Guide-U’s Tips: How to behave at orthodox Churches of Georgia
In the 1st century the Georgian Church was established by the Holy apostles St Andrew and St Simon. Notably, it was St Nino who solidified the Christian faith in Georgia and in the 4th century Christianity became the established religion of Georgia.
A closer look at architecture, ornamentation, paintings, icons, crosses and embroideries demonstrates how the Orthodox faith had reigned supreme despite the Persian invasion and how it consolidated the nation well before the political unification of the country. Mind you, even today’s Constitution of Georgia recognizes the special role of the Apostle Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Georgia in the history of Georgia. So, in order to perceive the spiritual life of the country, you should visit a few Georgian Churches. But before doing so, make sure that you show yourself in good light and express respect towards the religion.
WHAT TO WEAR – The main concept of the Orthodox Church dress code is “non-distraction from prayer”. Basically, it is essential to wear modest clothing. But there are several details I’d like to draw your attention to.
WOMEN – It is a strict requirement for every woman to cover her hair. Usually there are some headscarves provided at the entrance. You are welcome to take one without permission and return it when you leave.
What is more, it is essential to have your shoulders covered, either with a T-shirt or a scarf. As for lower-body garments, the perfect choice would be simple footwear and a skirt that reaches below the knee. But if you don’t have a long dress in your wardrobe, wide pants might come in handy for you. Tighter garments, like jeans of leggings are not acceptable.
Don’t forget that shorts of any kind are not appropriate for church. Also, make-up is discouraged in general.
MEN – Men are asked to wear long pants. Athletic shorts, cut-offs, and spandex shorts are unacceptable to wear. Take into consideration that it is honorable for a woman to wear a headdress during worship, but it is dishonorable for men to wear them. So, you’d better take off your cap or any headwear when entering the Church.
APPROACHING THE ALTAR – The altar is a place where clergymen conduct sacred rituals. It is separated from the main portion of the church building by a special kind of wall upon which icons hang and is thus called the Iconostasis. The iconostasis is often on a slightly higher level than the rest of the church. One big icon stand and certain candle stands are placed in front of the iconostasis. No one is allowed to pass through them other than the clergy. Therefore, I advise you to view the altar from afar because approaching it is strictly prohibited.
TALKING – It is not advisable to talk during the ceremony because you might disturb others. But in case of an emergency, you can speak in a low voice. If you want to ask somebody questions, wait until liturgy is finished or go outside the church to talk.
TAKING PHOTOS – Taking pictures inside the Church is quite a problematic issue. You might come across a sign which indicates that photographing is strictly prohibited. If there is no outright ban, you’d better ask clergyman for permission. But in case you can’t find any authorities, you can turn off the flash of your camera and capture few photos without disturbing others. Remember that you are allowed to take photos of external views any time you wish, but when photographing the interior of the Church you ought to be careful.
CROSSING YOUR LEGS – The traditional posture for prayer and worship in the Orthodox Church is to stand. There are usually no pews in the churches. Chairs or benches on the side walls are usually reserved for the elderly and disabled. But if you decide to sit for a while, don’t cross your legs. Not because it is wrong to ever cross your legs, but rather because it is considered too casual and too relaxed for church. Please, bear in mind that you are in a place where people try to find a spiritual connection with God. So, you are expected to sit attentively rather than comfortably.
PUTTING YOUR HANDS IN YOUR POCKETS – Walking or standing with your hands in pocket is deemed to be inappropriate behavior. You should keep your hands together or hold a candle when viewing the icons.
CHEWING GUM – If you want to express your respect towards these sacred places and liturgy, don’t chew gum. If you chew gum it can be seen as disrespectful.
WALKING BRISKLY – In order to avoid rustling or intense walk sounds, you shouldn’t move too quickly. Here people tend to behave in a modest manner to express respect towards others. Also, make sure you give people space, as personal space is needed for prayer.
JINGLING COINS – Most of the churches have little shops inside. You might want to buy candles, souvenirs, icons or even donate some money to charity. So it would be a good idea to prepare small change in advance and avoid the jingling of coins during the religious ceremony.
I’m sure that these tips will help you to discover Georgian spiritual riches in accordance with the rules and traditions.