Preserving Our Liturgical Tradition
Introduction, by Bishop Irenei of London and Western Europe
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
Notification of most recent updates
May 2020: A major update to the Handbook has taken place in the present month, including a re-formatted overall presentation of its pages, as well as the introduction of many photographs and illustrations to entries where such visual aids may be helpful. Nearly 75% of the already-existing entries have been edited or expanded; and to these, a host of new entries have been added:
- In the Clergy Vesting and Entrance Prayers section:
- What colour vestments are worn for each feast and liturgical season of the year?
- Are head coverings worn during the entrance prayers?
- At which services is it permissable to wear an epitrahil but not the cuffs?
- Within our Diocese, may Greek-style ryassas be worn?
- In the Proskomedia section:
- In what manner are particles removed from prosphora for commemorations? (illustrated)
- May Altar servers read the names on commemoration lists sent into the Altar?
- How, precisely, are the Lamb and various ranks and commemoration particles to be arranged on the diskos? (illustrated)
- How is the Lamb to be prepared and removed from the first prosphora? (illustrated)
- In the Divine Liturgy section:
- When non-celebrating clergy receive Holy Communion, what is the order for them doing so?
- In the Hierarchical Services section:
- How many additional prosphora are required on the oblation table when the Bishop serves?
- When and how is the Bishop's zapivka prepared?
- What is done with the central icon in the church when a Bishop serves?
- In the Monastics and Monasteries section:
- What are the occasions when a monastic Priest serves in his mantia, whereas a married Priest would serve in his phelon?
- When a monastic wears is mantia, does he also wear his ryassa beneath it?
- Additionally, a new Icons, Church Adornment and Practical Matters section has been added, with the following new entries:
- When is it appropriate for an icon or relics to be placed in the middle of the church?
- When coming forward to venerate the Cross at the end of the Liturgy, should the faithful also venerate the icons?
- How are the faithful to be instructed regarding the veneration of icons as they approach the Chalice to receive Holy Communion?
- Which books may be lain upon the Holy Table?
- Apart from the customary items (Gospel book, antimins, cross, etc.), what other sacred items may be placed on the Holy Table?
- Which items may be kept on the table of oblation? And who may tend to these items?
- What type of oil should be used in church lamps?
- If a vestment or other liturgical item falls to the floor, what is to be done?
- When an antimins is being transported by a Priest from one place to another, how is this done?
- When various foods are blessed as part of the Divine Services (e.g. kutia, grapes, eggs, fruits), which of these are permitted to be brought into the Altar?
Clergy Vesting and Entrance Prayers
This section contains entries relating to the Clergy's entrance into the Temple at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy (entrance prayers, etc.), as well as practices relating to the donning of vestments, which vestments are worn at which times, etc.
This section contains instruction on all matters relating the the performance of the Proskomedia (service of preparation prior to the Divine Liturgy).
The Divine Liturgy
This section contains instruction and guidance on all practices relating to the celebrations of the Divine Liturgies of St John Chrysostom and St Basil the Great (for the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, see the separate Lenten Services section of this Handbook).
Concelebrations of Multiple Priests
This section contains guidance on the peculiarities and variations to the Divine Services when they are concelebrated together by more than one Priest.
This section contains rubrics, notes and practical guidance relating to Hierarchical Services (at which one or more Bishops preside), and also contains more general instruction on comportment of Services when a Bishop is present (even when not serving).
Diaconal Rubrics and Services
This section contains guidance for Deacons, and for Priests at services where a Deacon is serving. It also contains more general guidance for Diaconal practices.
Liturgical peculiarities related to the Divine Services of the Great Fast (and additional lenten periods), includings its special services and rites.
Prostrations, Bows and Kneeling
This section contains specific guidance regarding the practice of making prostrations, as well as kneeling, during the Divine Services and at other times within the Temple.
General Comportment in the Altar
This section contains general guidance on how Clergy and servers are to comport themsevles in the Altar, as well as instructions on more general activities therein that are not specific to any one Divine Service.
Monastics and Monasteries
This section contains instructions relevant to monastics during the Divine Services, as well as to all others serving together with monastics or in monasteries.
Icons, Relics, Church Adornment and other Practical Matters
This section contains guidance on the placement of icons in the temple and their liturgical employment in the Divine Services, as well as related matters such as the veneration of relics, the adornment of the temple, etc.
Readers, Reading in the Church, and Texts and Translations
This section contains guidance for tonsured Readers, as well as all (whether tonsured or lay) who are blessed to read during the Divine Services.