Liturgical Handbook of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
Introductory Word, by Bishop Irenei of London and Western Europe
Category: Liturgical Handbook

The Orthodox Church, the mystical Body of Christ and 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 sacred rites and practices 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 a generic 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’ (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 cultures as they had for centuries. There they became the ‘local’ inheritance, as the Church Abroad came to make the Diaspora her local milieu and home.

Today, with the atheistic regime that ignited that exodus mercifully crushed under foot by God’s command and the great heritage of Russian Orthodoxy reunited in fraternal love, her independent and autonomous parts living in restored Eucharistic unity, the need diligently to retain our attentiveness to liturgical life is as important as it always has been. It is none other than God Himself Who revealed to His people the manner of offering sacrifice to Him, the form of the temple and of worship, and Who gave the divine commandments that still shape and order our prayer — they are thus maintained with attentive diligence as heeding no lesser a voice than God’s own. And it is our fathers and forefathers who preserved for us the specific practices and customs that mark out the unique liturgical inheritance of the Church Abroad, which are thus maintained as we seek humbly to preserve and pass on that which has so faithfully been handed down to us.

It is always the case that in times of general peace, when the Church is not actively under the heel of dire persecution, attentiveness to the details of Christian obedience wanes. Ease brings inattentiveness, which too easily becomes laxity; and with but a moment’s inattention, a tradition borne over a hundred or a thousand years can slip from one’s grasp. So it is that, in the present moment of God-provided freedom from such persecutions as were witnessed in abundance in our fathers’ generationsand now over a century into the God-preserved life of the Church Abroad — 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. Again I say, it is saints who have given us these traditions, originating not from interpretive study or well-exercised reason, but by the revelatory illumination that comes from lives of complete adherence to the will of God, thereby receiving the fulness of His grace!

The current state of Orthodoxy in this strange generation has given us additional cause to be most diligent in our liturgical awareness and adherence. It is, today, easier than in almost any other generation to be exposed to the variant liturgical practices of other regions, jurisdictions and patriarchates, and there is a great temptation to emulate whatever is seen elsewhere, even if this involves the abandonment of traditions long enshrined in our practice, or introducing into it customs that have never been part of the living liturgical inheritance of the Church Abroad. At the same time, we cannot gloss over the fact that diligence with respect to liturgical piety is not uniform across the world of our day, and thus even in places where we might hope to witness solid and reliable examples of Russian Orthodox liturgics, this is regrettably not always the case. In some places the filthy stormwaters of renovationism have stirred up ‘updated liturgical practices’; in others the egoism of abstract academic liturgical archeology has prompted modifications of ancient customs; in yet others, the simple fact of traditions interrupted, or lost, under the yoke of persecutions and captivities have resulted in newly-created customs that are not consonant with the old. At least in this latter case, we cannot deride such loss, occasioned by suffering and oppression; but neither can we accept that which is not part of the living inheritance transmitted to us and faithfully maintained by our Godly forebears.

The present Handbook is but a small offering intended to aid in the necessary work of cherishing and preserving this inheritance. Described herein, following a ‘question-and-answer’ format customary to Orthodox liturgical books for centuries, are precious gems of the liturgical tradition of our 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 (as essential liturgical instruction must be part of all clerical formation), 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 Church Abroad, sometimes because these particular elements differ from the practice of the other Local Orthodox Churches or regional traditions; and sometimes because the practices, while also applicable more generally to other traditions also, are routinely witnessed being modified or performed incorrectly, and thus require the proper forms to be reiterated. Some of these entries will be lengthy and detailed, addressing issues that demand fuller explanations; others will be brief, a concise answer to a specific question, requiring no great excursus yet demanding more diligent execution. Some will touch on matters of spiritual symbolism and intricate liturgical meaning; others will address simple matters such as how to dress or where to stand. Yet whether great or small, intricate or simple, every dimension of our liturgical practice is important. Everything has meaning, and everything is therefore significant.

It is of course a reality that multiple threads of liturgical tradition exist within the Local Orthodox Churches, arising organically and by sacred inspiration across the Church’s history in her different locales and preserving intact those customs that have arisen by sacred experience in different cultures of the Church. Our customs are not the only customs within Holy Orthodoxy. But we stand where God has placed us: as children of the Church Abroad. Beholding the beauty of the diversity within God’s Church, we cherish above all the sanctity of the heritage we have ourselves received and which we maintain. The validity of variant forms of liturgical practice as found elsewhere in Orthodoxy does 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 Church Abroad should strive 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; while our practice is, we might say, generally far more uniform across all Dioceses and locales of our Church Abroad than is the case in many other parts of the Orthodox world, it is not absolutely so, and there are certain variations that are authentic parts of our lived experience. We must, however, also be attentive to recognising that some ‘variations’ are actually the inadvertent introduction of errors, and so it must not be the case that every variation is accepted simply under the banner of ‘local custom’. We have tried to note such appropriate variations where possible, always with the assumption that no cleric will dare to serve in any way other than that precisely prescribed by his 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, and what is described herein is what is expected in every Diocesan parish.

In this updated edition, we have also included as an appendix our text ‘To Serve in My Father’s House’, which is aimed specifically at Subdeacons, Readers and altarniki, but which also speaks to the general spiritual labour of all Altar service, touching upon the higher ranks as well. This text, originally published separately many years ago via private means, has become one of our most-requested liturgical writings; for this reason we have thought to include it here, so as to make it more readily and easily available.

The witness of God to His world has always had at its centre the liturgical worship He commands of man. Forged in heaven and reflecting on earth the eternal worship of the Kingdom, it was first shown to the great Patriarchs and Prophets, then to the Holy Apostles in its fulness. Since their day, it has been transmitted by the grace of the Holy Spirit to every generation, perfect and redemptive. It is today, as it has always been, the focal point of salvation. Here Christ the Saviour is made present and man is united to Him in the Divine Mysteries. Here heaven and earth touch and interact. Here the heart of man is opened and drawn into union with the heart of God.

Shall we strive to serve the mysteries of such worship with anything other than our full attentiveness, devotion, and struggle for perfection? May it never be. Rather, let us with full and firm intent set ourselves to learn our traditions fully, that in our hands they may be passed on to the next generation — and so until the Lord comes again.

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!

Revised and expanded,

Cover of the 'Liturgical Handbook of the Church Abroad' eBook 2nd Edition

This is a sample entry from our Liturgical Handbook of the practices of the Church Abroad, which is available in paperback and in e-Books format for Kindle, smartphones and other devices. Please see the Table of Contents for a complete listing of the more than 150 entries on aspects of liturgical service in the Church Abroad, organised thematically for quick reference or for detailed study. Or, you can obtain the full paperback or eBook now, for reference at any time on your e-reader, smartphone, tablet or other device: