St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Seminary
On Services without a Priest
Presentation for Distance Learning Residency, Autumn 2016
Modified from Fr. John Whiteford’s excellent site to match local practices.
In case a priest is not available, with his blessing or that of his bishop, deacons, subdeacons, readers, and even laity can lead a (modified!) service for the faithful. We call such services “Reader’s Services”. Reader’s Services are useful in established parishes because they allow parishes to maintain a regular worship schedule even when their priest is on vacation, ill, or otherwise unavailable. It is certainly true that the first choice should be to have another priest fill in (with the blessing of the priest and bishop, of course!); but this is not always possible, especially for the smaller services (e.g. Vespers, Molebans, and Akathists). The availability of Reader’s Services also opens up the possibility for dedicated laity, deacons, and lower clergy to start and maintain missions and for families that are away from any Orthodox parish to maintain an Orthodox liturgical life.
On the Arrangement of the Liturgical Space
There is never any need to go into the altar for a Reader’s Service. The Holy Doors and the Curtain are left closed. If the service is being held in a church, the tetrapod becomes the center of gravity for the service. The leader of the service (i.e. the ranking clergy or the one blessed by the priest or bishop to lead the service) stands at the tetropod (like the priest does at the altar). For services requiring a Gospel (not the altar Gospel unless under special circumstances; remember only bishops, priests, deacons and certain subdeacons can move things to/from the holy altar), it should be prepositioned on the tetrapod. The candles on the tetrapod and the candles on the iconostas can be lit for the service.
Outside of the church, icons can be placed on stands (to simulate an iconostas) or on a wall. A small table (or another stand) in front of them can then take the place of the tetrapod.
For the Typika service (this is the Reader’s Service that replaces the Divine Liturgy), prosphora and zapivka can be placed on the tetrapod or some other place for sharing at the end of the service. Having it at a home opens up the possibility of an agape meal afterwards.
Deacons, minor clergy, and laity may cense with a hand censor before and during services (in a parish, get the blessing of the priest for this; he may not agree). The hand censor is held in the right hand (the left hangs naturally). The service leader censes items (e.g. the Gospel and icons) with the sign of the cross (left before right!) then puts the censor in his left hand, crosses himself and bows, then puts the censor back in his right hand; when he censes people, the hand-switching and crossing of the self is omitted.
Censing always begins and ends at the tetropod with the Cross and the Gospel. Again, there is never any need to go into the altar. It is certainly not censed. When doing a full censing, the order of censing is: the Cross and the Gospel, the main icons (or the Iconostasis if there is one; right side then left), the other walls of the room, the people, Christ and the Birthgiver of God again, and then the Cross and the Gospel from the front of the tetrapod. When a lesser censing is done, the order of censing is: The Cross and the Gospel, the main icons, the people, the main icons again, then the Cross and the Gospel. Always move with dignity and without extra motions.
Generally, you can cense whenever a censing would normally be done if a priest or deacon were serving. At a Vigil, you would do a full censing before Vespers, at “Lord I have cried…” and at the Polyeleos (or the Evlogitaria). Remember that there are no entrances at Reader Services. At a Typika, there is a full censing before the service and a lesser censing before the Gospel reading (i.e. during the alleluia).
The Structure of Reader’s Services
While one can modify the regular Vigil and Typika services “on the fly”, it is much better to take the time to prepare texts before hand. I suggest having one text for the immovable parts (e.g. the Reader’s Typika or the Reader’s Vigil) and another with the movable parts (e.g. the Lord I Call, Aposticha, and Tropars for Typika and the Tropars, Kondaks, Prokimen, and Alleluia verses for Typika). Your priest should help you with this; it should be approved by him (or your bishop, in the case of a mission with no priest) before using it.
The reading (and construction) of service books should be conducted according to the following rules:
- All Reader’s Services are to begin and end with the exclamation: “Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen…” (There are small variations here). Do NOT say “Blessed is our God…” or “Blessed is the Kingdom”!!!
- All the priest’s prayers and exclamations (to include those made by deacons) are omitted. All blessings (e.g. “Peace be with you all”) are omitted. Most especially, this includes the blessing of bread, wheat, wine, and oil and the Litya AND ANY SORT OF SACRAMENTAL ACTION (I shouldn’t have to say this, but just in case!). The ONLY sacrament that can be performed without a priest is an emergency baptism, and that is performed in the context of the emergency, not a service.
- In place of the long litanies, “Lord, have mercy” is said twelve times; in place of the small litanies, “Lord have mercy” is said three times. “Glory…now and ever… Amen.” replaces the exclamations.
- The Gospel is not intoned, but read in an ordinary voice.
- All other hymns, psalms and prayers are read or sung as when a priest serves.
- The Typka can either follow the usual order (from the Horologian) or, if allowed by your ecclesial authorities, it can follow the general structure of the Divine Liturgy with the Anaphora and other Communion parts removed. Regardless, I suggest that you use a standard and simple musical setting. This will make it feel more natural to go back and forth with the Divine Liturgy, as when the mission/parish only has a priest serving with them on a rotation. Ditto with the music for Vigil.
- Fr. John Whiteford has an entire section of his website devoted to Reader’s Services. It is very good. The ROCOR translations are different than ours; I recommend modifying his texts to match the translation your mission/parish uses (it’s not just a matter of Thee’s and Thou’s; things like the Trisagion are slightly different, too… we want to repeat the same language to allow the phrases to become as natural to us as breathing).