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Guidelines for Altar Servers

Serving in the Altar is an important ministry that is all too often not taken seriously enough. We offer these two sets of guidelines in hopes that they will serve as a basis for forming one's own parish guidelines, and preserve the lofty calling of this position of service in the Church. The first is from writings of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. The second is a comprehensive set of guidelines drawn up by Father Deacon Dimitri Jakimowicz while serving at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Nicholas (ROCOR) in Seattle, WA.

A Rule for Altar Servers

Composed by Archbishop John

1) To serve in the sanctuary, it is necessary to take the blessing of the priest, or at an hierarchical service, the Hierarch.

2) One must come to church before the beginning of the service.

3) On entering the sanctuary, one must face the Holy Table and, on weekdays, make three full prostrations to the ground, or, on Sundays and the feasts of the Lord, three profound bows from the waist.

4) Those persons who are not serving are not permitted to enter the sanctuary.

5) Only those who have gathered to serve may enter the sanctuary.

6) When vesting in their stikharions [servers' robes], servers should remove their ties [Ties, or neckties as the Americans call them, are considered to be an unnecessary adornment. One often finds in Russian parishes that even laymen in the congregation do not wear them—ed.]

7) When taking off the stikharion, it must be neatly folded or hung in its place.

8) In the sanctuary one should not engage in conversations, nor laugh, nor should one walk about the church, and particularly is this so during the Divine service itself.

9) All readers and altar-servers must be in stikharions. One must also obtain a blessing from the priest, or in an hierarchical service the Hierarch, to take off one's stikharion.

10) For communion of the Holy Mysteries, the servers, with the exception of the readers, take off their stikharions.

11) They should not touch the Holy Table nor the Table of Oblation (proskomidi).

12) They should not walk about in church during the reading of the Gospel, the Apostle or between the exclamations "The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ ..." and "And the mercies of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ be with you all."

13) Even before putting on the stikharion, their hands must be clean.

14) In the sanctuary and sacristy, nothing should be brought that is not used in the Divine services.

15) Sitting down, while wearing the stikharion, is not permitted.

16) Before taking candles or the liturgical fans out, the server should cross himself before the icon in the High Place and bow to the Hierarch or priest, who stands before the Holy Table. On returning, they should repeat this.

17) One must bear in mind that the sanctuary is the most holy place, and that it is required that one stand therein with the utmost reverence; in passing the High Place one must cross oneself, and one must always follow the service with attention.

18) During the "I believe" and the "Our Father, " all the servers go out onto the ambon to join in the general singing. [In the Russian practice, the creed and the Lord's Prayer are sung and not recited].

19) At the time when the clergy are receiving Holy Communion, the servers should stand reverently within the sanctuary; and during the sermon they should leave to stand on the ambon to listen to it.

20) Those who break the Church Rule for Servers, should stand on the left kliros [choir place] until the end of the service.

N.B. These disciplines are not kept in exactly this way in every church, but they do indicate the seriousness with which such a great saint of our times as St John took the duties of the altarservers, and should remind us of the importance of this ministry, and the good order which should be observed.

From The Shepherd, Vol. XX, No. 11 (July 2000), pp. 8-9.

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Guidelines for Servers

The Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Nicholas (ROCOR), Seattle, WA

Servers are expected to attend Church on a regular basis, whether on the serving schedule or not.

Servers must participate in the Holy Mystery of Confession on a regular basis.

Serving in the Altar is a privilege and an honor. All actions, movements, assignments and duties must reflect this attitude.

We must all remember we are in the Presence of the Holy Trinity, The Theotokos, the Saints and God's Angels when we are in Church. All actions, movements, assignments and duties must reflect this.

When you are unable to attend any Divine Service that you are scheduled for; you are expected to contact Father Dimitri as soon as you know so he can schedule a replacement.

Shirts must have collars; remove your ties. Turtlenecks are good; especially for Great Lent (black).

Dark shoes must be worn; no athletic footwear. Shoes should be laced up and tied. During summer months sandals are acceptable only with dark socks. 

Servers should not adorn themselves i.e.: earrings; bracelets; cologne; hair styles. The Sticharion is your adornment.

Even when not serving the dress and behavior code must be adhered to by all servers.

All change of vestments or clothing must be done in the Vestries (Panamarkias.)

Tread lightly! ....... Walk softly. Servers are to stand transparently; meaning no movement and no noise making.

No talking in the Sanctuary unless absolutely necessary. 

When Father crosses himself and bows all servers do the same.

During the Six Psalms everyone must stand absolutely still and silent.

Eating and Drinking are forbidden in the Sanctuary and the Panamarkia (the Vestry) at all times.

No singing by servers in the Sanctuary. Only tonsured and ordained Clergy are permitted to sing. Do not sing along with the Clergy.

Everyone should enter the church through the nave.... Venerate Icons, put up candles, etc., before entering the Sanctuary.

Upon entering the Sanctuary all servers should bow to the Holy Table in the following fashion: Three Full Prostrations; except Saturdays; Sundays; Friday and Saturday Night Services; at those services three Reverences. (Reverences: cross yourself and bow from the waist). Reverences are also done the seven weeks between Pascha and Pentecost) 

Everyone should arrive for Liturgy before the start of the Third Hour and at least 15 minutes before the scheduled start of all other Services.

All Preparations must be done before the service starts.

Absolutely NO CLEANING! wax melting, scraping of floors or tables during any Divine Service!

Once in the Sanctuary no one is to leave!

The back door should remain closed and locked during all Services 

The pierced Prosphora should be taken out to the candle counter as soon as all of them are pierced.

The Starosta will send in a piece of paper with the remaining number of Prosphora he needs immediately after the Gospel Reading.

One server should go to the kitchen and defrost the number of prosphora needed. Do it quickly so Father Serafim does not have to rush later in the service. If the servers are busy, get a server who is not serving to do it for you. Quickly. This is the only time a server may leave the Altar.

Servers must clean all cups and pitchers themselves in the Panamarkia. This must occur after the Service. Nothing leaves the Sanctuary or the Panamarkia unless first cleared by Father Serafim.

During the Sermon everyone should listen and stand still and silent through both languages. The youngest of the Servers should sit quietly during the Sermon in one of the Panamarkias. They should still listen to the Sermon. As soon as Father gives the blessing; back to your spots!

We will use a circular path by servers on all Entrances. This means out the North door; in the South door. We will use only one candle for all Entrances except for the Great Entrance. 

Upon the completion of the Service; when leaving the Sanctuary; all servers should do their bows at the Holy Table in the same way as when they entered.

Servers are not permitted to finish off what is left of the Zapifka after Communion under any circumstance.

Vacuuming is to be done after all the Faithful have left the Church and after all Clergy and Servers have left the Sanctuary.

Thank you all for your peaceful cooperation.

—Father Deacon Dimitri Jakimowicz