"I Am New to St. James!"
First of all, welcome and thank you for taking the time to learn more about St. James Orthodox Church! We are an Eastern Orthodox Christian community located in northern Gwinnett County, Georgia, approximately 25 miles northeast of Atlanta. We were founded as a mission of the Antiochian Archdiocese in 2013, and our congregation is growing quickly by the grace and blessings of God. Whether you are a guest, an inquirer, or a visitor from another parish, we are pleased and glad that you are here. As a visitor to St. James, we want you to be as comfortable as possible as you become acquainted with us. This section covers some practical questions that you may have as a newcomer or inquirer. If you have questions that are not answered below, please feel free to CONTACT US.
Are Non-Orthodox Visitors Welcome?
Yes! St. James is largely comprised of converts to the Orthodox Church, and we are always happy to share our faith with newcomers, inquirers, and visitors. We are a diverse and dynamic community and come from a variety of backgrounds.
We usually have services throughout the week, and you are welcome to any of them. If you are visiting for the first time, we especially encourage you to attend the Divine Liturgy service, which begins on Sunday mornings at 10:00 a.m. When you arrive, a greeter will welcome you, hand you a bulletin and "Welcome Packet," and help you navigate your way around. All of our services are in English, and usually we use the divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the same litugical service used by all Eastern Orthodox churches worldwide. We have prayer books available for you to follow along in the book, if you would like.
Following the Divine Liturgy, you are invited to join everyone else for Coffee Hour, which is a good time to get to know our congregation and to meet our priest, Fr. Steven Ritter. If you do not wish to stay for Coffee Hour, no problem ... we encourage to follow your own pace and level of interest.
How long is the service?
The Sunday 10:00 a.m. Divine Liturgy is usually about 90 minutes long. The Orthros service (same as Matins, or morning prayer) which precedes Divine Liturgy lasts about an hour. Other services vary.
Is there are a dress code?
We encourage everyone to dress appropriately, modestly, and respectfully. That can include jeans or suits, long dresses or skirts, dress t-shirts or shirts and ties, dress shoes or athletic shoes. We do ask, however, that you refrain from wearing shorts, mini-skirts, tank tops, low-cut or strapless dresses (unless covered by a sweater, etc.), or shirts with advertisements, slogans, or inappropriate images. Some Orthodox women wear head coverings, especially when approaching the altar, but this is not required. Men are asked not to wear head coverings (baseball caps, etc.) in the church area of the building.
Is childcare provided?
We do not have childcare because we encourage children to be present in church for the services. We believe that this participation is an important part of a child's spiritual formation. If your child is crying or overly restless, we have a small room close to the church area that is available so that the service will not be disrupted.
Is Sunday School for children available?
Yes. Sunday School is available immediately after Communion, so children are not expected to stay in the church area for the entire service.
When should I stand or sit?
The traditional posture for prayer and worship in the Orthodox Church is standing, and in many Old World churches seating is limited mostly to the elderly or disabled. Like most North American Orthodox churches, however, St. James has plenty of seating available, and generally the congregation does a mixture of standing and sitting. We encourage everybody to stand, as they are able, during the Gospel reading, the Little and Great Entrances, the distribution of Holy Communion, when the priest gives a blessing, and at the Dismissal. That sounds like a lot to keep up with, but really it's not hard ... you can just follow the congregation.
Should I light a candle?
Lighting candles and placing them in the candle box (which is filled with sand) before entering the church area is an important part of Orthodox worship and piety. We light candles as we pray, making an offering to God to accompany our prayers. Orthodox typically purchase candles as an offering when coming to church. You do not have to be Orthodox to light a candle, and if you do not wish to light a candle, that's okay.
Can Non-Orthodox Receive the Holy Eucharist?
Orthodox priests are only allowed to serve the Holy Eucharist to baptized members in good standing of the Eastern Orthodox Church, who have recently confessed, and who have prepared themselves with fasting and prayer beforehand. This is the apostolic teaching of the ancient Church and has not changed in the nearly 2000 years of its history. Also, it is canon law that priests cannot serve the Holy Eucharist to members of "Oriental Orthodox" churches, such as the Coptic and Ethiopian churches. If you are in any doubt on this matter, please discuss it first with our priest before receiving Holy Communion. He will be glad to answer your questions.
Can Non-Orthodox receive the blessing of the priest and the "blessed bread" at the end of the service?
Yes! Towards the end of the Divine Liturgy, the congregation will begin lining up to kiss the hand of the priest and to receive his blessing. The Orthodox understand that when they are kissing the hand of the priest, they are really kissing the hand of Christ Himself. If you are uncomfortable with doing this, it's okay not to kiss the hand of the priest as long as you are approaching respectfully. There will be a basket of "blessed bread" nearby, and you are encouraged to take a couple of pieces of the bread.
What is Orthodox worship music like?
Most of the Orthodox service is congregational singing. Traditionally, Orthodox do not use instruments. Usually, a choir leads the congregation in a capella harmony, with the level of congregational response varying from parish to parish. The music is solemn, prayerful, and intended to lead the faithful to a deeper worship experience. The music that does not change much is printed in the prayer books that we use, and you are welcome to sing along with the rest of the congregation if you would like.
What if I have further questions?
New visitors will find that there are many new things to experience in an Orthodox Church service. In fact, they are often surprised at how different the experience is when compared to Protestant church services. Feel free to go at your own pace, and don't hesitate to ask questions either at church or SEND US AN EMAIL.