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On Greeting One Another During the Divine Liturgy

The following was written by Fr. Alexander Lebedeff, a Protopresbyter of much experience in the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, in response to a layman's comments about greetings during the Divine Liturgy.

Please permit me to be frank. As far as I know, there is no tradition in any of the local Orthodox churches (Greek, Russian, Serbian, Antiochian, etc.) for the greeting "Christ is in our midst" as anything but a greeting between two clergymen.

Unfortunately, in our modernist times, some churches have begun to introduce practices that give to lay men and women certain expressions that are properly reserved to clergy. The so-called "Kiss of Peace," [in most modern churches, a handshake] accompanied by the words, "Christ is in our midst—He is and shall be" is one of them. Having the congregation say the deacon's three "Amens" after the Consecration of the Holy Gifts is another. Both these erroneous practices (and many others) should be corrected.

For a priest to do this at the kissing of the cross at the end of liturgy is an innovation, not supported by a valid tradition. It is very "catching," so there it is no surprise that people will pick this up and disseminate it. It is not in keeping with the tradition of the Church. Please bear in mind that seemingly innocuous innovations, however well-intentioned, actually serve to separate parish from parish and jurisdiction from jurisdiction. Soon, we will not have Orthodopraxis, in humble submission to valid Tradition, but liturgical anarchy, with everyone encouraged to "do their own thing."

That is not Orthodoxy—it is ecclesiastical disorder.

But what about the inclusion of The Kiss of Peace in the Divine Liturgy Service book as published by the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America?  I have recently received a copy of this book as the format to which we are to conform by the year 1999.  "Christ is in our midst" followed by "He is and  ever shall be" is designated as the spoken words between brethren as they exchange handshakes (or hugs, as in our parish).  How is that reconciled with what I hear you stating?

This is an excellent example of an innovation that has spread like wildfire across American Orthodox parishes of various jurisdictions. It is, however, still an innovation. The fact that the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America has seen fit to include it in their new service book (making it virtually mandatory) doesn't change this.

In fact, it should be a "no-brainer" to test whether this is an innovation or not, by comparing the service books published by the Antiochian Archdiocese in previous years (or used by them) with the new one.

Is this practice found in Hapgood? No. Is it found in Nassir? No.

Is this the practice of the Church of Jerusalem? No.

Is this the practice of the Church of Alexandria? No.

Is this the practice of the Church of Greece? No.

Is this the practice of the Church of Serbia? No.

Is this the practice of the Church of Bulgaria? No.

Is this the practice of the Church of Russia? No.

I personally have no way to confirm this, but I sincerely doubt whether the practice of laymen exchanging the "kiss of peace" (with hugs or handshakes) at the words "Christ is in our midst—He is and ever shall be" is to be found in the Church of Antioch itself—in the "old country."

So, since one can produce service books going back many hundreds of years (Greek, Russian, Syrian, etc.) where this practice is not to be found, isn't it clear that this is an innovation, "brand new" for 1990s.

What is sad is that innovations such as this become perceived as such an integral part of the service, that when a parishioner used to such practices visits another parish where this practice is not done, he or she sincerely feels that something is being "left out"—that they're not doing the liturgy properly, when the exact opposite is the case.

I can understand the benefits of breaking down the invisible "barriers" that keep people separated, and asking people to turn to their neighbors, shake hands and introduce themselves is a technique that has been used by motivational speakers and protestant evangelists for decades. It is, however, not part of the Orthodox liturgy for the laity to do this.