Church Behaviour Basics



These are the instructions given to in 1983 by the late His Emminence Abuna Yesehaq.
It was mainly intended to instruct and guide the Faithful who was born outside of Ethiopia.

So, whether you are new to the Orthodox church, or if you are someone who was baptized and does not attend church because there is none close by or if you attended church a few times and found it confusing, and need to know the basics; this is for you.

I pray that you will find these basic information for behavior in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church helpful.


Orthodox Tradition 
Many of our Orthodox Church traditions dates back to the rules of the Old Testament in the Holy Bible, and has remained unchanged from those early days.  If you are a church member who have a visiting guest such as for a wedding, baptism, or other function, it is up to you to brief your guest in advance about some of the basic church behavior; such as: removing their shoes, where to sit on so on.  This will give them a chance to prepare mentally and physically.
For instance they may want to wear their good socks (smile) since their shoes will be off; or if they’re of the opposite sex they will know ahead of time that they will not sit next to you, and women will know to cover their head.  Also try to give them the “heads up” about how long we stand up for prayer, and explain the parts when it’s permitted to sit, even if others are standing, as well as when they should stand.  (When saying The Lords Prayer etc.)
You may just want to also refer them to this web site page, so they may get a general understanding of what is taking place when they see it.
So they won’t be surprised and will hopefully have a good experience and return again to worship with us. I love it when we make everyone comfortable and at ease so they can concentrate their minds on worshipping our Lord God.
Don’t forget to feel free to send any questions you may have to me, no question is too small or too trivial. This is the place to ask. I promise if I don’t know the answer I will do my best to get the answer from the Abba or Abuna.
All members should be properly dressed.  Men’s head should be uncovered, and the heads of females above age three years old should be covered when in the sanctuary. No chewing of gum or any eating during service or while in the church.
Women should not wear lipstick, whenever they take Holy Communion.  Men and women should refrain from perfumes or heavy scents.
You should be respectful of where you are going as well as to those who may have allergies.
~ ~ ~  Let the scent of The Holy Frankincense which is offered to Our Lord be sufficient for you also. Your scent should not compete with His.

It is tradition to wear white or traditional Ethiopian clothes, (symbolizing the purity of Our Lord Christ), it is not mandatory.
                                  ~ ~ ~ However, if you intend to take communion, then you must wear white~ ~ ~
                 Black is traditionally worn for mourning only. For example, during the week leading up to Easter Saturday. 
Women who are menstruating should not enter the sanctuary, or for those who have given birth it is not permitted to enter before 40 days for birth of boy child and 80 days for birth of girl.  This is in accordance with the laws of Leviticus.

It is mandatory for everyone to remove their shoes before entering the sanctuary. (The place where you stand is Holy Ground)

It is necessary for all members to bring with them prayer books and bibles.  As soon as you are in the church make the sign of the cross upon your body, while saying in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, then prostrate facing the altar/Ark of the Covenant  (Joshua 7: 6; Philip. 2: 10)  (all Ethiopian Orthodox Church have a representation of the Ark/Tabot),
Then read your bible or prayer book, and prepare your minds for the divine service thinking only Holy thoughts.
Children should be taught not to converse also.  After the service you may converse with the normal manner.
To Prostrate
means kneeling to touch the ground with the forehead, in order to supplicate our Creator.
It is customary for the faithful to prostrate once or three times in succession upon entering the sanctuary. (Psalm 28:2.  Joshua 7: 6)
~ Once is the symbol of Oneness and three times is the symbol of the Trinity. 
as well as prostrating during and throughout prayer is also commonly done to pay homage to God. (Matt. 26: 39) This kind of prostrating is offered only to God.  (Matt. 4:10)
Prostrating / kneeling is also done when commencing prayer and at the end of prayer. (Acts 9: 40)
Prostration is not allowed after receiving Holy Communion, then only bowing or kneeling is performed.(Fetha Negast 14: 5-37)
We pray up-standing with our hands open facing upwards. (Psalm 28:2 and 134:2)

During Holy Week, (Easter), many faithful prostrate literally hundreds of times each day and especially on Good Friday, in homage to our Lords Sacrifice for us.  (see “Principles of Prayer” page on this site)
Bowing (bending at the waist), is done not to worship, but to respect and in honor to the cross on which our Lord was crucified, to our Lady the Virgin Marian, Angels/Saints, to the Priest when he is holding a cross, or when he offers blessings to you in church by waving the incense in your direction.
During service all male over age three are required to sit on the left side and the women sit on the right.
Facing the East, (the Altar/Ark of the Covenant).
When we pray we pray standing and  “lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord.”  Psalm 134: 2
It is Ethiopian custom to greet friends by kissing on the cheek three or more times alternating.  It signifies the Holy Trinity. Formal greeting is done with a bow to show respect, or a hand shake.
It is not the rule of the church that the members shake the hands of the Priest.  Normally you would bow in a normal respectful fashion.
~> Note: A female should remove her head covering (Natala) when
     she bows to a Abba or to kiss the Cross or Holy Bible.
 A high ranking Abba such as the Abuna, usually gets a lower bow or even three very low bows to show respect for his rank and knowledge.
  If he has his cross with him, he will extend it to
you to offer blessings, then you should respond by kissing the cross.
(He may touch the cross to each of your cheeks then towards your mouth; then you kiss it)
 If he does not hold the cross, he will extend his open hand to you; then kiss his hand and say . . . 
                                                        “Rimit my sin.” 
The Priest will respond:  
                                     “Let God remit your sin.”  
During the service when the Priest faces the congregation with his cross in his hands and blesses them, the congregation should make the sign of the cross upon themselves.
At the end of each prayer, when the Priest says “Amen” the congregation must also say “Amen”.

All members should know from memory “The Lords Prayer”, The Prayer of theVirgin Mariam. and the Creed, and say them in concert with the Priest during all services of the church.
~ If you don’t know it in Amaric, then say it in English silently. (When the deacon say “Besemayat” he signals to start the Lords Prayer)
During service when the deacon comes around with the Holy Book (Bible), we touch our forehead to it and then kiss it. ~ This is done once or three times in succession.
When the Priest comes around with the processional cross and presents it to each one to offer blessings, we also touch our forehead to it and then kiss it.
This is done once or three times in succession.
Note: At end of Service when Abba stands at front of altar holding the Processional Cross, you may also approach and touch your forehead to it and then kiss it.
Or the Priest may just offer his open hands because his hands touched the body and blood of Christ during Holy Communion.  So the faithful will approach him and bow and he will touch your forehead and you will kiss his open palms.
(You are NOT kissing just the palms of a man but we believe you are kissing the HOST ~ Our Lord, because He dwelt briefly there in the hands of the Priest when he prepared the communion.)
Don’t be shy;  He is offering you blessings for your day etc.
Take eat; this is my body. This is my blood, drink Ye all of it, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.                                                                                                                                                                     Matt. 26: 26-28 
Before Holy Communion, one shoud be fasting from 12AM (midnight) or 9 hours before if the tiime between midnight and communion is less than 9 hours; and not have taken any food or drink before.
To commune, one should prepare himself spiritually to receive, and if his sin is extremely grave, he should go to confession before and receive absolution from the Priest before coming to receive.
Note : If you are unable to fast due to illness or for other medical reasons you should make the Priest aware of this before taking Holy communion.
Women should not enter the church or partake of the Holy Communion when they are menstruating.
Only the faithful and baptized members shall receive communion as follows: This is according to Canon Law.
(1) First the Priests and Clergy,  (2) After all clergy, then the babies and
    children who are baptised,
(3) Then any Monks or Emahoys (Nuns) present will receive before the men
(4) Then the men,  (5) Then the women.
When you receive the “Host” you should say the following, while the “Host” is still in your mouth :
Holy, Holy, Holy Trinity ineffable, Grant me to receive this body and this blood for life and not for condemnation.  Grant me to bring forth fruit that shall be well pleasing unto thee, to the end that I may appear in thy glory and live unto thee doing thy will.


~ Then he shall eat what he has received.


~ While chewing, you should put your hand over your mouth.


~ You should chew in fear and trembling without sound until you finish.


Then you should say: 




Fill my mouth with praise, my heart with joy and my soul with gladness, fill me who have received of this devine mystery, 


O Thou who has become man for the salvation of man. 



At the end of church service the Bishop or Priest who prepared the Holy Communion will stand in the front of the altar and all the people will go up to him to receive blessing from him.  Even if you did not take communion.



He will extend his open palms to you at this point you bow and kiss his open palms. ~ Sometimes the Abba will walk around the church and offer his open palms to each and every one. (This is done in reverence to the fact that his hands did hold the Blood and the Body of Our Lord).



Everyone can go up to the front at the end of service to also receive small pieces of bread and Holy Water in cups.  



All the faithful can go up and receive this, however if they did take Holy Communion, then you should not also take this bread because you have already received the actual body and blood of Our Lord.
When the Abba first arrives at the sanctuary, before doing anything else, he will approach the altar and prostrate himself.
He will first recite the Prayer of Penitence and silently he recites:   Psalms 25, 61, 102, 103, 113, 130 and 131.  
Then the Prayers of Saint Basil and Saint Gregory.  After this he will say St. John Chrysostom’s Prayer. 
You should also read these at home so you may better understand what is taking place when you arrive.
 The structure and practice of the Qidas has not changed since the 4th century.  
The only change has been the translation from Ge’ez (ancient liturgical language which is still used in church) to Amharic
(modern official language of Ethiopia), and English for non Amharic speakers.
This was done by order of HIM Haile Selassie in the 1950’s. He is also responsible for having the liturgy printed in books, thereby making it accessible to every one to read and follow along.   
Some church’s in USA now project the Liturgy on a screen in all three languages so the faithful is better able to follow along.
I pray that the info on this page has helped you to have a little better knowledge of what take place.
In the Orthodox Church, any member of the clergy, of whatever rank, will be vested when serving their particular function during the Divine Liturgy or other service. Usage is rooted in the early history of the church.
The various vestments serve several different functions.
~ The three forms of stole are marks of rank. The three outer garments serve to distinguish the clergy from the laity. Some are practical, holding the other vestments in place. Some are awards of distinction.
In addition to these functions, most vestments carry a symbolic meaning as well. These symbolic meanings are often indicated by the prayer that the priest says as he puts each item on.
These prayers are verses taken directly from the Old Testament, usually the Psalms. For example, the prayer for the Sticharion is from
Isaiah 61:10: 

My soul will rejoice in the Lord, for he has clothed me with a garment of salvation and wrapped me in a robe of gladness; he has placed a crown on my head as on a bridegroom, and adorned me with beauty as a bride.




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