Liturgical Handbook of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
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.
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. It is none other than God Himself Who 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 shape and order our prayer — they are thus maintained with attentive diligence as heeding no lesser a voice than God’s own.
It is always the case that in times of general peace, where 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 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’ generation — a century into our God-preserved life as the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia — 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, taught not by interpretive study or 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 present Handbook is a small offering intended to aid in the necessary work of cherishing and preserving this inheritance. Described herein, following a ‘question-and-answer’ format, are 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 Church Abroad, 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 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 Russian Orthodox 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 Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia 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; we have tried to note these where appropriate, 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 each Diocesan parish.
Finally, in light of the ease of doing so in an electronic publication, we intend to expand this Handbook from time to time as additional questions may suggest themselves as especially pressing for our serving clergy, and we invite questions to be posed on customs or practices 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
Revised and expanded, 2020