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:
When is it appropriate to take photographs or utilise mobile phones in the Holy Altar?
Handbook Category: General Comportment in the Altar (index)

While not technically a liturgical question, lax practice on this matter is so widespread that we include it here.

It is categorically forbidden for any person, of any rank, to take photographs within the Holy Altar without express, advance permission from the Bishop (whether or not the Bishop is present at the Divine Service), and which will only be granted for a single occasion at a time, and only for extraordinary circumstances (e.g. an ordination).

It has become too commonplace in our day and age to ‘live’ so extensively through and in our technology that we lose sight of the need to be wholly, undistractedly, piously present in important moments of life. Service within the Holy Altar is a work of the highest spiritual significance, and it is belittled by the over-use of photography in this most sacred of spaces. Moreover, that which takes place in the Holy Altar is meant to be experienced by the Christian faithful in a liturgical setting, through the opening and closing of the Royal Doors, the processions and exclamations, etc. — none of which is maintained when the sacred activities of the Altar are simply laid bare in photographs, outside of that sacred experience. One must strive to do better! While there are legitimate moments when the Bishop might bless a few photographs to be taken in the Altar as memorials of significant occasions (e.g. once again, an ordination or a consecration of a temple, or some other significant event in the life of a parish), on all other occasions the Holy Altar should be a place wholly devoted to Divine Service, without the worldly distraction of photography.

It should go without saying — but again, widespread laxity requires that we say it — that this likewise means that the use of mobile telephones within the Altar is also categorically forbidden for all persons, of any rank, including the checking of text messages or other ‘silent’ activities. Mobile phones should not even be brought into the Altar; but if they are, the must be switched completely off before entering in, and not switched back on until after one has left the Altar.

(The only exception to this rule might be a Priest who is monitoring a life-or-death situation of a parishioner, and wishes to check on his/her status if the person is near death, so that s/he can be prayed for appropriately; but apart from this exception, this rule applies to Priests as much as it applies to everyone else.)

Outside the Altar: In general, the same sentiment should be applied to the Nave as to the Altar; namely, that the temple is not the place for mobile telephones, cameras or video recorders in the church without the special blessing from the clergy, given to an individual for a specific service. The faithful of the parish need to be educated about this spiritual principle and rule, so that they do not bring out their telephones or cameras during the Divine Services in order to photograph or record portions of the service without a blessing, which is inappropriate. Sermons likewise should not be filmed or recorded without a blessing. Such blessings are not to be given routinely, as cameras within the temple should be the rarest of sights, reserved for particularly significant occasions alone.

A word regarding ‘live streaming’ of Divine Services: In general, it is not our custom to broadcast the Divine Services, whether by Internet or other means, for reasons similar to those articulated above. However, in certain circumstances the Diocesan Bishop may bless a Parish Rector to arrange for the broadcasting / ‘live streaming’ of certain Divine Services from his parish, based on special needs or circumstances. This must always be discussed with the Bishop prior to putting such arrangements in place.

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