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The Divine Services

Only a canonically ordained clergyman can perform holy services. He must not be under suspension or excommunication by his hierarch or by his own sins. He must be properly prepared, spiritually and physically, for divine worship.

  At Divine Liturgy the clergyman, like each Christian person, must be at peace with all people. Though others may not be at peace with him, he must harbor no anger, resentment, or ill will against anyone.

  As part of the necessary preparation demanded of the clergy in order to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, he must fast from the previous evening, celebrate (or read) Vigil (or, at least, Vespers), the canons and prayers before Holy Communion, and be clean in body and conscious.

  If a clergyman develops any health problem that may be an impediment to the celebration of the holy services or to his daily ministry, he must make this known to his hierarch without delay and follow his advice. The hierarch shall make every attempt to consult with medical experts about the matter before he makes a decision.

  In addition to the Vigil, or Vespers and Matins, and the Divine Liturgy celebrated on Sundays and on the prescribed Great Feasts, the priest must strive to enhance the daily liturgical life of his parish by celebrating these services and other devotional services at appropriate times.

  In all holy services, the clergy are to follow the order and ruberics prescribed by the service books approved for use in the Church, giving priority to those of the Orthodox Church in America. Any departure from the usual order or ruberics must meet with the specific approval of the diocesan hierarch.

  Before beginning the Proskomedia, the serving clergy must read in full the Entrance Prayers (kairon) and, as they dress themselves, must pray the Vesting Prayers.

  The Divine Liturgy is normally celebrated in a consecrated temple. The holy gifts are brought in procession and placed on a consecrated antimension that remains on the Holy Table. The priest is responsible for the good maintenance of liturgical vestments and sacred vessels. He may assign to the deacon duties appropriate to his rank.

  In the case of a specific necessity, the Divine Liturgy may be celebrated outdoors or in a suitable place other than a consecrated temple. This may occur only with the blessing of the diocesan hierarch. Before the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, the site must be blessed with holy water. In such an instance, the priest celebrates on the antimension that is placed on an appropriate table that should be set aside for this purpose.

  Only an antimension authorized or signed by a ruling diocesan hierarch can be used on the Holy Table. Antimensia are not to be washed or burned. If the antimension needs replacing, the diocesan hierarch must be contacted.

  Prosphora for the Divine Liturgy is prepared from pure wheat flour, water, salt, and yeast, using no other ingredients. It is carefully prepared, usually with appropriate scriptural readings and personal prayer by a person designated for preparing it. The bread must be well baked.

  The wine should be sweet, made from red grapes, without additives or fortifications.

  The Holy Table and Table of Oblation are to be covered with clean cloths. It is the responsibility of the priest to see that the sanctuary (altar) and all of its appointments are clean and well maintained at all times.

  Only the tabernacle and the articles necessary for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy should be on the Holy Table. These include the Book of Gospels, the antimension, and hand cross(es). There is a general practice to decorate the sanctuary with flowers, both cut flowers and potted plants. Neither should be placed on the Holy Table itself, but may be placed on a stand behind the Altar Table.  

  We are warned by St. Basil the Great to take great care that insects and other foreign objects do not fall into the holy vessels and onto the gifts. The presence of plants and flowers in the sanctuary increases this possibility. The appropriate place for flowers is around the icons placed for veneration or adorning the narthex of the temple. The use of artificial flowers inside the altar and in the temple should be discouraged. 

  No one is permitted to enter the sanctuary unnecessarily. A person having a specific purpose in the sanctuary may enter only with the blessing of the priest.

  No layman, including altar servers, and all the laity, including elected parish officials, is permitted to touch anything on the Holy Table or on the Table of Oblation. Money should not be brought into the sanctuary.

  A priest is to celebrate the Divine Liturgy each Sunday and feast day as prescribed. A priest is not permitted to celebrate the Divine Liturgy twice in the same day, nor may he permit the celebration of two Divine Liturgies on the same Holy Table or antimension in the course of one day in any temple.

  If, during the course of the Divine Liturgy, particles placed on the discos have fallen onto the antimension or its eiliton, the serving clergy are responsible to gather them and place them into the chalice. The communion cloths must be clean. If they are no longer serviceable, they should be burned in an appropriate place and the ashes disposed of in a fitting manner.

  Liturgical commemoration of hierarchs: It is the custom of the Orthodox Church in America, following the contemporary usage of the Russian Church, that, at the usual commemorations during the divine services, the name of the metropolitan is elevated before the name of the diocesan hierarch.

  Only if another hierarch is present at the service is his name elevated, but the name of the local hierarch is mentioned first. If the visiting hierarch is celebrating, he will elevate the name of the local hierarch, and then the serving clergy will elevate the name of the visiting hierarch.

The Mystery of Baptism

Baptism and Chrismation must be understood and experienced as corporate acts of worship and praise. The must be communal actions of the Church as the mystical Body and Bride of Christ, common liturgical actions of the whole people of God, witnessed, celebrated and accomplished by all, together in one place, at one time.

Baptism is normally performed in the temple. In the case of an adult baptism, the rite may take place outdoors at a suitable aquatic site. Preferably, each deanery should have at least one large baptismal font designed for the immersion of adult catechumens.

  The candidate for baptism should bear the name of a recognized Orthodox saint. This matter should be discussed with the prospective parents long before the birth of the child. An adult convert to the Church should also bear the name of an Orthodox saint, especially if the name given at birth is unusual to the Orthodox tradition.

  The Mystery of Holy Baptism is administered in full accordance with the Office of the Service. No exorcism or prayer is to be shortened or omitted. Baptism is properly performed by triple immersion; therefore, mere pouring is not normally permitted. It is necessary to have a font large enough for full immersion.

  The final step in Christian Initiation is the partaking of the Holy Eucharistic Mysteries. In the instance of Baptism or Chrismation, it is desirable that the newly illumined receive Communion as soon as possible from the chalice, during the Divine Liturgy, and not from the reserved sacrament.

  The sponsor of a candidate for Holy Baptism is a guarantor to the Church that the person will be reared and/or educated in the Orthodox faith; he/she must be a practicing member of the Orthodox Church. A person can guarantee only that which he/she possesses and practices; therefore, a non-Orthodox is unable to guarantee sponsorship because he/she has neither the faith nor the practice. The sponsor should be of the same gender as the candidate.

  A worthy sponsor is already leading a full sacramental life, confessing sins through the Mystery of Penance and receiving Holy Communion. The priest is to instruct the parents and the sponsors of their respective obligations to the catechumen, and to exhort them to live a full sacramental life. The sponsor, as well as the parents, should be prepared to receive the Eucharist at the time together with the newly baptized person.

  A person who has excommunicated himself/herself, or has been suspended from reception of the mysteries by a hierarch, for whatever reason, is ineligible to be a sponsor.

  The child's parents or an adult catechumen may request that a non-Orthodox person witness the mystery. That person may be present and considered an honorary witness if there is no negative or scandalous deterrent. This person, however, is not the sponsor of the candidate or the Godparent.

  The priest must enter the required data in the parish metrical book after carefully ascertaining all necessary information that includes checking all facts and spelling for accuracy and completeness.

The Mystery of Chrismation

Chrismation is to take place immediately after the Mystery of Baptism according to the prescribed ritual.

  The priest must ensure that the vessel containing the Holy Chrism is properly identified and stored in an appropriate place, usually in the tabernacle.

The Reception of Converts

After the established catechetical instruction as been administered, non-Chalcedonians are to be received through Holy Confession, Penance, Confession of the Orthodox faith, and the reception of the Holy Eucharist. These include Monophysites (Armenians, Copts, Ethiopians, and Syro-Jacobites), and Nestorians.

  Catechumens who previously have been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity in a manner recognized as authenticate by the Church, after having completed the established catechetical instruction and making a personal affirmation of the Orthodox faith, are received through the Mysteries of Penance, Chrismation, and Holy Eucharist according to the prescribed ritual. This group includes Roman Catholics and some Protestants.

  Catechumens from non-Christian religions who do not believe in the Holy Trinity, or from those that do not baptize with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are to be received into the Church through the Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation, and Holy Eucharist. This is preceded by an adequate period of catechetical instruction as determined by the local hierarch. This group includes Baptists, Buddhists, Jews, etc.

  Catechumens from all non-Trinitarian groups and cults, including Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Quakers, Unitarians, and adherents of Bah'ai, Unification, and Unity, must be baptized.

  In any case of doubt as to the rite of the reception to follow, or doubt about a prior baptism, the hierarch must be consulted. In instances of reasonable doubt about a prior baptism, after approval is given by the hierarch, the Office of Holy Baptism is performed conditionally with addendum: "if not already baptized, the servant of God, (Name), is baptizedů" (Holy Apostles, c. 49).

  After having performed the prescribed rites of reception, the priest must enter the required information in the parish metrical book.

The Mystery of Penance

Confession, the mystery of reconcilliation with the Church, must be regular and frequent. It must be an abiding element in the lives oif the faithful, deformalized and revitalized as the most common and normal actions of a people continually united and reunited with each other and with God. See: On Spiritual Life in the Church, Encyclical. The priest, as spiritual father and confessor of the flock entrusted to his care, must determine the frequency with which the spiritual child confesses his/her sins.

  For those who seldom receive Holy Communion, the priest must keep in all its strictness the obligation for confession before communion. However, if someone wants to confess more often than he/she communes, the Spiritual Father should be prepared to hear that person's confession at all times.

  For reception of Holy Communion more than once a month, Confession must be on a regular basis, and heard not less than once a month.

  If General Confession is practiced, then the Order of Prayers before Confession must be read. The General Service of Prayers Before Confession is not meant to replace or be a substitute for personal confession.

  The clergy are reminded that they must also avail themselves of the Mystery of Penance regularly and faithfully. The priest who does not have a Spiritual Father upon beginning his priestly ministry must seek one. If he cannot find one, then he must turn to his hierarch to appoint one for him. In some instances, there is a senior priest who has been appointed by the hierarch as diocesan confessor to whom the priest can turn.

  The secrecy of the Mystery of Penance is considered an unquestionable rule in the entire Orthodox Church. Theologically, the need to maintain the secrecy of confession comes from the fact that the priest is only a witness before God. One could not expect a sincere and complete confession if the penitent has doubts regarding the practice of confidentiality. Betrayal of the secrecy of confession will lead to canonical punishment of the priest.

    St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite exhorts the Spiritual Father to keep confessions confidential, even under strong constraining influence. The author of the Pedalion (the Rudder), states that a priest who betrays the secrecy of confession is to be deposed. The Metropolitan of Kos, Emanuel, mentions in his handbook (Exomologeteke) for confessors that the secrecy of confession is a principle without exception. 

  The testimonial given by the Spiritual Father before an ordination does not constitute an exception. If the confessor discovers an impediment to ordination, he is not obligated to deliver the testimonial, and does not need to provide any reason for justifying his refusal. 


Copyright 2001
Most Rev. Victor Prentice
All Rights Reserved