We welcome you as our Guest!
Whether you are new to Orthodox Christianity or are visiting from another Orthodox parish we warmly welcome you to join with us, and we would be honored by your visit. A few notes to first time visitors:
- We won’t make a public spectacle of you or ask you to do anything uncomfortable.
- We lay no expectation on visitors of financial contribution to our parish’s ministries.
- We love kids! Our children worship together with us—they are not segregated out during our services. If your child gets a bit out of hand, please do not feel embarrassed to make a visit to the narthex until the child is ready to rejoin everyone else in worship.
- All of our services are held in English
We are interested in greeting you following any of our services and to be of assistance in whatever way we can. Please join us for coffee hour after the Mass and introduce yourself to our pastor, Deacon Michael.
Concerning Holy Communion
We invite all Orthodox Christians who are duly prepared to receive Holy Communion. Amongst other things, proper preparation includes faithful fasting, recent confession, being at peace with others, and being on time to the divine services. If you are uncertain if you are blessed to receive communion, please wait until you have spoken with Deacon Michael.
If you are not prepared to receive you may come forward for a blessing and receive a piece of the Pan Benit, (blessed bread, not communion) in Christian charity and brotherly love.
About St. Stephen’s and Western Rite Orthodoxy
Saint Stephen’s is a Western Rite parish of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. We are part of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East. The Orthodox Church is the ancient Church founded by Christ and His Apostles. In the Book of Acts we read that “in Antioch they were first called Christians” (11:26). Our Patriarch is John X of Antioch. Our Metropolitan is JOSEPH, our local Bishop is THOMAS of Charleston, Oakland, and the Mid-Atlantic, and Bishop JOHN who oversees the Western Rite Vicariate.
The Orthodox Faith is Christianity in its fullest and purest form. It is the faith for the whole world - East and West. All Orthodox Christians share a common faith, hence we share Communion. Western Rite Orthodox Christians are grateful for the opportunity we have been given by our bishops to bring the Western Christian liturgical tradition back into the fold of the Church. Our forms of worship are based on the ancient Orthodox liturgies of Rome and the Western Church.
If this is your first time to worship in a Orthodox church which uses the Western Rite, there are a few things that you should know
As in all other Orthodox churches, you will see icons and will have the opportunity to venerate them, pray and light a candle as you enter the church. However, unlike Eastern Rite churches, Western Rite churches do not have an iconostasis, at St. Patrick’s we have the very ancient feature of a Rood Screen which delineates the Chancel from the Nave. There is also a bowl of Holy Water, called a stoop, near the door of the church. You may dip you fingers into the water, then bless yourself with the sign of the Cross as a reminder of your Baptism. For the same reason, the priest will sprinkle the congregation with Holy Water at the beginning of most Sunday masses in a rite called the Asperges.
Our services typically involve congregational participation. The faithful are encouraged to sing, to make the responses, and to be engaged through physical acts of devotion. Of course, visitors are certainly welcome to simply observe until they become more familiar with the service. There will usually be a bulletin giving page numbers in the books that are used, such as the Mass booklet, the St. Ambrose Hymnal, and the English Office Noted. Also, any church member who is near you will be happy to help you find the place in the books.
Music in Western Rite parishes is usually varied. Our chant is Gregorian, the ancient style of chanting which originated in the West in the earliest years of Christianity. In addition, we use later musical compositions which are unique to the West, such as congregational hymns. Some parishes use instrumental accompaniment such as the organ primarily to support congregational singing. While unaccompanied music has been the norm in the East, no Church Council has prohibited the use of accompaniment (and some Eastern Rite congregations also use the organ for accompaniment).
You will notice that many people kneel for prayer in Western Rite services, but standing is also appropriate. The people always stand to sing, for the Gospel, the Creed and some other parts of the service. Unless there is a medical need, we only sit for the epistle readings and the sermon.
The sign of the cross is made frequently (such as when you enter the church, reverence icons, at the end of the Gloria and Creed, and before and after receiving communion). The head is bowed as another sign of reverence (usually at the name of Jesus or the name of the saint whose feast day it is) and a deeper bow is made at mention of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. A genuflexion (kneeling briefly on the right knee) is made in the Creed (at “and was made man”) and in the Last Gospel (at “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”) and to reverence the Blessed Sacrament on the Altar.
To receive Holy Communion, the Orthodox faithful approach the chalice. There you may stand or kneel and the head is tilted back slightly to receive the Body and Blood of Christ (the Host is dipped into the consecrated wine and placed on the tongue). Unlike in the Eastern Rite, arms folded across the chest are a sign that you do not wish to receive Communion. This, along with bowing your head, should be your posture if you are not Orthodox or if you are not spiritually prepared (by fasting and confession when necessary); the priest will then give a blessing instead of Communion. Blessed bread (called pain benit or antidoron), which is not the Communion bread, is offered to all as a sign of Christian friendship and hospitality.
Orthodox Christians who wish to make their Confessions, may do so after Saturday Vespers, before Sunday Matins or by appointment.
Our pastor and parishioners will be happy to answer any questions you may have about Orthodoxy in general, about the Western Rite, and about the journeys of faith which our members have made from many diverse backgrounds. We have a small bookstore in the Parish Hall where you will find additional resources on the Orthodox faith.