One of the most common questions people have when they attend a wedding in an Eastern Orthodox church is whether or not you can applaud. After all, it happens at most weddings these days, especially ones officiated in Protestant churches. Is it different for the Orthodox, and if so, why?
What does it mean to “applaud”?
Before we look at the questionable practice of clapping when in an Orthodox church, we first need to understand its purpose. When does someone usually clap? After a speech or performance of some kind. They clap to show the joy and satisfaction the performance gave them, and to communicate to the performer that they performed well. In other words, their work was well-received and enjoyed. Clapping is also a form of noise often used to draw attention. It can be quite loud at times when there are many hands clapping at the same time.
Clapping in an Orthodox church
It is not customary to applaud at all in an Orthodox church, least of all during a wedding or baptism. The Church is a sacred, solemn entity – a place of prayer and worship. She grants us access to the Holy Sacraments. She is the very house of God, not a concert hall. Moreover, the sacraments of the Church, such as marriage and baptism, are not performances or speeches. They are mysteries of the Church, beautiful events during which incredible transformations take place. Therefore, we focus on the beauty of that moment and the work of God’s grace in the life of the person(s) involved.
During an Orthodox wedding, the couple becomes one flesh, pledging their lives to Christ in the presence of the witness. And during a baptism, the individual is crucified with Christ and rises with Him into newness of life. Instead of applause, you will hear the choir sing “Mnogaja Ljeta” (“God Grant You Many Years”) at the end of a marriage or baptismal ceremony.
We have seen that applauding in an Orthodox church is not traditional, nor is it appropriate for the situation. So next time you attend an Orthodox wedding or baptism, take care not to clap!