Tips for Serving in Russian Practice
These tips are for Russian practice as I've known it, but I am going purely from memory, and they would be mainly for parishes with no deacon, and several servers. Russian Orthodox guys, correct me or please mention it, if what I write below is different from your parish experience. I want to know.
1. Prayer is number one, but keeping aware of what's going on, is also number one.
2. Always keep one eye on the priest. Don't get lost in the book as the priest helplessly beckons to you!
3. Never get flustered. If you make a mistake, move in a stately way and most people won't even know. Never lunge, or rush, or toss anything.
4. Whenever you hand anything to the priest, or take anything from him, kiss his hand-- don't blink, or the hand will be gone again.
5. Don't converse with anyone during service. Minimum needed, then be silent.
6. When standing, don't lock your knees--it can make people faint.
7. Careful when holding candles. Don't tilt them, as wax can spill. Self-immolation is not an approved form of devotion in the Orthodox Church.
8. Off-limits area: between the front of the holy table and the royal doors. Never stand there, walk through there, etc.
9. Never place any object upon the holy table or take any object from off the holy table.
10. During Liturgy stand to the side of the holy table, back a few paces, hands at your sides (unless you're holding a little book in one hand). Be sure you can set that book down at a moment's notice.
1. Entering the nave, make three "reverences" (a sign of the cross plus a bow) in a row.
2. Then go to the main icon stand in the church. Make two reverences, kiss the icon, and make a third reverence.
3. If the priest is in view, go get his blessing (cup your right hand over your left hand, palms up; when he puts his hand in yours, kiss his hand). You can light a candle in nave if you wish.
4. Enter the altar area and make three reverences facing towards the high place/holy table.
5. If the priest is in there, get his blessing (see above).
6. Get your sticharion and fold it up into a square with the back-cross showing on top. Go to the priest and he will bless it and put his hand on the cross. Kiss his hand and put on the vestment right over your street clothes.
7. Light the seven-branch (some priests bless your flame first), then other candles and lampadki, starting at the proskomidia table's.
8. Ring the bells for the Hours, if needed.
9. Light the charcoal in the censer.
1. Check if anyone has left "zapiski," commemoration slips with little loaves. Bring them to the priest.
2. When the priest makes a motion to bring the censer, put on three or so grains and bring it to him. Just hold it for him; he will put the asterisk and three veils over the smoke.
3. Then he will take the censer and cense the gifts. Stand there and take it back from him, and go scrape off the grains so they don't start stinking up the place.
4. Just before the Liturgy starts, the priest will need the censer again. Put on three to five grains and hand it to him at the holy table. Then open the curtain as he censes. Stay on hand on the north side to open the deacon door for him as he exits the altar. Open the other deacon door for him when he returns into the altar; take the censer from him, etc.
1. The Hours ended, the priest starts the Liturgy. This is a good time to check for any more commemoration loaves with slips. Place them on the proskomidia table off to the side. Then stand and pray.
2. At the Beatitudes (most priests open the royal doors here), light the processional candles. Line up on the south side of the high place and be looking to your left at the priest. When he picks up the gospel, or nods, start the little entrance out the north deacon door. Stand just down off the solea, facing east with your candle.
[Note: All entrances are solemn prayerful times; don't grin, or look at individual people in the congregation.]
3. When the priest enters, enter. All servers then go with their candles to just east of the altar, in a row, all facing east. Be looking at your neighbors out of the corner of your eye. Make a slight head-bow eastward together, turn, and bow westward likewise. Then put away your candle. This is the concluding procedure every time servers have carried candles.
4. At the very end of Holy God, Holy Mighty, put about three grains on the censer. As the reader starts into the prokimenon, hand the censer to the priest at the holy table. Stay there; he will use the open royal doors and return shortly.
5. Then, right away, put the gospel stand in its place, light the processional candles, be holding yours.
6. When the priest goes out with the gospel, go out the nearest deacon's door to you with your candle, and stand off the solea in a row on your side.
7. During the sermon, if it occurs here or later on, stand in the altar area or the nave. Don't sit down in the altar area--only a priest does that.
8. After the gospel come three litanies; during the third one put three or four grains on the censer and bring it to the holy table. Stay there; the priest will use the open royal doors and return. Don't scrape off the grains yet.
9. Light the processional candles, and line up for the great entrance. Watch the priest.
10. After the great entrance, do the usual thing of lining up and bowing, then without delay bring the censer to the holy table. After the priest briefly censes, scrape off.
11. When the priest closes the royal doors, close the curtain.
12. At "The doors! The doors!" open the curtain.
13. During the Creed, ring the bell (one stroke) at the twelve places marked in your book. Then resume your place.
14. When the priest says, "Take, eat, this is My body," make a reverence. Same at "Take and drink of it, all of you," and at "Thine own of Thine own we offer Thee."
15. When the priest has consecrated the gifts and make a reverence, you make one too.
16. Then, without delay, put two or three grains on the censer and bring it to the holy table. Stay there, take it back, scrape off.
17. Cut up enough bread for the congregation.
18. Just before the Our Father, boil the water.
19. Just before he says, "Holy Things are for the holy!" close the curtain.
20. Without delay pour boiling water into the cup and bring on the little tray to the holy table. Be very careful kissing the priest's hand, or just wait till he puts the emptied cup back on the tray.
21. Roll out the table and put the bread and wine on it. Light the communion candle and put it in front of the royal doors.
22. After the priest takes communion, he will prepare the chalice. Open the curtain and remove the communion candle. Be on hand on the solea for holding the communion cloth. Vested servers take communion before the congregation.
23. After the priest carries the chalice back inside, without delay put two or three grains on the censer and bring it to the holy table. Stay put, take it back, keep holding it.
24. As the priest sets the chalice on the proskomidia table, be there with the censer for him. After he censes with it, you can scrape off.
25. If the priest wants to read all the saints for the day at the dismissal, be sure you have the calendar or card out on the solea, holding it for him.
26. Vested servers kiss the cross before the congregation.
1. As the priest consumes the rest of the chalice, pray and be on hand. It is okay to do some (quiet!) cleanup at this point. No conversation!
2. At the very end, after the priest has unvested, get a blessing from him prior to unvesting. Hang up the sticharion where it was before.
3. Don't resume normal talking, etc., until the readers have concluded the prayers of thanksgiving.
4. Preserve a reverent attitude all day after Liturgy. If you took Communion, don't brush your teeth or spit, till evening.
It does help to write out your cues in your little liturgy book, but study them bit by bit between Liturgies, rather than burying your nose in the book at Liturgy.
Every priest is different. Every parish is different. Be alert.