Q1.: I am not an Orthodox Christian. Is it allowed for me to attend an Orthodox service?
A.: Yes, you are welcome at every service. We enjoy having visitors.
Q2.: When I walk into your chapel, what do I do—where do I go?
A.: You can stand anywhere in the church. There are benches available, although in our tradition most stand, unless elderly or otherwise unable to stand for a protracted period.
Q3.: Will I be expected to follow your customs?
A.: We don’t expect you to. If you wish to do what others are doing, crossing themselves, bowing, kissing the image of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary, and so forth, you are welcome to.
Q4.: Do you worship images? That would be like having idols.
A.: We do not offer divine worship to images, saints, or angels. We must worship only God almighty. Honouring His saints, and images such as of Christ, is a way of showing respect for what God has blessed and the things He has done. A soldier on the field of battle will take out a picture of his wife and kiss it. It doesn’t mean he worships his wife as God, but it means he loves her and wants to be reunited with her soon. That’s why we kiss images of Christ and His saints.
Q5.: Do you worship the Virgin Mary?
A.: No, God alone we worship as divine. We honour her highly as an amazing role model of faith, obedience, and love. Doing so, we fulfill the gospel prophecy, “Behold, all generations shall call her blessed” (Luke 1:48). We call her the Blessed “Theotokos,” or “Mother of God,” since her Son Christ was truly the Son of God, and He was born from her virginal womb.
Q6.: I am a woman. Do I have to wear a scarf on my head to come to your church?
A.: We encourage the tradition, prescribed in the New Testament, of a woman wearing a head-covering or scarf to divine worship. It is also traditional with us for a lady to wear a dress.
Q7.: How long is a typical service, do I have to stay and stand throughout, where should I stand?
A.: Anything from an hour and a half, typically two hours. You are not expected to stand in one place all the time. You are able to move around, venerate icons, even leave the Church if you need to, and then return. Those with children will often break and return. there is no set formula. All that we ask is that you are respectful of others and are not disruptive. Traditionally women stand on teh left and men on the right, although this is not a hard and fast rule nowadays, especially for families who may wish to be together.
Q8.: I am not Orthodox. When I see people coming for Holy Communion, should I get in line with them?
A.: No, just remain in place. Fortunately, in Orthodoxy we don’t expect people to take Communion every time, so others will stay behind like you. At the end, people will come up again, to kiss the cross and take a piece of specially baked bread. You are welcome to come forward with them.
Q9.: Is the Russian Orthodox Church just for Russians?
A.: Not at all. It’s a church for all peoples, spread over the whole world. It’s just that the roots of our missionary church lie in Russia, where Christianity took such deep root among the people well over a thousand years ago. In Russia itself, there are countless Germans, Ukrainians, Estonians, Latvians, Poles, Asians, Armenians, Georgians, and people of Mongolian descent. Today the Russian Orthodox Church here in the UK includes British-born worshippers, including converts from other denominations.
Q10.: What else should I know?
A.: When you walk in, chants and prayers may be already going. It doesn’t mean you’re late—we preface the main service with prayers of preparation. The Liturgy is in Church Slavonic, an ancient language related to Russian, used by Orthodox in several countries, with some English. If you want to help support our church, just put your donation in the labeled basket, or during the collection. After the service we have refreshments—you are invited to join us and there is no charge. If you have children, feel free to bring them. Our congregation includes families with children. Children make some noise; that’s to be expected. If your child gets too loud, etc., just go outside for a while on the grass, for a breather. You can re-enter when things are going better. It’s actually common in our churches to go in or out, as need be. We stand for the whole service; you don’t have to. Anything else, just ask the priest or a helper.