Church for beginners
Many people, on their first visit to a church, are a little worried about how to behave. This page is a short guide to some of our common customs intended to reduce anxiety in new visitors.
What is a narthex?
The Apostolic Johannite Church defines a narthex as a lay community of the church, under the leadership of someone who is not a priest. Only priests can administer the seven sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Matrimony, Penance, Holy Orders, Eucharist and Extreme Unction. The narthex celebrates communion whenever Bishop Timothy is in Melbourne. The rest of the time the group gathers for lay services and discussion of texts and spiritual practices.
Standing, Sitting and Kneeling
The service booklet generally notes when you should stand or sit, the celebrant will usually invite you to stand or sit at the appropriate time either verbally or with a gesture.
Before the start of the service, you should sit (or if you prefer kneel) to meditate or pray quietly.
At the beginning of the service as the celebrant enters, the people stand to mark the beginning of the service. At the end of the service, as the celebrant moves to the front of the altar to depart, the people stand to mark the end of the service.
In some services, there is a section in which the celebrant may invite discussion on a particular topic. Take care in this case to be respectful of the other participants, take your cue about when to stop from the celebrant and try to stay mindful while speaking.
In general, though, a service is not a time to chat. Because an important part of the benefit of a service is an atmosphere that supports prayer and meditation, it’s appropriate to remain silent unless participating in the words of the service.
As community is very important to the Johannite understanding of spirituality, we often share a meal after the service to give everyone an opportunity to chat and discuss their experiences if they would like to.
The Sign of the Cross
A common custom in all Christian communities is to make the sign of the cross at particular times. If you’re not comfortable doing so, don’t worry. If you’d like to adopt the custom (in one of its various forms), it is typically done:
- Whenever a priest makes the sign of the cross over the people in a blessing or absolution
- Whenever the name of the Blessed Trinity is said (we have several of these formulae such as “In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”, “In the Name of the Pleroma and The Logos and the Pneuma Hagion” and so on)
- At the end of the reading of the Gospel
- After taking Communion
Many churches restrict who is able to share in the bread and wine at a Communion or Eucharist service. The AJC welcomes anyone who wishes to join us in communion, regardless of their religious background or whether or not they have been baptised or confirmed.
Common practice is to kneel to receive communion. Because many of the spaces we use make kneeling uncomfortable, people usually receive communion standing. The priest will bring the consecrated host and the cup (or chalice) to you where you are standing. If you have no fear of hard floors and you’d prefer to kneel, feel perfectly free to.
The priest will stand in front of you with the chalice. He or she will dip the host into the consecrated wine and hold it before you saying, “Be what you see, receive what you are.” You should respond, “Amen” and then open your mouth. The priest will place the bread on your tongue – close your mouth and allow the bread to dissolve before swallowing it.
Once you have received communion, feel free to either kneel or sit and pray or meditate on the gifts of the Eucharist.
Forms of Address
Priests and other clergy are ordinary human beings with normal human strengths and weaknesses. When the community of the church chooses individuals to serve in the Major Orders, they take up an ancient office with heavy responsibilities on behalf of their community. Having said all that, we honour our tradition and the dignity of the offices of the Church by using particular terms when addressing ordained people:
The Patriarch — Your Eminence
Bishop — Your Grace
Priest — Father (male) or Mother (female)
Deacon — Deacon
The celebration of liturgy is an occasion for joy because we draw closer together as a community, we draw a little closer to the Divine and we offer ourselves as agents for the ongoing life of the world. If you’re unfamiliar with attending services, all these guidelines might seem a little overwhelming, but don’t worry – it’s not hard to follow, there’s people there to help and we were all new once.
The important thing is being open to the mystery of liturgy and present to the other human beings working with you. If you can do that, everything else falls into place.
Welcome to the Holy Sophia community!