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:
How is the Bishop’s service book held for him during the Divine Services, and what are the responsibilities of the book-bearer?
Handbook Category: Hierarchical Services (index)

The Bishop’s book-bearer is considered one of the senior positions amongst the Altar servers, as it requires close attentiveness to the Bishop’s movements and the flow of the Divine Services themselves. It is normally an obedience laid upon a mature Altar server with ample experience. The book-bearer must not, however, be one of the Subdeacons unless there are more than two of the latter present, as the Subdeacons fulfil other prescribed roles during the hierarchical services.

It is essential that the book-bearer be assigned no other tasks in the Altar during the hierarchical service: his sole responsibility is to fulfil this obedience; he should not be asked to ready a censer, light candles, remove or replace the Bishop’s omofor, or otherwise move from the Bishop’s side without the latter’s blessing.

When outside the Altar (e.g. at the cathedra in the centre of the temple) the book-bearer stands either to the Bishop’s left or right (as he indicates) and slightly behind him. Within the Altar he stands to the Bishop’s left, no more than a few steps from him. At all times his attention should be on the Bishop, so that by a small gesture of the latter’s left hand he can indicate that he needs the book, which can immediately be presented to him.

Photograph demonstrating the book-bearer standing in readiness near the Bishop, holding the book correctly.

The Bishop’s service book (chinovnik) is always carried / held in both hands, with a fabric marker marking the position of the next prayer that the Bishop will read therefrom. When the time comes for the Hierarch to read the prayer (which will be denoted either by a small gesture of his hand, or, in the case of experienced servers, at the foreseen moments in the services when prayers are always required), the book-bearer immediately steps close to the Bishop, opening the book as he moves so that it is already open when he reaches his place, and then lifts the marker off the page and places it over his left shoulder. The Bishop may adjust the book’s and/or the book-bearer’s position to accommodate his eyesight or preference; the new position should then be remembered and approximated as closely as possible in future. When the Bishop has finished reading the appointed prayer, he will signal this either with a small gesture or an inclination of his head, for which the book-bearer should be watching and, as soon as it is seen, he should step away from the Bishop and go back to his place, only once there marking the new position in the book and closing it.

Inside the Altar, the opened book is held before the Bishop at the front and slightly to the left of the Holy Table. The book-bearer must be attentive not to touch the Table, nor let the fabric marker rest upon it (lest it snag and put at risk the sacred items thereon). When prayers are read outside of the Altar, the practice in our Diocese is for the book-bearer to stand directly in front of the Bishop, the book open at chest level.

Additional responsibility of the book-bearer: When the Bishop is on the cathedra in the middle of the temple, it is the book-bearer’s additional responsibility to tend to the large omoforion (when worn) as the Bishop sits. Each time he does so, the book-bearer should take in his hand the length of the omofor that falls behind the Bishop and hold it slightly back so that the Bishop does not sit upon it, and then release it to fall behind his back and the back of the chair.

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