Rite of tonsure of reader

The Reader in the Orthodox Church

There is an unfor­tu­nate dearth of guid­ance avail­able to the low­er ranks of cler­gy in the Ortho­dox Church — name­ly, read­ers and sub­dea­cons. Toward the aim of rem­e­dy­ing this prob­lem, we offer here the work of a sem­i­nary grad­u­ate and ordained read­er sum­ma­riz­ing the his­tor­i­cal basis and canon­i­cal respon­si­bil­i­ties of the office of Read­er. This arti­cle first appeared in Russ­ian in Православный Путь for 2005 and was sub­se­quent­ly fea­tured in Ortho­dox Life Vol. 62.1.

By Reader Vitaly Efimenkov 

As a Read­er of the Ortho­dox Church, I have always been inter­est­ed in how to ful­fill my ser­vice to the Holy Church bet­ter and more cor­rect­ly. From the moment I was appoint­ed to this degree of the priest­hood I have not often found lit­er­a­ture ded­i­cat­ed to this aspect of ser­vice to the Church. Every time I encoun­tered an arti­cle or note about this theme I made a pho­to­copy for myself and kept it. In this way I began to col­lect a cer­tain amount of infor­ma­tion, and the thought was born to write an essay on this theme, which I present here. In this work the fol­low­ing aspects con­nect­ed with the rank of Read­er in the Ortho­dox Church are presented: 

  1. Emer­gence and his­to­ry of development; 
  2. Eccle­si­as­ti­cal canons relat­ing to the respon­si­bil­i­ties of Readers;
Read­ers in the Russ­ian Church; 
  4. The rite of con­se­crat­ing Readers; 
  5. The respon­si­bil­i­ties of Read­ers as bear­ers of the first degree of the priesthood. 

I. Emergence and History of the Development of the Institution of Readers 

Read­ing in church has always been an inte­gral part of the divine ser­vices of the Church of God. In the Old Tes­ta­ment, Holy Scrip­ture was some­times read before the sacred eccle­si­as­ti­cal “doors,” stand­ing on an “ambo.” It is known that the high priest Ezra per­formed read­ing in the tem­ple; in the sec­ond book of Ezra he is direct­ly called a high priest and read­er1 The Acts of the Holy Apos­tles wit­ness to read­ing in the Jew­ish syn­a­gogues in apos­tolic times. 

In the New Tes­ta­ment the Lord Jesus Christ Him­self con­se­crat­ed read­ing in the tem­ple when He went into the syn­a­gogue on the sab­bath day, and stood up for to read (Lk. 4:16). In the ear­ly cen­turies of the Chris­t­ian Church all mem­bers of the Church could read in church. Lat­er this ser­vice was restrict­ed to those espe­cial­ly adept at read­ing: name­ly, con­se­crat­ed Readers. 

Accord­ing to Roman Catholic and Protes­tant his­to­ri­ans, the rank of Read­er is derived from the rank of dea­con and arose with the aim of alle­vi­at­ing the great bur­den of the lat­ter. Ortho­dox his­to­ri­ans and the­olo­gians, how­ev­er (includ­ing Pro­fes­sor A. Lebe­dev), align Read­ers with ancient charis­mat­ic teach­ers, prophets, and didaskaloi, who still exist­ed in apos­tolic times.2 Wit­ness to this is the prayer for the appoint­ment of a Read­er found in the Apos­tolic Insti­tu­tions (IV c.), in which “the Holy Spir­it, the Spir­it of proph­esy”3 is invoked on him, which was done in rela­tion to the New Tes­ta­ment charis­mat­ic prophet. In anoth­er place of the appoint­ment, where the dis­tri­b­u­tion of the col­lec­tion among the cler­gy is dis­cussed, it is said: “if there is a Read­er, let him receive one share, in hon­or of the prophets”.

The first writ­ten men­tion of Read­ers as such is from the mid­dle of the sec­ond cen­tu­ry. The cel­e­brat­ed Apol­o­gy of Justin, in describ­ing the Divine Litur­gy, pro­claims: “when the Read­er con­cludes the read­ing of the apos­tolic or prophet­ic writ­ings, then the pres­i­dent speaks to the assem­bly”.5 The his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ment of the sec­ond cen­tu­ry called the Canones eccle­si­as­ti­ci does not num­ber Read­ers among the eccle­si­as­ti­cal cler­gy; how­ev­er, it places them above dea­cons in impor­tance. Accord­ing to this doc­u­ment, an anag­nos­tis (Read­er) can also read the Gospel in church; more­over, he has the right to inter­pret it, for which rea­son he is called an “evan­ge­list,” that is, a preach­er. High moral stan­dards are here estab­lished for can­di­dates for the office of Read­er. Ter­tul­lian (II-III c.) also writes of Read­ers, not count­ing them among the eccle­si­as­ti­cal cler­gy. St Cypri­an of Carthage (mid­dle III c.) speaks of lec­tors6 who had the right to read Holy Scrip­ture in eccle­si­as­ti­cal gath­er­ings. Yet, they were not con­sid­ered cler­gy, but only close to the cler­gy. And yet from sub­se­quent let­ters of St Cypri­an it becomes clear that even in his times Read­ers began to be num­bered among the cler­gy and to com­mand great respect, inas­much as they occu­pied an ele­vat­ed place (the ambo) and “in front of the whole peo­ple read the Com­mand­ments and Gospel of the Lord.” From the let­ters of the saint it is clear that he regard­ed Read­ers as can­di­dates for the priesthood. 

But the words of the fourth-century prayer...clearly testify that the gift of the Holy Spirit was invoked upon Readers and, in particular, the gift of prophesy. This yet again reminds us of how elevated and important the service of Reader was in the early Church. 

Sur­vey­ing the func­tion of Read­ers in the ear­ly Church, we see that they were allowed to read not only Old Tes­ta­ment and Apos­tolic books dur­ing divine ser­vices, but also the Gospel. Here it should also be not­ed that in the peri­od of ear­ly Chris­tian­i­ty not many peo­ple were lit­er­ate and able to read; more­over, it was dif­fi­cult to learn to read Holy Scrip­ture, the man­u­scripts of which con­tained no punc­tu­a­tion or spaces between words. Through their abil­i­ty to read, Read­ers helped illit­er­ate charis­mat­ic teach­ers and even bish­ops, some of whom were also illit­er­ate. More­over, as was not­ed above, Read­ers also had the right to inter­pret Holy Scrip­ture pub­licly. This came as a result of the fact that there were no more charis­mat­ic teach­ers, but teach­ing the peo­ple remained an insep­a­ra­ble part of eccle­si­as­ti­cal gath­er­ings. In this way the ele­va­tion of the Read­er to the lev­el of eccle­si­as­ti­cal preach­er took place and there came about an epoch which Pro­fes­sor A. Lebe­dev calls “the gold­en age in the life of the insti­tu­tion of Read­ers,” which last­ed rough­ly from the mid­dle of the sec­ond cen­tu­ry to the mid­dle of the third cen­tu­ry. As evi­dence of the eccle­si­as­ti­cal-homilet­ic activ­i­ty of Read­ers, his­to­ry offers us a Chris­t­ian ser­mon from the begin­ning of the sec­ond cen­tu­ry writ­ten, in all like­li­hood – and accord­ing to the evi­dence of the author him­self – by a Read­er of the ear­ly Church. This ser­mon, long known under the name of the Sec­ond Epis­tle of Pope Clement, is the most ancient record­ed Chris­t­ian ser­mon. Although it is not pos­si­ble to say pre­cise­ly that Read­ers of all Church­es per­formed such a great min­istry, the Canones eccle­si­as­ti­ci specif­i­cal­ly require that a Read­er “have the abil­i­ty to instruct.” 

Such an ele­vat­ed sta­tus of Read­ers in the Church did not last long. Toward the mid­dle of the third cen­tu­ry, the author­i­ty to preach began to trans­fer from them to bish­ops and pres­byters. From that time, the respon­si­bil­i­ties of Read­ers shift­ed towards mechan­i­cal read­ing, with­out entrust­ing them with any lofty func­tions (although there is evi­dence in Epipha­nius that in the fourth cen­tu­ry Read­ers were named to the respon­si­bil­i­ty of sec­re­taries). Grad­u­al­ly Read­ers were reduced to the low­est order of cler­gy (and in the Roman Church were num­bered in the same group as porters and exor­cists) and made sub­servient to dea­cons. As a result of this sub­servience, Read­ers grad­u­al­ly became min­is­ters of the altar and began in part to ful­fill the func­tions of sub­dea­cons and sac­ristans: they lit and bore can­dles, gave priests prospho­ra and hot water, and kept items belong­ing to the church in order – and for this rea­son they lat­er received the name “taper-bear­ers.” On the oth­er hand, they began to ful­fill duties on the kliros (choir), about which St Syme­on of Thes­sa­loni­ki (XIV-XV c.) writes: “Con­se­crat­ed as a Read­er… he leads ser­vices and over­sees the chant­i­ng of divine hymns; that is, he acts as canonarch.” From this came the con­flu­ence of Read­er with the rank of chanter. 

II. Ecclesiastical Canons Relating to the Responsibilities of Readers 

In order to study the fur­ther devel­op­ment of the respon­si­bil­i­ties of Read­ers in the Ortho­dox Church, let us turn to the eccle­si­as­ti­cal canons and the deci­sions of the Coun­cils and Holy Fathers relat­ing to them. The most impor­tant of these deci­sions are placed in chrono­log­i­cal order below: 

Canones eccle­si­as­ti­ci: “… before the con­se­cra­tion of a Read­er, one must care­ful­ly learn whether he is a prat­tler, or a drunk­ard, or inclined to be face­tious, and in gen­er­al whether he be of good morals” (II c.). 

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Apos­tolic Canon 26: “As to bach­e­lors who have entered the cler­gy, we allow only Read­ers and chanters to mar­ry, if they wish to do so.” 

Apos­tolic Canon 43: “Let any sub­dea­con, or Read­er, or chanter, who does such things [i.e., who is giv­en to gam­bling or drunk­en­ness] either desist or be excommunicated.” 

But perhaps the first thing that a Reader in the Orthodox Church should remember is his voluntary dedication to the service of God

Apos­tolic Canon 69: “If any bish­op, or pres­byter, or dea­con, or sub­dea­con, or Read­er, or chanter fails to fast through­out the forty days of Holy Lent, or on Wednes­day, or on Fri­day, let him be deposed from office” (I‑IV c.). 

St Basil the Great, Canon 69: “As for a Read­er, if he has had any­thing to do with his betrothed before the wed­ding, after being sus­pend­ed from duty for one year he shall be per­mit­ted to read, though he shall for­feit his right to be advanced to any high­er sta­tus; but if he has stolen his wife with­out first betroth­ing her, i.e., by mar­ry­ing her clan­des­tine­ly, he shall be dis­missed from the eccle­si­as­ti­cal ser­vice. The same treat­ment shall be giv­en to any oth­er ser­vant of the Church.” 

Canon 16 (20) of Carthage:7 “It has pleased the Coun­cil to decree that care should be tak­en to see that Read­ers, upon arriv­ing at the age of puber­ty, either take a wife or choose to vow celiba­cy and continence.” 

Canon 16 (23) of Carthage:8 “It has pleased the Coun­cil to decree that Read­ers must not bow down in ado­ra­tion or pay obei­sance to the people.” 

Canon 90 (101) of Carthage:9 “It has pleased the Coun­cil to decree that if any­one has act­ed even once as a Read­er in church he shall not be accept­ed as a can­di­date for the cler­gy in any oth­er church” (419).

Canon 14 of the Fourth Ecu­meni­cal Coun­cil: “Inas­much as Read­ers and chanters in some provinces have been per­mit­ted to mar­ry, the holy Coun­cil has made it a rule that none of them shall be allowed to take a wife that is of a dif­fer­ent faith” (451).

Canon 4 of the Sixth Ecu­meni­cal Coun­cil: “If any bish­op, or pres­byter, or dea­con, or sub­dea­con, or Read­er, or chanter, or porter, has car­nal inter­course with any woman that has been con­se­crat­ed to God, let him be deposed from office, on the ground that he has con­tributed to the delin­quen­cy of a bride of God” (680 A.D.).

Canon 14 of the Sev­enth Ecu­meni­cal Coun­cil: “It is per­fect­ly plain to every­body that order reigns in the Church, and that it is pleas­ing to God for the trans­ac­tions of the priest­hood to be main­tained with rig­or­ous­ness. Since, then, we behold some per­sons receiv­ing the ton­sure of the cler­gy from infan­cy and with­out impo­si­tion of hands, and read­ing from the ambo at the synax­is, but doing so in an non-canon­i­cal fash­ion, we for­bid the doing of this from now on. The same rule is to be observed also with ref­er­ence to monks. As for the appoint­ment of a Read­er by impo­si­tion of hands, each abbot is giv­en per­mis­sion to do this but only in his own monastery, pro­vid­ed that impo­si­tion of hands has been laid upon that very same abbot by a bish­op to enable him to have the pres­i­den­cy of an abbot – that is to say, more plain­ly speak­ing, if he is a pres­byter. Like­wise also in accor­dance with the ancient cus­tom, aux­il­iary bish­ops may only with the per­mis­sion of the bish­op appoint Read­ers (with impo­si­tion of hands)” (787 A.D.).

III. Readers in the Russian Church 

Con­cern­ing Read­ers in the Russ­ian Church, it is known that from ancient times they were called “d’iaki” (abbre­vi­at­ed as “d’iachok”). These were ser­vants of the Church who ful­filled respon­si­bil­i­ties cor­re­spond­ing to those of Greek Read­ers and chanters. The word “d’iak” derived from the Greek word “diakonos.” This came about from the fact that the dia­conal vest­ment (stikhar­i­on) does not dif­fer from the vest­ments of Read­ers and chanters. For this rea­son all three were called “diaka­mi”; inci­den­tal­ly, in order to dif­fer­en­ti­ate these from authen­tic dea­cons, the lat­ter were called “urarnyi.”10

In Rus’, d’iaki – who, due to their eccle­si­as­ti­cal duties, were required to be lit­er­ate – were also required to be parish clerks, which made them impor­tant peo­ple and, to a cer­tain extent, influ­en­tial. Lat­er, in the peri­od of Impe­r­i­al Rus­sia, they, as ser­vants of the Church, enjoyed the rights of hon­ored cit­i­zens. For many years d’iaki in Rus’ were not only eccle­si­as­ti­cal cler­gy but were also in some sense sec­u­lar cler­ics, although this was for­bid­den by eccle­si­as­ti­cal rules.11

The age for con­se­cra­tion as a Read­er was assumed to be eigh­teen, inas­much as this was decreed by Greek civ­il law (Jus­tin­ian, law 123). In actu­al fact, they were con­se­crat­ed much ear­li­er – “as soon as they were in a con­di­tion to read and chant” (E. Gol­u­bin­sky).

IV. The Rite of Consecrating a Reader 

As was indi­cat­ed above, orig­i­nal­ly Read­ers were not eccle­si­as­ti­cal cler­ics. But already in the mid­dle of the third cen­tu­ry St Cypri­an of Carthage writes of their recep­tion into the cler­gy of the Church of Carthage. The rite of con­se­crat­ing a Read­er is already men­tioned in the Apos­tolic Con­sti­tu­tions (IV c.). The fol­low­ing is indi­cat­ed for the bishop: 

Ordain a read­er by lay­ing thy hands upon him, and pray unto God, and say: “O Eter­nal God, Who art plen­teous in mer­cy and com­pas­sions, Who hast made man­i­fest the con­sti­tu­tion of the world by Thy oper­a­tions there­in, and keep­est the num­ber of Thine elect, do Thou also now look down upon Thy ser­vant, who is to be entrust­ed to read Thy Holy Scrip­tures to Thy peo­ple, and give him Thy Holy Spir­it, the prophet­ic Spir­it. Thou Who didst instruct Edras Thy ser­vant to read Thy laws to the peo­ple, do Thou now also at our prayers instruct Thy ser­vant, and grant that he may with­out blame per­fect the work com­mit­ted to him, and there­by be declared wor­thy of an high­er degree, through Christ, with Whom glo­ry and wor­ship be to Thee and the Holy Spir­it for ever. Amen”.

Above the hier­ar­ch is indi­cat­ed to lay his hand upon the Read­er, from which the rite takes its name: heirote­sia (cheires – hands, theteo, lay­ing on), that is, the lay­ing on of hands or appoint­ment. Con­cern­ing this con­se­cra­tion of Read­ers it is com­mon to say that it dif­fers from the appoint­ment to high­er steps of the hier­ar­chy (heiro­to­nia) in that the for­mer lacks the pro­nounce­ment of “mys­ti­cal words invok­ing the grace of the Holy Spir­it” (Arch­priest K. Nikol’sky). And so it is in our times. But the words of the fourth-cen­tu­ry prayer cit­ed above clear­ly tes­ti­fy that the gift of the Holy Spir­it was invoked upon Read­ers and, in par­tic­u­lar, the gift of proph­esy. This yet again reminds us of how ele­vat­ed and impor­tant the ser­vice of Read­er was in the ear­ly Church. 

In Canon 8 of the Coun­cil of Carthage14 we read: “Before the con­se­cra­tion of a Read­er, the bish­op must make known to the peo­ple con­cern­ing his behav­ior, capa­bil­i­ties, and fideli­ty. There­after the bish­op, in front of the peo­ple, gives the can­di­date the sacred book to read, pro­nounc­ing: ‘Take it, hav­ing the call­ing to read the word of God, know­ing that for the ful­fill­ment of thy respon­si­bil­i­ty with zeal and prof­it thou wilt have a por­tion with those who pro­claim the Word of God” (c. 398). 

In our time, accord­ing to a rite of long stand­ing, the heirote­sia of a Read­er takes place out­side the altar, in the mid­dle of the church, and not nec­es­sar­i­ly dur­ing the Divine Litur­gy; St Syme­on of Thes­sa­loni­ki (XIV-XV c.) tes­ti­fies to this. In the Hier­ar­chal Ser­vice Book (Chi­novnik) of the Russ­ian Church, the heirote­sia is called “The Rite for Appoint­ing a Read­er or Chanter.” This is how it proceeds: 

1. “He that is to be made a taper-bear­er” is led by two sub­dea­cons to the hier­ar­ch in the mid­dle of the church. He makes three pros­tra­tions to the Lord God and then three pros­tra­tions to the hier­ar­ch, after which the lat­ter makes the Sign of the Cross three times over the candidate’s head. 

2. Lay­ing his hand on the head of the can­di­date for Read­er, the hier­ar­ch pro­nounces the first prayer, in which he asks of the Lord: “… Do Thou Thy­self adorn with Thy spot­less and unde­filed robes Thy ser­vant, N., who desires to become a taper-bear­er before Thy Holy Mys­ter­ies, that, being enlight­ened and meet­ing Thee in the age to come, he may obtain an incor­rupt­ible crown of life, rejoic­ing with Thine elect in ever­last­ing blessedness.” 

3. Next the troparia to the apos­tles, then to the holy hier­ar­ch who com­piled the Litur­gy, and then to the Theotokos are read. 

4. Then the hier­ar­ch ton­sures the head of the can­di­date in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spir­it, plac­ing the short phelo­nion on him ­– the sym­bol of the begin­ning of the priest­hood – and again mak­ing the Sign of the Cross three times on his head. 

5. Then he again places his hand on him, pro­nounc­ing the sec­ond prayer: “O Lord God Almighty, elect this Thy ser­vant, and sanc­ti­fy him; and grant unto him, with all wis­dom and under­stand­ing, to prac­tice the study and read­ing of Thy divine words, pre­serv­ing him in a blame­less course of life.” 

6. After this prayer, the bish­op opens the Book of Epis­tles over the head of the Read­er and gives it to him to read, fac­ing the east (as a sign that the pri­ma­ry call­ing of the one being ton­sured is pre­cise­ly read­ing Holy Scrip­ture). Hav­ing read a por­tion of the Book of Epis­tles, he turns and bows three times to the hier­ar­ch, and the sub­dea­cons remove the phelo­nion from him. 

7. Bless­ing the can­di­date three times, the hier­ar­ch bless­es a stikhar­i­on; the for­mer, hav­ing made the Sign of the Cross, kiss­es the cross on the stikhar­i­on and the hand of the bishop. 

8. Hav­ing been vest­ed in the stikhar­i­on, the Read­er lis­tens to the fol­low­ing instruc­tion from the hier­ar­ch: “Child, the first degree of the priest­hood is that of Read­er. There­fore it is fit­ting for you to read every day the Divine Scrip­tures, that they that hear, behold­ing you, may receive edi­fi­ca­tion, and that you, in no way putting to shame your elec­tion, may pre­pare your­self for a high­er degree. For by liv­ing your life tem­per­ate­ly, in holi­ness and upright­ness, you shall gain the mer­cy of God, the Lover of Mankind, and be count­ed wor­thy of a high­er min­istry: in Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom be glo­ry unto the ages of ages. Amen.” 

9. At the con­clu­sion the hier­ar­ch pro­nounces: “Blessed be the Lord. Behold, the ser­vant of God becomes a Read­er of the most-holy church of (N.): In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” 

As Arch­priest K. Nikol’sky writes, “on the day of the con­se­cra­tion of a Read­er in the stikhar­i­on, the Read­er nor­mal­ly receives Com­mu­nion”.15 He also cites the words of G. Rozanov that the Read­er on this day receives Com­mu­nion in the altar near the Holy Table on the left side – but labels this a local cus­tom with­out sol­id foun­da­tion. Such a cus­tom could have come to us from the ancient Church, where Read­ers might have had the right to receive Com­mu­nion at the Holy Table, inas­much as they were high­ly placed cler­ics and obvi­ous can­di­dates for the priesthood. 

V. Responsibilities of Readers as Bearers of the First Degree of the Priesthood 

The first degree of the priest­hood, upon which the Read­er is placed, requires from him the ful­fill­ment of spe­cif­ic respon­si­bil­i­ties. These respon­si­bil­i­ties are already indi­cat­ed in the rite of heirote­sia itself. The first of these is read­ing at divine ser­vices, which is close­ly relat­ed to read­ing in church (which is why heri­ote­sia is called “the rite of con­se­crat­ing a Read­er and chanter”). In many Byzan­tine church­es chanters were ton­sured as Read­ers and chant­ed wear­ing the stikhar­i­on. The sec­ond respon­si­bil­i­ty is bear­ing can­dles, inas­much as those ton­sured also become “taper-bear­ers.” In gen­er­al, the Read­er is a ser­vant of the altar and con­se­quent­ly ful­fills the role not only of taper-bear­ing, but of oth­er respon­si­bil­i­ties of the sac­ristan (as was indi­cat­ed above, in the tes­ti­mo­ny of St Syme­on of Thes­sa­loni­ki): giv­ing the priest the prospho­ra and hot water, pre­serv­ing the altar items in clean­li­ness, etc. 

Con­cern­ing the out­ward appear­ance of the Read­er, it is essen­tial to respect that which Canon 27 of the Sixth Ecu­meni­cal Coun­cil pro­claims: “Let no one on the cler­i­cal list don inap­pro­pri­ate cloth­ing, either when liv­ing in the city or when walk­ing the road; but, on the con­trary, let him wear cos­tumes that have already been assigned to the use of those who are enrolled in the cler­gy.” Anoth­er canon (Canon 14 of the Sev­enth Ecu­meni­cal Coun­cil), which con­cerns the place­ment of Read­ers, is inter­pret­ed as fol­lows by Bal­sa­mon: “One who dons black clothes with the inten­tion of enter­ing the cler­gy can­not take off this cloth­ing, for he has expressed the inten­tion of con­se­crat­ing him­self to God.” In the Russ­ian Ortho­dox Church this black cloth­ing for the Read­er is the cas­sock that, ide­al­ly, should be worn “with­out ceas­ing.” The spir­i­tu­al sig­nif­i­cance of this cease­less wear­ing of the cas­sock is that one who has become a Read­er is such not only in church, but out­side it as well. As the ini­tial degree of the priest­hood, the posi­tion of Read­er is not a pro­fes­sion that, when need­ed, can be giv­en up so that one can go into retire­ment. This is a ser­vice to God that man comes to vol­un­tar­i­ly, but which he can­not leave, serv­ing respon­si­bly until the end of his days. 

Exces­sive­ly flam­boy­ant attire is also for­bid­den by the canons. Canon 16 of the Sev­enth Ecu­meni­cal Coun­cil says that “every lux­u­ry and adorn­ment of the body is alien to the sac­er­do­tal order,” both for bish­ops and cler­gy. It like­wise assigns a penance to those who use perfumes. 

Besides the ful­fill­ment of prac­ti­cal require­ments at divine ser­vices, the Read­er is required to have an “immac­u­late liv­ing place,” lead a “chaste, holy, and right­eous” life, study the Holy Scrip­tures dai­ly and, in gen­er­al, keep him­self in moral puri­ty (as the above-cit­ed prayers at the rite of the con­se­cra­tion of a Read­er and chanter indi­cate), for he is ded­i­cat­ed to God, receiv­ing the first-fruits of the priest­hood and gain­ing access to the altar which, since Old Tes­ta­ment times, does not allow entry of any­thing defiled. The stikhar­i­on itself, giv­en to the Read­er at the time of his con­se­cra­tion and worn by him dur­ing read­ing and chant­i­ng in church, is a sym­bol of his puri­ty of soul. 

A Read­er, like all Ortho­dox Chris­tians, is not allowed to break the fasts (Apos­tolic Canon 69), to indulge in “gam­bling and drunk­en­ness” (Apos­tolic Canon 43), to attend spec­ta­cles (Canon 24 of Trul­lo), to par­tic­i­pate in fes­ti­vals with pagan rites and in mas­quer­ades (Canon 62 of Trul­lo), to arrange ban­quets (Canon 55 of Laodicea), or to wash in baths with women (Canon 77 of Trullo). 

As an eccle­si­as­ti­cal cler­gy­man, a Read­er is not allowed to raise his hand against any­one (Apos­tolic Canon 27), to vis­it tav­erns (Canon 24 of Trul­lo), to “take a wife that is of dif­fer­ent faith” (Canon 14 of the Fourth Ecu­meni­cal Coun­cil), to hold civ­il, gov­ern­men­tal, or mil­i­tary respon­si­bil­i­ties (Apos­tolic Canon 6, 8; Canon 11 of the First-and-Sec­ond Coun­cil), to engage in usury (Canon 4 of Laodicea) and trade (Canon 8 of Carthage), to engage in the shed­ding of blood, even of ani­mal blood (for exam­ple, to engage in med­i­c­i­nal prac­tices, surgery, or hunt­ing ani­mals). Read­ers who com­mit immoral­i­ty or prac­tice infi­deli­ty, just as those who mar­ry a sec­ond time, are deprived of their rank, although not deprived of Com­mu­nion (Canon 3 of Trul­lo; Canon 69 of St Basil the Great). If the wife of a cler­gy­man is unfaith­ful, then he must either divorce her or cease serv­ing (Canon 8 of Neocaesarea). 

Such, in short, are the require­ments befit­ting the first degree of the priest­hood, the degree of Read­ers. But per­haps the first thing that a Read­er in the Ortho­dox Church should remem­ber is his vol­un­tary ded­i­ca­tion to the ser­vice of God (which is expressed in the bow­ing of the head before the hier­ar­ch for the ton­sure of hair; one is not again ton­sured in such a way in the ele­va­tion to high­er degrees of the priest­hood), which requires from him not a mechan­i­cal ful­fill­ment of ser­vice and not sim­ply an impec­ca­ble life, but appeals to his con­science and moves him to ful­fill his high call­ing with all rev­er­ence and fear of God and, most impor­tant­ly, with love for the Lord. 

May the All-Mer­ci­ful God strength­en in this pod­vig all who bear the rank of Read­er in the Ortho­dox Church! 

About the Author

Read­er Vitaly Efi­menkov, a grad­u­ate of Holy Trin­i­ty Sem­i­nary, is the Slavon­ic Lan­guage Choir Direc­tor at the Holy Vir­gin Mary Cathe­dral in Los Ange­les, CA. 

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