School let out for the summer on a Friday, and the very next morning we flew to Houston to visit my mom. On Sunday morning, we went with her to church. It was familiar in a dozen ways. Partly because I have been there a number of times over the years, so I was greeted by familiar faces. But also because I have attended a church much like this particular one my entire life. It's comfortable, and I truly believe God smiles when he sees believers gathering to worship him.
This particular trip, we happened to be in Houston for two Sundays. It's a big city, and I asked Mom if we could maybe try a different church the following Sabbath. By different, I meant blow-your-socks-off, I've-never-experienced-anything-quite-like-this-before, different. It's how I like to do things. We did a quick google search of churches near her house, and decided on a Russian Orthodox church. I've attended an Orthodox church a handful of times now, but only for Vespers. From everything I'd heard, these short, casual services were not comparable to what I'd experience at Divine Liturgy. Sunday morning - Orthodox style.
In preparing to visit this new church, I wanted to make sure we were respectful of their traditions. Further, since I would be taking my mom and young daughter with me, I hoped to alleviate any major surprises. But I knew Jesus would be there. I'd found him in so many other churches over the years. I prayed my mom and daughter would experience his presence in a whole new way.
By now, I'd learned some steps to take before showing up at the big wooden doors of a church.
First, I spent a little time on their website. It told me the Liturgy would be in English. Good to know, as I don't know a single word of Russian. I also emailed the Priest to tell him we were coming. As Protestants, we'd likely stick out, but we came in peace. Were there things we should know ahead of time? He wrote back a few days later, saying we were welcome. A few people would likely greet us (not with a holy kiss but in a friendly way nonetheless) and he mentioned they had a more casual start time so don't be surprised by this.
Perhaps it was because I was taking guests, but I still felt ill-equipped to worship the following Sunday. For more insight, I turned to a Facebook Community Group I belong to, Orthdodox Hipster Coffee Hour. Surely, they would tell me everything I needed to know. Indeed, they were a huge help! They pointed me to these helpful articles: "12 Things I Wish I'd Known: First Visit to an Orthodox Church," and "10 Things You Should Know Before Visiting An Orthodox Church." Here are a few other things they offered:
Wear a skirt or dress, comfortable shoes, and a scarf.
When going to a new church, I tend to bring one and if I see most women wearing it, I'll throw it on. If not, I'll wear it as a scarf. I've also looked at pictures on their websites to see if women are wearing them in the church.
For my 10-year old too?
There is usually a box of [scarves] near the door in case someone forgets theirs at home, don't stress over it ❤
And as others have said, dress in a skirt or dress (at or below the knee) and preferably cover your head with a scarf or hat. If you forget, no big deal. There will most likely not be pews but chairs or benches will be available around the perimeter.
From these early posts alone, I realized we might not have the right attire. I had packed for Houston, in June, so mostly tank tops and shorts. We made a quick trek to a consignment store; long skirts and scarves on our shopping list. I returned home to this directive on my Facebook post:
1) Russians are not warm and friendly, so don’t take it personally.
2) the Russian service is beautiful, don’t worry about the translation...the service lifts our heart to God.
3) Russian services are long, longer than Greek or Antiochian or even Serbian, because length is the measure of...something. 😉
So pray and enjoy!
Oh, my mom and daughter were going to get quite the experience! I'm used to encountering a lot of unknown, but they hadn't exactly signed up for this. I hoped they'd still be speaking to me afterwards.
While getting dressed that morning, I'd took the opportunity to teach my daughter about I Corinthians 11:5-6:
Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since that is one and the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman doesn't cover her head, she should have her hair cut off. But it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her hair be covered.
This right before Paul warns against getting drunk when observing the Lord's Supper. Oh Paul! Oh Corinth! My daughter, naturally, had a lot of questions. In our home, we encourage faith questions. We discussed how believers should consider the context when reading certain passages. What did these verses point to culturally in ancient Corinth? I explained there are a number of ways to interpret Scripture, and since the Russian Orthodox still hold to this tradition of women covering their heads in church, we'd honor that.
We pulled up early on Sunday morning. The church was about 35 minutes from Mom's house. The first thing we noticed was its size. This church was rather small. I remembered seeing a blurb on the website about a building campaign. There would be no way to slip in and out of today's church service unnoticed.
One by one, vehicles pulled into the parking lot. We observed the women exiting their cars. Full-length skirts, short-sleeve shirts (no tank tops) and they pulled scarves out of their purses, placing them on their heads. The Orthodox Hipsters had not let us down. About five minutes to nine, we headed inside....
In the meantime, you can read about some of my other church experiences here: