WHO WE ARE
Saint Patrick’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 Bishop JOHN who oversees the Western Rite Vicariate, and our local Bishop is THOMAS of Charleston, Oakland, and the Mid-Atlantic.
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 worshipping in an 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, a practice which developed much later. Most Western Rite churches have an altar rail or a rood screen. 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 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 that reference the books that are used, such as the red 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 your 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 if one is unable to kneel. 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, psalms, 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, Mary, 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 genuflection (kneeling briefly on the right knee) is made during the Creed (at “and was made man”) and during the Last Gospel (at “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”) and when passing in front of the altar and when entering and exiting the pew.
To receive Holy Communion, the Orthodox faithful kneel at the altar rail and the priest will administer the body and blood of Christ on the worshiper’s tongue. Unlike in the Eastern Rite, arms folded across the chest is a sign that you will not receive Communion. This, along with bowing your head, should be your posture if you are not Orthodox or if you are not 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.