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  Thinking bout visiting  

Visiting a new church for the first time can be a scary thing. You might hear about a church from someone you know, happen upon a website, or read about it in an article, and your curiosity says, "Maybe I should visit that church?"

However, all you know is what you have heard, or read on a website or in an article. You don’t know what the church believes. You don’t know what their Worship Services are like. You don’t know what the people will be like. You don’t know if questions will be welcome. You don’t know the size of the congregation or what the parish life is like. There are a lot of uncertainties about visiting a new church. That is why we offer this webpage. We want to answer some of the questions you may have up front, and to help you realize that Holy Cross is a church you shouldn’t miss.

What are the people at Holy Cross like?

We live in a fast paced world. We run from work to home, to the supermarket, to school activities, to the soccer fields, and on and on. We often don’t have time to make friends, build relationships, and enjoy the company of other people. At Holy Cross we make time to fellowship with one another. Not only do we spend time talking and laughing before and after Services, but we enjoy fellowship and refreshments every Sunday, monthly potluck luncheons, special events such as our annual Summer Church Picnic, Fall Hayrack Ride, Bonfire and Potluck, and other fun activities.

A common misconception is that churchgoers, especially those of a traditional church, are stuffy and standoffish people who don’t welcome newcomers. Nothing could be farther from the truth at Holy Cross. We want you to experience our warm fellowship firsthand. We want you to feel comfortable and welcome, and to be blessed in our worship even if you aren’t familiar with our Services. The first time you visit Holy Cross you will see that we are a faithful, friendly and vibrant congregation. You will be warmly welcomed by friendly and caring people.

What is Worship like at Holy Cross?

We are a traditional church. What does that mean? It means that we have things like an altar with a Cross and candlesticks, a vested choir, Gregorian chant, traditional Christian hymns, and a formal and reverent Service.

We use a Liturgy that leads us through the Service each week and makes it possible for us to join together in common prayer. We do not use things like drums, guitars, tambourines and overhead projectors during worship. This may seem "old fashioned" to some people today, but these things are there because they have been used by the Church throughout its long history.

To be truly relevant, the Church must be timeless. To be married to the spirit and fads of the time is to quickly become irrelevant as the times change. While many Christians may not have given it much thought, the truth is that a Liturgy was used in worship in Old Covenant Israel, by our Lord Jesus Christ while he was on earth 2,000 years ago, by the early Church, and continues to be used by the vast majority of Christians to this day. Non-liturgical worship is unknown among Jews, was not used by the ancient Church or even by the Protestant Reformers, and only came into use later in the so-called Radical Reformation.

We want you to feel at home during our Services. Don’t worry if you aren’t familiar with our Liturgy because it is printed out in a Service book that will make it possible for you to follow the Service almost effortlessly, and the hymns to be sung are listed in the bulletin. Feel free to participate as much — or as little — in our Services as you choose. It is completely up to you.

We are used to having visitors, and visitors are always welcome at Holy Cross Orthodox Church. Don’t worry, you won’t be put on the spot or embarrassed. You will feel right at home.

What is the Liturgy like at Holy Cross?

Our Liturgy is similar to what would have been found in any liturgically proper Anglican or Roman Catholic parish or monastery before the Second Vatican Council. That is because the traditional Roman Catholic and Anglican liturgies have their roots in the ancient Western Church. Our Liturgy is in traditional English (The Lord be with you. And with thy spirit) and very reverent. We use Gregorian chant, sing the great hymns of the Church, and our clergy wear traditional Western vestments and face the altar when celebrating.

There are some differences of course. Some changes were required to restore the rites to conformity with the teaching of the undivided Church or to restore more ancient ceremonial traditions. These include the removal of the Filioque clause in the Nicene Creed and the restoration of an explicit descending Epiclesis (Invocation of the Holy Spirit) in the Prayer of Consecration or Canon; the use of the profound bow rather than the genuflection which is a Renaissance rather than ancient act of piety; and the administration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion in both kinds (under both species).

Two Western Rite liturgical traditions are used in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia: the Roman Rite, commonly called the Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great; and the English Liturgy, a Usage of the Roman Rite, commonly called the Liturgy of St. Tikhon.

Western Rite parishes, such as Holy Cross, provide an open and welcoming atmosphere for visitors seeking the authentic Orthodox Faith in a Western cultural and liturgical setting. Holy Cross parish is Western, fully Orthodox, and completely canonical. We are a faithful, friendly and vibrant congregation, and we have a place for you!

What is your pastor like?

Our pastor, or rector, is Fr. Victor Novak. Fr. Victor is sixty years old, has been married for thirty-five years to his wife Cheri, and has been in Christian service for thirty-three years. He planted Holy Cross parish and is its founding rector.

We address our pastor as "Father Victor” because the church is the family of God and he is the spiritual father and leader of our church family. It is also customary to address an Orthodox priest’s wife as “Matushka,” which means Mother. While women are not ordained in the Orthodox Church, a priest’s wife shares in her husband’s ministry and has an important place in the work of the church.

Please feel free to speak with Fr. Victor about your questions or about membership. You can speak with him after Services, call him at (402) 573-6558, or e-mail him at venovak@hughes.net.

How large is Holy Cross Orthodox Church?

Statistically, Holy Cross parish is a medium-sized and growing church, with members not only in Omaha, but in Western Iowa, and in Eastern and Central Nebraska. Last year we added thirteen new members from nine households to our church, and the year before we added eleven new members. Because members make as much as a six hour roundtrip by car to get to church, everyone is not usually present every Sunday. On a typical Sunday you will find thirty-five to forty people at church.

One of the advantages of our church is that like the hit TV show "Cheers", Holy Cross is a place where "everybody knows your name” and everyone is glad that you came. It is a place where you can grow spiritually, make friends, build relationships, and enjoy real fellowship in a community of serious Christians. We are not, and never want to be, a "Mega-church." We think churches with thousands of members don’t allow pastors to know everyone in a personal way, or for members to know one another like they should in a church family.

If you are looking for a faithful, friendly, vibrant and growing church where "everybody knows your name," and where you can grow spiritually as a real disciple of Christ, then your search for a church home is over.

How do Western Rite Services differ from the Eastern Rite?

Eastern and Western Rite Services are at the same time very different and very much the same. For instance, both rites have Matins (Orthros) and Vespers, although their content varies. Both rites are centered on the Holy Eucharist, and while their content varies they share the same basic outline. In the Eastern Rite the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist is

commonly called the Divine Liturgy, while in the Western Rite it is commonly called Holy Mass. Both of these terms were used in the early Church and by the Church Fathers and are equally Orthodox.

Both rites employ chant in their Services, although the Western Rite uses an ancient form of Western chant known as Gregorian chant while the Eastern Rite uses various forms of Eastern chant. The Western Rite is quieter and less elaborate than the Eastern Rite, with parts of the Services said rather than sung, and with periods of quiet for private prayer and reflection.

Both rites employ icons, candles, lampadas or vigil lamps, incense, vestments, and chant, use leavened bread in the Eucharistic Liturgy, and sing the Services acapella. As in the Eastern Rite, we stand on Sundays and reserve kneeling for weekdays. In both rites, churches have a vestibule or narthex at the entrance, a nave where the faithful gather for worship, and a sanctuary or altar area with the altar as the central focus. In both rites the faithful receive Holy Communion under both kinds — receiving the Body and Blood of Christ — although in the Eastern Rite Holy Communion is administered with a communion spoon while a communion spoon is not part of the ancient Western liturgical tradition.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the rites is that Western Rite churches are more open than Eastern Rite churches because their is no Iconostasis. In Western Rite Orthodox churches the sanctuary or altar area is separated from the nave by a low communion rail or by Rood Screen (an open screen with images of the crucifixion flanked by St. John the Evangelist and the Mother of God on its top).

Popular Orthodox writer Frederica Mathewes-Green explained it this way, most Orthodox churches use the Eastern or Byzantine Rite, “but some Orthodox churches use a ‘Western Rite’ instead, one that bears a resemblance to traditional Roman Catholic or Anglican worship. While you can focus on the differences between Western and Eastern Rite, on a spectrum of all the varieties of Christian worship available today they look a great deal alike. An Orthodox parish will stick to one Rite or the other, but both belong to the larger Orthodox Church and hold the same faith. When I get to attend a Western Rite service I am struck by the clarity, humility, and tranquility of the worship” (Welcome to the Orthodox Church, An Introduction to Eastern Christianity, by Frederica Mathewes-Green, Paraclete Press, c. 2015, p. 55).

Both Eastern Rite and Western Rite parishes and monastic communities belong to the larger Orthodox Church and hold the same Faith. Orthodox Christians are completely free to belong to parishes of either rite and to receive the Holy Mysteries, the Sacraments, in churches of either rite. We are One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Is the Western Rite really Orthodox?

The Eastern and Western rites existed side by side in the Orthodox Church throughout the first millennium of Church history. Even after the Great Schism of 1054, the Western

Rite continued to be used in the Orthodox Church in the British Isles until the Norman Conquest in 1066, and in Eastern cities such as Constantinople until its last remaining remnants were finally absorbed into the Eastern Rite in the 13th century. There was even a major Western Rite Benedictine monastery on Mount Athos called Amalfion, that finally closed only in the year 1287, and that was because it could no longer get postulants from the post-Schism West. The ancient ruins of Amalfion can still be seen on the Holy Mountain today.

The Western Rite was restored to the Orthodox Church by the Holy Synod of Russia in 1869, with the Patriarchate of Antioch restoring the Western Rite in 1958. Today there are Western Rite Orthodox congregations and monastic communities in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), the Antiochian Orthodox Church, and on the continent of Europe in the Romanian and Serbian Patriarchates, with the Western Rite Communities of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia being both the largest and fastest growing.

The well-known Orthodox liturgical scholar, Fr. Alexander Schmemann said, “No one who knows the history of Christian worship will deny the richness of the Western liturgical tradition, that especially of the old and venerable Roman liturgy.”

Finally, St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco said, ““Never, never, never let anyone tell you that, in order to be Orthodox, you must be Eastern. The West was fully Orthodox for a thousand years, and her venerable liturgy is far older than any of her heresies.”

Why do you follow the Old Calendar?

The Old Calendar is used by the majority of Orthodox Christians throughout the world, with estimates running as high as 88%. The Old Calendar is not something “Eastern,” but for most of Christian history was the Calendar of all Christians East and West. In fact, what is now called the “Old Calendar” was used in the British Empire, including the American colonies, until the year 1752, when the introduction of the New Calendar by the British Crown led to protests and rioting. George Washington was born under the Old Calendar.

The Old Calendar is the Julian Calendar. The Julian Calendar was the Calendar in use when Christ was born in Bethlehem, and was used by all Christians everywhere until the year 1582, when Pope Gregory of the Roman Catholic Church adopted a new calendar commonly called the Gregorian or New Calendar. Its acceptance only gradually spread throughout the West.

As a Western Rite parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia we have merely retained the traditional Calendar that had been used from before the birth of Christ. The Julian and Gregorian calendars are thirteen days apart, so Christmas Day, December 25 on the Julian or Old Calendar falls on January 7 on the Gregorian or New Calendar.

Our use of the Old Calendar does not diminish our respect for and communion with those Orthodox Christians who use the New (Revised Julian) Calendar.

Is the Orthodox Church too ethnic or “foreign” for Americans?

This is a common misconception with some people. The truth is that the Orthodox Church has been in America for centuries and although names like Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox, among others, are used to denote the national roots of the various congregations of the Orthodox Church in the United States, the Church in America is an American Church that welcomes everyone.

The vast majority of Orthodox Christians in the United States are native born Americans, with the percentage of foreign born being about what is found in the population in general. 23% of all Orthodox Christians in the United States — about one in four — are converts, as are 30% of the clergy and 43% of the seminarians. A person does not have to be Russian or Greek to be Orthodox any more than he needs to be Italian to be a Roman Catholic or German to be a Lutheran.

While some parishes can feel very old world because they are made up of immigrants and their children who are still attached to the language, customs and culture of the “old country,” most Orthodox parishes are composed of cradle Orthodox who’s families have been in America for generations and of American converts. Other congregations are somewhere in between. There are also congregations, such as Holy Cross, that are made up predominantly or entirely of converts.

Holy Cross is a Western Rite Orthodox parish holding to the fullness of the Orthodox Christian Faith. We have icons in our church of such great Western saints as St. Patrick, St. Brigid, St. Aidan, St. Columba and St. Cuthbert, among others, and we cherish our spiritual roots in the ancient Orthodox Christian West, and our Western cultural, liturgical and spiritual heritage and patrimony. We welcome people of all ethnicities, nations, and races, both native born and recent immigrants.

Western Rite parishes, such as Holy Cross, provide an open and welcoming atmosphere for visitors seeking the authentic Orthodox Faith in a Western cultural and liturgical setting. We are a faithful and friendly congregation, and we have a place for you. Come and see!


Now it’s up to you.

Now that we have answered these important questions for you we hope that the thought of visiting Holy Cross Orthodox Church is less scary. Honestly, you will feel comfortable and at home the first time you worship with us. While the Service itself might seem new and unfamiliar, the feeling of the presence of the Lord will be unmistakable, and you will be warmly welcomed. We hope to see you on Sunday!