The Orthodox Church, as inheritor of the faith of the Apostles, receives anew in every generation the customs of ecclesiastical life handed down to us through generations and centuries. Maintaining a life of liturgical worship revealed from heaven and bestowed upon creation by divine mercy, she guards with extraordinary diligence the liturgical life by which she draws man into the Life of God.
Our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia has inherited her immediate liturgical customs not merely from instructors or interpreters of tradition, but from living saints who themselves received these customs as handed down by their forebears, and guarded them as a ‘pearl of great price’ (cf. Matthew 13.45, 46) in the midst of a world of constant renovationism and reform. These sacred customs made their way out of Russia at the time of the atheistic apostasy of the twentieth-century and were carefully preserved in the lands of the Diaspora, where they continued to sanctify peoples and lands as they had for centuries.
Today, with the atheistic regime that ignited that exodus mercifully crushed under foot by God’s command, and the Russian Orthodox Church once again fully reunited in fraternal love, the need diligently to retain our attentiveness to liturgical life is as important as it always has been, since God first revealed to His people the manner of offering sacrifice to Him, the shape of the temple and of worship, and gave the divine commandments that still order and shape our prayer. It is always the case that in times of general peace, attentiveness to the details of Christian obedience wanes; and so in the present moment of God-provided calm we must make an extra effort to understand, implement, and pass along the fulness of our liturgical tradition in its every detail, scrupulously and without excuse, so that the present generation and the next will encounter in our temples — as in our hearts — the fulness of the Orthodox Christian faith, unbent by modernity and ever true to the inheritance we have received.
The present Handbook is a small offering intended to aid in this necessary work. Described herein, following a ‘question-and-answer’ format, are a collection of precious gems of our liturgical tradition in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. This text is not meant as a full liturgical primer or manual: it is assumed that the reader, be he a priest or a deacon or of another clerical rank, already knows how to serve the Divine Services in a fundamental way, and so these pages do not describe the essentials of how to serve. Rather, what are collected here are instructions relating to liturgical practices in one way or another specific to the heritage of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, sometimes because these particular elements differ from the practice of the other Local Orthdox Churches or regional traditions; and sometimes because the practices, while also applicable more generally, are routinely witnessed being modified or performed incorrectly, and thus require the proper forms to be reiterated.
It should be noted that the internal integrity of our liturgical practice is in no way a judgement, positive or negative, on the liturgical expressions found elsewhere in the Orthodox world, but instead a simple confession of the sanctity of the heritage we have received and which we maintain; and at the same time, that the validity of variant forms of liturgical practice as found elsewhere in Orthodoxy do not justify a modification or abandonment of our own discrete customs. We maintain what our Fathers have taught us, as we have received it; all servants of the Altar in the temples of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia should strive to the fulness of their ability to maintain our unique customs in their fulness, abandoning nothing and introducing nothing.
We note also that there are slight variations of smaller practical matters between Dioceses of the Church Outside of Russia; we try to note these where appropriate, always with the assumption that all clergy will serve precisely in the manner prescribed by their local Ruling Hierarch. The contents of this Handbook serve as an absolute point of reference for all clergy of the Diocese of Great Britain and Western Europe.
Finally, we intend to expand this Handbook from time to time as certain questions may present themselves as especially pressing for serving clergy, and we invite questions to be posed on customs not yet treated in these pages.
May God bless all His clergy with an abundance of love and a heartfelt dedication to the beauty of the Divine Services of His worship!
BISHOP IRENEI, 2018