“For the place where upon thou standest is Holy Ground”
REMOVING SHOES IN CHURCH
For the most part, Christian churches do not practice removing shoes in places of worship as they do in Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism or Buddhism. In the west, it is not the custom for Christians to remove their shoes in churches (though some Roman Catholics go barefoot at certain shrines and have historically gone barefoot as a penance). Some of the non-Chalcedonian Orthodox churches, the Ethiopians and Coptic Orthodox remove their shoes in their churches, as do we.
As Christianity spread to Asia, many churches founded in Asian countries have followed the local custom of removing shoes, whether out of habit, reverence or simple practicality. This crosses denominational lines; in Japan Roman Catholic, Anglican, mainstream Protestant church and several Evangelical Protestant churches require removing shoes was required in all of them. It seems that Russian and Greek Orthodox churches in Asia tend to adopt removing shoes in those countries. I suppose that rather fits with the strong sense of reverence in Eastern Orthodox worship.
If you must, for medical reasons for example, wear shoes, tennis shoes for example as well as flip-flops and stiletto heels are all inappropriate footwear for an Orthodox Church. The shoes should be appropriate to the outfit and should not be too sexy in style.
However, according to God’s Law, shoes should be removed when standing on Holy Ground. Therefore, since God is present in the Tabernacle, shoes must be removed, especially when receiving the Holy Eucharist.
Likewise, the clergy must remove shoes to enter the Altar area and standing at the Holy Table. Any Bishop, Priest, Deacon, or server ignoring this, God’s Law, should be removed from the area. For those that were unaware, it is customary in many US and Oriental Orthodox Temples (churches) to remove shoes on entering a Church.
In the Book of Exodus (3:1-6) – Moses’s encounter with God at the burning bush when he was told “Take off thy shoes from off thy feet for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” What many don’t know is that Joshua was also told likewise at his holy encounter: “Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said… ”What saith my lord unto his servant? And He replied unto Joshua, Loose thy shoes from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so.” (Joshua 5:14&15).
Orthodox Churches are also known as Temples. Our Temple is a place where we pray together in the very presence of God Himself – Holy Ground. To receive Holy Communion is to encounter God just as Moses encountered God at the burning bush so, yes, if you desire to receive God in the form of the Blessed Sacrament at our Monastery then “Loose thy shoes from thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is Holy Ground. There are Little or NO exceptions!
Not only do many Orthodox Christians but Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists removed their footwear when praying; it is a sign of humility and respect.
According to the Canons of the Irish, Celtic and Coptic Orthodox Churches it is still customary to remove shoes for prayers in Church. In addition, our monks go barefoot throughout the day within the monastery as a sign of humility, poverty and self-mortification, In Matthew 10:10 we read; “Nor scrip for your journey, nor two coats, nor shoes, nor a staff; for the workman is worthy of his meat”.
Note: The requirement to remove shoes in Church stems from removing the common footwear worn outside the Church. In addition, those with medical conditions such as diabetes may wear socks or slippers that are exclusively for Church use.