Visiting a Byzantine Catholic Church

My wife and I will be visiting one in a couple of weeks for Sunday Liturgy. I wish to be as respectful as I possibly can of these wonderful people and their Rite. A few questions:

  1. Last year when we went I noticed they kissed an Icon at the front before being seated. Should we do this, or as Latin Rite, should we refrain?

  2. Should we refrain from genuflecting?

  3. Should we cross ourselves as the rest of the congregation does (right-to-left) or refrain from doing so?

  4. Is there any special way to greet a Byzantine Priest?

  1. Venerating Icons is for all Christians. If you feel comfortable, then do it. If you don’t feel comfortable it’s okay to refrain.

  2. Yes, you should not genuflect, it’s not part of the Eastern Tradition. Be still and know that God is there. You will notice much bowing with the sign of the cross through out the service especially a long bow during the Consecration. Please bow out of respect for God.

  3. Index finger, middle finger and thumb touching and the ring finger and pinky flat across the palm - this signifies the most holy trinity and the two natures of Christ - touching first your forehead, then your stomach, then your right shoulder and finally your left shoulder - forehead and stomach “in the Name of the Father” who is the Fountain Head of the Most Holy Trinity - right shoulder “and of the Son” who sits at the right hand of the Father - left shoulder “and of the Holy Spirit”. There is much meaning in the way the Eastern Christians still make the sign of the cross. I have been told that the Western Catholics did it this way from the beginning, even a sermon given by a Pope was referenced (I never remember details so I don’t remember the name of the Pope, but I think it was around the 700 - 900’s) that the sign of the cross was to be made this way…anyway, I was taught that at some point in history the Roman Catholic Priests began to invert the sign of the cross so the people (when he was facing them) would see it the correct way, but instead they began to imitate the priests making the sign of the cross backwards. To answer your question if you feel comfortable doing it the right way, then do it, if not, that is okay. People will simply recognize you must be Roman Catholic which is not a bad thing.

  4. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, you will come forward to kiss the cross and the priest’s hand. During the “Coffee Hour” you will want to be sure to refer to him as Father and he will likely want to speak with you and will be able to answer any questions you may have.

***FYI***because of all the kissing woman should either refrain from wearing lipstick or should wear the kind that doesn’t rub off.

This is not always the case.

In most parishes, you will find the priest in the back of the church greeting the people as they leave.

Kissing the cross and the priest’s hand are more often found in the Orthodox church; sometimes in the Ukrainian Catholic church.

There are a couple of MAJOR feasts coming in the month of August, the Feast of the Transfiguration and the Feast of the Dormition. There will be special things done on these feasts and in some parishes, the following Sunday. You will see people going to the front to be annointed with Holy Oil and getting a piece of blessed bread. In many parishes, the altar servers will hold a basket with the blessed bread in one hand and another empty basket in the other. It’s customary to drop some coins or a dollar bill into the empty basket. Some parishes save the offerings and do something special for the altar servers.

Hope this helps…

Every Eastern Catholic Church I’ve attended has done it the way I described. I am Melkite, but I’ve attended Byzantine Catholic Churches in San Luis Obispo and Sacramento, CA.

The only time I’ve seen a priest at the back of the Church (although not to venerate the Cross) was at a Roman Catholic Church.

Perhaps tradition is lacking in some Eastern Catholic parishes?

In most parishes, you will find the priest in the back of the church greeting the people as they leave.**

**I’ve never seen this in any Catholic Church of the Byzantine liturgical tradition I’ve been in.

I’ve seen ONE Ruthenian church that was so Latinized they didn’t have Presanctified Liturgy or an Iconostas. The priest was obviously celebrating Mass in the Byzantine Rite as opposed to the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom–but this is exceptional.

And he did NOT come to the back of the church to greet people at the end.**

Perhaps it is an Eastern US vs Western US thing. So far every one of the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic churches I’ve visited in California (San Diego, Anahiem, Van Nuys, Fontana, Los Gatos), Washington (Seattle, Olympia), Arizona (Phoenix, Gilbert), New Mexico (Albuquerque), Colorado (Denver) have the priest up front for the parishioners to kiss the cross. Even many of the parishes in Pittsburgh that I visited follow the practice of kissing the cross at the end of the Divine Liturgy.

I wouldn’t say it is necessarily found more in the Orthodox church than the Eastern Catholic churches.

None of the parishes I’ve attended in the Pittsburgh area, where I am from orginally, nor the parishes where I live now, have the parishoners kissing the cross unless it’s on a Feast of the Holy Cross or it’s Paska.

In my parish, our priest greets everyone as they leave the church headed for the doughnut hour. I’ve seen this done in many other parishes, including parishes that don’t have the church hall attached directly to the church.

Even in Slovakia, they do not kiss the cross at the end of Divine Liturgy unless it’s a Feast of the Holy Cross or it’s Paska.

Although I have noticed that the “West” seems to have “borrowed” from the Orthodox and do things that are not done here in the “East” and are not done in the “homelands” overseas…

I think you are probably right.

The Van Nuys Eparchy is very small in numbers and probably has a larger percentage of “non-Nash” types, including in the ranks of the clergy.

Early in the 20th century there were still not large numbers of Ruthenians west of the Mississippi, and the western United States area for Ruthenians was pretty much devastated by the Toth affair (especially being closer to San Francisco where the Metropolia was located then). Just speculating here, but I think that it is likely that whatever attempts were made to save or revive what was left of the Ruthenian church in the west involved a lot of hard work on the part of Latin Priests with bi-ritual faculties receiving training and advice from the Russicum (and efforts of that type).

As for the question of kissing the hand cross at the end of the Divine Liturgy, it is very much a matter of local custom. I am a deacon student for the the Byzantine Eparchy of Parma. In most of the Divine Liturgies that I have take part in in the Eparchy, most have had the kissing of the hand cross at he end of the Divine Liturgy, but not all. My own parish has the kissing of the hand cross after the Divine Liturgy on the sabbath and Holy days. We also have the people kiss the Gospel book after the Gospel is announced at daily liturgies where there is a smaller attendance and it does not disrupt the flow of the service. We also have antidoron (blessed bread) given to everyone after they have kissed the hand cross.
The best rule seems to be if you are offered something to reverence with a kiss,do so.


Our (Roman but Bi-Ritual) Pastor seems uncomfortable with routinely having us kiss the cross. Prior (non-Roman) pastors have done so routinely.

However, we do reverence the cross quarterly, or so. We also reverence the book of the gospels weekly; the children and their parents are invited to stand near during the gospel, and then reverence the gospel book following.

On certain major feasts for which we have multiple icons for, we reverence the Icons and take the antidoron.

Sit in a back pew and relax. Stand, sit and (possibly) kneel when others do. No one will be offended it you genuflect or make the sign of the cross in the Latin way. There may be holy water at the doors. You may want to light a candle. You may choose to kiss the icon on the tetrapod (table) up front.

It may be hard to participate to the extent that you are used to doing so in the Latin Rite. It is fine to listen, observe and pray along with us silently. I would advise you to take a passive approach rather than anxiously thumbing through the service book.

You may have an opportunity to kiss the hand cross at the end of the liturgy. There may be mirovanije, a blessing with scented oil. There may be unconsecrated but blessed bread offered to all.

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