THE BRIEFEST OF GLIMPSES INTO ORTHODOX SERVICES
Those who have been here before are likely to notice a dwindling number of pews in the church. This is because the Orthodox pray standing before God and when they do kneel to prostrate themselves, pews get in the way…. If you find it difficult to stand throughout the service it is perfectly all right to sit. It is, however, customary to stand for the reading of the Gospel and during the consecration of the Holy Gifts at the Divine Liturgy.
The iconostasis or icon screen delineates the sanctuary from the nave. It is there to remind us that we are pilgrims on the way to the kingdom of heaven – the reasons for our being in the world. Facing us are the icons of Christ and saints declaring that, in Christ, our fallen human nature is redeemed and taken into the life of heaven.
The platform in the middle of the church is where hierarchs are vested and where they sit; the gospel is read from here and it is standing on that platform that the Bishops anoint us.
Psalms, Epistle, Gospel readings, the Creed, prayers of consecration, the Lord’s prayer and Communion make up the liturgy and are familiar to all Christians. An Orthodox service is always a dialogue between celebrant and people with the choir representing the people and singing prayers on their behalf. Intercessory prayers and litanies occupy a prominent place in our services and are chanted by a deacon to which the choir replies “Lord, have mercy” or “Grant this, O Lord”. It is our tradition to sing the services without instrumental accompaniment.
Holy Communion is reserved for Orthodox Christians. Anyone, however, who enters “in faith, reverence, and in the fear of God” is able to participate in worship, by attending to the words and actions of the service and by being open to the presence of God. At the Vigil service, you may approach to venerate the Gospel book, to be anointed with oil, to receive a blessing and to partake of blessed bread and wine.
The lighting of candles is a declaration of joy and a prayerful gesture to Christ, the Theotokos (Mother of God) and His Saints. In practical terms the lit candles undoubtedly helped the early Christians to read the Gospels more easily for they often had to worship in caves and other unlit places. Nevertheless, the reference is to the Light of Christ. The censing of the icons and people during the service is in reverence to the image of God in each of us. Small loaves of bread (prosfora) are offered at the Liturgy with the names of those, living and departed, for whom we wish to pray. These are taken to the offertory table in the sanctuary, where the priest removes a small portion and places it on the footed-plate, next to the bread which is to be consecrated, praying for those for whom it is offered. The prosfora are then taken to the candle desk near the entry to the church (on Eccles) where they are collected after the service by those who offered them. At the end of the Liturgy, everyone is invited to come and venerate the Cross and to receive a small piece of prosfora as a sign of Christian fellowship, in the same spirit, some people share their prosfora with others. On Sundays, coffee and potluck lunch is served in the hall after the Liturgy – we hope you will join us.
Further information on Orthodoxy may be found in the Three Deacons Church Store, which is open after the Sunday Liturgy and at various times during the week. The shop also stocks icons, crosses, candles and recordings of church music, as well as vestments for clergy and ecclesiastical items for Orthodox churches. The best way, to learn about Orthodox Christianity, however, is to go to a service and see for yourself. If you live outside Ottawa, there may well be an Orthodox community near you – a list of the parishes of the Diocese of Ontario and clergy is available on the Archdiocese website.
We hope you enjoy your visit to this church. We are happy to share our faith and church life with you. If you have questions which are not covered in these paragraphs, CLICK HERE to go to the OCA website and Fr. Thomas Hopko’s booklets on the Orthodox Faith. Alternatively, one of the priests will be glad to help you.