Information for First-Time Visitors
You are welcome here. We are always honored to have visitors join us for prayer and worship.
You won’t be asked to do anything that would make you uncomfortable.
We don’t expect visitors to contribute anything to the financial support of our parish or our programs.
Our children worship with us during the service. If you have young children, they are welcome here. They can color with crayons or bring quiet, church-appropriate toys to help them focus, while they sit in the pews with you. (No screens or electronics in church, except for reading the service text online. You can find it at AgesInitiatives.com. The service text is also available in the books in the pews.)
If you need to step to the back of the Church with your child for any reason, you are not disturbing us. We expect Christian children to be raised in the Church; and to do that, they need to be in Church.
All of our facilities are wheelchair-accessible. If you need any assistance, any at all, please let us know. We are here to help.
We want you to feel at home here. If you need anything while visiting, please let someone know. If that person is also a visitor, please don't be shy about asking someone else. We want to help. Christ said that when we are helping someone, we are helping Him.
Many people during the service are focusing so intently that they may forget to smile at you then. Please don't worry. Go ahead and ask if you need help with the service books, or with anything else you might need. And be sure to smile and say hello at the end of the service. We look forward to meeting you!
Do I need to be Greek?
No. Most of us aren't. The priest and his wife aren't.
Why is it called Greek Orthodox?
Because, since ancient days, the capital of the worldwide Orthodox Church has been located in Constantinople. (Constantinople is also called Istanbul in modern times.)
Also, the Bible was originally written in koine Greek, and that was the official language of the early Church.
However, Jesus commanded the disciples to go into all nations to preach the Gospel. And the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost to make the Apostles able to speak the languages of the people from all over the world. They were not speaking in random syllables; they were speaking in the foreign tongues of all the world. (Read carefully Acts 2:6-11.)
Because of this mandate to spread the Gospel to all the world, and because the Holy Spirit had made it clear that speaking another person's native language is vital for evangelism, the canons (rules) of the Church have always said that 1) the services should be done in the language of the people, and 2) the Bible and service books should be translated into the language of the people.
What this means is that everyone is welcome in the Orthodox Church. The people you will see here at this parish are proof: It doesn't matter what country you or your ancestors came from, or what language you speak. We all come from different backgrounds and have different skin colors. Our services and the Bibles in the pews are in English. And most of the people you will meet here are converts from other faiths or from atheism.
It's not about who we are. It's about Whom we serve.
So, yes: You are welcome here!
Do the Orthodox participate in missions and evangelism? How about helping with disaster relief and giving food and medicine to the poor?
Yes. We take missions and charity work seriously, because Christ commanded us to.
Our national and international outreach arms are Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) and International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC). Both have transparent funding and have been rated highly by outside agencies for effectiveness and efficient use of funds.
Additionally, there are new and growing organizations, such as Orthodox Africa, reaching out to Africa, South America, and Asia.
On a local level, the people in our parish work with the San Angelo Pregnancy Help Center, make knitted, woven, and crocheted clothing and sleeping mats for the San Angelo homeless, help with the summertime Feed the Kids program downtown, and so on. More information can be found on our Projects page.
We would like to start more outreach programs here in San Angelo. Many hands make the work light, so come join us!
I've seen churches that are Russian Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, and so on. Are they all the same, or different?
Yes, they all are Orthodox Churches. As long as the parishes are in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople (Istanbul), then they all are under the umbrella of Greek Orthodoxy.
However, it is common to call a branch of the Church by the name of its country. This is especially true if the Church government in that country has been given autocephaly or self-governing status.
Someday, we hope, we here in the United States will be known as the American Orthodox Church, and all the Orthodox parishes here will be united under that name.
How do I find other Orthodox churches? And Orthodox monasteries?
There is a wonderful website that lists all the Orthodox parishes and monasteries in the U.S. in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople (Istanbul). Go to the website for the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishop of the United States of America by clicking here.
How do I find out more about Orthodoxy?
So many resources are available on the internet today, that it can be overwhelming — especially if the sources seem to contradict each other, or offer ideas that are based more on opinion than fact. And, honestly, some claim to be Orthodox but offer some pretty strange ideas that aren't truly Orthodox.
Here are nine trustworthy websites:
Antioch was one of the earliest centers of Christianity. According to Acts 11:26, "They were first called Christians in Antioch."
Although OrthodoxWiki is open source, it is monitored and generally reliable. If you have questions, please feel free to call Fr. Mark at 717-919-3382 or send him an email through the contact form.
Additionally, there are many trustworthy links on this resource page on the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops website.
Is there a short dictionary or glossary of Orthodox terms that I can see online?
Yes. There is a handy webpage from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese called "A Dictionary of Orthodox Terminology." If you have additional questions, feel free to ask Fr. Mark. He loves questions! You can email him, call him, or text him.
Is Orthodoxy the same as Roman Catholicism?
Yes and no.
Here is a timeline of Christian Church History (click here). You can see that, originally, there was just one, united Church. There were five major centers or bishoprics from the early days until 1054 A.D.
In that year, after more than a thousand years of unity, the Roman bishop excommunicated the rest of the Church. The other bishops' united response was that the hand cannot cut itself off from the body and call itself the whole body.
We don't have just one bishop (pope) in charge of everyone. In fact, that was one of the reasons the Romans separated from the rest of the Church.
Also, we don't believe that any one human is, could be, or ever was infallible, except Jesus Christ. And He was, and is, both God and Man.
Everyone else is just like you and me, human and prone to error, sin, and other things we wish we weren't.
By the way, the Orthodox concept of Theosis is our daily work to resist sin and become holy, like God is. Only He is holy, but we have to keep trying, because we are called to be like Him.
It is the work we all are called to do, and that is why it is good to be part of a parish community. We strive together, supporting and encouraging one another.
What is the Orthodox Study Bible (OSB)?
The Orthodox Study Bible (OSB) has study notes written from the Orthodox perspective, reflecting the teachings of the last 2,000 years rather than modern interpretations.
The OSB also contains a fresh translation from the original Septuagint of the Old Testament. This means that the Old Testament text has been restored to the original version that the Jews of Jesus' time were familiar with.
Why is using the original Old Testament text important? It makes the scriptural references in the New Testament make more sense, because the references that Christ and the Apostles were making were based on the original version.
What should I call the pastor and his wife?
Father Mark or simply Father
Generally, clergy in the Orthodox Church are called by "ordination title" + "first name." For instance, our bishop is called Metropolitan Isaiah.
Presbytera Suzanne or simply Presbytera
"Presbytera" means "the priest's wife" in Greek.
Presbytera is pronounced, "prez-bih-TEH-ruh."
Matushka Suzanne or simply Matushka
"Matushka" means "Sweet Mother" or "Dear Mother" in Russian. Just as the priest is the father of the parish, the priest's wife is the mother of the parish.
Matushka is pronounced, "MAH-toosh-kuh."
If either of these is too hard to say, it is acceptable to use the nickname, "Prez Suzanne." Prez is short for Presbytera.
When are the worship services?
Morning services always start at 9 am.
Evening services and Bible Studies always start at 6 pm.
The only exceptions to the regular schedule of "mornings at 9 and evenings at 6" occur during the week before Pascha (Easter) and Pascha Sunday. Jesus Christ turned the world topsy-turvy when He used death to conquer Death. So, we do the same thing that week, with the services being held at many unusual times. See the Holy Week schedule here.
Come visit us on Sundays at 9 am and stay for coffee hour. We serve good food, by the way.
And come visit us on Wednesdays at 6 pm for Bible Study. We all usually pitch in to bring snacks, but feel free to come as you are.
Are visitors welcome?
Yes! Absolutely yes! We hope you will come often, and maybe decide to join us.
Father Mark and Presbytera first found out about Orthodoxy by visiting an Orthodox church in Indianapolis for a food festival, to get a sweet treat. They went on a church tour, became interested, and started asking questions. Then they started attending services at the church, and just kept coming back for more. They found their hearts' true home in Orthodoxy.
And that's how we all feel: right at home. We hope you will too. See you soon!
For more about visiting, see here.
Do I need to call before I visit?
It's up to you. We always feel happy knowing visitors will be coming, but we like happy surprise-visits too.
Note: If you are already Orthodox and are hoping to receive Communion, then, yes, you should call Father first so that he can expect you at the Chalice. Fr. Mark's number is 717-919-3382.
Are there other times when I can visit?
We are working toward having more services during the week and also a prayer service called Vespers on Saturdays. As we start having more members, we will be able to do that.
Meanwhile, you can join us at Sunday worship at 9 am, and Wednesday Bible Study at 6 pm. Check the current schedule or call Fr. Mark.
We also have occasional parish Fun Nights, special services, and field trips to other Orthodox churches and monasteries. Everyone is welcome, so come join us!
Can I receive Communion when I visit?
If you are an Orthodox Christian who has prepared with fasting, prayer, almsgiving (time, money, talents), and recent confession, and also if you are in good standing with your parish, then yes.
Even if we are Orthodox Christians, if we haven't prepared, or if we aren't in good standing with our parish, then we shouldn't receive Holy Communion.
There is something for everyone, though: Everyone is welcome to partake of the blessed bread that is called antidoron, or "instead of the gifts." It is pronounced "an-DEE-ther-ohn."
Antidoron is a yeast-raised wheat bread. It is blessed at the altar during the Divine Liturgy (Mass) and handed out by the priest to all comers at the end of the service, when everyone comes up to greet the priest before departing.
In ancient times, antidoron was for those who couldn't partake of Holy Communion for any reason. That's why the word means "instead of the gifts." However, the custom evolved, and over the centuries it began to be offered to everyone who attended the service.
The antidoron is also offered mid-way through the service, to those who have just finished receiving Holy Communion. If you are visiting, one of the parishioners might hand you some of this antidoron after Communion, to make you feel welcome and loved. It's just blessed bread. It isn't the Communion bread. In fact, it very specifically and very intentionally has not been consecrated.
So, if someone hands you antidoron as a gesture of hospitality, you can go ahead and eat it even if you aren't Orthodox. If you don't want to eat this blessed bread, you may give it to someone else, or you could put it outside under a bush to feed the birds (but not where someone could accidentally step on it).
Do I need to give money when I visit?
No. We're just glad you're with us.
If you would like to light a candle when you come in, we do ask that you donate $1-2 toward the cost of each candle. They're real beeswax.
I'm worried about feeling pressured. Will I really be comfortable here?
Something you might like to know is that there is no pressure to become Orthodox. Some people attend church for years before deciding whether to join, and some people attend only a short time before deciding.
For that matter, some choose to join the Church, and some do not. The decision is between you and God.
We do not preach that only Orthodox are "saved." God knows what is in a person's heart, and it is not up to us humans to judge who is saved and who is not.
Whatever you decide, you are always welcome here! Joining is not the important thing. Becoming more like Christ is.
Also, we don't do altar calls. If and when you and Father both agree that you are ready, then you can join the Church, quietly and reverently.
What do I have to do to become a member?
First of all, come regularly to services.
Second, talk to Father and express your interest.
When you and Father both agree that you are ready, then you will be chrismated (anointed with holy oil) if you have already been baptized.
The baptism you had previously must have been in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in order to qualify.
If you have not been baptized yet, or if you weren't baptized in the name of the Trinity, then you will receive baptism and chrismation on the day you are received into the Church.
Are there people of other skin colors at your church?
Yes. Every Sunday, we say the Lord's Prayer in every language that our members represent.
So far, we have people representing these languages for the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father Who art in Heaven": Greek, Spanish, Arabic, Ethiopian, Russian, Romanian, and English. Please come and add your voice!
God made us all, so each and every one of us is made in the image and likeness of God. Every single person is an icon of Christ. We look forward to welcoming you, just as you are.
Is your building wheelchair accessible?
Yes, every area of the building has wheelchair access.
If you need any assistance, please let us know. We will be happy to help.
Are children welcome in the church services? Mine aren't absolutely quiet.
Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hold them back." Children are always welcome in the services.
Sometimes the children make a "joyful noise to the Lord," and sometimes they might sound not so joyful. Yes, of course, we parents try to teach our children to be quiet and reverent during the services. But they are children!
So, if you need to step out to give your child a break, everyone will understand.
If your child makes a momentary distraction, we will remind ourselves that we should be focusing well enough in our hymns and prayers that we don't notice!
Children are a blessing, and we rejoice when they are in our midst.
In fact, sometimes during the service we will pass your child a quiet toy or some crayons and paper, or give you an encouraging smile.
We know you are doing your best. Thank you for bringing your children. Thank you for letting them participate in the services to the best of their ability.
Should I bring a Bible when I come?
You may bring your Bible, or use the copies in the pews. We also have Orthodox Study Bibles for sale in our bookstore in the social hall.
Do you have congregational singing?
Yes, the congregation sings during the Liturgy. The binders in the pew holders have the written music for the service. If we have a special hymn that week, it might not be in the binder.
During Orthros (the prayer service preceding the Liturgy), usually it is just the chanters and those gathered around the chanters' stand who sing. However, everyone is welcome at the chanters' stand. Just greet the head chanter when you come up and ask if you may join in.
Note: If you would like to learn how to chant, you are welcome to come up to the chanters' stand. You can observe, help with the spoken readings, or even join in when you're comfortable doing so. Just tell the head chanter what you would like to do when you come up to greet him or her. You are definitely welcome at the chanters' stand!
If you would like to see the sheet music for the special hymns, click on the eighth-notes at the top of the column, and then on the blue eighth-notes that will appear in the text in various places. (For help with this, you may email the choir director, Prez Suzanne.)
Do you have pews?
Yes, but we stand a lot. Wear comfortable shoes.
If you need to sit down, then of course please do.
Children are not expected to stand as well as adults can.
We all, however, make special efforts to stand during certain portions of the service, such as the Lord's Prayer and Holy Communion.
Do you have an organ?
All of our singing is done a cappella, without any additional instruments. Please join us in singing!
What is the dress code?
We ask that everyone cover their shoulders and midriffs.
Pants should be long, not shorts. Skirts and dresses should be knee length or longer. Pants and skirts should not be tight-fitting.
Necklines and any open shirt collars should be modest and not show much skin.
In other words, the rule is Modesty. This is equally true for males and females.
Visitors often ask if they should dress up or down for services. It's up to you. We are here to honor God, so dress appropriately. We're not holding a fashion show, but we are in the Courts of our Lord and King. We are joining with the angels and heavenly hosts in worshipping God.
Ladies may cover their heads with a scarf or hat if they wish.
Ladies do not wear lipstick or lip gloss in church, because it leaves marks on icons, the communion spoon, and the priest's hand. It is better to save lipstick and lip gloss for the coffee hour time.
What kinds of services do you have?
In addition to these, we occasionally have other services as well.
As the parish grows, we hope to be able to offer Saturday Vespers each week, which is a prayerful service that gets us ready for Orthros and Divine Liturgy on Sundays.
What is the music like?
The music is very beautiful, and also probably like nothing you have every heard before. The lyrics are deep and meaningful. The melodies are varied, coming from many Orthodox traditions.
Samples of the lyrics can be found at the Digital Chant Stand created by Ages Initiatives.
Samples of the music can be found at these websites. As you will hear, the music is rich and varied.
Do I need to be good to come to church? I've done some things I'm not proud of.
The Church is a hospital for sinners. If you were already very good and very holy, you probably wouldn't need us!
In other words, it sounds like you will fit in just fine.
In fact, in one of the prayers we say before Holy Communion, we say this:
"I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first."
In other words, each of us is the worst sinner in the whole wide world. That's why we have no right to judge anyone else.
And no one is ever worthy of being in God's presence.
But God knows all this, and loves us and forgives us anyway.
So come to church. We'll welcome you with open arms, because that's what God does for us.
Do you recite prayers, or say spontaneous prayers?
Both. During services we say prayers that have been written and handed down through the ages.
We also silently add our own, spontaneous prayers.
There is nothing wrong or un-scriptural about saying "non-spontaneous" prayer. It wasn't repetitions that Jesus told us to avoid, but vain repetitions. (Matthew 6:7) Mindless prayer, self-glorifying prayer, insincere prayer, or unnecessarily wordy prayer — that's what He told us to avoid.
Jesus Himself taught us how to pray with the words, "Our Father, Who art in Heaven..." The disciples had said, "Lord, teach us how to pray, as John also taught his disciples." (Luke 11:1)
It is a great gift to have had wise men and women teaching us how to pray these last two thousand years. Their prayers inform us how to pray, so that our spontaneous prayers will also be wise and God-pleasing.
Is everyone welcome?
Yes, everyone is welcome! It doesn't matter whether you are young or old, short or tall, dark or light, rich or poor, military or civilian, or anything else. You are definitely welcome.
Is it like the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding?
Well, not exactly.
If you want the Greekey-Greek experience, you'll need to come to our annual Greek Festival in November. That's a great time to cry, "Opa!" and dance around to Greek music.
Or our Superbowl gyro sale in February.
Both of those are fundraisers for our church work, and a fun time to celebrate our parish's Greek heritage.
The San Angelo parish was, indeed, founded by Greek immigrants, and we are proud of them and grateful for all they did. They got the parish started, they were the ones who pioneered our Greek-themed fundraisers, and they left us some of the most delicious, authentic Greek recipes in the whole nation.
But, we generally speak English or Spanish, munch on tortilla chips and salsa when we're hungry, and don't squirt Windex unless we're cleaning.
You see, most of us aren't Greek.
But we do serve those awesome Greek cookies called koulourakia at coffee hour, almost every week. They're great for dunking in coffee. We hope you'll come and try some, or our pita chips and hummus, or our kielbasa and cheese cubes, or our pulled pork and coleslaw.
We look forward to welcoming you!