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Author Topic: Tips for serving at the altar  (Read 7707 times) Average Rating: 0
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akimori makoto
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« on: May 23, 2011, 01:41:17 AM »

Hey dudes and dudettes,

I have recently been invited by my priest (read: forced) to begin serving at the altar. I have successfully survived two liturgies now, but I would not describe my performance as rising above the level of mere survival.

The other servers are all seminarians who know what they're doing, with the exception of one gruff but seemingly well-meaning older man who insists on talking to me only in a mumbly Greek I couldn't figure out to save my life.

Knowing that many of you are servers, readers, subdeacons and even higher clergy, I would be grateful for your hints and tips as to how to effectively serve at the altar.

I'm thinking of things as practical as "never enter the sanctuary through the royal doors" to things as ridiculous as "don't lean too far forward when holding a processional candle".
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« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2011, 04:27:56 AM »

The sad tip:
Never give yourself completely over to prayer. Always keep one eye on the priest to check if he starts panicking over something.
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« Reply #2 on: May 23, 2011, 05:29:25 AM »

get a copy of the DL book used at your parish and write little notes in it, reminding yourself ahead of time what to do next. ie, a page before the great entrance write your self a margin note "get candles ready for great enterance" a page before the Theotokis hymn "get ready to give priest antidorn to be blessed" etc. also ask the priest how he prefers things done. also ask one of the seminarians to help you.
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« Reply #3 on: May 23, 2011, 06:33:14 AM »

Don't get nervous. Relax and watch carefully what's happening during the few first services.
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« Reply #4 on: May 23, 2011, 09:20:09 AM »

Make sure the kettle is plugged in when you turn it on. Knowing from experience, it's embarrassing when the priest is waiting for the fervor of the Holy Spirit but the water hasn't been infervored.

My priest says the clergy are allowed seven mistakes during a service. Newbie altar servers probably get a few more Wink  Just don't panic; every time it gets easier, and you'll soon be able to anticipate everything you need to do.
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« Reply #5 on: May 23, 2011, 09:42:45 AM »

These are all great suggestions! Two things I asked my altar help to do in addition to those mentioned:

1. Look at my hands, not my face. I will be communicating to my acolytes through my hands, not my voice or my eyes. Once you and the rest of the acolytes memorize the hand signals used, those signals will serve you well.

2. Once you make notations in your Liturgy book, quiz yourself over a few pages of that book every day. As an example, on a Monday quiz yourself over what you should be doing and preparing for during the first set of petitions;Tuesday quiz yourself over your duties when the Lord's Prayer is being read; etc.
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« Reply #6 on: May 23, 2011, 11:14:52 AM »

My priest says the clergy are allowed seven mistakes during a service. 
What happens at the eighth mistake? And who gets to do the counting?  Roll Eyes
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« Reply #7 on: May 23, 2011, 12:58:15 PM »

You just need to follow what is going on. Try to "walk through" what your tasks will be, just so that you remember the sequence. On a personal note, I myself was at first confused, but I asked questions and got used to it through practice.
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« Reply #8 on: May 23, 2011, 01:02:45 PM »

My priest says the clergy are allowed seven mistakes during a service. 
What happens at the eighth mistake? And who gets to do the counting?  Roll Eyes

The angels keep track.

For every mistake over 7, God kills a puppy. Please, clergy, think of the puppies.

(It's just a joke Wink )
« Last Edit: May 23, 2011, 01:03:08 PM by bogdan » Logged
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« Reply #9 on: May 23, 2011, 01:03:55 PM »

1. Do not catch any thing or any other person on fire.

2. When you make a mistake, especially in view of the congregation, make it look like it is just part of the service.

3. Never apologize for mistakes.

4. Monkey see Monkey do will get you there

5. Assist the fellow who is next up from you in seniority. He will assist the next guy up from him etc. When a newbie comes along, you help him.  
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« Reply #10 on: May 23, 2011, 01:39:57 PM »

"1. Do not catch any thing or any other person on fire."

Has this ever happened at anyone's parish?
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« Reply #11 on: May 23, 2011, 01:41:28 PM »

I have served in two Liturgies in my adult life, both of them Presanctified Gifts.  I was watching one of them and was lost in space.  The second I was essentially the "senior altar server"!  The two other altar servers were the Priest's sons.  For the youngest it was his first time as Altar Server (don't know exact age but he's VERY young) and the older one is there pretty much every service helping his pa, but he's a well disciplined child and wasn't going to be bossing around an adult while the whole time I was wishing he would!!!  Basically, before I went into it I prayed to the Lord, asked forgiveness for anything I messed up, and told Him that what I did was to His Glory and begged Him to accept my out-of-tune singing as heartfelt worship of Him.  

@ Akimori - "I have recently been invited by my priest (read: forced) to begin serving at the altar."  Is there any other way!

That said, I look forward to helping out again.
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« Reply #12 on: May 23, 2011, 01:49:07 PM »

"1. Do not catch any thing or any other person on fire."

Has this ever happened at anyone's parish?

Our Priest put the cloth that is used while distributing the Eucharist on fire.
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« Reply #13 on: May 23, 2011, 02:03:49 PM »

"1. Do not catch any thing or any other person on fire."

Has this ever happened at anyone's parish?

Our Priest put the cloth that is used while distributing the Eucharist on fire.

Hair.....

We have a seven year old and a couple of tall servers. The flame from his candle comes up to their sleeves.

Ive seen coals come flying out of the sensor. Stomped it out before further ignition.

Really, there are lots of open flames at the alter so be careful.
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« Reply #14 on: May 23, 2011, 02:11:45 PM »

"1. Do not catch any thing or any other person on fire."

Has this ever happened at anyone's parish?

I set the carpet at the Birmingham, AL cathedral on fire. Twice.
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« Reply #15 on: May 23, 2011, 02:15:37 PM »

Another note is that, whatever happens, the liturgy goes on.

An altar boy at my parish suffers from seizures, and he's gone down several times while carrying candles (I don't know why his parents let him serve, but he evidently wants to). The Liturgy doesn't stop for anything, however. So the altar servers need to keep an eye out for unusual occurrences, and handle them as necessary, because the priest has to keep going.
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« Reply #16 on: May 23, 2011, 02:31:24 PM »

Another note is that, whatever happens, the liturgy goes on.

An altar boy at my parish suffers from seizures, and he's gone down several times while carrying candles

I used to do it in the past too.
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« Reply #17 on: May 23, 2011, 02:44:49 PM »

Another note is that, whatever happens, the liturgy goes on.

An altar boy at my parish suffers from seizures, and he's gone down several times while carrying candles

I used to do it in the past too.

Coming from your perspective is there anything we can do to help, aside from being aware and sitting him down when he starts to sway? I'm always terrified that he's going to slam his head on the tile floor.  Undecided
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« Reply #18 on: May 23, 2011, 06:08:06 PM »

I would be grateful for your hints and tips as to how to effectively serve at the altar.

I'm thinking of things as practical as "never enter the sanctuary through the royal doors" to things as ridiculous as "don't lean too far forward when holding a processional candle".

I'm not sure how much detail you need, and my memory is a little rusty; but, if you're serving alone, the big things are:
1. Pray.
2. During 'Only Begotten Son', light the candles to be ready for the small entrance.  When the priest starts moving and gets to the back of the altar, that's the time to open the doors for the small entrance.
3. During 'Holy God', make sure the censer is ready to go.
4. When the Epistle reader starts up, put incense in and hold for the priest to take.  Then light the candle for the Gospel reading.
5. At 'Wisdom, attend' for the Gospel, a candle should go out for the Gospel reading.
5a. Listen to the Gospel reading.  Especially important, since you probably missed hearing the epistle.
6. Immediately after the Gospel, put incense in the censer for the great censing just before the great entrance.  While he's censing, everyone should be getting ready for the great entrance.  When he gives back the censer, put in a little extra incense just for the entrance.
7. When you come back from the entrance, make sure the censer goes to the priest and that everything is put away.
8. Break for a while! Breathe, and remember to pray.  From this point, your duties decrease dramatically.
9. During this time, boil the water and cut the antidoron.
10. The next time you're needed is at 'Take, Eat' - put the incense into the censer.  You'll need to stand after he says 'amen, amen, amen' to get the censer to the priest.
11. During 'Truly it is Right', present the antidoron to him to bless.
12. Check that the antidoron you have cut is enough.  Check that the jug has been boiled.
13. At the Lord's Prayer, boil the jug one last time.
14. When he says 'the holy things are for the holy', pour the water into the carrying cup and bring that to him.  Stick around - he'll use it and give it back.
15. Pray the prayers before communion at this point.  Keep an eye on the priest - when he opens the door, it's time to hold the cloth for communion.  If there's multiple clergy, check how many chalices there are.
16. He needs the censer straight away after communion.  Try to put some incense in beforehand.  He'll cense the gifts, then give back the censer, which you then use to cense the gifts (quietly) as he takes them back to the preparation table.
17. There is likely to be a memorial service.  If so, he'll need the censer soon - after 'Blessed is the name of the Lord...'.  Parish practise differs on where the altar boy holding the censer stands.  He'll pass it back after the really long hymn ('Among your saints', iirc).
18. Count the koliva's.  When he says 'Eternal be the memory', some altar boys will need to take the koliva's to where they are distributed.
19. Check again that there is sufficient antidoron cut.
20. When the priest says 'Through the Prayers', you're almost done!  Make sure the altar boys hang up their stichari's, refill the antidoron when necessary.

Your parish practise may vary.

As for how you should comport yourself: pick a seminarian that seems particularly pious and copy what he does, how he stands, etc.  They're a liturgical resource that is greater (i.e. definitely applicable to your parish and archdiocese) than even this forum.

Learn how your priest conveys messages.  If a microphone is used, they can't be too loud.  Also learn how the head altar boy conveys messages - each one will be slightly different.

Try and stand in a place where you're the most help.  Sometimes that's a metre away from the priest; sometimes that's just out of the way Smiley
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« Reply #19 on: May 23, 2011, 06:16:57 PM »

Coming from your perspective is there anything we can do to help, aside from being aware and sitting him down when he starts to sway? I'm always terrified that he's going to slam his head on the tile floor.  Undecided

Well, no. Maybe prohibitting from going to the entrances when one starts to feel bad or make him have his breakfast before the Liturgy.

edit:

HAHA I've just noticed  that English language has very Orthodox name for that meal Wink


I'm not sure how much detail you need, and my memory is a little rusty; but, if you're serving alone, the big things are:

It's almost impossible to do it alone. Two acolytes is the absolute minimum.
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« Reply #20 on: May 23, 2011, 07:34:20 PM »

Thanks, guys, this is beautiful.

A special thank you to you, smithakd, for taking the time to type all of that for me.

One thing I'm struggling with is that there is seemingly no set division of labour amongst the servers. I don't want to attend to anything too early in case it looks like I'm treading on someone else's turf, if you know what I mean. Like, what if incense dude gets upset that I am tending to the charcoal??
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« Reply #21 on: May 23, 2011, 07:50:04 PM »

Thanks, guys, this is beautiful.

A special thank you to you, smithakd, for taking the time to type all of that for me.

One thing I'm struggling with is that there is seemingly no set division of labour amongst the servers. I don't want to attend to anything too early in case it looks like I'm treading on someone else's turf, if you know what I mean. Like, what if incense dude gets upset that I am tending to the charcoal??

No worries, akimori Smiley

My experience is that there'll usually be a 'head altar boy' who will delegate duties, which means that you just have to pray and watch for his signals (usually a sweeping 'come here' gesture).  So, if there's an incense guy, don't worry about the charcoal or incense - more time to pray! Smiley
(again, your parish may vary - maybe speak to the seminarian there, say that you want to help but aren't totally sure how or what's appropriate...something like that)
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« Reply #22 on: May 23, 2011, 08:55:16 PM »

I'm going to go make sure any clothes I might where to Church are flame retardant...
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« Reply #23 on: May 23, 2011, 09:30:35 PM »

Coming from your perspective is there anything we can do to help, aside from being aware and sitting him down when he starts to sway? I'm always terrified that he's going to slam his head on the tile floor.  Undecided

Well, no. Maybe prohibitting from going to the entrances when one starts to feel bad or make him have his breakfast before the Liturgy.

edit:

HAHA I've just noticed  that English language has very Orthodox name for that meal Wink


I'm not sure how much detail you need, and my memory is a little rusty; but, if you're serving alone, the big things are:

It's almost impossible to do it alone. Two acolytes is the absolute minimum.

I need to serve alone fairly often. The Priest or Deacon simply has to do some of it. But you are correct, with two acolytes things go as they should. Even when I just have the 7 year old helping it goes well. I just hand him stuff and go on to the next thing while he puts things away.

On a personal note, we had Met. Hilarion this weekend here to do an ordination. I have helped with six or seven Hierarchical Liturgies which are complicated and dont follow the pattern we are used to.

I have to say that he really made things easy. Everyone was relaxed and didn't feel much pressure. It had to do with his personality and the way he makes everyone feel comfortable. He was impressive because he was so low key. I think he has been a Bishop for more than 20 years now so perhaps that is enough time to get over himself.
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« Reply #24 on: May 23, 2011, 09:37:26 PM »

I'm going to go make sure any clothes I might where to Church are flame retardant...

Here you go:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRnMELS-YyE&feature=fvst
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« Reply #25 on: May 23, 2011, 09:51:49 PM »

I'm not sure how much detail you need, and my memory is a little rusty; but, if you're serving alone, the big things are:
It's almost impossible to do it alone. Two acolytes is the absolute minimum.
I need to serve alone fairly often. The Priest or Deacon simply has to do some of it. But you are correct, with two acolytes things go as they should. Even when I just have the 7 year old helping it goes well. I just hand him stuff and go on to the next thing while he puts things away.

While it is more difficult in some jurisdictional practises than in others, I can assure you from experience doing exactly that, dozens of times, that it is both possible and practicable...sometimes, even preferable (depending on the amount of altar boys and how much they chatter).

As I indicated above, there aren't any overlapping points - the only exception I can think of is if the lone server also has to do the epistle reading (a very unlikely circumstance, but even then it only requires the censer to be pre-prepared and hung on a nearby stand).
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« Reply #26 on: May 24, 2011, 12:12:07 PM »

As I indicated above, there aren't any overlapping points

Eucharist - one with a cloth, one with a censer.
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« Reply #27 on: May 24, 2011, 12:30:08 PM »

As I indicated above, there aren't any overlapping points

Eucharist - one with a cloth, one with a censer.

The cloth can be held by any Parishioner, Women included.

I often prefer working alone with just the Priest or Priest and Deacon. Some things change if there is no Deacon like where you need to stand to take back the censor.
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« Reply #28 on: May 24, 2011, 05:24:44 PM »

As I indicated above, there aren't any overlapping points
Eucharist - one with a cloth, one with a censer.

That's probably the closest it comes, but even then it doesn't overlap.  There is enough time, if one is moving at a brisk pace, to go inside, put incense on the censer and give the censer to the priest.
Particularly as the steps above indicate GOA Aus. practise, where priests generally commune people while standing on the solea - a spritely altar boy has that much more time to be ahead of the game.
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« Reply #29 on: June 02, 2011, 11:53:56 PM »

Hey dudes and dudettes,

Thank you once again for these wonderful replies.

Now I am in the market for an (exo)rasson. Could any of you recommend me someone??
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« Reply #30 on: June 03, 2011, 01:13:43 AM »

Do you have to wear them? Aren't stiharions enough?
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« Reply #31 on: June 03, 2011, 01:59:47 AM »

Do you have to wear them? Aren't stiharions enough?

For some reason, the practice here for anyone over like twelve seems to be to wear rassa over secular clothing rather than sticharia.
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« Reply #32 on: June 03, 2011, 02:50:45 AM »

Do you have to wear them? Aren't stiharions enough?
For some reason, the practice here for anyone over like twelve seems to be to wear rassa over secular clothing rather than sticharia.

It's very common in Byzantine practise - particularly in Australia.

I notice that you're in Sydney; I've heard that there are some makers of exorassa in Sydney (if not, there should be, since there's certainly a market!).  Maybe ask your priest or one of the seminarians.

Otherwise, perhaps try istok.net?
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« Reply #33 on: June 03, 2011, 02:58:46 AM »

An acolyte in my Parish (actually a tonsured reader) wore cassock instead of sticharion but recently he has started to put sticharion on the cassock.
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« Reply #34 on: June 03, 2011, 01:18:37 PM »

Some see that as unnaceptable. All altar servers (other than nuns) must wear a sticharion while serving.
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« Reply #35 on: June 03, 2011, 03:22:53 PM »

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.

OVERALL PRINCIPLES
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.

ARRIVING
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.

PROSKOMIDIA
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.

LITURGY
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.

CONCLUSION
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.
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« Reply #36 on: June 03, 2011, 03:39:02 PM »

^ Wow, that is a pretty good list, Father. Enough to put the fear of God into any nine year old! I had to chuckle as I recall a handbook that my father had put together many years ago, called 'Knights of the Altar.' Much of the same stuff, a little different as the Rusyn practice varies a bit from the Russian. Unfortunately there was always a wise-guy 'knight' who thought it was OK to duel with candle sticks.  Smiley Actually, I don't think you needed a book to give a kid that idea anyway!
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« Reply #37 on: June 03, 2011, 03:56:25 PM »

As a fellow altar server, I can tell you the most important thing: pray before the service.  

I even composed my own little prayer which you may use"
Lord, Let my ministry as altar server be blessed with a love for all parishioners
That I may see Christ within each of them,
and that I may be granted humility in this holy service."

you will really learn humility while serving.  Don't be surprised when you drop things, light small fires, or forget to do something.  Father may shoot you a dirty look, but remember this happens to everyone!

Also, I have written down=, in a liturgy book, when to do what in the altar as suggested by people on OC.net, and that is a wonderful resource to have with you.

Also, start to notice what the choir chants or priest chants before something happens, these are your ques.  for example:  At vespers, when the choir chants "amen", I know to open the door.  Soon after that, when the priest recites the petitions and comes to the Theotokos, I know to put incense in the censer and bring it to him.  When he puts on his philonion (cape), I know to help him open the royal doors, get the censer and make the entrance.  

Right now, It will be hard for you, but soon you will be a pro!  Just don't be afraid to rely on your fellow altar servers for direction, as the priest may be really "into" the service.

Good luck, and May the Lord have Mercy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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« Reply #38 on: June 03, 2011, 04:09:40 PM »

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.

...

Every priest is different. Every parish is different. Be alert.

Bless, Father.

Great post! Really wonderful. With you permission, I might like to take that and have a few print copies to give new servers, and always have one in the altar! We have a few instruction-type sheets in the altar (when to ring the bell, procession order, pre- and post-service activity, etc.) but nothing quite like that. Very nice!

You did ask to note where our parish practices differ, and I did notice a few little things. Nothing big at all, but they will highlight all the little ways in which parish practices may change and throw someone off guard a bit:

ARRIVING

4. Enter the altar area and make three reverences facing towards the high place/holy table.

Instead of this, our practice is to make one full prostration towards the high place/holy table. The only time this changes is Bright Week. A low bow (i.e., reverence) is made instead.

ARRIVING

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.

Very small note: In addition to kissing the priest's hand, we will kiss the cross on the vestment. We also do not hang our stichars, they are folded and laid in a drawer after each service.

ARRIVING

7. Light the seven-branch (some priests bless your flame first), then other candles and lampadki, starting at the proskomidia table's.

We do this as well, I just want to point out that this is usually the purview of the deacon. As you stated, Father, laymen do not touch the holy table. That includes lighting candles that are placed there. By economy, however, most parishes without deacons seem to get a dispensation for this particular task to be done by a lay server.

LITURGY

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.

Our rapidia (liturgical fans) and large torches are kept at the high place. When performing an entrance, all of the servers congregate there and take their processional item. We face the high place, cross ourselves, bow to the highplace, then turn around and make another bow. We remain there until the priest begins the entrance, we move in front of him. If people (usually the younger boys) are processing with regularly sized candles, they take them to the high place, crossing and bowing with everyone else.

The servers then line up facing north and south (looking at each other), and do not face east until the priest is in position with whatever item he is processing with (Gospel at the Little Entrance, The Gifts at the Great Entrance, the censer for Great Vespers, etc.) Once the priest is in position, those with rapidia face east and hold them up into position. Those with torches turn east, lining up behind the priest (the exception here is the Great Entrance. The priest will face the people and make intercessions over the Holy gifts. rapidia-bearers will stand slightly behind him and hold the rapidia up and slightly forward. Torch-bearers will remain facing north and south, and not cut in front of the priest.

After an entrance, we return to the high place, making the same cross and bow sequence as before, and only then replacing our processional items.


LITURGY

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.

This is another tiny difference. If you are a vested server...you do not sit. Period. Definitely not in the altar, but not in the nave, either. Even during the homily. Servers will stand up near the iconstas to the far north or south, as well as in the corners at the west end of the nave, so that everyone can clearly see the priest, but all of the servers remain standing.


LITURGY

15. When the priest has consecrated the gifts and make a reverence, you make one too.

A reverence (low bow) is made at the blessing of the bread, and then at the blessing of the wine, just as the people bow. At the consecration of both, the priest and all altar servers make a full prostration. The people will prostrate on a non-Sunday. On Sunday, this is made a reverence for those in the nave. The only exception to this is Pascha, where all servers make a third reverence instead of the prostration.

LITURGY

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.

Servers partake after the people in our parish practice, including those who hold the communion cloth.

LITURGY

26. Vested servers kiss the cross before the congregation.

In spite of the noted difference in Liturgy #22, vested servers always line up for veneration in front of the people.

Again, Father...thank you so much for this list. Quite exhaustive! I hope I've made some helpful notes here, denoting some parish variation.
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« Reply #39 on: June 03, 2011, 04:22:53 PM »

I wish my own altar servers could have the fear of God put in them by these instructions, but they can't, because I've never set them down in writing until I saw this thread. Now maybe I can press a Print button and let the fear begin!

I'm maybe not the best person to do such a list, because most of my life I've been Western Rite, but sometimes a "fresh pair of eyes" is useful.

I resemble that remark about dueling candle-bearers, since I have two altar boys in the 12-13 year age-range. Sometimes one of them will dash over to do something before the other one can get to it. Then the first one breaks out in a triumphant smirk. But really, they get along well. Sometimes there will be loud whispering and I have to give a "hush" gesture (finger over lips) to the servers next to them, to relay to them (since they themselves are distracted at such moments). But really, they're good boys and serve well.

My hand gestures are:
- "need censer" (join thumb, forefinger, and middle finger and swivel the wrist back and forth like censing)
- "get candles" (hold up a finger like a tall candle and blow on it--slightly counterintuitive but it's the signal they used in Anglo-Saxon England for that, so there)
- "ring bell" (make hand as if it's holding a mallet, and make sideways strikes)
- "open/close the curtain" (using both hands, act as if you are drawing a cord up to down, switching between the two hands)
- "stay there, don't walk away" (a "please be seated" gesture with both hands flat and moving down and up slightly a few times)
- "I need my book" (put hands together palm to palm, then "open" them like a book opening up)
- "no, I don't need that right now" (holding one hand out, flat, and shaking it like 'no'--this sign DOES get used)

God bless all of you who serve in the holy altar--what a great service, what a blessing!
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« Reply #40 on: June 03, 2011, 04:35:45 PM »

Dear Benjamin, the Lord bless. Thanks for the kind words. Please feel free to share the instructions, modify, etc. I should have added, I suppose, since I mentioned how to enter the church, how to leave the church: you kiss the main icon on the centre analoy, and turn east and make three reverences at the door(way) to the narthex or outside. In other words, the reverse of what you do when you first come inside.

Some of the things you mention must be differences within the Russian or Slav tradition, because some of those I myself did, until our rector (I'm assistant) explained it wasn't standard ROCOR practice.

Bishop Jerome used to say, "In the Russian Church, there are seven ways to do everything, and seven ways to do each of those seven ways." Or something like that. Now he sometimes celebrates a Hierarchical Western Rite Liturgy--that's definitely a seven of a seven of a seven! I hope to be able to attend and serve at one of those.

St. John Maximovitch had three typed pages of instructions for altar servers. One thing I remember is to wash your hands before you touch a vestment. Makes sense. I do that myself--washing hands before vesting (although the service book has only one washing, after vesting). But I never thought to tell the servers that.

Vladika Hilarion is wonderful and he reassures everyone by his kindly way. I served with His Eminence in the cathedral in New York, and I was very edified and uplifted.
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« Reply #41 on: June 03, 2011, 05:03:24 PM »

"1. Do not catch any thing or any other person on fire."

Has this ever happened at anyone's parish?

One week after we had new carpeting installed a huge chunk of charcoal went flying out of the censor and burned a hole through the carpet as the recently ordained Deacon was censing the altar. Fortunately, he had the good sense not to immediately reach for it with his bare hands!  Shocked 

As our priest explained later, "Anyone who thinks the carpet is not going to be scorched by charcoal is kidding themselves." laugh
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« Reply #42 on: June 03, 2011, 06:21:09 PM »

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.

>< snip

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.


A very complete list - thank you, Father!

The only things I saw that were different from the (very limited) ROCOR practise that I've seen is that vested servers (who are not otherwise ordained) will de-vest before communing; but, my experience has been very limited.
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« Reply #43 on: June 03, 2011, 06:34:43 PM »

A tip placed near the paper towell hanger: "The towell is for hands, not for shoes".
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« Reply #44 on: June 03, 2011, 09:15:17 PM »


The only things I saw that were different from the (very limited) ROCOR practise that I've seen is that vested servers (who are not otherwise ordained) will de-vest before communing; but, my experience has been very limited.
That makes sense, readers and subdeacons are to vest before taking communion and to be given precedence in communion line (bishop, priests, deacons, then outside the altar, subdeacons, readers, etc...) but here in the usa they usually aren't given that and most don't vest to receive if not serving even though that is supposed to happen.  And readers and subdeacons, priests, deacons, bishops vest to recieve because, well, we are to do so... altar servers aren't tonsured or ordained so why are they wearing the sticharion while receiving communion, good point, I like that.

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