Whether you are a non-Orthodox visitor interested in learning more, an Orthodox traveler in the area, or a member of another local Orthodox parish, we welcome you and look forward to meeting you.
For instructions on how to get to St. Katherine Mission, please see our Contact page.
Frequently Asked Questions
For people who are unfamiliar with Orthodoxy, entering an Orthodox church for the first time can result in a range of reactions, from delight to bewilderment, as well as many questions. We’ve created the following FAQ in response to the most common questions we hear from non-Orthodox visitors.
Is yours a “Russian” or “Greek” Orthodox church? What’s the difference?
The adjectives that often precede the word “Orthodox” reflect the nationalities and cultures where Orthodoxy first took root in the Middle East, Europe, and Russia. Our heritage is in the Russian Orthodox Church’s American mission, which eventually became an independent entity. However, we simply say that we are “Orthodox” because our members, many of whom are converts, come from a wide range of nationalities and ethnicities. What unites us is not ancestral background or a foreign language or customs, but our belief that Christ is our Savior and that the Orthodox Church is His Church, founded at Pentecost. That said, if you go to a church that has "Russian" or "Greek" or some other adjective before "Orthodox," know that most Orthodox churches are in communion with one another, unified by the same Liturgy, theology, and doctrine.
Can non-Orthodox visitors take Communion?
We welcome and respect all visitors, regardless of their religious beliefs. However, the Eucharist is only for practicing members of the Orthodox faith. For us, the Eucharist, as you will hear in the words of the Divine Liturgy, is "truly the body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," with the bread and wine transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. This Holy Sacrament is not a symbol or merely a reenactment of a historical event. When Christ told His disciples, "Take, eat, this is my Body… This is my blood" (Matthew 26:26-28), he was not speaking metaphorically. Nor is the Eucharist a means to attain unity among different Christian denominations. Rather, it is the ultimate goal of our Christian striving, with all who partake in the Eucharist believing as one and being unified with and in the Risen Lord. Even Orthodox Christians may not partake in Holy Communion casually; instead, they are encouraged to prepare beforehand with fasting, prayer, and regular confession of sins.
How long are the services?
The Divine Liturgy usually lasts about 90 minutes. Our Great Vespers (evening prayer) services last about 45 minutes. Matins (morning prayers) last a little over an hour, and are sometimes celebrated immediately after Vespers, especially on Saturdays. Feel free to stay as long as you wish, and leave when you must.
Isn’t Orthodoxy just like Roman Catholicism?
Not really. We share aspects of Christianity with almost all Christian churches, including the Roman Catholic Church. The most obvious similarities between the Orthodox and Catholics are our rich services, which can feel strange to visitors who are unfamiliar with formal liturgies. However, there are significant doctrinal, theological, and liturgical differences between the Orthodox and Catholic faiths, most of which began as political and theological disputes between the the Eastern and Western parts of Christendom in the latter part of First Millennium and continue to this day. These disputes, which include such matters as the authority of the bishop of Rome and an alteration of the Nicene Creed—which the Western Church changed unilaterally—reached their tragic culmination in the Great Schism in the 11th Century. You can learn more about this in the Orthodoxy in Brief section.
Is the Orthodox Church a biblical church?
In the beginning of the Church, there was no "Bible" as we know it today. It was the ancient Church—that is, the Orthodox Church—which collected, compiled, and declared as canonical the many scriptural texts that eventually became the Bible. The Church is not based on the Bible, but rather, the Bible is a product of the Church. It is an essential element of our faith and worship, though not the primary focus of our faith and worship. We read from the Bible during Divine Liturgy, we hold regular Bible studies, we have a lectionary of daily Bible readings, and our priest delivers sermons based on scriptural passages. It is vital to our understanding of the Christ. In the Orthodox Church, we refer to the many centuries of accumulated wisdom from scholars and theologians on the meaning of specific biblical passages for, as it says in the New Testament, "… no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy came by the will of man, but through holy men moved by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:20).
Listen closely to the words of our Sunday liturgy; if you are well versed in the Bible, you will realize that the Liturgy is filled with scriptural passages, providing a service that is literally built on the Word of God.
Why is there so much emphasis on Mary and the saints?
Mary—or as you will more commonly hear, the “Theotokos”—is a profoundly unique person in human history. God chose this humble, devout woman to carry and give birth to the Savior of Mankind. She is special among all the saints, and as such, we revere her (but not worship her, since worship is reserved for God alone) for her role in helping the Word become flesh. The high honor accorded to her in the Orthodox Church is plainly seen by her prominence on every iconostasis; she is always opposite her Son on the left side of the Royal Doors, which is the gateway to the altar.
The saints you see in icons around the church gave us “real-world” examples of how to live in the image of Christ despite all of the sinful human failings that they, too, experienced. We venerate them and try to emulate them in our pursuit of a truly Christian life.
Why are there so many pictures and candles?
The images—or icons—that you see throughout the church are integral to the Orthodox faith. Icons were created in the earliest days of the ancient Church. They were defended and justified in the Seventh Ecumenical Council, which was the 8th Century gathering where leaders of the Church determined that representations of physical, earthly beings—including Christ, his Mother, and the Saints—were proper and vital. They are windows into Heaven. As the Church Fathers taught, icons do with shape and color what Holy Scripture does with words.
Lighting candles is another important part of Orthodox worship and piety. Lit candles act as an offering to accompany our prayers. Non-Orthodox visitors are welcome to light a candle and pray in an Orthodox church.
How can I follow what is going on during a service?
First, please don’t hesitate to ask a parishioner. All of us are more than happy to help visitors understand our services and our faith. There are no “dumb” questions. You can also find service books at the back of the church, and free pamphlets in our bookstore near the back (north) entrance that cover essential topics about Orthodoxy.
Why do you stand so much?
It’s a tradition in many Orthodox churches to stand during services—facing east, in anticipation of the Second Coming—as an act of worship. However, there is no rule against sitting down, and you are welcome to sit in one of our pews (which were inherited from a former church in our building).
Why are you always crossing yourselves?
Orthodoxy is a very “physical” faith—it appeals to all the senses, including sight, sounds, smell, taste, and touch. Making the Sign of the Cross is a physical act that, with continued repetition, becomes a natural and powerful response to that which is holy, whether it is the name of the Trinity, the approach to the Eucharistic chalice, or prayers in front of an icon. There are no set rules on when to make the Sign of the Cross, or who is allowed or not allowed to do it. You will see different people crossing themselves at different times. Our method of crossing ourselves (from right to left, because the right hand is the Biblical “hand of honor”) is the opposite of how it’s done by Roman Catholics and high-church Protestants.
Is there a dress code? And why do some women wear head coverings?
We do not have any legalistic focus on externals, but we ask that anyone entering our church remember that they are entering into the presence of Our Lord, and to dress appropriately. Please do not wear shorts, mini-skirts, tank tops, or low-cut or strapless dresses (unless covered by a sweater or other garment). You will see some Orthodox women wearing head coverings, which is a tradition common to many faiths, but it is not required. Men are asked to remove hats when they enter the church.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is yours a “Russian” or “Greek” Orthodox church?
- Can non-Orthodox visitors take Communion?
- How long are the services?
- Isn’t Orthodoxy just like Roman Catholicism?
- Is the Orthodox Church a biblical church?
- Why is there so much emphasis on Mary and the saints?
- Why are there so many pictures and candles?
- How can I follow what is going on during a service?
- Why do you stand so much?
- Why are you always crossing yourselves?
- Is there a dress code?