When visiting an active church or monastery, you should bear in mind that it is more than an architectural and historical landmark. It is, first and foremost, where religious services are held and where believers and people in need of support come to pray. The church is the house of God for Orthodox Christians, and every person entering it should behave appropriately.
While visiting active places of worship is subject to some limitations, please don’t think that this indicates a lack of welcome. On the contrary, most churches are really friendly towards regular churchgoers and newcomers alike. All you have to do is comply with some rules. Priests will gladly tell you what you can and cannot do while in church. Those in charge of candleholders or behind the church counter usually also take on the role of advisers. What follows are some important rules and useful information for the uninitiated.
- Religious services are held in churches in the morning and at night. The liturgy is usually held daily between 8:00 am and noon; the night service is held between 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm (schedules vary from church to church).
- The most important parts of the service – reading of GospelsRussian: Evangelie or Евангелие, the Song of the CherubinRussian: Kheruvimskaya pesn or Херувимская песнь, Great EntranceRussian: Velikiy vkhod or Великий вход and the EucharistRussian: prelozhenie svyatykh Darov or преложение святых Даров – require silence, and moving along the altar is most undesirable in those moments.
- Women should cover their heads before entering the church and avoid wearing revealing clothes or too much make-up. Short skirts and shorts are not allowed. Men are to wear trousers (no shorts) and may enter the church with their heads uncovered. Overall, preference should be given to discreet clothes.
- Avoid making noise and talking loudly in church, even when the service is over. Turn the volume down on your cell.
- Do not go up the soleasRussian: soleya or солея (part of the sanctuary platform). Do not enter the altar.
- Photography is allowed in most churches, but it is best to confirm each time. Read information plates at the entrance to a church or a monastery. Avoid taking pictures during religious services, especially with flash on.
- Venerating icons or relics is prohibited if you are wearing heavy make-up.
- Only baptized people have the right to participate in sacraments (confession, communion, church wedding, etc.). Communion is allowed only after confession and with the permission of the priest.
- If your baby starts crying during a religious service, go outside the church to calm him down. Explain the rules of conduct to older children and prohibit them from making noise and moving around the church.
- Donation boxes are usually installed in several places inside the church and by the candle counter. You can also hand money to the priest if he is not busy with the service.
- Submitting notes and lighting candles is only permitted if you are baptized. If you want to light a candle, purchase it (thus donating some money to the church) and put it on a free space in the candle holder in front of the icon. Most importantly, say your internal prayer and be willing to donate. Remember that candles lit for the peace of one’s soul are to be put only on the kanunRussian: канун, a big plain candleholder in front of the Crucifix. You can put candles for living people in front of any icon, accompanying it with a prayer.
- If some places on the territory of a monastery are marked as closed to public with fences or signs, such as ‘No TrespassingRussian: Vkhod vospreschen or Вход воспрещен’, follow these instructions and do not try to enter these places – they are accessible only to the inhabitants of the monastery.
Anyone can enter a church, listen to chants and examine the interior of the church. Praying requires concentration, which is not so easy to do in a place filled with people, and so it is important that you observe the guidelines outlined above. For example, hair has always been perceived in Russia as a symbol of beauty which attracts everyone’s attention. When a woman covers her head in church, she attempts not to distract other people from their prayers.
Today, rules concerning clothes and general appearance are not followed very strictly and are not upheld everywhere. In many churches, bareheaded women and those wearing trousers are provided a wrap or a stole, which can be found piled up at the entrance to the church. Rules of conduct are observed very strictly in monasteries, though. After all, monks deliberately distance themselves from the world and live in accordance with their own rules that require daily efforts and a peaceful mind. Visitors to monasteries, however, are just guests and should behave accordingly.
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