Russian Orthodox Liturgical Resources

Liturgical Handbook
of the Practices of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
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Handbook of Liturgical Practice of the Russian Church Abroad
Liturgical Question:
When is it appropriate for an icon or relics to be placed in the middle of the church?
Handbook Category: Icons, Church Adornment and other Practical Matters (index)

In general terms, it is an incorrect practice for there always to be an icon positioned in the middle of the temple. This has become a de facto custom in some places out of exposure to what is done in other traditions, combined with a lax understanding of when and why icons are rightly moved into the centre of the church in our own. In our tradition, an icon is placed in the centre of the temple only on a feastday, to mark out the feast, or on the commemoration day of a specific saint; and even in these cases, the icon is placed in the centre of the church only at an appointed portion of the Vigil, and not generally, as part of the liturgical veneration of the feast / saint that takes place at that point.

In our churches, an icon is placed centrally only on the following occasions:

  • During the Matins of an All-Night Vigil, when the service is of the rank of ‘Polyelei with Magnification’, either for a specific saint or Feast. In this case, the icon is brought into the centre of the temple and placed on an analoy there after the Six Psalms of Matins, before the clergy exit the Altar to stand before the icon and sing the Magnification. The icon then remains in the centre of the temple through the remainder of the Matins, being venerated by the faithful; at the conclusion of the Vigil, it is moved to the foot of the amvon, and to its right, set to the right (south) of the icon of Christ that is kept there; in this place it will remain the next morning for the Divine Liturgy.
  • At Pascha, and throughout Paschaltide, when the parish’s chief icon of the Resurrection is placed in the centre of the temple at the Matins of Paschal mignight, and remains there until the Leavetaking of Pascha (except when a Bishop is serving).
    • To be explicit, this means that the icon of the Resurrection is not placed in the centre of the church on Sundays throughout the year. This happens only during Paschaltide.
  • At a moleben or akafist service to a specific saint or icon, for which that icon is moved to the centre of the church and the service is offered before it; after which the icon is returned to its normal place.
  • At various services of Passion Week, when icons of the Bridegroom, of the Mystical Supper, of the Passion, as well as the Cross and the Shroud are placed in the middle of the temple. (However, apart from the Shroud which remains in the centre of the church during the Divine Liturgy of Holy Saturday, even when served by a Bishop, all the other icons that may be placed in the centre of the temple are moved aside, as usual, when serving either the Presanctified Liturgy on Holy Wednesday or the Liturgy of St Basil on Holy Thursday).

To sum up the above, as a general rule an icon is placed in the centre of the temple only during the Matins of Vigils of certain feastdays and ranking commemorations, as well as during molebens or akafists; but icons are not placed centrally in the temple at Divine Liturgies, except during Paschaltide, and the Paschal tradition of having the Resurrection icon in the centre of the temple is not extended to every Sunday of the year.

The same rules apply to the bringing of holy relics into the centre of the church.

Differing rules apply when a Bishop is serving.

The practice of always keeping an icon in the middle of the temple, e.g. of the patron saint or feast of the parish, or of Christ, etc., is incorrect. The correct placement for the perpetually-present icon of Christ in the temple is at the foot of the amvon, to its right (south), more or less before the similar, larger icon of Christ present on the iconostasis; the correct placement of the perpetually-present icon of the Theotokos in the temple is in the mirror position on the left (north) side of the amvon; and the correct placement of the perpetually-present icon of the patronal feast or saint of the church is again on the right side, to the right (south) of the icon of Christ.

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