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A Guide to Church Etiquette
The word liturgy means common work or common action. The Divine Liturgy is the common work of the Orthodox Church. It is the official action of the Church formally gathered together as the chosen People of God. The word church, as we remember, means a gathering or assembly of people specifically chosen and called apart to perform a particular task.
The Divine Liturgy is the common action of Orthodox Christians officially gathered to constitute the Orthodox Church. It is the action of the Church assembled by God in order to be together in one community to worship, to pray, to sing, to hear God’s Word, to be instructed in God’s commandments, to offer itself with thanksgiving in Christ to God the Father, and to have the living experience of God’s eternal kingdom through communion with the same Christ Who is present in his people by the Holy Spirit.
The Divine Liturgy is always done by Orthodox Christians on the Lord’s Day which is Sunday, the “day after Sabbath” which is symbolic of the first day of creation and the last day—or as it is called in Holy Tradition, the eighth day—of the Kingdom of God. This is the day of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, the day of God’s judgment and victory predicted by the prophets, the Day of the Lord which inaugurates the presence and the power of the “kingdom to come” already now within the life of this present world.
The Divine Liturgy is also celebrated by the Church on special feast days. It is usually celebrated daily in monasteries, and in some large cathedrals and parish churches, with the exception of the week days of Great Lent when it is not served because of its paschal character.
As the common action of the People of God, the Divine Liturgy may be celebrated only once on any given day in an Orthodox Christian community. All of the members of the Church must be gathered together with their pastor in one place at one time. This includes even small children and infants who participate fully in the communion of the liturgy from the day of their entrance into the Church through baptism and chrismation. Always everyone, always together. This is the traditional expression of the Orthodox Church about the Divine Liturgy.
Because of its common character, the Divine Liturgy may never be celebrated privately by the clergy alone. It may never be served just for some and not for others, but for all. It may never be served merely for some private purposes or some specific or exclusive intentions. Thus there may be, and usually are, special petitions at the Divine Liturgy for the sick or the departed, or for some very particular purposes or projects, but there is never a Divine Liturgy which is done exclusively for private individuals or specific isolated purposes or intentions. The Divine Liturgy is always “on behalf of all and for all.”
Because the Divine Liturgy exists for no other reason than to be the official all-inclusive act of prayer, worship, teaching, and communion of the entire Church in heaven and on earth, it may not be considered merely as one devotion among many, not even the highest or the greatest. The Divine Liturgy is not an act of personal piety. It is not a prayer service. It is not merely one of the sacraments. The Divine Liturgy is the one common sacrament of the very being of the Church Itself. It is the one sacramental manifestation of the essence of the Church as the Community of God in heaven and on earth. It is the one unique sacramental revelation of the Church as the mystical Body and Bride of Christ.
As the central mystical action of the whole church, the Divine Liturgy is always resurrectional in spirit. It is always the manifestation to his people of the Risen Christ. It is always an outpouring of the life-creating Spirit. It is always communion with God the Father. The Divine Liturgy, therefore, is never mournful or penitential. It is never the expression of the darkness and death of this world. It is always the expression and the experience of the eternal life of the Kingdom of the Blessed Trinity.
The Divine Liturgy celebrated by the Orthodox Church is called the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. It is a shorter liturgy than the so-called Liturgy of St. Basil the Great that is used only ten times during the Church Year. These two liturgies probably received their present form after the ninth century. It is not the case that they were written exactly as they now stand by the saints whose names they carry. It is quite certain, however, that the eucharistic prayers of each of these liturgies were formulated as early as the fourth and fifth centuries when these saints lived and worked in the Church.
The Divine Liturgy has two main parts. The first part is the gathering, called the synaxis. It has its origin in the synagogue gatherings of the Old Testament, and is centered in the proclamation and meditation of the Word of God. The second part of the Divine Liturgy is the eucharistic sacrifice. It has its origin in the Old Testament temple worship, the priestly sacrifices of the People of God; and in the central saving event of the Old Testament, the Passover (Pascha).
In the New Testament Church Jesus Christ is the Living Word of God, and it is the Christian gospels and apostolic writings which are proclaimed and meditated at the first part of the Divine Liturgy. And in the New Testament Church, the central saving event is the one perfect, eternal and all-sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the one great High Priest who is also the Lamb of God slain for the salvation of the world, the New Passover. At the Divine Liturgy the faithful Christians participate in the voluntary self-offering of Christ to the Father, accomplished once and for all upon the Cross by the power of the Holy Spirit. In and through this unique sacrifice of Christ, the faithful Christians receive Holy Communion with God.
For centuries it was the practice of the Church to admit all persons to the first part of the Divine Liturgy, while reserving the second part strictly for those who were formally committed to Christ through baptism and chrismation in the Church. Non-baptized persons were not permitted even to witness the offering and receiving of Holy Communion by the faithful Christians. Thus the first part of the Divine Liturgy came to be called the Liturgy of the Catechumens, that is, the liturgy of those who were receiving instructions in the Christian Faith in order to become members of the Church through baptism and chrismation. It also came to be called, for obvious reasons, the Liturgy of the Word. The second part of the Divine Liturgy came to be called the Liturgy of the Faithful.
Although it is generally the practice in the Orthodox Church today to allow non-Orthodox Christians, and even non-Christians, to witness the Liturgy of the Faithful, it is still the practice to reserve actual participation in the sacrament of Holy Communion only to members of the Orthodox Church who are fully committed to the life and teachings of the Orthodox Faith as preserved, proclaimed and practiced by the Church throughout its history.
Source: The Orthodox Faith / Volume II - Worship
The Holy Eucharist is called the “sacrament of sacraments” in the Orthodox tradition. It is also called the “sacrament of the Church.” The eucharist is the center of the Church’s life. Everything in the Church leads to the eucharist, and all things flow from it. It is the completion of all of the Church’s sacraments—the source and the goal of all of the Church’s doctrines and institutions.
As with baptism, it must be noted that the eucharistic meal was not invented by Christ. Such holy ritual meals existed in the Old Testament and in pagan religions. Generally speaking the “dinner” remains even today as one of the main ritual and symbolic events in the life of man. The Christian eucharist is a meal specifically connected with the Passover meal of the Old Testament. At the end of his life Christ, the Jewish Messiah, ate the Passover meal with his disciples. Originally a ritual supper in commemoration of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, the Passover meal was transformed by Christ into an act done in remembrance of him: of his life, death and resurrection as the new and eternal Passover Lamb who frees men from the slavery of evil, ignorance and death and transfers them into the everlasting life of the Kingdom of God.
At the supper Christ took the bread and the wine and ordered his disciples to eat and drink it as his own Body and Blood. This action thus became the center of the Christian life, the experience of the presence of the Risen Christ in the midst of his People (see Mt 26; Mk 14; Lk 22; Jn 6 and 13; Acts 2:41-47; 1 Cor 10-11).
As a word, the term eucharist means thanksgiving. This name is given to the sacred meal-not only to the elements of bread and wine, but to the whole act of gathering, praying, reading the Holy Scriptures and proclaiming God’s Word, remembering Christ and eating and drinking his Body and Blood in communion with him and with God the Father, by the Holy Spirit. The word eucharist is used because the all-embracing meaning of the Lord’s Banquet is that of thanksgiving to God in Christ and the Holy Spirit for all that he has done in making, saving and glorifying the world.
The sacrament of the eucharist is also called holy communion since it is the mystical communion of men with God, with each other, and with all men and all things in him through Christ and the Spirit. The eucharistic liturgy is celebrated in the Church every Sunday, the Day of the Lord, as well as on feast days. Except in monasteries, it is rarely celebrated daily. Holy Communion is forbidden to all Orthodox Christians on the week days of Great Lent except in the special communion of the Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified Gifts (see below) because of its joyful and resurrectional character.
The eucharist is always given to all members of the Church, including infants who are baptized and confirmed. It is always given in both forms—bread and wine. It is strictly understood as being the real presence of Christ, his true Body and Blood mystically present in the bread and wine which are offered to the Father in his name and consecrated by the divine Spirit of God.
In the history of Christian thought, various ways were developed to try to explain how the bread and the wine become the Body and Blood of Christ in the eucharistic liturgy. Quite unfortunately, these explanations often became too rationalistic and too closely connected with certain human philosophies.
One of the most unfortunate developments took place when men began to debate the reality of Christ’s Body and Blood in the eucharist. While some said that the eucharistic gifts of bread and wine were the real Body and Blood of Christ, others said that the gifts were not real, but merely the symbolic or mystical presence of the Body and Blood. The tragedy in both of these approaches is that what is real came to be opposed to what is symbolic or mystical.
The Orthodox Church denies the doctrine that the Body and the Blood of the eucharist are merely intellectual or psychological symbols of Christ’s Body and Blood. If this doctrine were true, when the liturgy is celebrated and holy communion is given, the people would be called merely to think about Jesus and to commune with him “in their hearts.” In this way, the eucharist would be reduced to a simple memorial meal of the Lord’s last supper, and the union with God through its reception would come only on the level of thought or psychological recollection.
On the other hand, however, the Orthodox tradition does use the term “symbols” for the eucharistic gifts. It calls, the service a “mystery” and the sacrifice of the liturgy a “spiritual and bloodless sacrifice.” These terms are used by the holy fathers and the liturgy itself.
The Orthodox Church uses such expressions because in Orthodoxy what is real is not opposed to what is symbolical or mystical or spiritual. On the contrary! In the Orthodox view, all of reality—the world and man himself—is real to the extent that it is symbolical and mystical, to the extent that reality itself must reveal and manifest God to us. Thus, the eucharist in the Orthodox Church is understood to be the genuine Body and Blood of Christ precisely because bread and wine are the mysteries and symbols of God’s true and genuine presence and manifestation to us in Christ. Thus, by eating and drinking the bread and wine which are mystically consecrated by the Holy Spirit, we have genuine communion with God through Christ who is himself “the bread of life” (Jn 6:34, 41).
I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh (Jn 6:51).Thus, the bread of the eucharist is Christ’s flesh, and Christ’s flesh is the eucharistic bread. The two are brought together into one. The word “symbolical” in Orthodox terminology means exactly this: “to bring together into one.”
Thus we read the words of the Apostle Paul:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death, until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread and drinks the cup in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor 11:23-26).The mystery of the holy eucharist defies analysis and explanation in purely rational and logical terms. For the eucharist—and Christ himself—is indeed a mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven which, as Jesus has told us, is “not of this world.” The eucharist—because it belongs to God’s Kingdom—is truly free from the earth-born “logic” of fallen humanity.
Source: The Orthodox Faith / Volume II - Worship / The Sacraments
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Baptism in the Orthodox Church are because they are joyful events joining new members to the Body of Christ, are public events at St Innocent's. Almost all Baptisms take place during the Divine Liturgy on Sunday or another Feast day. Only for extraordinary reasons would we celebrate a Baptism "privately."
We expect that children who are Baptized will be reared as members of the Church, with Sponsors and parents seeing to it that the child is raised in a Christian home and is brought to services and to Communion regularly. To do anything less is a great disservice to the child. For this reason, Baptisms are typically performed for persons who are members of St Innocent's parish, with Sponsors/Godparents who are known to be practicing, faithful Orthodox Christians.
The following directions, from the Guidelines for Clergy (Orthodox Church in America, 1998), address various issues surrounding the celebration of Baptism and are considered normative for our practice at St Innocent's.
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. See: On the Spiritual Life in the Church, Encyclical Letter, Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America, 1988.
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The following directions, from the Guidelines for Clergy (Orthodox Church in America, 1998), address various issues surrounding the reception of converts and are considered normative for our practice at St Innocent's.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 baptized…" (Holy Apostles, c. 49).
- After having performed the prescribed rites of reception, the priest must enter the required information in the parish metrical book
An observant Orthodox life requires regular and frequent Confession. Persons who commune regularly should be confessing regularly, as well. Persons who commune infrequently will need to confess before receiving Communion.
Fr Alessandro is available to hear Confessions every week on Saturdays before and after Great Vespers, and before and after Divine Liturgy on Wednesday morning, or by other arrangements.
Click here for our Basic Guide to Confession.
OCA Guidelines for Confession
The following directions, from the Guidelines for Clergy (Orthodox Church in America, 1998), address various issues surrounding Confession (the Mystery of Penance) and are considered normative for our practice at St Innocent's.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
Preparation for Confession: Prayer of St John of Kronstadt
The following directions, from the Guidelines for Clergy (Orthodox Church in America, 1998), address various issues surrounding the celebration of Marriage and are considered normative for our practice at St Innocent's.
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priest must make sincere and determined efforts through preaching and
teaching to make his parishioners aware that the Mystery of Marriage
takes place within the context of the total life of the parish.
rector must seek to know who among his parishioners intend to marry and
must make himself available for guidance and advice. His
responsibilities include instructing the couple on the Orthodox
Christian teaching of marriage. This should take place well before
wedding plans are made so that the couple may understand and follow the
Church’s teaching and discipline on the Mystery of Marriage.
- Counseling and teaching should include the following:
• Procreation of children is not in itself the sole purpose of marriage; nevertheless, marriage presupposes a desire to have children. The couple should pray for God to grant them the blessings of childbirth and wise nurturing of the family.• "Let marriage be held in honor, and let the marriage bed be undefiled" (Hebrews 13:4).Sexual union is one of the blessings of marriage. The priest should remind the couple that they belong to each other. Couples may abstain from sexual union for a season by mutual consent, but should be made aware that refraining entirely from this act may result in unnecessary difficulties in their marriage.
- The priest should make known to his
faithful that before setting a date, renting a hall, or considering any
activity related to the social aspect of the marriage day, a couple
planning marriage must first seek the blessing, guidance, and advice of
their parish priest.
- The couple must respect the seasons,
times, and days during which marriage may be blessed. The priest must
also uphold the teaching of the Church in regard to these things. The
most appropriate time for a wedding is Sunday, following the celebration
of the Divine Liturgy.
- Marriages are not to be celebrated on:
• evenings before Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year,
• Saturday evenings throughout the year,
• evenings of the twelve Great Feasts or patronal feast of the parish,
• during the course of all the fasts,
• the Great Forty Day Fast, Apostles’ Fast, Dormition Fast, and Nativity Fast,
• from Sunday of Meatfare to the Sunday of Cheesefare,
• during the course of Bright Week,
• from the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord (Dec. 25) through the Feast of the Synaxis of St. John the Baptist (Jan. 7),
• on the evening and day of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist (Aug. 29), and
• on the evening and day of the Elevation of the Cross (Sept. 14).
marriages are normally celebrated on Sunday after the Divine Liturgy,
the request to hold the ceremony on a Saturday requires a written
petition for consent to the diocesan hierarch by the rector of the
church where the marriage is to be performed.
The couple must be exhorted to attend the Divine Liturgy on the following Sunday so that the marriage can be sealed by the reception of the Holy Eucharist.
If permission is given for a Saturday wedding, it shall be celebrated no later than a time of day established by the hierarch so that the priest may serve the Vigil or Vesper service.
- The ritual of the
marriage ceremony is to be celebrated in an Orthodox Church building.
Halls, gardens, and other places are not appropriate.
priest, as a pastor of souls, must also be available to counsel those
already married, who are experiencing difficulties in their married
- The priest is responsible for entering into the metrical book the required information.
A mixed marriage is a marriage between an Orthodox Christian and a non-Orthodox Christian who is baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and who confesses the unique Lordship of Jesus Christ. The Church tolerates this because of her pastoral concern and love for the faithful. Thus, a mixed marriage is not the norm, but is permitted in the hope that the non-Orthodox spouse will seek entrance into the Church.
- A petition for a mixed marriage must be submitted to the diocesan hierarch for his blessing.
a mixed marriage, the Orthodox partner should not consent to have
children of the union baptized outside the Orthodox Church as a
- Toleration of a mixed marriage
does not extend to marriage between an Orthodox Christian and a
non-Christian person, such as a Christian Scientist, Jehovah’s Witness,
Jew, Mormon, Moslem, Unitarian, etc.
- Active participation on non-Orthodox clergy in this service, as in all the mysteries of the Orthodox Church, is not allowed. Conversely, Orthodox clergy may not participate in Non-Orthodox services and rites.
Orthodox norm for those who marry is one marriage. A second marriage is
tolerated under certain conditions. A third marriage is extended under
certain precise circumstances.
- The Church does not grant
divorces. However, it recognizes that because of human weaknesses and
sin marriages sometimes disintegrate and are ended by civil decree
- In her mercy and wisdom, the Church may grant
permission to remarry through the diocesan hierarch. Petition is made to
the hierarch through the parish priest. A clear statement of repentance
from the divorced party, whether or not he/she is considered the
culpable one in the divorce, and a clear statement that the reason
he/she desires to enter a second marriage is that it is considered
necessary for his/her salvation is to be addressed to the diocesan
hierarch through the parish priest. (See: Synodal Affirmations on Marriage, Family, Sexuality, and Sanctity of Life, Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America, Tenth All-American Council, 1992, page 5.)
- Under no circumstances can there be a fourth marriage.
- The Order of Service:
• If one party of the marriage is being married for the first time (even if that person is not Orthodox), the order of the first marriage is used.
• If both the partners are divorced and/or widowed, the order for the second marriage is used.
Christians who marry outside the Orthodox Church thereby exclude their
marital life from the life of the Church, exclude themselves from
participation in the Holy Eucharist, and therefore exclude themselves
from full membership in the Church.
- Such persons, after a
period of penance, may be restored to Eucharistic fellowship by
recommendation from the priest and on the approval of the hierarch.
- Normally, such an act of restoration includes the confirmation of the marriage through a rite approved by the hierarch.
- Priests are reminded that converts to Holy Orthodoxy are not to be remarried when they embrace the Orthodox faith
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Church has no specific rules determining the length of time between
death and the burial. Interment varies according to the climate, civil
ordinances, customs, and circumstances, and may be held immediately
following death, or after a number of days.
- The hour of
interment is also not fixed; it may be at any time during the day to
accord with cemetery regulations and parish needs.
- It is
assumed that, unless the death was an accidental or untimely one, the
priest has been ministering to an aging person, or one suffering from
some ailment or sickness, and has prepared the person for death through
participation in the Mysteries of Penance and Holy Eucharist.
priest should read the Prayers at the Departing of a Soul and passages
from Holy Scripture. Merely to be present at the bedside of one’s
spiritual child and not minister with audible prayer is unworthy of the
- If the priest was not at the bedside of the
dying parishioner at the time of death, he must make contact with the
family, offering to assist them through the time of grieving and
- The Service for the Departed (panikhida) is sung on the eve of the burial whether the body is in the temple, funeral home, or elsewhere.
body of the departed may be brought into the temple at any time prior
to the time of the Funeral Service, whether days before or on the day
- According to traditional practice, the casket is open from the first Service for the Department (panikhida)
until the conclusion of the Funeral Service. The deceased is made in
the image and likeness of God; the physical body is not to be shunned or
rejected because it is in an altered state. To view the body at the
funeral home but not in the church is illogical.
casket is positioned so that the feet of the departed are toward the
iconostasis. Thus, the person, if alive, would be standing facing the
- The Funeral Service is usually served in the temple on the day of the burial.
Divine Liturgy may be celebrated on the day of the Funeral Service.
This takes place before the Funeral Service. Celebration of the Divine
Liturgy is precluded during the Great Fast when the weekday liturgy is
- The Funeral Service and burial is
generally not officiated on Sunday or Pascha. If the Funeral Service is
scheduled for Monday, the body may be brought into the temple only after
the service of Vespers on Sunday evening. There may be circumstances
for which immediate burial may be necessary, and in this case pastoral
discretion is to be used.
- Between the day of Pascha and
the Sunday of St. Thomas, the Funeral Service follows the Typicon for
these specific days of celebration.
- An Orthodox clergyman
may not take part in a service for a non-Orthodox deceased person even
if that person is related to a parishioner. If invited, however, he may
offer some words of consolation at the graveside or funeral meal.
clergy may not be invited to participate in the Funeral Service or
offer any form of homily or public statement in the temple, or
participate in the graveside service. The officiating priest, however,
cannot control what takes place after the Orthodox service of burial has
been concluded in a public cemetery.
- Prayers for the dead
are usually offered immediately after the burial at the memorial meal,
on the third, ninth and fortieth day after death, and every year
- Saturday is the usual day for a memorial service. It can be scheduled immediately before the Vigil or Vesper Service. In this way, the prayers for forgiveness and repose preceding these services are illumined through the proclamation of the Lord’s Resurrection in the hymns that are sung in the following services. However, the Service for the Departed (panikhida) may be served after the Sunday Divine Liturgy if the hierarch has given his blessing for this to take place at that time.
Church has set aside definite days on which remembrance of the dead
should take place. Among these are Meatfare Saturday, the second, third
and fourth Saturdays of the Great Fast, the Saturday preceding
Pentecost, and St. Demetrius Saturday.
- In addition to
these specific times, the faithful may have the names of the deceased
remembered at the Proskomede and during the Divine Liturgy.
services are not permitted on feast days or from the Nativity of our
Lord to Theophany, and from Palm Sunday to the Sunday of St. Thomas.
- The rector is responsible for entering into the metrical book the required information about burials.
in the Body of Christ, His Holy Church, is defined by participation in
the Holy Eucharist. Inasmuch as a person, by refusing to partake of the
Divine Body and Blood of Christ during his/her lifetime, has chosen
freely not to be incorporated into the Body of Christ, unless there is
reason to assume that the person has returned to Christ at the end of
his/her earthly existence, that person will not be buried from the
- The burial service of such a person should only be a Service for the Departed (panikhida), including scripture readings for the dead. The priest may be vested in the epitrachelion.
- If a priest is asked to bury a non-Orthodox person, he must consult with his diocesan hierarch, and with the hierarch’s blessing bury the person according to the service prescribed in the Book of Needs.
act of suicide is a profound tragedy affecting a parish. It
necessitates prayers for forgiveness for the sake of the departed and
exhorts the members of the parish community to repentance and sorrow.
- The Orthodox Church normally denies a Church burial to a person who has committed suicide. However, factors bearing on the particular case may become known to the priest who must share this information with the diocesan hierarch; the hierarch will consider the factors and make the decision concerning Funeral Services.
a parish priest is aware that a member of his flock is a Freemason, he
should make it a pastoral concern to speak privately with the person,
showing the incompatibility of Orthodoxy with Freemasonry.
a communicating member of a parish falls asleep in the Lord and that
person is also a member of one of these societies, the priest will show
love and concern for the deceased. In his counseling of the bereaved
family he must not be hostile, but must inform the family that only the
Funeral Service for an Orthodox Christian will be served.
- Patiently and tactfully, and with discretion, he will state that no words or symbols other than those of the Orthodox faith can be introduced into the church or the funeral home.
The Church does not intend to control or prohibit others from executing particular rites after the Funeral Service which may take place after the priest leaves the burial site after committing the body to the ground.
practice of cremation is not a Christian one and is to be discouraged.
Cremated remains are not to be brought into the temple for a burial
service or for any other reason.
- Although cremation is not encouraged, and the Funeral Service over cremated remains is denied, the remains may be buried only with the hymn Holy God…
priest should be sufficiently informed to help guide the faithful in
this area of medical procedure. Some people think that they cannot
refuse an autopsy to be performed on a loved one. No one is obliged to
give approval for this procedure.
- Unless there is a
specific legal reason, such as determining the cause of death, an
autopsy ought to be avoided. The desire for scientific information
through experimentation is not enough reason to merit an autopsy.
Nevertheless, this is a decision that the family itself must make. The
Church is concerned that respect for the body as a temple of the Holy
Spirit be maintained.
- Donation of body organ(s) after
death may be allowed as long as respectful care is exercised toward the
body before, during, and after the extraction operation. Care must be
taken that the organ(s) are given as a gesture of altruism, free of any
- The Church does not consider the sharing of organs as a lessening of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the deceased, or as a transmigration of part of the donor to the recipient. A healthy person not in expectation of imminent death may donate non-vital organs as long as his/her quality and integrity of life is not diminished or endangered.
The following directions, from the Guidelines for Clergy (Orthodox Church in America, 1998), address various issues surrounding the celebration of Holy Unction and are considered normative for our practice at St Innocent's.
The services of healing through anointing of the sick must be understood and experienced as corporate acts of worship. See: On Spiritual Life in the Church, Encyclical, page 5.
Mystery of Holy Unction is administered to Orthodox Christians for the
healing of soul and body. It may be for a particular person or for a
number of persons gathered together.
- While especially
appropriate for the sick and dying, the Mystery of Holy Unction is
intended for the living. Those who are already dead must not be anointed
with this Holy Unction.
- It should be understood that the service is primarily for those who are ill in body and in soul and are able to be present if the service is performed in public. Otherwise, the priests ought to go to the bedside of the person for whom the healing is sought.
- This mystery is bestowed on those who have
confessed and are at peace with God in their souls. One cannot expect to
receive healing without repentance; confession precedes the healing.
it is not possible to use the full order of service to anoint a person
who has fallen ill, an abridged form that has been approved for use by
the diocesan hierarch may be used.
- In some dioceses,
deaneries, and parishes, for the benefit of the local Orthodox
community, it has become a custom, although not prescribed by the
Typikon, to celebrate this mystery on fasting and festal seasons.
Although it is not prescribed in the Triodion, one such example is the
celebration of the mystery on Great and Holy Wednesday for the entire
- Normally, oil which has been
sanctified at a previous celebration of the Mystery of Holy Unction is
not reserved for the subsequent anointing of the sick, but should be
burned in an oil lamp or poured over the body of the person for whom it
had been offered if that person dies.
- The custom of
allowing the faithful to take oil home with them to anoint others should
not be encouraged since the usual ministrant of the Mystery of Holy
Unction is of the priestly rank.
If garments and the like are brought forward at the service, they may be sprinkled with holy water, but should not be anointed with the sanctified oil.
A Guide to Church Etiquette