Frequently Asked Questions
What are icons?
Icons have been used in the church since its earliest days to represent the saints as well as important events in Christianity. God sanctioned the use of images to represent his creation when he commanded two cherubim to be made of gold for the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:18).
When Orthodox Christians kiss an image, they are not worshipping the image, but giving honor to the person, principle, or event represented by the image, just like you might salute the flag or blow a kiss to a picture of your spouse. They kiss it because St. Paul tells us to greet another with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16) since that was a custom within families, and the church is one undivided family whether its members are still here on earth or have gone on to glory.
The most important reason why we have icons, though, is because icons testify that "the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14), which means that Christ was not only fully God but fully man, and can be depicted.
Little is known of Christian art in the 1st and 2nd century, but we see in the 3rd century Christian art in the catacombs, and beginning with the conversion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century when Christianity was no longer illegal Christian art began to flourish, and has continued to flourish to this day in the art of the eastern Christian churches. This art does not strive for realism, but symbolism: theology in paint.
What does Theotokos mean?
Theotokos comes from two Greek words: Theos, which means "God" and tikto, which has to do with giving birth. So Theotokos means "the one who gives birth to God." This is a title that was used for the Virgin Mary at a council of the whole church that happened in Ephesus in the year 431, a title that emphasized that Christ was both fully God and fully human.
What is the Nativity of the Theotokos?
The Nativity of the Theotokos is a story about the Virgin Mary that is found in a document called the Protoevangelium of James, which was written shortly after the New Testament. Of course the New Testament itself sometimes cites as authoritative books that are not even in the bible (such as the New Testament book of Jude citing the Book of Enoch, which is not in the Old Testament of most churches), so there is nothing controversial about traditions that grew from biblical tradition. This document tells of the Virgin Mary being promised and then born to Joachim and Anna, a pious but childless couple, and her early life. The point of the story of the Theotokos' birth is that as happened so often in the Old Testament (with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel), God remembers our needs even when all seems lost, and brings us joy even when it seems joy is impossible.
What should I know about visiting the church?
Only Orthodox Christians may receive communion. This is because we view communion as the sign and seal of full unity, since it is the central sacrament of our church, and communion cannot be given to non-Orthodox (including Roman Catholics) since we are not the same church. However, after the service is over we invite both Orthodox and non-Orthodox to receive blessed bread called "antidoron" from the priest.
Since most of our parishioners are of Greek ethnicity, there is often as much Greek as English in the service. We place special importance on both languages, however, since Greek is the untranslated language of the bible and the early church, and since English is the dominant language of the United States, and because there are many in our parish who are not Greek but Rumanian, Russian, Serbian, converts, or other ethnicities. Our service books are bilingual.
In our tradition, people kiss a lot of things: each other, images of the saints, the cross, etc., because such a kiss is a sign of love and respect. St. Paul tells us to greet another with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16) since that was a custom within families, and the church is one undivided family whether its members are still here on earth or have gone on to glory. We kiss objects such as the cross because we believe that we are not worshipping the image, since that would be idolatry, but rather are giving honor to the person, principle, or event represented by the image, just like you might salute the flag or blow a kiss to a picture of your spouse.