London Cathedral of the Nativity of the Mother of God

Visit the Cathedral

All are welcome to visit the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Mother of God and Holy Royal Martyrs (see map and directions). We are a Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, which maintains the traditional liturgical, theological and pastoral practices of the ancient Orthodox Church, which include the manner of dress and comportment within the holy temple (the traditional title for an Orthodox place of worship, though in English we often also use ‘church’). As these may be unfamiliar to some, we provide general guidance here. We ask all visitors as well as regular parishioners to be mindful of and attentive to these practices.


Formal ‘church attire’ is expected at all times within the Cathedral, and never casual or sports wear. Men must wear long trousers (never shorts) and a button-down or other dress shirt (never a t-shirt) that covers the arms. Neck ties are welcome, though in some Orthodox old-world cultures ties are unusual in church settings, and so one often sees men in our temples in formal dress without them. Women must wear dresses or long skirts (not trousers) and cover their heads with a headscarf or other appropriate headcovering. Open-toed shoes or ‘flip-flops’ are not permitted of either sex, nor are excessively high heels appropriate to the church.

Those who arrive dressed inappropriately will not be allowed to enter the Cathedral. A small number of headscarves are kept at the kiosk, which can be leant to women who have arrived without a headcovering (or which may function as wrap-around skirts for women who may have arrived wearing trousers).

Venerating icons and lighting candles

Having entered the Cathedral, it is customary for faithful and visitors to make an offering at the kiosk (since the act of making a sacrifice/offering is an ancient custom of the Faith, upon entering sacred temples of prayer) and obtain candles that are lit before the various sacred icons within the Cathedral. All are invited to move about, quietly, within the Cathedral in order to venerate the icons and relics and light their candles. It is not, however, permitted for anyone except clergy and authorised parish staff to stand upon the elevated area (the solea) at the front of the church, directly before the iconostasis; nor do the faithful venerate the icons on the iconostasis itself.

Where to stand

Once candles have been lit and the holy icons venerated, men stand on the right side of the Cathedral and women on the left for the duration of the Divine Services. Small children of either sex may stand with a parent on either side of the church; for older children, boys normally stand with their fathers on the right side of the church, and girls stand with their mothers on the left.

A small number of seats are provided at the back of the church on both sides: these are reserved for the frail and elderly. For those who are able, it is expected that all faithful stand throughout the Divine Services, as it is not the tradition of Holy Orthodoxy to pray in the church whilst seated. For those who do need to sit, please be aware that in Orthodox culture it is considered a sign of disrespect to cross one’s legs whilst doing so.

Unlike the usual custom of heterodox churches, in Orthodoxy it is entirely normal for people to move about within the temple during the Divine Services as may be needed, and you are welcome to do so. However, movement should in general be kept to a minimum so as not to distract others, and there are some moments in the services (e.g. during the reading of the Holy Gospel or the Six Psalms) when we do not move at all.

Receiving the Holy Mysteries

Reception of the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) is a fundamental dimension of Orthodox spiritual life, and is reserved for Orthodox Christians who have suitably prepared themselves. Those wishing to receive Holy Communion must prepare by making their Confession within the preceding week, normally the day before. Confessions are regularly heard throughout Saturdays, during the Saturday evening Vigil, and — in limited number and generally reserved only for the elderly or those who come from a great distance — on Sunday morning before the beginning the Divine Liturgy. Under no circumstances whatever are Confessions heard after the Liturgy has begun. If it is more convenient, you can contact the Priests to arrange Confession at any time during the week.

While the Sacraments of the Church are reserved for Orthodox faithful, there are other acts of blessing which may be received by all faithful and visitors to the Cathedral, including non-Orthodox. These include the blessing with holy oil during Vigil services, and the distribution of blessed bread at the conclusion of Divine Liturgies. Heterodox visitors are also welcomed to come forward at the end of the Liturgy to venerate the Precious Cross in the hand of the Priest, should they wish to do so.

Language and translations

The Divine Services in the Cathedral take place in a mixture of Church Slavonic (the traditional liturgical language of Holy Orthodoxy in the Slavic lands, crafted first by Sts Cyril and Methodius, which came to the diaspora by way of mission and emigration and is reverently maintained) and English. Readings of the Scriptures are always in both languages, as are homilies.

If you are new to Holy Orthodoxy or would otherwise like to read the text of the services in either Church Slavonic or English, books are available for loan or purchase from the kiosk. Please address yourself to one of the kiosk staff, who will be happy to help you find the right book to help you understand the Divine Services.

Photography and mobile telephones

The taking of photographs or videos is strictly forbidden during the Divine Services. The only exception to this is during special feastdays or significant moments in Parish life (for example, ordinations or weddings), at which the Clergy will bless one or at most two photographers to take photos on behalf of all, which will be shared appropriately. When services are not taking place, visitors may approach the Clergy for a blessing to take photographs, which is customarily granted.

The use of mobile telephones is strictly forbidden at all times within the Cathedral, for any purpose whatever (including the reading of text messages, browsing of the internet, etc.). Mobile phones must be switched into silent mode (or better, turned entirely off) before you enter the Cathedral, and must not be turned back on until you have left the temple. The sounding of chimes and ringing of phones has become a serious distraction in recent times: please note therefore that those who fail to silence their phones will politely be asked to leave the Cathedral grounds.

Infants, babes-in-arms and toddlers

Children of all ages are most welcome during the Divine Services, including the very youngest. Parents are asked to be mindful of the needs of all faithful when particularly energetic or vocal children are with them: during most Divine Services, the lower church is opened and speakers convey the chanting and prayers from the upper church to that space — if children need a bit more room to move about or are momentarily being vocal, parents are warmly invited to take them downstairs where they will be able to hear the service and pray amidst sacred icons. Once the children have calmed, they may be brought back upstairs into the main church (it is entirely normal in Orthodox worship to quietly move about within the temple during the services, so parents should not be hesitant at all of moving when needed).

The feeding of babes and infants (or children or adults of any age) within the temple is not permitted: if your smallest child requires feeding during your time in the Cathedral, please speak to a member of the Sisterhood at the kiosk, who will be happy to show you to a comfortable and private space within the Church House where you are invited to do this.

You are welcome to take children outside during the Divine Services if they have excessive energy and require some time to move about and play (which is entirely normal for children). Please note that it is absolutely required that children outside be accompanied by a parent at all times, who actively supervises their safety and behaviour. While children are invited to play, they should do so quietly so that they do not disturb the worshippers within the temple; and the safety and good conduct of children needs to be actively overseen by their parents at every moment.

Meals in the Cathedral Hall

On most Sundays throughout the year (except during the summer holiday period), meals are prepared by the Parish Sisterhood after the Divine Liturgy, and take place in the Hall next to the Cathedral. All are invited to these meals, including most especially visitors who are new to the parish, whether as visiting Orthodox faithful or non-Orthodox enquirers.

Food is served as people arrive into the Hall, to be taken to the tables where you may be seated where you wish. We do not start to eat until the Clergy have arrived and we have sung the Prayer Before Eating and the Priest has blessed the food. When the Bishop or Priest enters the Hall, all faithful rise to their feet and maintain silence until the Clergy have taken their place and all have sung the prayers, whereupon all sit together.

It is important to recognise that such meals are extensions of the worshipping experience of the Parish: we maintain the same dress code during the meals as within the church; and while conversation is warmly invited during the meals, it is to be remembered that this is a church space and therefore it should not be loud or boisterous. Often, the clergy will give a spiritual word during the meal, or a lesson will be read; it is expected that polite silence will be maintained during such moments.

Donations and support

Finally, we note that the Cathedral receives no funding from state, patriarchal or other outside sources: its finances are 100% supported by the donations and gifts of its parishioners. It costs nearly £5,000 per week to keep the Cathedral operating (when we factor in the maintenance of the building, the salaries of Clergy, the payment of utilities and insurance, the funding of missionary and youth works, etc.); it is therefore critical that we receive the support of our parishioners and faithful. Please see our dedicated page on how you can support the Cathedral in any amount, great or small, and prayerfully consider becoming a regular donor to the life of London’s oldest Orthodox parish.

Copyright © 2005-2023
Cathedral of the Nativity of the Mother of God
and the Holy Royal Martyrs (ROCOR)

Registered Charity no. 234203