Are non-Orthodox visitors welcome?
Yes, absolutely. We are a community made up of both cradle-born Orthodox Christians and those who have converted to the faith. We are very comfortable with newcomers, inquirers, and visitors. Anyone who wishes to discover ancient Coptic Orthodox Christianity is welcome. If you have questions, the parish priests will be happy to answer them. So don’t be afraid to ask questions about what we do and why.
When you enter a church, someone will greet you and direct you to a place to sit. We have books of our Divine Liturgy for anyone to use. In addition, we have a large slideshow presentation that updates continuously during the service with the prayers for easy following. You may follow the service text, or, if you prefer, simply close your eyes and enter into the Church’s beautiful worship of God.
Following the Sunday Divine Liturgy, you are invited to join us for a “coffee hour” which is a good time to get to know our parish members and meet our priests.
How long are the services?
On Saturday evenings, the Evening Raising of Incense service (Vespers) is generally 30–45 minutes in length, including a short homily English. On Sunday mornings, a similar service is celebrated before the Divine Liturgy. Afterwards, the Divine Liturgy is approximately 2.5 hours in length with an English homily at approximately 10:00 a.m. and the Distribution of the Mystery of the Eucharist from 11:00–11:30 a.m. Just so you know, the liturgical prayers we use (written by St. Basil) are the shortened version of the original 5+ hour liturgy of the early church. Although you may not see it at first, each prayer is intentional and very critical to the liturgical service. The centre of our life as a church family is the Eucharist; each prayer is vital in preparing us to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
We understand that our services may be not what you are used to and therefore we advise you to join us for one of our group meet-ups first. However, if you feel ready to plunge in to the deep end first, then please do!
Is there a dress code?
The general rule for men and women is to dress appropriately, modestly and respectfully, as before the living God. We ask that you not wear shorts, mini-skirts, tank tops, low-cut or strapless dresses (unless covered by a sweater, etc.).
Is childcare provided?
Each parent is responsible to take care of their child. We encourage children to be present in Church for the services. This participation is part of a child’s spiritual formation. However, if your baby or child gets fussy, talkative, or has a melt-down, please take him or her out of the nave until he or she is ready to return quietly.
Is Sunday school for children available?
On Sundays, we provide Sunday school in small groups for children from nursery through to 18 year olds. Sunday school begins after the children have received the Mystery of the Eucharist and lasts for around 30 minutes.
Is there anything for others?
We have regular weekly or monthly meetings for all kinds of groups including youth, adults and senior citizens. We also run several programmes and activities throughout the year – there’s something for everyone.
Standing or sitting?
The traditional posture for prayer and worship in the Orthodox Church is to stand, as before the King of the universe! In many churches in Egypt, there are typically no pews in the churches. Chairs or benches on the side walls are usually reserved for the elderly and infirm. In the West, we build our churches with pews or chairs, so you may sit. However, it is appropriate to stand during the Gospel reading, the Anaphora through the Institution Narrative, the distribution of the Holy Mystery, when the priest gives a blessing, and at the Dismissal.
Lighting candles is an important part of Orthodox worship and piety. We light candles as we pray, making an offering to accompany our prayers. Orthodox typically light candles when coming into the church, but there are times when candles should not be lit. Candles should not be lit during the Epistle or Gospel readings, and during the sermon. You do not have to be an Orthodox Christian to light a candle and pray!
What’s the deal with the incense?
In the Orthodox Church, incense represents prayers and repentance that ascend into heaven. Each time the priest passes by with the censor, your prayers and those of everyone in the church are rising before the throne of God Himself. Don’t believe it? “Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” ~ Revelation 5:8
Who are all these images of?
One of the first things you will notice is an abundance of images, or icons. Icons are written in a very specific style, used universally in the Coptic Orthodox church. They are there to help us to pray and are deliberately made to look unrealistic to differentiate the icons from idols to avoid worship or prayer to the image itself. Some of these icons depict the Lord Jesus Christ, others depict the angels and the saints. A constant feature of Orthodox worship is veneration of the saints and in particular, the Virgin Mary. We often address her as “Theotokos,” which means “Bearer of God.” The saints who have departed this world are still alive, and very much a part of our church. We believe that they are the victorious church (since they have finished their race and received the prize of eternal life) and we are the struggling church here on earth. We do not pray to saints, contrary to popular belief, but we ask for their prayers on our behalf the same as you would ask a spiritual father or friend to pray for you. We also believe that the church is Heaven on earth and that although the saints are not with us in the physical church they are with us in the heavenly Church, praying with us and for us.
Can non-Orthodox receive the Holy Eucharist?
Orthodox priests may only serve the Holy Eucharist to baptised members in good standing of the canonical Orthodox Church, who have recently confessed, and fasted before partaking of the Holy Eucharist. This is the ancient tradition of the Holy Church for the 2,000 years of its history. The Orthodox Church understands the Holy Eucharist as a mystery of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, not simply as a memorial, or merely in a spiritual sense, as many other non-Orthodox Christians do. Rather than trying to accommodate to often varying “interpretations” or revisions of this and other doctrines of the ancient faith, we simply ask that you respect the ancient, apostolic tradition and join us in receiving the Eulogia (blessed bread), at the end of the Divine Liturgy.
What are Orthodox worship hymns like?
Between 65–75% of the traditional Coptic Liturgy involves congregational singing. Coptic Christians do not use musical instruments with the exception of the cymbals and triangle, which are used simply to keep musical time or tempo. A choir of deacons leads the congregation in harmonious chant. Our hymns are solemn, prayerful and intended to lead the faithful to worship the living God. Participation is key if you hope to stay focused during the liturgical prayers. These hymns of the church pack a lot of meaning, not only in the words but also in the tune itself. Each season of the church has its own tunes and hymns.
New visitors will find there are many new things to experience in a Coptic Orthodox Church service. Feel free to go at your own pace, ask any questions you want, and know you are most welcome to “come and see.”