“For to serve Thee is a great and awesome thing even to the heavenly powers.”
-Prayer of the Cherubimic Hymn
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, altar servers assist the higher clergy during services. They might carry the cross, candles or liturgical fans in processions and entrances; maintain the censer, ensuring it has enough live charcoal, loading it with incense and handing it to the priest or deacon when required; preparing the hot water (zeon) in time for it to be added to the chalice at the Divine Liturgy; prepare the antidoron for the people to receive after Holy Communion; and any other necessary tasks so that the celebrant need not be distracted during the service.
Serving in God’s temple is a privilege. Divine services require self-discipline and dedication. Orthodox Christian boys, aged eight years and above, practice diakonia and serve at St. George Church. The Altar Servers (Acolytes) are trained by the church clergy and the senior members of the Altar Servers to fulfill their ministry in a spirit of reverence and worship.
The importance of the Holy Ministry of altar servers is brilliantly illustrated with these important words from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. We must minister with honor and dignity because this little ministry is great in God’s eyes. This blessed ministry can give you wisdom and strength, and may give you the blessing to be ordained in the future, as many of our clergy began as altar servers.
The altar server’s service to the Church is an important one. In the Holy Altar, they represent the Angels who are the heavenly servants of God. We see from the accounts in the New Testament of the importance of the Holy Angels from Matthew’s account of the virgin birth of Christ (Matthew 1:20-21) and his account of the Resurrection of Christ (Matthew 28:2-6). Consequently, this lay ministry must be called a “Holy Ministry”.
As such, we must serve with the fear of God in us. We must not allow the altar to turn into a social hall, meeting place or playground. The altar is a holy place. It is the place where the bread and wine become the precious body and blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
By serving in the altar we are serving God at “the golden altar which was before the throne.” We are not serving for our own glory, but for the glory of God and His Holy Church. We must never forget how great it is to be able to serve the King of Glory through this Holy Ministry; for to serve “is a great and awesome thing even to the heavenly powers.”
May your service to the Church, especially through this Holy Ministry, always be for the Glory of God.
Adapted from the WORD magazine of the Antiochan Orthodox Church
When you are trained to serve as an acolyte, your priest will give you precise instructions on how to vest, where to stand, when and how to hand over a needed item to the priest or deacon, etc. You will learn where to walk, how fast to walk, how to bow, and many other things. These instructions vary from parish to parish depending on local practice, but there are some basic guidelines that are universal for servers:
- The Sanctuary is holy, and access to it is restricted to a very few men. Do not abuse the privilege you have been given to enter the sanctuary for service by being disrespectful or entering the holy place unnecessarily.
- Arrive early for services, according to the instruction of the priest in charge, so you have time to prepare and vest without rushing. Late entries may distract the priest from his duties/prayers (e.g., preparing the Holy Gifts at the Table of Oblation during proskomedia).
- Prepare for service with fasting, prayer, and frequent Holy Confession. Abstain and plan to partake in Holy Communion at every Liturgy. (Even if you are not scheduled to serve, prepare as if you were. You may be asked to replace a server who is ill or absent.)
- Follow the dietary rules for Wednesdays, Fridays, and the four fasting seasons seriously.
- Dress properly for serving God. Shorts, jeans, T-shirts, tennis shoes, and other casual clothing are not appropriate, even when “hidden” by a robe. (Most priests require that servers wear dark-colored dress pants, button-down shirts, and black or brown leather street shoes.)
- Mind your personal appearance. Come to serve with clean hands and face, and neatly combed hair cut in a conservative style. Leave distracting jewelry — including earrings — at home.
- Be alert for hand signals and other instructions given by the priest, deacon, or senior altar servers. When an instruction is given, follow it exactly and immediately.
- Do not talk or whisper in the sanctuary or while in procession in the Nave, unless it is to ask an important question about your duties. Giggling, laughing, and fidgeting are not appropriate.
- When you are not performing a specific task, stand to the side and follow the service. Sing the responses, and say the prayers silently along with the priest.
- Never walk in front of the Holy Altar (i.e., between the Altar Table and the Royal Doors). Only the bishop, priest, and deacon may stand in front of the Altar while serving.
- Take care of your robe (e.g., folding it neatly after services, letting the priest know if a button is loose, etc.).
- Clean up the sanctuary following services according to your priest’s instructions; this may include replacing candles or filling oil lamps, cleaning and polishing the censer and other brass items, or vacuuming. Be sure to tidy up the area where the antidoron is cut.