— an island of Heaven on our sinful earth
Bishop Alexander (Mileant)
Translated by Seraphim Larin / /Fr. Herman (Ciuba)
Contents: The significance of the Church building.
The development of the Church and Its architectural forms.
The arrangement of the interior of the Church.
The meaning and goal of Church services.
The Significance of the Cross.
Icons and frescoes.
Liturgical cycles and forms.
The degrees of holy orders.
The sacred vestments.
The Priestly Blessing.
Candles and prosphora.
The Symbolic Meaning of the Liturgy.
The service books of the Church.
Rules of behavior in Church.
Preparation for Confession and Holy Communion.
Glossary of Liturgical Terminology.
of the Church building
Achurch, or temple, is a building consecrated to God and intended for divine worship. The Lord is invisibly present in the church and receives our prayers there; as He said: "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). Since "the powers of heaven invisibly serve with us" in the church, it may be considered a bit of heaven on earth or an island of the kingdom of heaven.
In this brochure, we will acquaint the reader with the historical development of the church building, its architectural forms, the arrangement of its interior and the significance of various objects found within it. We will discuss the main church services, rules for behavior in church and preparation for Confession and Holy Communion.
The church is the center of our spiritual life. In it we are spiritually reborn and transformed. In it we receive Holy Communion, which gives us eternal life. In it we receive God’s blessing upon married life in the sacrament of Matrimony. In it we are also sent off on our journey to everlasting life in the funeral service. In the church there is a special awareness of God’s grace. When a believer has prayed in church, he goes forth cleansed, comforted and spiritually strengthened.
Drawn by the grace of God, believers have always striven to frequent the church. As the righteous psalmist said of old, "O Lord, I have loved the beauty of Thy house, and the place where Thy glory dwelleth. ... I was glad because of them that said unto me: Let us go into the house of the Lord" (Psalms 26:8 [LXX 25:7]; 122:1 [LXX 121:1]).
The development of the Church
and Its architectural forms
The arrangement of an Orthodox church is based on centuries-old tradition, going back to the first tent-temple, the tabernacle, which was erected by the Prophet Moses some 1500 years before Christ.
The Old Testament Temple and its various liturgical items — the altar, the seven-branched candelabrum, the censer, the priestly vestments and other objects — were all made in accordance with divine revelation. As the Lord said to Moses, "According to all that I show thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it¼ And thou shalt rear up the tabernacle according to the fashion thereof which was showed thee in the mount" (referring to Mount Sinai; Exodus 25:9; 26:30).
Approximately 500 years later, King Solomon replaced the movable Tabernacle (the tent-temple) with a magnificent stone temple in the city of Jerusalem. During its consecration, a mystical cloud descended from the sky and filled the temple, and the Lord said to Solomon: "I have hallowed this house, which thou hast built, to put My name there for ever; and Mine eyes and Mine heart shall be there perpetually" (see 1  Kings 8-9 and 2 Chronicles [2 Paralipomenon] 6-7).
Over the course of centuries, from the reign of King Solomon till the time of Jesus Christ, the Temple of Jerusalem was the center of religious life for the entire Jewish people.
Our Lord Jesus Christ visited and prayed in this temple, which had been destroyed and then rebuilt. He demanded that the Jews respect the Temple, citing the words of the Prophet Isaiah, "Mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people," and He drove from the temple those that conducted themselves in an unworthy manner (Isaiah 56:7; Matt. 21:12-13; Mark 11:16-17; John 2:13-20).
After the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles continued to frequent the Old Testament Temple and pray in it, following Christ’s example (Acts 2:46). At the same time they began augmenting the Temple services with special Christian prayers and sacraments. Specifically, on Sunday ("the Lord’s Day") the Apostles and the first Christians would gather in the homes of the faithful, or sometimes in buildings designated as houses of prayer (oikoi). Here they would pray, read the Holy Scriptures, "break bread" (celebrate the Liturgy) and partake of Holy Communion. This is how the first house-churches developed (cf. Acts 5:42; 12:12; 20:8; Col. 4:15). Later, during the persecutions carried out by the pagan rulers, Christians used to gather in the catacombs (underground rooms), where they would celebrate the Liturgy at the graves of the martyrs.
During the first three centuries of Christianity, because of the relentless persecutions, Christian church buildings were rare. Only after the proclamation of religious freedom by Emperor Constantine the Great in 313 did Christian churches begin to appear everywhere.
Initially, churches were built in the form of a basilica — a long rectangular building with a small projecting structure at the entrance (the portico or porch) and a curved apse at the opposite end. Rows of columns divided the interior of the basilica into three or five sections called naves (meaning "ships"). The central nave was higher than those on the sides and had windows in it. Such basilicas were characterized by an abundance of light and air.
Soon churches were being built in other forms as well. Beginning in the fifth century, there were churches built in Byzantium in the form of a cross, with arches and a dome or cupola over the central part of the church. Occasionally, but more rarely, round or octagonal churches were built. The church architecture of Byzantium had an enormous influence on the Orthodox East.
Russian church architecture appeared as soon as Christianity was accepted in Rus. Its distinctive characteristic is the shape of the cupola, which resembles the flame of a candle. Later other architectural forms appeared; for example, in the West there was the Gothic style of churches with tall spires. And so, the shape of the Christian church building developed over the centuries, with each country and each era acquiring its own inimitable style. Since ancient times churches have adorned cities and towns. They became the symbols of the spiritual world, the images of the future renewal of the universe.
The number of cupolas on a church has its own significance. A single cupola honors the One God; three — the Holy Trinity; five — Christ and His four Evangelists; seven — the seven sacraments; and thirteen — Christ and His twelve Apostles.
The belfry or bell-tower is located over the entrance to the church or a little to the side. The sound of bells ringing reminds the faithful of the services conducted within the church. The slow tolling of the largest bell is called blagovest ("glad tidings"). This type of bell-ringing is used before the commencement of divine services, such as before the Vigil or the Divine Liturgy. The joyful and melodious ringing of all the bells, called the trezvon ("triple peal"), is carried out on feast days. In pre-Revolutionary Russia, the trezvon was rung during every day of Bright Week (Easter Week). The mournful tolling of various bells in succession, called the perezvon, is used at funerals.
"The sound of the bells is not simply a gong that summons people to church; it is a melody that spiritually permeates the environs of the church, serving as a reminder to pray for those who are busy with work, those who are traveling, those who are immersed in the monotony of everyday life¼. The ringing of the bells is a kind of musical sermon, one which carries beyond the threshold of the church. It proclaims faith and the life which is penetrated by the light of faith; it rouses the sleeping conscience" (Archpriest Alexander Men).
of the Interior of the Church
Following the pattern of the Old Testament Temple, which had a courtyard, a nave and the holy of holies, an Orthodox church is also divided into three areas: the narthex, the central part of the church and the sanctuary.
The rear of the church (customarily the western side) surrounds the main entrance and is called the narthex. In the ancient church, this section was set aside for the catechumens (those preparing to be baptized) and the penitents (those who were excluded from Communion on account of grave sins). The narthex was usually quite large; sometimes it included a pool for the baptism of adults. At the present time, the narthex is usually rather small. It is here that candles and prosphora are sold. The stairway leading to the narthex and the area at the top of the stairs form the porch.
The central part of the church, the nave, is where the faithful stand to pray. It is separated from the sanctuary by the iconostasis, a partition covered with many icons. In the most ancient churches, this partition was not very high and did not have any icons. Around the end of the eighth century, after the heresy of iconoclasm had been condemned, icons began to be placed on the partition between the nave and the sanctuary, and the partition itself was made higher. Over the centuries there was thus developed an iconostasis consisting of several rows of icons, arranged according to a definite plan.
The iconostasis has three doors in it, leading into the sanctuary. The central doors are called "royal"; through them the Lord Himself, the King of heaven, invisibly passes in the Holy Gifts or Holy Communion. To the right of the royal doors is the southern door, and to the left, the northern. The icons on the royal doors depict the Annunciation to the Mother of God and the four Evangelists, Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The side doors usually have icons of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. To the right of the royal doors there is always an icon of our Saviour, and to the left an icon of the Mother of God. To the right of the icon of the Saviour is the patronal icon of the church, representing the event or the saint to which the church is dedicated.
The lower level of the iconostasis also contains icons of saints who are especially venerated, such as St John the Baptist, St Nicholas the Wonderworker and others. Over the royal doors there is always an icon of the Mystical Supper (the Last Supper), reminding the faithful of the greatest sacrament offered in the church, Holy Communion.
The iconostasis usually has several rows or tiers. The second tier holds icons of the major feast days; the third, the Apostles; and the fourth, the Prophets. The top of the iconostasis is crowned with a cross.
The iconostasis is usually situated on an elevated area called the solea. This area is reserved for those who perform the church services. The middle of this section, in front of the royal doors, is called the ambo. Here the deacon intones the prayers of the litanies and reads the Gospel, and the faithful come up here to receive Holy Communion. To the sides of the solea are the areas called the kliros, or choirs, where the readers and singers stand. In front of the choirs are placed the banners, consisting of icons affixed to cloth and attached to long poles, so as to resemble flags hung vertically. These banners are carried during church processions, as the standards of the church.
The altar area, or sanctuary, is the holiest part of the church, containing the altar itself and the table of oblation. The altar is a specially consecrated square table, on which the Sacrament of Holy Communion is celebrated. It stands in the middle of the sanctuary and is covered by sacred vestments. On it are found the cross, the book of the Gospels, the antimension, the tabernacle and the pyx.
The tabernacle is the ark or chest in which the reserved Sacrament is kept. The pyx is a small box in which the priest carries Holy Communion to the sick in their homes. The antimension is a silk cloth upon which are depicted the placing of Christ’s Body in the tomb and the instruments of His Passion: the crown of thorns, the spear, the sponge, the column at which He was scourged, the nails, etc.
The antimension bears an inscription, noting when it was consecrated, by which bishop and for which church. On the reverse of the antimension there is sewn a little bag which contains relics, in keeping with the tradition of the first centuries of Christianity, when the faithful used to celebrate the Holy Communion on the tombs of the martyrs. Without a consecrated antimension the Liturgy may not be celebrated. To protect the antimension it is enfolded in another silken cloth.
Behind the altar stand a cross and a seven-branched candelabrum.
The Table of Oblation is another table, also covered by sacred vestments. Upon it the proskomedia is performed, the rite of preparing the bread and wine for the celebration of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist or Holy Communion. This table stands in the northeastern corner of the sanctuary and holds the sacred vessels. First among them are the chalice (cup), into which the church wine is poured, and the diskos, a small round plate on a stand. The diskos usually bears a depiction of the Infant Jesus lying in the manger. It is used to hold the Lamb, a piece of bread, cut out of the center of a little loaf (prosphora), which will be consecrated at the Liturgy, as well as particles of bread cut from other prosphora. Along with the chalice and diskos are found the following items: the asterisk, composed of two bent metal arcs, joined together in the form of a cross, which is placed on the diskos so that the veil will not touch the pieces of bread cut from the prosphora; the lance or spear, a knife which is used to cut out the Lamb and portions of other prosphora; the spoon with which Holy Communion is administered to the faithful; and the sponge used to wipe the chalice.
In addition to the main sanctuary, some churches have other chapels with altars, in which additional liturgies or other less festive services may be celebrated.
The main altar, towards which the faithful direct their gaze, is located on the eastern side of the church. Since Apostolic times it has been customary to pray facing the east, which symbolizes Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who enlightens every man that comes into the world.
The Liturgy which is celebrated in the church has its origin in heaven, not on earth. We are led to this conclusion by the vision of the St John the Apostle, recounted in the book of Revelation (the Apocalypse). The heavenly liturgy which he describes reminds us of our Orthodox Liturgy in many ways. He saw the altar, the candelabrum, the golden censer with the smoke of incense, the chalice, the Lamb Which was slain in the middle of the altar, elders in white robes and crowns of gold standing in front of the Altar, and then a countless number of angels and righteous people, all praising the Creator (Rev. 4-5). The twenty-four elders correspond in number to the twenty-four priestly courses or divisions established by King David for services in the Temple (1 Chron. [1 Paralipom.] 24:1-18).
In the Orthodox church, as in heaven, the Lamb Which was slain [i.e., the host, the cut portion of a prosphora] also lies on the altar. St John’s vision of souls under the heavenly altar, the souls of those that were killed for proclaiming the Word of God, corresponds to the relics of the holy martyrs, on whose tombs Liturgies were performed in ancient times. Thus, when we come to church for the Divine Liturgy, we should be conscious that we are being allowed to take part in a great and mystical sacred service, at which our prayers are joined with the prayers of the angels and saints who surround the throne of the Heavenly King.
The meaning and goal
of Church services
Any spiritually sensitive person recognizes that his existence and all the good things which he uses are the result of God’s goodness. This awareness gives rise to the need to thank God. "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name" (Ps. 103:1 [LXX 102:1]). "All that is within me" refers to the totality of all the qualities of soul, all the noblest and best faculties of man, which are called to take part in glorifying the Lord. This leads to the glorification of the Lord in the church by means of reading, singing, painting and various other artistic gifts — by everything which contributes to the majesty of the divine services.
What should we pray about?
Prayer is a conversation with God, similar to a conversation with other people. What do we talk to other people about? We express our thoughts and feelings; we ask for help; we learn by listening to others; we offer gratitude and praise; we beg for forgiveness. A similar conversation takes place in the house of God. The fundamental elements which comprise this conversation are: 1) giving thanks and glory to God; 2) repentance for our sins and for our failure to fulfill our Christian duty; 3) asking for help, for deliverance from illnesses and dangers, for salvation, and offering prayers for one another, for the Church, for our country, for the whole world. One particular form of our prayer for other people is prayer for our deceased fathers, brothers, sisters, for their forgiveness and repose.
In almost all forms of prayer we can see the union of the various elements of prayer. Our petitions to God are joined with our repentance, our thanksgiving, our adoration.
"Prayer in the church gives consolation to all. It moves us to repentance for our sins, to compunction, to amendment of life, to a life of virtue. It requires the fruits of repentance. It reminds us of the dread Judgment Day, drawing a picture of the Lord’s terrible tribunal, at which all the world will be judged. It sets before us the horrid corruption of our sinfulness, from which we cannot be freed without the Saviour, without the medicine of faith, without the sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion, without fasting, tears, acts of mortification of the flesh and almsgiving.
"The divine services instruct, comfort, nourish, heal and strengthen Christian souls. They elevate and bring joy to a Christian’s spirit. They are a heavenly treasure on earth, given to us by our merciful Lord and Redeemer. They are a treasure-trove of all blessings, all the gifts of the Holy Spirit; they are the treasury of all the energies needed for life and piety, of all the virtues worthy of emulation in people and of exemplary lessons" (St John of Kronstadt, Thoughts on the Divine Services).
When we turn to God for help, we also ask the Saints to pray for us, since they stand closer to God than we do.
of the Cross
The Cross is the symbol of the triumph of good. By His sufferings on the Cross our Lord Jesus Christ washed away the sins of mankind, conquered the devil, abolished death and opened the way to eternal life for man. The Cross bears witness to God’s infinite love for sinful mankind. But the Cross is much more than a symbol; it possesses spiritual power.
All the sacraments and rites of the Church are performed with the sign of the Cross: the sanctification of the water at Baptism; the conferral of the grace of the Holy Spirit at Chrismation; the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ at the Eucharist, and so on. When a believer makes the sign of the Cross over himself, he draws down upon himself the life-giving power of the redemptive sufferings of the God-Man. The Cross of Christ sanctifies the air, the waters and all creation. The fallen spirits fear the Cross and flee from it as insects flee fire.
Christian veneration of the Cross goes back to the first century. By the second and third centuries the veneration of the Cross had become so widespread among Christians that pagans called them "cross-worshippers." We find representations of the Cross on ancient Christian monuments and in the catacombs.
The Emperor Constantine the Great, while he was still a pagan, received a revelation from heaven. Following it, he had the sign of the Cross placed on the standards of his army, and thanks to this he defeated an enemy of Christians, the Emperor Maxentius, who went into battle with a much larger army. Taking a lesson from the miraculous help he had received in the battle against Maxentius, the Emperor Constantine the Great extended protection to Christians. As a result, the Christian faith, once persecuted, quickly gained strength in the various lands of the Roman Empire. From that time on churches were decorated with crosses both inside and out.
At the Sacrament of Baptism, a cross is put around the neck of the newly-baptized person. This small cross is to be worn on the breast like a divine seal for protection from all evil.
The holy Fathers of the Church wrote much about the great power of the Cross of the Lord. In their interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures they saw foreshadowings of the Cross in many biblical events: the marking of the doorposts with the blood of the paschal lamb; the brass serpent which Moses set up in the desert; and the sealing of the righteous with a mystical sign upon their foreheads, as described in the book of the Prophet Ezekiel and in the Apocalypse (See Exod. 12:7-13; Num. 21: 8-9; Ezek. 9:4; Rev. 7:3, 9:4, 14:1). References to the veneration of the image of the holy Cross and the sign of the Cross by the early Christians may be found in the works of St Justin the Philosopher, Origen, St Cyprian of Carthage, Tertullian and later writers.
One thing which sets Orthodox Christians apart from many of the heterodox is their use of the sign of the Cross. Not all use it equally well, however. Some make the sign of the Cross reverently, with faith, while others do so carelessly and hastily. It would be better to make the sign of the Cross less frequently than to do so very often but carelessly. To make the sign of the Cross properly the fingers of the right hand are brought together so that the ends of the first three fingers (the thumb, the index and middle fingers) are joined together, representing the Holy Trinity, while the remaining two fingers (the ring finger and the little finger) are folded into the palm of the hand, symbolizing the two natures, divine and human, of our Lord Jesus Christ. In making the sign of the Cross, we place the three joined fingers on the forehead, to sanctify the mind; on the belly, to sanctify our inmost feelings; and then on the right and left shoulders, to strengthen our spiritual and physical faculties.
We should make the sign of the Cross during our prayers, when we enter a church and when we kiss icons and other sacred objects. We should also make the sign of the Cross at all important moments in our lives, in danger and in grief. We should remember that the sign of Cross draws down upon us divine power and at the same time drives away all the evil influences which come from the demons.
A Note on the Russian Cross: In the Russian Church two bars are added to the ordinary four-pointed cross. The small upper bar represents the board which was nailed to Christ’s Cross, bearing the title "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." The lower, slanted bar on the Russian eight-pointed [i.e., three-barred] cross reminds us of the two thieves who were crucified with our Saviour, one on the right and one on the left. The thief who hung on the right repented of his sins, believed in the Lord and went to paradise; thus, one side of the bar points upward. The thief who hung on the left was filled with malice, blasphemed Christ and was lost; therefore, the other side of the bar points downward.
Icons and frescoes
Icons and frescoes — artistic representations of our Saviour, the angels, the saints and biblical subjects — form an important part of an Orthodox church. Icons serve to remind us of God, of His deeds of goodness and of the realm of heaven. They convey in lines and colors what the Sacred Scriptures describe in words. These holy images create a prayerful atmosphere in the church. Without them the church would resemble a secular meeting hall.
When we pray before an icon, we must remember that we are not praying to the material of which it is made but to the Lord, the Mother of God and the saints who are depicted on it. Everything that we see and hear has an effect on our thoughts and our mood; that’s the way our human nature works. For this reason we find it much easier to concentrate on prayer when we see the image of God before our eyes than if we just look at a bare wall or some object unconnected with prayer.
Those who are not Orthodox often condemn the use of icons, out of a wrong idea of the meaning of the Old Testament’s Second Commandment, which forbids the worship of false gods. We know from Bible history that, while the Lord forbade idolatry, He also commanded Moses to fashion golden cherubim for the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, where He promised to appear to him. "Make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end .... There I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony" (Exod. 25:18-22; 26:1-37).
In the same way, in the Temple of Solomon sculpted and embroidered images of the cherubim were found at the place where the gaze of the priests was directed when at prayer (1  Kings 6:27-29; 2 Chron. [2 Paral.] 3:7-14). The restored Temple of Jerusalem, in which our Lord Jesus Christ, His Apostles and the first Christians prayed, also contained similar figures of the cherubim.
One of the most ancient icons is that called the image of the Saviour "Not Made by Hands." Tradition tells us that our Lord Jesus Christ sent a linen cloth bearing a miraculously imprinted image of His face to Abgar, Prince of Edessa, who was suffering from leprosy. After he had prayed before this image, Abgar was cured of his disease.
St Luke the Evangelist was an artist; he painted a number of portraits of the Blessed Virgin Mary. These served as models for subsequent icons of her; many of them have also worked miracles.
The catacombs, those places hallowed by the prayers of the ancient Christians, have preserved the sacred art of their times to the present day. In comparison with present-day iconography, these ancient images are more symbolic in nature; nevertheless, their purpose is one and the same: to remind us of God. Among the images used in ancient Christian art we should mention the following: the lamb, symbolizing the Lord Jesus Christ in His sacrificial suffering for us; the lion — a symbol of His might; the fish — the Greek word for it, ichthys, is an acronym for "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour;" the anchor — a symbol of Christian hope; the dove — a symbol of the Holy Spirit; the rooster and the phoenix — birds which are symbols of the Resurrection; the peacock — a symbol of immortality; the grapevine and the basket of bread — symbols of the Sacrament of Holy Communion; and many more. Also found in the catacombs are other, more complex, artistic compositions, illustrating biblical events and the parables of the Gospels: Noah in the ark; the adoration of the Magi; the raising of Lazarus; the Prophet Jonah in the whale; the Prophet Moses receiving the tablets of the Law; the parables of the sower, of the wise and foolish virgins, etc. With the passage of centuries these early Christian symbols and compositions developed into finer and more varied works of art.
In icons God is represented in the images in which He revealed Himself to man. For example, the Holy Trinity is portrayed in the image of three angelic travellers seated at a table. This is the way in which the Lord appeared to the righteous Abraham. On some icons, each of the Persons of the Most Holy Trinity receives a particular symbolic depiction. God the Father is shown as an old man, because He appeared to the Prophets Isaiah and Daniel thus. Jesus Christ is depicted in human form, just as He appeared when He came down to the earth and became man — as an Infant in the arms of the Virgin Mary, or teaching the multitudes and working miracles, or transfigured, or suffering on the Cross, or lying in the tomb, or risen from the dead, or ascending into heaven. God the Holy Spirit is depicted in the form of a dove, as He revealed Himself at our Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan, or in the form of tongues of fire, as He descended visibly upon the holy Apostles on the fiftieth day after the Resurrection of Christ.
Icons are meant to be different from ordinary pictures or photographs. The images on icons must conform to the iconographic tradition, which has been worked out over the centuries. A newly-painted icon should always be blessed in church, sprinkled with holy water. After this it becomes a sacred object, through which the grace of the Holy Spirit acts invisibly. It is well-known that there are many miracle-working icons, which have brought about numerous healings.
Surrounding the head of the Saviour and of the saints on icons there is depicted a radiance, a circle of light, called a nimbus. The nimbus symbolizes the grace of God, which abides in the one whom it surrounds. The radiance of the light of God is ordinarily invisible to the physical eye, but there have been times when, by God’s will, it has become visible to man. Thus, for example, the Prophet Moses had to cover his face with a veil, so as not to blind people with the light which shone from his face. On Mount Tabor the Apostles were allowed to see the radiance of Christ’s Divinity.
During a conversation with Motovilov the face of St Seraphim of Sarov became like the sun. Motovilov himself wrote that he was unable to gaze upon the saint’s face at that time. Such accounts can be found in the lives of many other saints as well.
On icons of the Saviour, the Greek words ho _n, meaning "He Who is," are usually written in the nimbus, because He, being God, always is. On icons of the Mother of God, the Greek letters MP ΘΥ are written. They form an abbreviation for M_t_r Theou — Mother of God.
Liturgical cycles and forms
a) The Yearly Cycle of Services
Every day of the year is dedicated to the commemoration of particular saints or sacred events; these are the feasts. Some feasts are immovable; they are always observed on the same date; for example, the Nativity of Christ (and the Christmas Fast which precedes it) and the Dormition of the Mother of God (and the Dormition Fast.) There are also movable feasts, whose date varies from year to year. These include all those feasts which are connected with Pascha (Easter), such as Palm Sunday, the Ascension and Pentecost.
Pascha is the most joyous of Christian feasts. It is "the feast of feasts and the festival of festivals." Our Lord Jesus Christ arose from the dead on the day after the Jewish Passover (Pascha), which fell on a Saturday in the year in which He was crucified.
Since the Old Testament Passover was celebrated according to the lunar calendar, so that it fell on different dates in different years, the Pascha of the New Testament was also celebrated on a date related to that of the Old Testament Passover. The First Ecumenical Council decreed that the Christian Pascha should always be observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring, but separately from the Jewish Passover.
Tables, called Paschalia, have been compiled, indicating when Pascha falls in any given year. The earliest date on which Pascha can fall is April 4 (March 22 by the church calendar), and the latest date for Pascha is May 8 (April 25 by the church calendar.) Lent, or the Great Fast, begins seven weeks before Pascha. Each Sunday of Lent is dedicated to a particular commemoration (See the brochure Great Lent). One week before Pascha Palm Sunday is celebrated. Forty days after Pascha the Ascension of our Lord is commemorated, and ten days later comes Pentecost (Trinity Sunday, the feast of the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles).
Here is a list of the twelve great feasts of the Church and their dates according to the civil calendar: The Nativity of Christ (January 7); the Baptism of our Lord (Theophany — January 19); the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple (February 15); the Annunciation (April 7); the Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday — the last Sunday before Easter); the Ascension of our Lord (40 days after Pascha); the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles (Pentecost or the Day of the Holy Trinity — 50 days after Pascha); the Transfiguration of our Lord (August 19); the Dormition of the Mother of God (August 28); the Nativity of the Mother of God (September 21); the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 27); the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (December 4).
After Pentecost the Church begins the cycle of the eight tones (particular melodies), with which is associated the cycle of daily readings from the Epistles and Gospels.
b) The Weekly Cycle of Services
In addition to the yearly cycle of services, there is also a weekly cycle, in which each day of the week is dedicated to a particular sacred event or saint. Sunday is dedicated to the Resurrection of Christ; Monday, to the Angels; Tuesday, to Saint John the Baptist and the Prophets; Wednesday and Friday, to the remembrance of our Saviour’s suffering on the Cross (hence Wednesday and Friday are days of fasting; it was on Wednesday that Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve apostles, betrayed Christ to the Jewish high priests; Wednesday, besides being dedicated to the Cross, also honors the Mother of God); on Thursday are commemorated the holy Apostles and their successors, the holy Hierarchs, among whom St Nicholas the Wonderworker is especially venerated; on Saturday the martyrs, holy monks and nuns and all the saints are honored. Saturday is also the day on which all the faithful departed are commemorated.
c) The Daily Cycle of Services
In keeping with biblical tradition, the Church’s day begins in the evening. The biblical account of the days of creation mentions the evening first: "And the evening and the morning were the first day" (Gen. 1:5); therefore, the first service of the church day is Vespers, the evening service. There are nine divine services offered every day: Vespers, Compline, Midnight Service, Matins, the First, Third, Sixth and Ninth Hours and the Divine Liturgy. The full cycle of daily services is usually carried out only in monasteries and some very large parish churches, which have many people and more than one priest.
Vespers is the service celebrated at the end of the day, in the evening. At Vespers the faithful give thanks to the Lord for the past day and ask His grace for the coming evening.
Compline is the service celebrated after the evening meal, or supper. It consists of a series of prayers before going to sleep, in which the faithful ask the Lord for forgiveness of their sins and for protection from the devil’s temptations during sleep.
The Midnight Service is generally a monastic service, read at midnight, in commemoration of our Saviour’s prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. The prayers of the Midnight Service urge those at prayer to be vigilant and always to be ready for the day of judgment, which will come suddenly, like the bridegroom who came at midnight in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins.
The Hours are very short services, read in the course of the day, usually without any singing. The First Hour corresponds approximately to the hour after 6 a.m. by our time, since in antiquity the hours were counted from sunrise. At the Third Hour, corresponding to 9 a.m., the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles is recalled. The Sixth Hour (12 noon) commemorates the Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Ninth Hour (3 p.m.) — the Death of our Saviour on the Cross.
The most important of all the divine services is the Divine Liturgy, which is usually celebrated before noon. At the Liturgy the whole earthly life of the Saviour comes before the spiritual gaze of the faithful, and in particular the Mystical (Last) Supper, at which our Lord Jesus Christ established the Sacrament of Holy Communion. In this sacrament a miracle takes place. The Holy Spirit descends upon the bread and wine and transubstantiates them, changes their very substance. The bread becomes the true Body of Christ and the wine in the chalice becomes the true Blood of Christ.
In the monasteries of antiquity these services were performed separately, each at its own appointed time. When the services came to be celebrated in parish churches, they were grouped together for convenience in two aggregates, the evening services and the morning services. The evening services include Vespers, Matins and the First Hour. The morning services are the Third and Sixth Hours and the Divine Liturgy. The Ninth Hour, Compline and the Midnight Service are usually omitted in parish churches.
On the eves of Sundays and great feasts the evening service, consisting of Vespers, Matins and the First Hour, is celebrated with greater solemnity than on weekdays. This service is called the All-Night Vigil, because the early Christians used to begin the service in the evening and end the next morning, when they would celebrate the Liturgy, at which the faithful received Holy Communion.
The degrees of holy orders
The Apostles instituted three orders in the priestly hierarchy: the episcopate, the priesthood and the diaconate. In the Sacrament of Holy Orders the sacred ministers receive the grace of the Holy Spirit for the service of the Church, to teach people the Christian faith and piety (a devout way of life), to perform services in church and at home and to direct the life of the Church.
Bishops (hierarchs) receive the highest degree of grace. All bishops are equal in respect of the grace they have received, but they are divided into various ranks according to their administrative responsibilities: bishops, vicar bishops, archbishops, metropolitans and patriarchs. Besides celebrating divine services and preaching the word of God, bishops have the power to ordain priests and deacons; to consecrate chrism, antimensia and churches; and to direct church affairs in the parishes which are subject to them. In modern times it is the practice of the Church to select candidates for the episcopate exclusively from among monks.
Priests, or presbyters, receive the grace to celebrate the services and sacraments of the Church with the blessing of the bishop (although they cannot ordain other priests); they also preach the word of God and administer the affairs of their own parishes. Senior priests are called archpriests. Priests who are also monks are called hieromonks. The more senior hieromonks are called abbots, and the most senior are archimandrites.
Deacon comes from a Greek word meaning "servant." Deacons assist bishops and priests in performing the divine services; they cannot perform such services independently. The participation of a deacon adds beauty to the service, but it is not absolutely necessary, and in many churches services are carried out without the assistance of a deacon. A deacon who is senior in the service of his bishop is called a protodeacon, or, if he is a monk, an archdeacon.
Others who take part in the divine services are the reader, who reads prayers, and the chanter, who not only reads but also sings. Often parishioners who are able to read and sing from the church service books also form part of the choir. The choir and its director contribute to the solemnity of services for the feasts of the Church.
The sacred ministers and the people who pray with them form one spiritual family, a little church. All the members of this Church family ought to have one goal: to save their own souls and to further the salvation of others. Those who regularly pray in a particular church are called its parishioners. They confess their sins and receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion in their parish church; they enter holy Matrimony there; they bring their children there to be baptized and they bring their deceased family members to be buried.
Every Orthodox Christian should be a parishioner of a particular church. He should consider it a holy place and take care of its decoration and maintenance, and should also offer material support to those persons who serve the church.
The sacred vestments
For the performance of divine services the sacred ministers put on sacred garments, which are adorned with crosses.
The vestments of a deacon are the sticharion, the orarion and the epimanikia (cuffs). The sticharion is a long garment with an opening for the head and wide sleeves. This type of garment may also be worn by readers, chanters and altar-servers. The orarion is a long wide band, usually made of the same material as the sticharion; it is worn by the deacon over his left shoulder, on top of the sticharion. The epimanikia, or cuffs, are worn on the arms; they are used at divine services for the sake of convenience.
The vestments of a priest are the alb, the epitrachelion, the zone (belt), the epimanikia (cuffs) and the phelonion (chasuble). The alb is a type of sticharion. It is made of a thinner material, and has narrower sleeves with cords which bind them to the arm. It is worn under the phelonion. The epitrachelion is like the deacon’s orarion, but folded in two. It goes around the neck, and its two ends come down in front, where they are joined together by buttons for convenience. A priest may not celebrate any service without an epitrachelion, just a deacon may not serve without an orarion. The zone, or belt, is put on over the alb and the epitrachelion to give the priest greater freedom of movement during the services. The phelonion, or chasuble, is worn by the priest on top of all the other vestments. It is a long, wide, sleeveless garment, with an opening for the head on top; it is cut away in front to allow for free use of the arms. Its form recalls the purple robe in which our Saviour was dressed during His Passion. A priest also wears a pectoral cross around his neck over the phelonion. After years of service, some priests receive awards. Among these are the skoufia, a soft, conical, violet-coloured hat; the epigonation (nabedrennik), an elongated rectangular cloth which is worn at the right hip; the kamilavka, a stiff violet hat which is slightly wider at the top; the gold cross; the palitsa and the jewelled cross.
The vestments of a bishop are the alb, epitrachelion, cuffs and belt, just as a priest wears; in place of the phelonion, however, bishops wear the sakkos, which resembles a sticharion but is shorter and has shorter sleeves. Over the sakkos bishops wear the omophorion. This is a long, wide cloth, adorned with crosses; it is placed on the bishop’s shoulders in such a way that one end of it hangs down in front and the other end in back. Without the omophorion a bishop may not perform any service. This vestment reminds him that he must be concerned about the salvation of those who have gone astray, like the good shepherd of the Gospel parable, who sought out the lost sheep and carried it home on his shoulders. At his right hip a bishop wears the palitsa, a diamond-shaped cloth which is geometrically a rhomb. On his breast, over the sakkos, a bishop wears an enkolpion, or panagia, in addition to a cross. This is a small round image of the Saviour or the Mother of God, usually adorned with jewels. During services a bishop uses a staff, as a sign of the highest pastoral authority. On his head a bishop wears a mitre during services; it is adorned with small icons and jewels.
During services an orlets (eagle-rug) is placed wherever a bishop is going to stand. This is a small circular rug with an image of an eagle flying high over a city.
The color of the sacred vestments may vary according to the feasts and seasons of the church year. For much of the year gold-colored vestments are used. During the Christmas and Easter seasons white vestments are worn; on feasts of the Mother of God, blue; on weekdays of Lent, black; on Saturdays and Sundays in Lent, purple; on Palm Sunday and Pentecost, green.
The priestly blessing
Bishops and priests are bearers of grace. They are called to guide and sanctify the faithful and to call down upon them God’s blessing. In Old Testament times God commanded the priests, "Bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, the Lord bless thee, and keep thee!¼ And they shall put My name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them" (Numbers 6:23-27, Leviticus 9:22). The blessing given by a priest of the New Testament confers upon the faithful even greater spiritual strength. In giving a blessing, the priest is following the example of our Saviour, Who embraced children, put His hands upon them and blessed them (cf. Mark 10:16; Luke 24:50).
In bestowing a blessing, a priest makes the sign of the Cross, holding his fingers in such a way that they represent the initial letters of the Lord’s name, Jesus Christ. In order to receive a blessing upon meeting a bishop or a priest, one joins his hands, right over left, palms upward, and says, "Bless me, Father," to a priest, or "Bless me, Vladyka (Master)," to a bishop. The blessing should then be received with faith that one will receive God’s grace. On receiving a blessing, one kisses the hand that gives the blessing, as if kissing the invisible hand of the Saviour.
Candles and prosphora
Everything that we possess or use is a gift from God; therefore, we feel a natural need to give thanks to Him. From time immemorial man has expressed his gratitude to God in the form of offerings taken from his fields and flocks. The Word of God directed the ancient Jews: "Take ye from among you an offering unto the Lord: whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it, an offering of the Lord." When the Jews visited the Temple, they always had to bring something in thanksgiving, according to the word of the Lord: "...and none shall appear before Me empty" (cf. Gen. 4:2-4; Exod. 23:15-19, 35:5; Num. 15:18-21; Lev. 23:34-40; 1 Cor. 16:27 ***). In the same way, we, too, should not be empty-handed and ungrateful when we ask God in church for His help and for various favors. Our offerings are used for the maintenance and decoration of the church, for the support of the clergy who have dedicated their lives to the service of God and neighbor, and for the relief of the needy who turn to the Church for assistance.
In apostolic times Christians used to bring to the church oil, wine, bread, incense and wax — all things that are needed for divine worship — as well as various products, such as honey, which were offered for the love-feasts (meals at which wealthier Christians brought food to serve to those who had gathered for prayer, especially the poorer members of the community) and for assistance to those in need. Gradually these varied offerings came down to two basic items, candles and prosphora (altar breads).
A candle is an expression of the fervor of our faith. Prosphora is given as an offering to God for the remembrance of our relatives and friends, whose names are written in a little book or on a sheet of paper for commemoration. Christian names alone should be used, without surnames, and they should be in the proper form, not a shortened form or a nickname. If written in Russian, they should be in the genitive case.
Bows, kneeling, the sign of the Cross, the lifting of our hands, the bowing of our heads, kissing icons — all these things are expressions of that state of mind of which the Apostle speaks when he says, "Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service" (Romans 12:1).
Because we recognize our unworthiness in the sight of God, we humbly fall down before Him. We either bow to the waist or we make a prostration, in which we bow down, kneel and touch the head to the ground. It is not usually customary to remain on one’s knees during prayer in church; such a posture is more suitable for private prayer.
The spiritual renewal of man is aided by two things, prayer and fasting. All the saints attained salvation not only by prayer, but also by fasting. "This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting," said the Saviour about driving away an unclean spirit (Matt. 17:21).
For the ancient Christians, fasting meant eating nothing at all or eating a little of the simplest kind of food, bread and water. Nowadays, although most people do not fast with such strictness, we should still abstain from meat and dairy products on fast days, as well as from everything excessive, and we should try to deepen our prayer and thoughts of God. Fasting forms in us the habit of abstinence; it helps man restrain his passions; it strengthens the spirit while weakening the flesh.
Times for fasting were laid down in the ancient Christian Church, following the example of Jesus Christ, Who fasted for forty days and spoke about fasting (Matt. 6:16-18).
Some fasts are only for one day, while others last for many days. The one-day fasts include every Wednesday and Friday and certain other days in the year, except that fasting is not required during the following times: the fast-free weeks after Pascha and Pentecost; the period from Christmas till Epiphany Eve; Cheese-fare Week or Carnival and the week of the Pharisee and the Publican.
Among the extended periods of fasting the most important is Lent, called the Great Fast, which begins seven weeks before Pascha, right after Forgiveness Sunday. The last week of Lent is called Holy Week or Passion Week, because it commemorates the Passion of our Saviour. On Friday of Passion Week (Good Friday), it is customary not to eat anything until the bringing out of the Shroud of our Lord. The other seasons of fasting are: a) the Dormition Fast, which lasts for two weeks (August 1-15 by the church calendar, August 14-28 on the civil) and was instituted to prepare us for the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God; b) the Apostles’ Fast or St Peter’s Fast, which prepares us for the feast of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, beginning on the Monday following Pentecost Week and lasting until July 12 (civil calendar), when the feast is celebrated; c) the Christmas Fast or St Philip’s Fast, which prepares us for the feast of the Nativity of Christ and lasts for forty days, from November 28 till January 6 (civil calendar). The last day of this fast, Christmas Eve, is kept with special strictness; people do not eat anything until the first star has appeared in the sky.
The Symbolic Meaning
of the Liturgy
By Archbishop Seraphim (Sviazhscky)
The Liturgy is the most important Divine service in our Orthodox Church, because during it is accomplished the great Mystery of the Eucharist or Holy Communion, which was established by our Lord Jesus Christ at the Mystical Supper; its essence being that through the action of the Grace of the Holy Spirit our offerings of bread and wine become the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus.
The whole life of the Saviour, from His Nativity to His Glorious Ascension, transpires at the Liturgy.
The first part of the Liturgy is called the Proskomedia. This word is Greek and means "offering," because in the first centuries of Christianity, people did not bake pros-phora, but rather brought bread and wine.
The Proskomedia symbolically represents the Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Table of Oblation represents the cave where the Infant Jesus was born.
At the Proskomedia five prosphora are used: the first is called the Lamb, from which are cut out four triangular particles; the second prosphoron is called the Mother of God; the third is called the prosphoron of the nine, because from it are cut out nine particles as a sign of the nine ranks of divine service; from the fourth prosphoron particles are taken out for the living, and from the fifth prosphoron a particle for the departed.
The taking out of the Lamb from the prosphoron signifies the Nativity of the Infant Jesus from the Mother of God. The priest places the Lamb on the paten, or diskos, which represents the manger where the Mother of God laid the Infant Jesus. Then the priest places the star-cover on the diskos, which represents the star that showed the way to the wise men.
The priest then covers the diskos with the veil, which symbolizes the swaddling clothes in which the Infant Christ was wrapped.
When the Proskomedia is finished, the priest censes the as yet unsanctified gifts. The censing and the censor represent the gifts brought by the wise men to the Holy Family. After the birth of the Infant Jesus, the Holy Family had to flee into Egypt, where they stayed until the death of Herod. When Herod died, the Holy Family returned to Palestine and settled in Nazareth where the child Jesus lived in obedience to the Mother of God and the elderly Joseph. When the Lord Jesus Christ was thirty years old, He went to John the Baptist and was baptized in the Jordan and afterwards went up the mountain where He prayed and fasted forty days and forty nights, after which He went out to preach and fulfill His mission of saving mankind.
Christ's going out to preach is represented by the Small Entrance, when the priest takes the Book of the Gospels from the Holy Table and gives it to the deacon. They go around the Holy Table and exit through the northern doors of the sanctuary to the ambo and stand before the Royal Doors. The priest blesses the Entrance and the deacon makes the sign of the Cross with the Holy Gospel and says, "Wisdom, attend." They enter the sanctuary and put the Holy Gospel in its place on the Holy Table.
After the going out to preach comes the preaching at the Liturgy — the Epistle and Gospel are read.
The Saviour's preaching continues for three and a half years, up until His triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. The triumphal Entry into Jerusalem at the Liturgy is represented by the Great Entrance, when the clergy take from the table of oblation the chalice and diskos, with the still unsanctified gifts, exit through the northern doors from the sanctuary onto the ambo, take them into the sanctuary and place them on the Holy Table. After the triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, on Great Thursday at the Mystical Supper, the Saviour instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist, when He took bread, blessed it, broke it, and, giving it to His disciples, said, Take, eat: this is My Body, which is broken for you for the remission of sins. Then taking the chalice, He blessed it and giving it to His disciples, said, Drink ye all of it; for this is My Blood of the new testament which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
And He commanded His disciples: This do in remembrance of Me. And the Orthodox Church performs this Sacrament of the Eucharist and will continue to perform it till the end of the ages.
After the Mystical Supper, the Lord with His disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where the Saviour prayed until His sweat became as drops of blood. Here He was betrayed by Judas, was bound and was first taken to the judgment seat of the high priests, and then to Pilate, who condemned the Lord to death on the Cross. The Lord was crucified, suffered on the Cross, died on the Cross and was buried in a cave. This was closed with a stone which was sealed and guarded.
At the Liturgy this is represented as follows: the Royal Doors are closed, the curtain is pulled shut, and a lit candle is placed before the Royal Doors.
At this time, in the altar, the clergy partake of Holy Communion. On the third day the Saviour rose. An angel came down from heaven and rolled away the stone from the Sepulchre. At the Liturgy this is represented thus: the candle is taken away, the curtain is pulled aside and the Royal Doors are opened. The clergy, with the chalice, come out onto the ambo with the words, "With the fear of God and faith draw near." This signifies the Lord's first appearance after His Resurrection. At this time the faithful partake of Holy Communion.
After the faithful receive Communion, the priest returns the chalice to the Holy Table where he submerges all the particles left on the diskos with the words, "Cleanse, O Lord, the sins of those remembered here, with Thy honorable Blood, by the prayers of Thy saints."
The priest once again brings out the chalice and blesses the people: "Always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages." This represents the last appearance of the Saviour before His Ascension.
Then the priest voices the Dismissal, concluding the Liturgy.
+ Archbishop Seraphim
Of Caracas and Venezuela
The service books of the Church
The first place among the books used in the divine services is occupied by the books of the Gospel, the Epistle and the Psalter, which are from the Bible. The next place belongs to the following books: the Priest’s Service Book (Hieratikon or Sluzhebnik), the Horologion (Book of Hours), the Book of Needs (Trebnik), the Octoechos, the Monthly Menaion, the Lenten Triodion and the Pentecostarion. These liturgical books were composed by the fathers and teachers of the Orthodox Church.
The Gospel is the Word of God. It consists of the first four books of the New Testament, written by the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Gospels contain an account of the earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ: His teaching, His miracles, His Passion and Death on the Cross, His glorious Resurrection and His Ascension into heaven. At the end of an altar Gospel book, several tables indicate the portions read on various days throughout the church year.
The book of the Epistles, or Apostle, contains the following books of the New Testament: the Acts of the Apostles, the Catholic or General epistles and the epistles of the Apostle Paul. The Epistle book excludes only the book of Revelation. Like the Gospel, the Epistle is divided into sections with tables at the back of the book, indicating when and how they are to be read.
The Psalter is the book of David, the King and Prophet. It is so termed because the majority of the psalms in it were written by the holy Prophet David. In these psalms, the holy Prophet opens his soul to God, with grief in repenting for the sins he has committed, and with joy in glorifying the endless perfection of God. He expresses gratitude for all the mercies of His care; he seeks help amidst all the obstacles that confront him. For this reason the Psalter is used more than any other service book during the course of the services. For liturgical use the Psalter is divided into twenty sections called kathismata (derived from the Greek word "to sit," as it is customary to sit while they are being read.)
The Priest’s Service Book is used by priests and deacons. It contains the order of Vespers, Matins and the Liturgy, emphasizing the parts said by those serving. At the end of the book are found the dismissals, prokeimena, megalynaria and a menologion (a list of saints commemorated daily by the Church.)
The Horologion is the book which serves as the basic guide for readers and chanters in the choir. It contains the unchanging parts of all the daily services. The Book of Needs includes the order of service for the various Sacraments. Other services found in the Book of Needs are the Burial Service, the Blessing of Water, the Prayers at the Birth of a Child, the Naming of a Child and his Churching, as well as blessings for other occasions.
The Octoechos, or Book of the Eight Tones, contains poetic hymns, in the form of troparia, kontakia, canons, and so forth. They are divided into eight groups of melodies, or tones. Each tone contains the hymnody for an entire week, so that the complete Octoechos is repeated every eight weeks throughout most of the year. The arrangement of ecclesiastical chanting in tones was the work of the famous hymnographer of the Byzantine Church, St. John of Damascus (eighth century).
The Monthly Menaion contains the prayers and hymns in honor of the saints for each day of the year, as well as the solemn festival services for the feasts of the Lord and the Theotokos which fall on fixed calendar dates. Following the number of months, it is divided into twelve volumes.
The Lenten Triodion contains the special parts of the services for the season of Lent and leading up to Pascha, beginning with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. The Lenten Triodion derives its name from the Greek word meaning "three odes," since the Canon of Matins is based on only three of the scriptural odes or canticles, instead of the usual nine.
The Pentecostarion contains the hymnography used from the feast of Holy Pascha through the first Sunday after Pentecost, the Sunday of All Saints.
Rules of behavior in Church
The sanctity of the church requires that we have an attitude of reverence. The Apostle Paul says, "Let all things be done decently and in order," when Christians gather for prayer (1 Cor. 14:40.) To this end the following rules have been laid down for guidance.
Preparation for Confession
and Holy Communion
Receive the Body of Christ; taste ye of the fountain of immortality.
Confession and Holy Communion are two powerful sources of spiritual renewal. In ancient times Christians received Holy Communion every Sunday. They confessed their sins as often as necessary.
One who is preparing to receive Holy Communion should be filled with a deep sense of his sinfulness and nothingness before God. He should be at peace with everyone, guard himself against feelings of ill will or irritability, refrain from judging others, and abstain from impure thoughts, unnecessary conversations, and vain or sinful amusements (television, movies, loud music, etc.). He should ponder the greatness of the sacrament of Holy Communion, and, as far as possible, spend the time in solitude, in spiritual reading and meditation.
One who wishes to go to Holy Communion should also go to Confession, preferably the night before, during the evening services. He should come to the priest with sincere repentance for all his sins in the sight of God, freely opening his soul and concealing nothing, with a firm intention of amending his life. During Confession it is best not to wait for the priest to ask questions; rather, you yourself should tell everything that weighs on your soul, not seeking to justify your actions or to shift blame to someone else. When you go to Confession, you must make the decision to improve yourself and not to repeat your former sins.
Before Holy Communion the appointed prayers should be read from the Prayer Book, and you should also ask God in your own words for mercy and spiritual renewal. Communion must be received on an empty stomach; nothing should be eaten, drunk or smoked from midnight of the day on which it is to be received.
In cases of necessity it is permissible to go to Confession in the morning, but always before the Liturgy begins, never during it. One who demands Confession during the Liturgy is showing a lack of respect for the Sacrament of Penance, which for lack of time is then carried out hurriedly; at the same time, everyone else is compelled to wait, and the continuity of the service is disturbed.
In this brochure we have acquainted the reader with the history of the development of the church building and its layout, as well as with the significance of various objects found in the church. We have spoken about the main types of services and the daily, weekly and yearly cycles of divine services. We have reminded the reader of the basic rules of behavior in church. We have explained the importance of Holy Communion and how to prepare for it.
When we go to church, we must put ourselves in the proper disposition, reminding ourselves that we are entering another world, distinct from our usual world of vanity and temptations. Here, in the church, we stand before our Creator and Saviour; here we offer Him the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving together with the angels and the saints.
In order for the time we spend in church to be spiritually profitable, we must penetrate deeply into the content of the divine services, meditate on them and immerse ourselves in them. Prayer together with other Christians in church is a great force for renewal. When we consciously share in this grace-filled prayer it cleanses our consciences, gives peace to our souls, perfects us, strengthens our faith and kindles the love of God in our hearts.
And so, let us treasure our Orthodox church as an island of heaven on the sinful earth. Let us work together for its beauty and the magnificence of the divine services which are performed in it. And may the merciful and compassionate Lord send us His spiritual and temporal gifts, so that, guarded by His all-powerful help, we may be made worthy of eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. Amen.
*** *** ***
Glossary of Liturgical Terminology
Antiphon – a general title for a hymn or a section of the Psalter; the title describes the manner in which the hymn or Psalter are to be chanted, i.e., by two choirs in turn.
Kathisma – one of the twenty sections into which the Psalter is divided in the liturgical use of the Orthodox Church. Each Kathisma is composed of a number of Psalms, e.g., Kathisma #1 = Psalms 1-8, Kathisma #2 = Psalms 9-17, etc.
Kathisma Hymn (Sedalen) – a hymn sung as an introduction to "sitting," i.e., a period of rest following such things as the lengthy chanting of the Psalter, the singing of the Polyeleos, or the singing of several Odes from the Canon at Matins.
Polyeleos – The Psalms of "much oil" or "many mercies" (Psalms 135-136) sung during Resurrectional and Festal Matins.
Canon – a principal element in Matins (although it may also appear elsewhere); a lengthy hymn composed of nine odes, with each ode being made up of many hymns (usually 12-14), the number and source of which are regulated by the Typikon. At least theoretically each ode takes its theme from the Biblical canticle (e.g., Ode 1 is patterned after Exodus 15:1-19, the Canticle of Moses) which serves as its prototype.
Irmos – a word meaning "link" in Greek. The Irmos is the theme-song and the first hymn of each ode of a Canon. It has a double function: it "links" the ode thematically with the Biblical canticle which serves as its prototype, and, by establishing the meter and melody for all the other hymns (troparia) of the ode, it is the first "link" in their chain.
Troparion – one of the oldest titles used in the Orthodox Church for a particular piece of composed hymnography. In Greek the word means "a sign of victory" or a "way of life," and in general implies that the composed hymn is a succinct summary of the event or saintly person being celebrated in the Church. As a title, Troparion can be applied to virtually any composed hymn used in Orthodox worship. Present use, however, usually limits it to the hymn sung after the Lord’s Prayer at Vespers, after "God is the Lord" at Matins, and after the Little Entrance at the Divine Liturgy. It also denotes the hymns that follow the Irmos in the ode of a canon.
Katavasia – in Greek this word implies the act of "descending" or "coming down." It is the name given to the hymn that concludes the ode of a Canon. During the singing of the Katavasia the two choirs are to "descend" from their places (the kliros) and assemble in the center of the church. The Katavasia may be the Irmos from another canon, or, as on Pascha, it may be the Irmos of the given ode repeated. These matters are regulated by the Typikon.
Hypakoe – perhaps the most ancient title used by the Church to denote a piece of composed hymnography. In Greek this word means "to be obedient," "to hear," "to respond." Presently, the Hypakoe is the particular title of a hymn sung during Resurrectional Matins. It varies according to the tone of the week from the Octoechos and comes after the Resurrectional hymns which are sung together with the refrain from Ps. 119: "Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes." The Hypakoe of Pascha is the one most commonly known. It is sung after the third ode of the Paschal Canon, during the Paschal Hours, and again after the Little Entrance at Divine Liturgy.
Stikheron – another general title referring to a composed hymn written in verses. Such hymns occur throughout Orthodox worship, e.g.: they are inserted at the places appointed by the Typikon during the chanting of "Lord, I call" (Psalms 141, 142, 130 and 117) at Vespers. They are usually associated with Psalmody.
Automelon (samopodoben) – a stikheron having its own meter and melody and serving in turn as a model for other stihhera.
Idiomelon (samoglasen) – a stikheron having its own meter and melody which never serve as a model for other stikhera.
Prosomoia (podoben) – a stikheron whose meter and melody are taken from those of an automelon.
Apostikha – stikhera that appear together with selected Psalm verses before St. Simeon’s Prayer at Vespers as well as near the end of Daily and Lenten Matins.
Lity (litia) – a word implying a fervent, prolonged prayer. It generally designates the procession to the narthex of the church for petitions, hymns and the blessing of loaves, which is a typical feature of the latter part of Great Vespers on feast days.
Theotokian – a hymn to the Theotokos that usually concludes a larger body of hymnography, e.g.: troparia at the end of Vespers, stikhera on "Lord, I call," apostikha, etc.
Stavrotheotokian – hymns to the Theotokos that refer to her standing at the Cross of Christ. They are typically found in the Octoechos in the hymnography for Wednesdays and Fridays.
Dogmatikon – those Theotokia that conclude the stikhera on "Lord, I call" at Great Vespers on the eves of the Lord’s Day. Their title comes from the fact that they are usually succinct presentations of the dogma of the Incarnation, with particular stress on the ever-virginity and motherhood of Mary.
Verses on the Praises – stikhera inserted at those places appointed by the Typikon during the chanting of the Psalms of Praise (148-150) at Matins.
Gospel Stikhera – hymns sung during Resurrectional Matins at "Glory" of the Verses on the Praises. There are eleven Gospel Stikhera, and they vary from week to week depending upon which of the eleven Gospel lessons for Sunday Matins is read.
Exapostilarion – a Greek word implying "to dismiss," which is used for the title of a short hymn that comes at the end of the Canon at Matins. In Slavonic service books this hymn is called the Svetilen or "song of light." For Sunday Matins, after the brief "Holy is the Lord our God," there are eleven other Exapostilaria – one for each week depending upon which of the eleven Gospel lessons of Sunday Matins is read.
Kontakion – derived from a Greek word that made reference to a wooden stick around which a parchment was wrapped. Originally, the Kontakion was a hymn of many stanzas (18-24) whose lengthy text indeed required the use of a scroll. St. Roman the Melodist (+556) is the most famous composer of such lengthy, free-style hymns. The hymns in their original, lengthy form have all but fallen into disuse in Orthodox worship. What now remains in the liturgical books as Kontakia are merely the short, preliminary stanzas of the earlier and longer hymns. The Kontakion is sung after ode 6 (together with the Ikos, or first strophe of the more ancient, lengthy kontakion) of the Canon at Matins, during the Hours, and after the Troparia at the Divine Liturgy.
Akathistos – a long hymn of 24 stanzas, similar to the ancient Kontakion. Greek word itself means that the hymn is to be sung while everyone stands. Many Akathistos hymns have been composed for saints and even particular icons. They are generally used for devotional purposes and may be inserted after the ode 6 of the Matins Canon during the celebration of a feast (for which an Akathistos has been composed). The Akathistos to the Theotokos is in regular liturgical use and is prescribed in the Triodion for the 5th Saturday of Great Lent. In Greek and Antiochian use this Akathistos is divided into sections and spread throughout the Friday evenings of Great Lent.
Prokeimenon – the Greek word implies something that is "set before" or "introduces." The Prokeimenon was originally an entire Psalm that served to "introduce" the reading of Scripture that followed it. One verse from the Psalm was selected as the refrain to the chanting of all the others. In current liturgical use, the Prokeimenon is reduced to the refrain and one to four verses of the Psalm being employed.
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Missionary Leaflet # E50
Copyright © 2000 Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission
466 Foothill Blvd, Box 397, La Canada, Ca 901011
Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)
Edited by Donald Shufran