The importance of faith, acts and spiritual struggle for salvation | Sacraments | Baptism rituals | Holy Matrimony | Priesthood – Holy Orders | Liturgical books | Clergy vestments | Liturgical Vessels | Parts of the church buildings | Icons | Incense | The Church' Liturgical Year | Church Twelve Great Feasts (according to the Julian calendar) | Major periods of fasting during the year
The importance of faith, acts and spiritual struggle for salvation:
The Grace is the free divine gift and it is the seed of salvation. Faith represents the acceptance of mankind for this salvation. Virtues and spiritual struggle represents the activity of the living faithful.
The Church practices seven major sacraments: Eucharist, Baptism, Chrismation, Ordination (Priesthood), Confession, Marriage, and Holy Unction of the Sick. Materials used (bread, wine, water, oil, etc.) become filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit, while they are only "symbols" of God's presence.
Baptism (from the Greek noun Βάπτισμα baptisma; itself derived from baptismos, washing).
Baptism is the sacrament where the child obtains the invisible grace of God and gets purified from the consequence of ancestor's original sin (Adam). Not the guilt of the sin since we did not inherit Adam's sin. It is the new birth from above to become a member of the Body of Christ, after the birth of man in a corrupt nature, enslaved to death.
After the name of the catechumen child is registered in the books of baptism, the Church's "book of life", the priest puffs three times on the child in the form of a cross, while saying: "In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit". This is to provide him, from the beginning, with the Cross as a weapon to defeat demons. Then the priest puts his hand on the child's head and reads a prayer asking God to protect the child under his wings and away from evil works.
Exorcisms: three prayers by the priest on the catechumen.
Renounce the Devil: the Godparent turns westward to renounce the devil, where the priest asks the Godparent three times: "Do you renounce Satan, all his angels, all his works, all his services, and all his pride?" The Godparent answers with "I do" on behalf of the child, then spits on the ground (Satan), which is abhorrence and rejection of the Satan.
Accepting Christ: The Godparent turns eastward to accept Christ. This represents the turn of man toward paradise which is in the east, toward Christ the light of the world and the sun of justice. The priest here asks the Godparent three times to accept Christ. The Godparent answers with "I do" on behalf of the child, then state the Church's Creed and worships the Lord.
Water is the sacrament's material, a symbol of life, cleanness and purification. In blessing the water, the priest prays that the water would return to what God intended it for since its creation is a source of life unlike at the time of Noah when the water was a source of destruction
The Naked Child - Clothes off: is a symbol of putting off the old, sinful and perishable person.
Anointing with oil: The priest blesses the olive oil. Then he puts it on the child's forehead, breast, back, hands, feet, ears, and mouth, in order to dedicate them to the service of Christ.
Immersion into the Baptismal font: After the anointing with oil, the priest holds the child and does the baptism with triple immersion, saying: "the servant of God (name) is baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." When we are immersed down under the water, we die with Christ, burying the old sinful man in us, and rising with Him, renewed by the Holy Spirit. The triple immersion signifies the burial of the Lord for three days.
The Sacrament of Chrismation: immediately following Baptism, the Priest anoints the newly baptized infant with the Holy Chrism saying: "the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit, Amen". Since baptism is our death and resurrection with Christ, Chrismation is a personal Pentecost to each and every one of us. The Holy Chrismation is not separated from Baptism, it is a confirmation to what we have achieved since we have entered the kingdom of heaven.
New clothes - White Garment: The newly baptized is dressed with a new white garment as a symbol of the life of resurrection that he/she passed to. It is also a symbol to the purity and innocence that should distinguish his/her life to come.
Religious Dance – procession: the Godparent processes with the baptized infant three times, carrying candles, around a holy table. During the procession the chanters chants: "As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. Alleluia" "(Galatians 3: 27)" in constant reverence to the Holy Trinity. The procession is a symbol of the spiritual and eternal joy. The Circle has no beginning and no end, and hence the kingdom of heaven is eternal. The Candles are symbols of the lamps of the wise virgins who were ready to enter to the heavenly kingdom with the bridegroom. Thus the newly baptized is ready to enter into the kingdom of God. At the end of procession the epistle and the gospel are read.
The cutting of hair (tonsure): The Priest cuts four pieces of hair from the child's head in the form of a Cross. This is an expression of offering from the child, who has received an abundance of blessings through the Sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation. Since the Child has nothing to give to God in return, he/she offers part of his/her hair, as a first-offering to God. In the Old Testament, hair is seen as a symbol of strength. The child, therefore, promises to serve God with all his/her strength.
The Holy Eucharist: the newly illumined becomes a full member of the Church. He receives the precious Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion (or Holy Eucharist).
The Baptized Bath: after hours or days, the Holy Chrism is washed away from the child so as not to remain and get ruined. In case of washing at home, parents are asked to pour the water used for washing not into the sink but rather into a place that does not get stepped on.
There are two types of baptism: the first is that of water and spirit. This baptism is by immersion in the name of the Trinity similar to Christ's. The second is with blood, the baptism of martyrdom.
Marriage is the sacrament of love, emerging from God's love of human beings. It is a symbol of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Love is getting rid of selfishness and individualism towards unity, which does not dissolve people but rather affirms them.
Engagement ring in the right finger: the right hand is a symbol of strength. The circular ring symbolizes the eternal bond. The circle has no beginning and end, eternal. And so should be the marriage
Initially the priest censes around the table, the icons, the couple and the people. During the censing the choir sings: "Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in His ways". (Psalm 128: 1).
The declaration and the great litany: the crowning service (the wedding service) starts with the declaration: "Blessed is the kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and to the ages of ages." Blessing according to the biblical concept means that you make the kingdom the target. The goal of marriage is the life of holiness. Followed is the great litany in which we ask God to bless this wedding similar to the wedding of Cana.
Prayers: the priest then says three prayers to bless the crowns: the first prayer for glorification, the second asking God to bless the couple and save them, and the third asking God to send his right hand and unify the couple. It is by God that man and woman become one. During the third prayer the priest joins the couple's hands together as an expression of unity between them.
Crowning: the priest then picks up the crowns, makes the sign of the cross on them, crowns the groom and the bride, announcing three times: "The servant of God (name) is crowned unto the hand maiden of God (name) in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen." Then he exchanges the crowns on the heads of the couple saying: "O Lord, our God, crown them in glory and in honour". The couple is rewarded with the crowns for their internal victory on their physically and spiritually desires, flaws and deficiencies. Crowning symbolizes their victory with purity before marriage, and on their carrying of the cross in their common life together.
The Common Cup – Wine Drinking: After more prayers, a common cup of sweet wine is blessed and shared by the couple as a sign of their common life together. They share joys and sorrows, successes and failures, hopes and fears together: "I shall partake in the Cup of Salvation, and I shall invoke the name of the Lord".
Dance of Isaiah: the priest leads the couple, with their sponsors, in a triple procession counter clockwise around the centre table in celebratory "dance". The couple process in a circular motion to signify the perfection and eternity that they are intending to live in their future common life. This dance indicates the first steps undertaken by the couple, accompanied by the priest, in the way of the Lord.
Each of the three turns is accompanied by one of the three hymns: the first blesses the Virgin Mother of God, the second asks the intercession of the martyr saints, and the third glorifies our Lord Jesus Christ.
At the end of the service, the crowns are removed. The priest prays that God will receive these crowns into His Kingdom. Then he prays to the Holy Trinity to bless and give the couple a long life, good generation, and success in life and faith.
In the Orthodox Church there are three main priestly ranks:
A - Deacon: servant.
B - Archdeacon.
A - A priest: who can practice all sacraments except ordination.
B - Archpriest.
C - Archimandrite: The head of a group or the abbot. Originally a monk in charge of the spiritual administration for several monasteries, or an abbot of particular importance. The title is used today as an honorary rank for the special hieromonk.
A - Bishop: a Greek word meaning headmaster or overseer.
B - Metropolitan (Bishop): The word is derived from the word Metropolis meaning the Mother City, so the metropolitan is the bishop of the Mother City. It is a promotion in his Episcopal ranks.
C - Patriarch (Archbishop): the ‘Patriarch' word is driven from a Greek phrase meaning the leader (archon) of fathers (patria).
There are also submicron ranks: sub-deacon and the reader.
Ordination to priestly ranks is always done during the Divine Liturgy. It should always be individual; no more than one ordination to each order should be done per liturgy.
The authority of ordination is for the bishop and higher ranks only. An ordination of a new bishop should be done by at least two bishops. Deacon, priest and bishop ordinations are done by "Laying on of Hands" (Cheirotonia) - Apostolic Succession.
Despite the fact that ordination can only be done with bishop(s) laying on of hands, it must also be approved by those present. So the whole congregation expresses its consent with shouts of "Axios!" (Worthy!) at certain times during the ordination service.
Orthodox priests are divided into two categories: married and unmarried priests. Those wishing to join priesthood should choose so before ordination. It is not allowed to marry afterwards. Those who wish to marry should marry before becoming deacons. While those who do not want to marry should become monks before their ordination. If a priest becomes a widowed, he is not allowed to remarry.
- Gospel Book: (Greek: Evangelion, meaning the joyful news), is placed on the altar.
- Apostolos - Book of Epistles.
- The Hieratikon (also spelled Ieratikon, also known as the Hierotelestikon and the Liturgikon; the "book of the priest," is the Book of Rites of the Church that contains the priest's prayers for Vespers, Orthros, and Divine Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great, and the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.
- The Typikon, is the "book of directions and rubrics, which regulate the order of the divine services for each day of the year."
The prayers books are:
- Octoechos ("book of the eight tones") refers to two books - The Great Octoechos (Parakletike, "book of supplication") which has all the hymns of the eight tones for every day of the week.
-The Little Octoechos, a smaller version which contains only the materials for Sundays.
- The Lenten Triodion ('book of the three odes') contains the hymns and prayers from the beginning of the pre-Lenten season (the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, the 10th Sunday before Pascha) until Holy Saturday.
- The Pentecostarion contains the hymns and prayers for the services of the Paschal season, i.e., from the Day of Pascha until the First Sunday after Pentecost, the Sunday of All Saints.
- The Menaia ("books of the months") is the collection of twelve books (each a Menaion), one for each month of the calendar year, containing the hymns and prayers for the immovable feasts and the saints' days falling in that month.
- Synaxariun: biographical lists of the saints arranged in the order of their feast days.
- The Larger Great Horologion is the "Book of Hours," containing the fixed texts of the services of the Daily Cycle.
- Great Euchologion contains the prayers of the priest, deacon, and reader for Vespers, Orthros, and the Divine Liturgy in addition to the six remaining sacraments, and other services of blessings.
The Orthodox Church has taken clergy vestments from the Kingship ones that were present in the time of the Byzantine Empire and its spirituality. However, the Church has given them a Christian meaning transforming them into holy vestments that suit the clergy while doing the services.
The Church does not impose a special vestment color but prefers it to be white/bright on feasts, while black/dark color of funerals and days of fasting.
Clergy vestments include:
- The Sticharion: derived from the chiton, a long, sleeved garment which reached to the ground. It is worn by all classes of ordained ministers in the Constantinopolitan Rite and comes in two forms: one worn by priests and one worn by deacon and other altar servers.
- Epitrachelion: the priestly stole, worn around the neck.
- Zone: cloth belt worn over the epitrachelion.
- Nabedrennik: from the Slavic traditions; a stiffened square cloth worn on the left side via a long loop of cloth placed over the right shoulder; this is a clergy award, so it is not worn by all priests.
- Phelonion - large conical sleeveless garment worn over all other vestments, with the front largely cut away to facilitate the priest's movements.
- Antimens (Antiminsion): from the Greek: "instead of the table", is among the most important furnishings of the altar. It is a rectangular piece of cloth, of either linen or silk. Typically it is decorated with the Icon of the entombment of Christ, the four Evangelists, and scriptural passages related to the Eucharist. A small relic of a martyr is sewn into it. The Eucharist cannot be celebrated without an antimension. The antimension must be consecrated and signed by a bishop.
- Sponge: used to clean the edge of the cup and the holy utensils.
- Large piece of cloths: symbolizes the stone of Jesus' tomb.
- Cup (Chalice): Made of metal. It contains the wine prepared for consecration into the blood of the Lord.
- Chalice Cover.
- The Paten: A small round tray, without a stand and having no engraving. It is usually made of silver or gold. It holds the Communion. In addition it symbolizes the womb of the Theotokos.
- Paten Cover.
- Star: Consists of two silver arched bands, held by a screw, crossed over each other into the shape of a cross. Usually it is surmounted by a small cross. It represents the shape of the tomb and also reminds us of the star that appeared to the Wise men.
- The Spoon: used to administer the body and the Blood of Christ to the communicants.
- Narthex: it is the connection between the Church and the outside world, and is divided into two sections:
- An external entrance as a courtyard.
- Internal entrance consisting of a large room where the baptismal font.
- Nave: The biggest part of the nave is the main body of the church where the people stand during the services.
The other part is reserved for the clergy. In front of the iconostas, in the southern section, is the bishop's throne, and other seats for the chanters.
The walls are normally covered from floor to ceiling with icons of saints, their lives, in addition to stories from the Bible.
Above the nave is the dome. In the dome of the church is usually the icon of Christ the Almighty "Ruler of All". Directly hanging below the dome is a circular chandelier with icons of the saints and apostles, called the horos.
The Nave of an Orthodox Church can vary in shape/size & layout according to the various traditions within the Church.
- Sanctuary (Altar) - the holy of holies: The area behind the iconostasis reached through the Beautiful Gates or Angel Doors. Within this area is the altar table, which is more often called the holy table or throne. Furthermore, the apse containing the high place at the centre back with a throne for the bishop and the synthronos, or seats for the priests, on either side. The Chapel of Prothesis on the north side where the offerings are prepared in the Proskomedia before being brought to the altar table and the holy vessels are stored. In addition, the Diaconicon on the south side where the vestments are stored.
The Holy Table is in the shape of a square or rectangular, composed of a marble plaque to symbolize Christ. This table is installed on four columns symbolizing the four Evangelists and covered with a piece of white cloth, the Antimens, and the Bible. A small dome is constructed on top of the table.
They are graphic expression of spiritual themes. It reminds us of the events of salvation or historical events from the life of the Church. God the Father cannot be expressed in icons because no one has ever seen the Father. God the Holy Spirit appears either as a dove or tongues of fire, and God the Son became a man, and can be illustrated in His human shape.
Icons are always flat (two dimensional) in order for us, who live in the materialistic world, to understand that the spiritual world of Christ, His mother, angels, and saints live in a mysterious world, which we cannot perceive with our five senses.
Icons are venerated and kissed. The veneration is for the person or persons it representatives. The icons are not idols worshiped by believers, since the worship is for God alone.
There are various symbols in the Byzantine icon including the: colors, geometry, lines and scenes' distribution, as well as the position of the bodies. The icon takes our imagination from the reality of the event in history and place, into the spiritual reality. They are windows to heaven.
The iconostasis, also called the τεμπλον/templon. It is a screen or wall between the nave and the sanctuary, which is covered with icons. The Iconostasis has three doors, one in the middle and one on either side. The central one is traditionally called the Royal door and is only used by the clergy. There are times when this gate is closed during the service and the curtain is drawn. The doors on either side are called the Deacons' Doors or Angels' Doors as they often have depicted on them the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. These doors are used by deacons and servers to enter the sanctuary.
Typically, to the right of the Royal door (as viewed from the nave) is the icon of Christ, then the icon of St John the Baptist; to the left the icon of the Theotokos, always shown holding Christ; and then the icon of the saint(s) to whom the church is dedicated (i.e., the patron).
When the priest censes around the altar, the icons and people, he actually gathers the prayers of all as one, held by the incense and raised by the angels with the prayers and the intercession of the Theotokos. In addition, the censing of the altar refers to the call for the presence of the Holy Spirit onto the altar and whole place. Censing the people is to sanctify them and call for God's mercy upon them.
The censer refers to the Virgin Mary, the fire to the divinity inside her without being burnt. The incense refers to worship. The censer has twelve bells symbolize the preaching of the twelve apostles.
The beginning of the Church's Liturgical year is known as the "Indiction". It is the liturgical cycle of seasons of the Christian Church which determines when feast days are. This cycle includes commemoration of saints, Scripture readings and so on. Some feasts' dates may vary from one church to the other, while the sequence and logic is the same.
Liturgical cycle divides the year into a series of seasons or periods: the Christmas season - Epiphany season - Lenten season - Passion season - Resurrection season – Pentecost season – Cross season.
Each season has its special practices and scripture readings, and can be represented with different vestments at the Church.
- September 8, the Nativity of the Theotokos.
- September 14, the Exaltation of the Cross.
- November 21, the Presentation of the Theotokos.
- December 25, the Nativity of Christ/Christmas.
- January 6, the Baptism of Christ - Theophany, also called Epiphany.
- February 2, the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.
- March 25, the Annunciation.
- The Sunday before Pascha (Easter)- the Entry into Jerusalem or Palm Sunday.
- Forty Days after Pascha (Easter) - the Ascension of Christ.
- Fifty Days after Pascha (Easter) - Pentecost.
- August 6, the Transfiguration.
- August 15, the Dormition (Falling Asleep) of the Theotokos.
This is beside the Greater feast of Pascha (Easter).
- The Lenten Fast: begins seven weeks before and until Pascha.
- Apostles' Fast: begins on Monday eight days after the Pentecost, and ends on June the 28th, the eve of St. Peter and Paul Feast. Hence, could last between one and six weeks.
- Dormition Fast: The two-week from the 1st to the 14th of August.
- Nativity Fast: 40 days, from November 15 to December 24.
In addition to the above periods of fasting, every Wednesday and Friday are days of fasting (except for the periods: between Christmas and Epiphany, the week following Pascha directly, and during the week following Pentecost). The Exaltation of the Cross day, Beheading of St. John the Baptist day, and on the eve of Epiphany are also days of fasting.