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:
Is it permissible to serve from memory, if we have portions of the Divine Services memorised?
Handbook Category: Divine Liturgy (index)
While it is good practice to commit the prayers of the Divine Services to memory, so that they flow from the heart as familiar words that have, to a pious degree, been made one’s own, we never actually serve any portion of any Divine Service without having the appropriate Service Book open before us. This is not only as an aid to the clergyman, but is an important part of the ‘liturgical iconography’ of the services themselves, which we witness first and foremost in an Hierarchical Service, where for every prayer the Bishop has his chinovnik (Hierarchical service book) held open before him, a visible image for all the faithful that he does not convey his own personal teachings or serve in his own personal manner, but speaks the words and undertakes the actions handed down to him through the succession of the Apostles. The same is equally true of every Priest and Deacon: each conveys the words, traditions and confessions of the Church handed down to him, and entrusted to his liturgical care, and nothing of his own — and this is symbolised in the fact that whenever he opens his mouth to proclaim a liturgical prayer, litany or supplication, he does so with the appropriate Service Book open, in front of him — even if, in terms of his personal recollection of the text, the book is chiefly for ‘reference’ to words that he knows very well.

Photograph demonstrating Hierarchs reading their prayers from their service books. This is always done, even if the prayers are fully known ‘by heart’, both by Bishops and Priests.

This is true not only for the audible exclamations or prayers that the Priest reads, but also for the mystical prayers which he prays quietly. For each of these, too, he must have the Service Book open before him.

These two practices — committing to memory and reading from the books — are of course not mutually exclusive. It is particularly helpful to have exclamations memorised, so that when concelebrating with a Bishop or with other clerics, the sudden ‘assignment’ of a particular exclamation to us by the chief celebrant does not have us shuffling to find words that should be familiar and already on our lips. However, relying on memory to the exclusion of having the Service Book open before us, is not a part of our tradition, both for practical reasons of forgetfulness, but also importantly for the ‘iconographic’ reasons described above.

We feel it necessary to add, further, that it has always been an essential part of Russian Orthodox liturgical practice that all concelebrant clergy are praying together during the Liturgy: it is not simply the chief celebrant who reads the prayers while the other clergy stand in the Altar. For all the mystical prayers, etc., all Priests should be reading the prayers from their Service Books, just as the chief celebrant is doing.

This is an entry from our Liturgical Handbook of the practices of the Church Abroad. Please see the full handbook for more than 100 entries on other topics.

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