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The Commandments of the Church

The Church has set nine rules which all Orthodox Christians should obey, and She calls these rules Her Nine Commandments.

The First Commandment of the Church:

Let every one pray to God every day with contrition and compunction of heart, and be present at the Services of the Church every Sunday and on all Feast Days.

The First Commandment concerns Prayer. When we pray, we must pray with contrition, which means deep sorrow for our sins, a sorrow we feel because we love God. Compunction means repentant regret that we have sinned against God. When we repent, we not only regret the evil we have done, but we also resolve to mend our ways.

This Commandment teaches that every Christian must say his own, prayers every day; and that he must attend Church Services both on Sundays and on those days which the Church holds especially in remembrance. The only acceptable excuse for being absent from Church is sickness: either of oneself, or of some one else whose condition requires our care.

We break this Commandment whenever we come to Church late, and also whenever we leave Church before a Service has ended with the closing of the Holy Doors and the Curtain.

The Second Commandment of the Church:

Every Christian shall keep the Four Fasts appointed for each year. He must also fast on the 14th of September (at the Elevation of the Cross), on the 29th day of August, (the remembrance of the Beheading of the Forerunner), and on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year (excepting only those Wednesdays and Fridays which are excepted by special rules).


The FOUR FASTS are these:

1. The Fast before the Nativity of Christ, which begins on the fifteenth of November and lasts until Christmas.

2. The Great Fast of Forty Days, which Christ endured (St. Matthew 4:2). The Great Fast extends over the forty days preceding Palm Sunday; on the following Monday begins the Fast in honor of Christ's Passion, which lasts until Easter.

3. The Fast of the Holy Apostles, which begins on the Monday after All Saint's Sunday (one week after the Feast of Holy Pentecost), and lasts until June 29, the Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul.

4. The Fast before the Repose of the Theotokos, which begins on the first day of August and lasts until the day of the Feast, August 15th.

The 66th Canon of the Holy Apostles forbids us to fast on Saturdays and Sundays.

The Third Commandment of the Church:

All the Clergy, and especially our Confessors, must always be treated with due respect, because they are the servants of God, and because they intercede for us with God.


Respect and love for the Clergy should be rooted in our hearts and expressed in our behavior.

When we meet one of our Clergy on the street, we pay respect to our Bishop, we place the right hand palm upward on our left palm; and we bow to kiss his hand when he lays it upon our right hand. We may also greet a Priest in this way. At a Service we kiss the hand of the Bishop or Priest whenever we receive anything from his hand (Holy Communion, Antidoron), and when we reverence the Cross which he holds for us to kiss.

When a Bishop or a Priest enters a room, well-mannered people in it rise, and remain standing until he is seated or bids them to sit.

We must have respect also for Monks and Nuns, because they have dedicated themselves completely to the service of God and the Church; and also for the President and other Officers of the Parish, because the respect we show for them is respect we owe to the Parish as well as to themselves.

The Fourth Commandment of the Church:

We must confess our sins four times a year before a Priest who has been ordained lawfully and in the Orthodox manner.


The Orthodox Confession explains that this Commandment sets four times a year as a satisfactory average. Those who want to make spiritual progress should go once a month; but even the least careful people must confess once a year, and those who confess only once a year must do so during the Great Fast (in preparation for Easter).

After our seventh birthday we must never go to Holy Communion without first going to confession.

When we go to Confession we must be truly sorry for every wrong thing we have done; and we must be firmly resolved to amend our way of living. Furthermore, since we seek forgiveness from God for our own misdoings, we must freely and sincerely forgive everyone who has offended us in any way.

When we fall sick, we should send for the Priest, that we may cleanse ourselves by Confession and receive Absolution (release from our sins). Then we should be anointed with Prayer Oil, and receive Holy Communion, for the healing of soul and body. This we do, not because we fear death, but because it is our duty to care for the body which God has given us.

Notice particularly that we are strictly forbidden to receive Sacraments from Clergy who are not Orthodox Clergy ordained lawfully and in the Orthodox manner. To this law no exception is possible for any Orthodox Christian at any time.

The Fifth Commandment of the Church:

Every Orthodox Christian is forbidden to read or listen to the teachings of heretics or of any other persons who have not been authorized by the Orthodox Church to teach and preach religion.

Explanation: A heretic is any person who claims to be a Christian but does not belong to the Orthodox Church and does not believe in the Orthodox Faith. Instead of being Orthodox, he holds to the teachings of men who mistakenly believe that everyone has the right to explain the Holy Scripture and Christian Doctrine as seems best to him or her.

The Sixth Commandment of the Church:

Every Orthodox Christian must pray to God for people of every condition and station.

Explanation: From our earliest years we are taught to pray for others as well as for ourselves. We pray for our parents; relatives; friends, and benefactors; for those whom we have harmed, and for those who have harmed us; for the poor, the sick, the sorrowing, and the afflicted among us and everywhere; for all the dead whom love and duty require us to remember; and for the conversion of, all mankind to the Orthodox Faith.

It is also our duty to pray for our Bishops as well as for our Pastors; for our country and those who govern us; for all the Orthodox dead, and not merely for our own departed; and for the conversion of non Orthodox Christians.

The Seventh Commandment of the Church:

Every Orthodox Christian must keep whatever special fasts and supplications his Bishop may appoint.

Explanation: To turn aside the just anger of God; a Bishop may appoint special fasts and supplications; as, for example, in time of war, or when there is a famine or any other disastrous happening.

The Eighth Commandment of the Church:

Neither Clergy nor laymen must ever dare to use the money or the property of the Church for their own personal needs or purposes.

Explanations: To steal from the Church is to steal from God. Therefore, nobody must ever turn to his own personal use or profit anything that belongs to the church. The Church's property is to be used only by and for the Church.

The Ninth Commandment of the Church:

Marriages must not be celebrated on days forbidden by the Church. Furthermore, Orthodox Christians must abstain with all their might from all Pagan and unchristian customs and ways, including attendance at and participation in forbidden pastimes.

Explanation: This Commandment forbids us from degrading our religious life and standards of the Orthodox community by unseasonable or sinful concern for worldly interests. For everything that a Christian may properly do, there is a proper time; and only at its proper time should it be done. For things which are heathenish and unchristian, and which degrade those who participate, there is never any time that is proper; and they must not be done at all.

From the Book: Orthodox Catholic Instruction Book 4 Intermediate Course By :Mary Agnes Orr Gelsinger Co-author of A Handbook for Orthodox Sunday Schools Secretary of the Archdiocesan Department of Religion Education and Publication Syrian Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese Of New York and All North America 239 85th Street, Brooklyn, NY 1945

Taken from the Small and Great Catechisms of Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow (published by the Holy Synod of Russia in 1840 and 1839 respectively.) Their authority is reckoned as barely second to that of the Orthodox Confession itself. Both Catechisms were translated into English by R. W. Blackmore (London: 1845). His translation of the Great Catechism was reprinted (San Francsico: 1901) with the Blessing of Tikhon, later Patriarch of Moscow; and was put in Modern English, with a few minor changes to adapt them more directly to American conditions, by Archpriest Michael G. W. Gelsinger.

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