness is limitless and hence forever beyond us! So we are in the middle of the process of sanctification at the moment of our deaths. How do we know we are ready? It is our jobs to make sure we are prepared for our deaths, and to make sure that we have spent a life working toward holiness. As a consequence of these differences, the doctrine of Purgatory is considered unnecessary in Orthodoxy.

  • Orthodox and Catholics both believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. So does Orthodoxy believe in transubstantiation?

    We believe in the real presence and accept it at face value, as a mystery. Western theology tends to approach theological matters via the use of reason; this is a legacy of Augustinianism and the medieval Scholastics, who applied the techniques of Greek philosophy to the investigation of theological matters. Orthodoxy believes that certain matters are beyond the use of reason, so it is presumptuous for us as limited human beings to think that we can use our reason to understand that which is beyond us. As a consequence, we Orthodox are comfortable with accepting mysteries like the Real Presence as what they are – mysteries, without feeling obliged to explain them.

  • Can you explain the Orthodox view of Original Sin?

    The Western doctrine of Original Sin, formulated originally by Blessed Augustine, presumes that we inherit Adam's guilt. This is the consequence of a mistranslation in St. Jerome's Latin Vulgate of Romans 5, which is the version of the New Testament that Augustine used in formulating his doctrine. Orthodox believe that we inherit Adam's mortality, not Adam's guilt.

  • Why don’t Orthodox believe in the Immaculate Conception?

    Mary (like all of us) was born mortal as a result of the Fall, but without Adam’s guilt. But for Roman Catholics, a “special” birth for Mary was necessary so that Christ could be born to a spotless vessel. So the Immaculate Conception is a natural consequence of the Augustinian doctrine of Original Sin in the West, but is not needed in Orthodoxy to explain how mortal Mary could have given birth to her All-Holy Son.

  • What are the differences in belief regarding the Assumption of Mary?

    Roman Catholics believe that Mary, because she was born without the stain of Original Sin (see previous question on the Immaculate Conception), did not have to die; as a consequence, she is the only human being to be assumed directly to heaven without passing through death. On the other hand, Orthodox believe that Mary inherited Adam's mortality like all other human beings, and therefore died like the rest of us. However, her Son (the new Adam) immediately raised her from the dead as one of the first fruits of his Redemption, and she was then assumed into heaven. This is why the icon of Mary's death (her "Dormition" shows her lying on her death bed, with her Son behind her holding a baby in swaddling clothes. The baby represents His mother who he has raised to her new life with Him in heaven. Each August, we Orthodox celebrate Mary's Dormition (falling asleep) rather than her Assumption.

  • What does ‘Theotokos’ mean?

    Mother of God, or literally "God-bearer." The title was given to Mary at the Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus, in 431, to affirm that in the Incarnation God was truly born of a mortal woman. It's a title that Roman Catholics as well as Orthodox can proclaim!

  • Why are Orthodox priests allowed to marry?

    Technically speaking, we ordain married men – neither priests nor deacons may marry once they are ordained (in some traditions, this applies to ordination of SubDeacons as well). The decision to marry or not must be made prior to ordination, and in the event of the death of his wife, an ordained clergyman may not remarry. 

    Specifically, It was at the First Lateran Council in 1123 that celibacy became mandatory for Roman Catholic priests. A local council in the West in Elvira, Spain in 316 declared that celibacy was mandatory for clergy, and the practice began to spread in the West over the following centuries under the encouragement of various Popes. Orthodox have always insisted that celibacy had traditionally been optional for clergy since the first century, citing scriptural and other evidence for married priests and bishops (see for example Mark 1:30, Timothy 3:1-5). And the decisions of local councils are not binding on the church as a whole; only the decisions of ecumenical councils, when accepted by the community as a whole, are binding. Note that as is the case in the West, bishops have been celibate in Orthodoxy since the fifth century, a canon law instituted to halt the loss of land holdings to the descendents of married bishops. Note, too, that all monastics are celibate in the Orthodox Church. Also, celibacy has always been understood as a tradition rather than as unchangeable doctrine in the West, which is why there have been exceptions made to Roman Catholic priestly celibacy, especially in recent years. There are no doctrinal reasons why a married priesthood could not be restored in the West.

  • Both Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics make the Sign of the Cross, but why is the order different (Orthodox right shoulder first, Roman Catholics left shoulder first)?

    The sign of the cross is a tradition dating back to the second century and it was made from the right to left shoulder in both the West and East until the sixteenth century. For example, Pope Innocent III issued an instruction around the year 1200, recommending the right to left order (though he was aware of the other tradition). In the sixteenth century, Pope Pius V changed the tradition for Roman Catholics to further distinguish the Western church from the Orthodox Church. 

    Roman Catholics make the sign of the cross with the five fingers next to each other, to represent the five wounds of Christ (head, hand, hand, torso, feet). Orthodox make the sign of the cross with the thumb, index, and middle fingers together, representing the Trinity, and the fourth and fifth fingers pressed into the palm to represent the two natures of Christ.

  • Why are Orthodox children allowed to partake of Communion, but Roman Catholic children have to wait until first or second grade?

    Roman Catholic doctrine holds that a child must be old enough to intellectually understand the mystery of Christ according to "his capacity." They should be able to discern the difference between the eucharist and ordinary bread. Western doctrine places a premium on the role of reason in understanding God and in forming a relationship with Him. Orthodoxy, on the other hand, believes that God in His Essence is unknowable, and dwells in "divine darkness." No one will ever apprehend the mysteries of God, the Incarnation, or the Eucharist through reason. Why, then, withhold the grace of the sacrament from those whose understanding is after all only a little less than an adult's? As a consequence, Orthodox do not believe in holding back children (or those who who are developmentally challenged and are incapable of reason) from receiving the Body and Blood of Christ

  • Why doesn’t the Orthodox Church celebrate Augustine of Hippo as a Saint?

    There is some difference in practice in the Orthodox Church regarding this. In general, Augustine of Hippo is not called “Saint Augustine,” but is often called “Blessed Augustine.” Depending on which Orthodox author you read, you may find Augustine called simply Augustine, Blessed Augustine, or even Saint Augustine. Because some of Augustine’s writings are in conflict with the teachings of Orthodoxy and because they have been misused by the Western “Augustinians” who followed him, he is viewed with some caution in the East as a Father of the Church. His writings are thought by many in the East to be the root cause of the divergence of Western theology from the Orthodox understanding of God and Original Sin, and ultimately of the schism of the Western Church. 

    This excellent question also raises the issue of sainthood. In the West, the declaration of a Saint is a more-or- less top-down process; by recognition of miracles by the hierarchy, analysis of the prospective Saint’s life under the direction of the hierarchy; and the juridical approach involving a “Devil’s Advocate.” In the East, a Saint is recognized as such by more of a bottom-up process: the community recognizes the Saint’s holiness, which is then acknowledged and proclaimed by the hierarchy. It is worthy of note that starting under Pope John Paul II, the Roman church has been following more of an Eastern model in recognizing and declaring Saints

  • Why does the Orthodox Church use leavened bread and Roman Catholics use unleavened bread (wafers)?

    The differences between East and West on the use of bread in the Eucharist arose because of differences in understanding of the nature of the Last Supper (as a fellowship meal per the Gospel of John in the East, as a Passover meal per the synoptic gospels in the West), and perhaps also of the theological symbolism of leaven. The issue of leaven is one of the issues leading to the split between East and West, with the West coming to insist by the eleventh century that the East’s use of leavened bread is a “heresy.”

  • Why do Orthodox Christians say that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father rather than from the Father and the Son?

    Because that is the formulation in the Nicene Creed, which represents the faith passed down from the apostles. It agrees with the theology of scripture; the Gospel of John very clearly says "But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of me." (John 15:26). The filioque clause was introduced in the West at a local council in Toledo, Spain in 589. Over the coming centuries, it would spread in the West as theology (under the influence of Charlemagne's Frankish theologians) drifted from a common understanding with the East. In the year 1274, a council of the Roman Catholic church in Lyons, France made the filioque an official part of the Nicene Creed in the West.

  • How do Orthodox Christians view the authority of the Pope, and the Primacy of Peter?

    The Patriarch of Rome is one of the five historic patriarchates of the Church, the others being Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. Orthodox accorded the Pope of Rome the respect due the first among equals prior to the split in 1054; we would agree that there is a Primacy accorded the Pope of Rome. However, we hold that historically this Primacy was always understood as a Primacy of honor rather than a Primacy of authority. Western theologians would counter that the understanding of the special status of Papacy "evolved" over time in the West under the influence of the Holy Spirit; Orthodoxy would insist that the authority granted the first bishops, the apostles, was granted once and for all, and that the revelation of authority in them within the Body of Christ did not and does not "evolve" over time.

  • Why did the Orthodox Church split off from the Roman Catholic Church?

    It's a matter of how you interpret the events of history, isn't it? From an Orthodox perspective, it's the West that left the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Orthodox Church over a period of theological drift that spanned centuries. From a Western perspective, it's Orthodoxy that went into schism by refusing to acknowledge the West's growing perception of the absolute authority of the Papacy. We pray for a healing of this rift, and a restoration of the Patriarchate of Rome to its role as first among equals in the One True Church. See the excellent article listed in the answer to the question on Christian Unity.

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