Beliefnet
Have a religion etiquette question? E-mail columnists@staff.beliefnet.com with "Etiquette" in the subject line.

My friend often e-mails me generic prayer requests or religious stories that contain instructions to forward the mail to everyone I know. There's the implication that if I break the chain, I don't really love God or my [sick/troubled/etc.] neighbors. How should I handle this?

It's bad enough opening your e-mail to find umpteen messages about mortgage rates and, uh, "invigorating" pharmaceuticals. Now you're getting God spam? What has the internet come to?

Rest assured that no one will smite you for clicking the delete button fast and furiously. In fact, you'll probably be loving your neighbors as yourself by not forwarding such mail. Some nefarious types use e-mail prayer chains to spread viruses, preying on our sympathy for a cancer-stricken child or a struggling single mom. One e-mail worm causes your computer to blink "May GOd bless u;D." Now that just ain't kosher.

So skip the guilt trips and can the spam. Make an exception every now and then for e-mail that actually tells a good tale. Send them to grandmotherly types who enjoy a sweet story. Just remember the Buddhist precept of non-attachment, and never pass along any e-mails from strangers that come with an attachment. They could carry a virus.

I'm an Orthodox Christian. I've read that it's customary to give an offering to the priest who comes to bless your home. Is there a customary amount to give?

According to Orthodox writer Deborah Belonick, honorariums for such a blessing vary tremendously, ranging from a home-cooked dinner to $5 to $100, depending on the circumstances of the parishioner. Do consider the priest's travel costs and how much time he spends performing the blessing.

Orthodox house blessings are more elaborate than a typical "bless this house" prayer you might hear from a Roman Catholic or Protestant minister. They usually occur around the Feast of the Theophany (Epiphany), when Orthodox Christians celebrate Jesus' baptism by John in the River Jordan. Homes are blessed with holy water used in the church during this feast, drawing a spiritual association between the family, the church and the parish.

The priest uses holy water, holy oil, and incense during the ritual. He sprinkles all the rooms of the house with holy water and anoints each of the four outer walls with holy oil in the sign of the Cross. After the censing of the house, he reads a passage from the gospel and then blesses each member of the household with holy water: the husband, the wife, and the children, oldest to youngest. If relatives and friends are present, they are blessed next.

The mother of a coworker of mine, a devout Jehovah's Witness, died today. I want to show my sympathy, but am afraid of doing something that will offend my coworker. Are flowers or food baskets appropriate? Can I attend the funeral service? --Tim R.

Flowers and food baskets are fine, says J.R. Brown of the Jehovah's Witnesses Office of Public Information. You're also welcome to attend the "memorial talk" at the Kingdom Hall, which ordinarily lasts 30 to 60 minutes. The talk, which is based on scripture, is usually given by an Elder of the church or a friend of the family who is qualified to discuss the Bible. There may be a song or prayer if the family requests it.

Though there's no specific dress code, it's a good idea to dress modestly in black or dark clothes.

Members Helping Members

As part of Beliefnet's "Religion Etiquette Q&A" column, we occasionally include useful posts by our members. On the Hinduism boards, member BlueLotusPetal asked how to behave in a Hindu temple:

I have been practicing Sanatan Dharma in my home, but am feeling the pull to go to a local Temple to experience Darshan. To tell the truth, I am quite nervous as I am not Indian and don't really know the custom and etiquette of temples.

Member Icarus580 answers:Do visit the temple. I was nervous visiting for the first time too. Let me say this ... the people there were FANTASTIC! ... As far as temple social values, they are simple. ... Dress modestly. There should be a place to place your shoes before you enter the main part. Do not point your feet at the deities. Do not stand with your back to them either. If you are given a book, do not set it on the ground, it is considered an affront to knowledge and thus the Goddess. If you take prasad--take it with the left hand cradling under the right--right on top. It is not like a church service--people may come and go. Our priest stops what he is doing and talks to us. It may all seem unfamiliar at first, but be persistent--it will get easier and you'll feel more at home.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus