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Author Topic: Incensing the Church  (Read 2944 times) Average Rating: 0
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Mickey
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« on: March 04, 2010, 03:33:38 PM »

In the Church I now attend, when the priest censes the Church, the people follow his every move. As he walks past them to cense the Icons at the back of the Church, they follow him so that their backs are to the Altar.  Then as he approaches again, they slowly turn as he walks past until they are facing front again.  I have never experienced this before in an Orthodox Church. Is this proper ettiquette?
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« Reply #1 on: March 04, 2010, 03:37:46 PM »

My church does this, and I'm pretty sure I've seen this in all of the churches I've been in (OCA, ROCOR, Greek, and Antiochian).
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« Reply #2 on: March 04, 2010, 03:43:11 PM »

This is what I learned to do when I first started attending Divine Liturgy as a Catholic and still do as an Orthodox Christian.  Most of the people in my parish, but a few do, so I don't stick out so much.

Well, not anymore than my 6'5" frame usually does. Wink
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« Reply #3 on: March 04, 2010, 04:58:19 PM »

In the Church I now attend, when the priest censes the Church, the people follow his every move. As he walks past them to cense the Icons at the back of the Church, they follow him so that their backs are to the Altar.  Then as he approaches again, they slowly turn as he walks past until they are facing front again.  I have never experienced this before in an Orthodox Church. Is this proper ettiquette?
I think it is just bouncing ball syndrome. People's attention is drawn to movement.
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« Reply #4 on: March 04, 2010, 05:38:37 PM »

In the Church I now attend, when the priest censes the Church, the people follow his every move. As he walks past them to cense the Icons at the back of the Church, they follow him so that their backs are to the Altar.  Then as he approaches again, they slowly turn as he walks past until they are facing front again.  I have never experienced this before in an Orthodox Church. Is this proper ettiquette?
Don't quote me as an expert on this, but my impression is that our attention should always be focused on the altar and that such close following of the censer is therefore not proper.  There comes a moment during the censing of the church that the priest/deacon will cense the faithful from in front of the royal doors/beautiful gate/whatever the front doors to the sanctuary are called.  Here it is appropriate to face the censer and bow.  Otherwise, when the priest/deacon is censing the icons and the Scriptures, the people should keep facing forward to the altar.  At least this is how I was taught.

I have been in churches, usually those with pews, where the priest/deacon will cense the faithful as he processes up/down the main aisle or a side aisle, in which case the people would need to turn and face the aisle to formally acknowledge the censer with a bow, but such has never required that the faithful actually turn their backs toward the altar.
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« Reply #5 on: March 04, 2010, 05:43:59 PM »

I would also note that when I venerated the relics of St. John Chrysostom at the ROCOR cathedral in NYC, the entire congregation followed the swinger of the bouncing thurible, as it were, when the deacons were censing the church at Vigil.
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« Reply #6 on: March 04, 2010, 05:57:35 PM »

In the Church I now attend, when the priest censes the Church, the people follow his every move. As he walks past them to cense the Icons at the back of the Church, they follow him so that their backs are to the Altar.  Then as he approaches again, they slowly turn as he walks past until they are facing front again.  I have never experienced this before in an Orthodox Church. Is this proper ettiquette?
Don't quote me as an expert on this, but my impression is that our attention should always be focused on the altar and that such close following of the censer is therefore not proper.  There comes a moment during the censing of the church that the priest/deacon will cense the faithful from in front of the royal doors/beautiful gate/whatever the front doors to the sanctuary are called.  Here it is appropriate to face the censer and bow.  Otherwise, when the priest/deacon is censing the icons and the Scriptures, the people should keep facing forward to the altar.  At least this is how I was taught.

I have been in churches, usually those with pews, where the priest/deacon will cense the faithful as he processes up/down the main aisle or a side aisle, in which case the people would need to turn and face the aisle to formally acknowledge the censer with a bow, but such has never required that the faithful actually turn their backs toward the altar.

That's what we were taught as well.
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« Reply #7 on: March 04, 2010, 06:24:47 PM »


I see this ALL the time.  It's not that folks are purposefully disrespectful, I think they just do not realize that they are actually turning their back to the Altar.

I feel very awkward when I refuse to turn backwards, and end up being one of the remaining few facing forward...with everyone in front of me facing ME.  You know? I don't know where to look.  Instead of seeing their backs, all of a sudden I see all their faces..and I self consciously end up looking at the floor or my hands.

This happens not only during censing, but, anytime anything happens towards the back of the church.

During the blessing of the water on Theophany most everyone turns their back to the Altar to watch the water getting blessed in the back.

Just last week during the Pan-Orthodox Vespers on Sunday of Orthodoxy, everyone turned their backs again, as the priests made their way with icons around the sanctuary.


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« Reply #8 on: March 04, 2010, 06:40:19 PM »

Thank you for the information in this topic.  I've never thought that following the priest's movement turns our backs to the Altar.   It reminds me when we used to exit the church down the center isle, but a new presiding priest corrected this behavior, and has the faithful come down the center isle for antithoron or a blessing, and exiting down the side isles.  Though I'm not in the pews typically, I'll be more conscious of which direction I face.
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« Reply #9 on: March 04, 2010, 07:42:22 PM »

The entire congregation follows the priest as he censes.
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« Reply #10 on: March 04, 2010, 09:07:32 PM »

In the Church I now attend, when the priest censes the Church, the people follow his every move. As he walks past them to cense the Icons at the back of the Church, they follow him so that their backs are to the Altar.  Then as he approaches again, they slowly turn as he walks past until they are facing front again.  I have never experienced this before in an Orthodox Church. Is this proper ettiquette?
I think it is just bouncing ball syndrome. People's attention is drawn to movement.
Trust me.  The deacon isn't going to bonk you in the head with the censer, so you don't need to keep your eye on him.
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« Reply #11 on: March 04, 2010, 09:13:33 PM »

Everyone follows the priest, but only turn towards the aisle, not all the way around with their backs to the altar.

People will turn their backs on the altar if the priest needs to bring the chalice to an elderly person in the back who cannot walk up to the front to commune. But in my estimation the chalice takes precedence over the altar.

In my experience, more people turn their backs to the altar in parishes without pews than parishes with them, since everyone needs to scramble out of the way and people go in every direction,
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« Reply #12 on: March 04, 2010, 09:14:58 PM »

Everyone follows the priest, but only turn towards the aisle, not all the way around with their backs to the altar.

People will turn their backs on the altar if the priest needs to bring the chalice to an elderly person in the back who cannot walk up to the front to commune. But in my estimation the chalice takes precedence over the altar.
Good point.
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« Reply #13 on: March 04, 2010, 09:45:21 PM »

Yup, everyone at my parish does this. Usually everyone also crowds into the centre of the church so the priest can walk past and cense the icons. Everyone keeps their heads bowed the whole time, too.
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« Reply #14 on: March 04, 2010, 10:08:40 PM »

Yup, everyone at my parish does this. Usually everyone also crowds into the centre of the church so the priest can walk past and cense the icons. Everyone keeps their heads bowed the whole time, too.

Yup, that is very much the Slavic practice, from my long observation.
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« Reply #15 on: March 04, 2010, 10:17:10 PM »

Usually everyone also crowds into the centre of the church so the priest can walk past and cense the icons.

Ah, the joys of no pews.
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« Reply #16 on: March 05, 2010, 12:08:55 AM »

In the Church I now attend, when the priest censes the Church, the people follow his every move. As he walks past them to cense the Icons at the back of the Church, they follow him so that their backs are to the Altar.  Then as he approaches again, they slowly turn as he walks past until they are facing front again.  I have never experienced this before in an Orthodox Church. Is this proper ettiquette?

I have seen this done at GOA and OCA parishes, but we don't do that at my current parish (UOC). I don't remember if this was done at the Antiochian parish I visited. It's been a few years.
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« Reply #17 on: March 05, 2010, 01:01:45 AM »

my church does it.
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« Reply #18 on: March 05, 2010, 09:39:36 AM »

Don't quote me as an expert on this, but my impression is that our attention should always be focused on the altar and that such close following of the censer is therefore not proper.  There comes a moment during the censing of the church that the priest/deacon will cense the faithful from in front of the royal doors/beautiful gate/whatever the front doors to the sanctuary are called.  Here it is appropriate to face the censer and bow.  Otherwise, when the priest/deacon is censing the icons and the Scriptures, the people should keep facing forward to the altar.  At least this is how I was taught.

I have been in churches, usually those with pews, where the priest/deacon will cense the faithful as he processes up/down the main aisle or a side aisle, in which case the people would need to turn and face the aisle to formally acknowledge the censer with a bow, but such has never required that the faithful actually turn their backs toward the altar.

Thank you Peter.  This is also how I learned.  It does not feel right for me to turn my back to the Altar--my wife feels the same.  But being relatively new to Orthodoxy I was not sure.  I am going to talk to my priest about it after small compline /akathist this evening.
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« Reply #19 on: March 05, 2010, 09:43:04 AM »


I see this ALL the time.  It's not that folks are purposefully disrespectful, I think they just do not realize that they are actually turning their back to the Altar.

I feel very awkward when I refuse to turn backwards, and end up being one of the remaining few facing forward...with everyone in front of me facing ME.  You know? I don't know where to look.  Instead of seeing their backs, all of a sudden I see all their faces..and I self consciously end up looking at the floor or my hands.

This happens not only during censing, but, anytime anything happens towards the back of the church.

During the blessing of the water on Theophany most everyone turns their back to the Altar to watch the water getting blessed in the back.

Just last week during the Pan-Orthodox Vespers on Sunday of Orthodoxy, everyone turned their backs again, as the priests made their way with icons around the sanctuary.

Hi Liza,

The exact same thing happens to me.  I refuse to turn my back to the Altar and since I sit near the back of the Church, everyone is facing me and it is uncomfortable.  I keep my eyes toward the ground.

Are there any priests here with information about this?
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« Reply #20 on: March 05, 2010, 01:06:50 PM »

The most important thing, regardless of the local practice, is that the faithful are there for the Liturgy or other services! Rejoice and be glad!
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« Reply #21 on: March 05, 2010, 01:38:26 PM »

This is interesting, in the Coptic church that does not happen. The only time the congregation turn is during a procession. Other than that you will usually see them facing forward even while the priest is incensing.
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« Reply #22 on: March 05, 2010, 02:22:30 PM »

The most important thing, regardless of the local practice, is that the faithful are there for the Liturgy or other services! Rejoice and be glad!

Of course!

But is it proper to turn your back to the Altar during the censing?
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« Reply #23 on: March 05, 2010, 02:31:33 PM »

The most important thing, regardless of the local practice, is that the faithful are there for the Liturgy or other services! Rejoice and be glad!

Of course!

But is it proper to turn your back to the Altar during the censing?
When I first started attending an Orthodox parish, I remained facing the altar during the censing. I was corrected by some of the parishioners, and so now I follow the priest (except of course when I'm serving and my movements are scripted). My priest explains that this practice is acceptable because humanity is the living icon of Christ, and so when the people follow the priest, they are facing Christ's icon. Other priests may say differently, and I have a feeling my priest simply wants to recognise piety without getting caught up in minutiae.
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« Reply #24 on: March 05, 2010, 10:18:39 PM »

At theological school I was one of only a small few who did not turn to face the priest when he censed.  Most people do it in my parish.  I'd prefer they face forward, but I won't disparage them a pious practice which has little bearing (if any) on their salvation.
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« Reply #25 on: March 06, 2010, 03:13:16 PM »

At theological school I was one of only a small few who did not turn to face the priest when he censed.  Most people do it in my parish.  I'd prefer they face forward, but I won't disparage them a pious practice which has little bearing (if any) on their salvation.
Amen. Thank you Father.
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« Reply #26 on: March 06, 2010, 11:20:36 PM »

In the Mystery of Baptism the rubrics expressly call for one to turn to the west and renounce the devil.   The priest turns his back to the altar to bless the people.   The people turn their back to the chalice after receiving communion (indeed, the mystery is within them).  The entire temple is sacred, so if within the temple you turn to acknowledge the mystical presence of God and his saints as the priest censes the icons, I am not sure that this is something that is "wrong."  You are not turning your back on God, you are turning your front to God in the icons and throughout the holy oikos as the priest is censing. 
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