Questions about altar serving


What is the primary duty of an acolyte?







The primary duty of an acolyte is to help the faithful pray. His main duties include:

  • Serving in the altar, and assisting the senior clergy (the priest, and also the deacon and bishop) by getting the censer at the proper time, and other duties associated with serving.
  • Helping the clergy by following special instructions, cleaning the altar, getting ready for services, and other tasks that are necessary to keep the temple in good order.

Throughout all of his duties, the acolyte must strive to pray and act piously, so that the people are edified by his example. This duty must be uppermost in his mind no matter what he is doing in the church.



Who may be an acolyte?







Any Orthodox Christian male who has the blessing of the priest may serve as an acolyte in the altar.



What is the first thing that an altar server does upon entering the altar with the intention of serving? The second thing? The third thing?







Upon entering the altar for the first time, the acolyte should:

  1. Make three bows (poklons) or prostrations (if prostrations are allowed - they are not done on Saturday and Sunday, and some other days) while facing holy altar table.
  2. Go to the priest and ask for his blessing.
  3. Find his vestment, fold it, and present it to the priest in order to be blessed to put it on.



What is the name of the vestment an acolyte uses? When does he put it on? What must he do before putting it on or taking it off?







The vestment an acolyte wears is called a sticharion. He puts it on before serving any service, after getting the priest's blessing. At the end of the service, he must also receive a blessing before taking it off. If the acolyte wishes to commune the holy mysteries, he must also take off his sticharion (unless he is a reader or sub-deacon, or is blessed to keep the sticharion on during communion). He does not ask a blessing to do this.



What are the duties of a server in preparing for the Divine Liturgy?







The altar servers must carefully make sure all things are ready before the Divine Liturgy is begun, so that there are no delays or awkward moments. Here is a reasonably complete list (in no particular order) of some of the things that must be attended to:

  1. Fill the water pitcher that is used for the clergy to wash their hands, and make sure the towel is clean and available.
  2. Clean the area that is used to hold the incense, charcoal, etc.
  3. Put out the charcoal and incense in the usual place, making sure there is enough for the service.
  4. Clean the censer, and polish it if there is time, and it needs it.
  5. Sweep the altar and clean as necessary.
  6. Trim and light the vigil lamps in the altar.
  7. Check the big candle stand (which is put in front of the royal doors during the communion of the clergy), and replace the candle if necessary.
  8. Boil the water used to add to the holy chalice and store it in the thermos. (Some will boil the water during the service - in this case, make sure that the boiling kettle is filled and ready to be used).
  9. Bring the commemoration prosphoras into the altar, as needed.
  10. Be ready to do anything else the priest or deacon asks him to do.



Describe a small entrance for Divine Liturgy.

  1. When is the small entrance?
  2. What do the servers carry?
  3. Where do they go while waiting for the priest to leave the altar? Describe what they do.
  4. Describe the entrance from just before it begins till everyone has reentered the altar.
  5. When do the servers go back into the altar?
  6. What do the servers do when they reenter the altar?







The Small Entrance of the Divine Liturgy occurs at the "Both Now and ever" verse of the third Antiphon (usually the Beatitudes).

  1. Just before the entrance, the acolytes light their torches, and assemble together in a neat row facing the high Place. They all bow TOGETHER toward the high place, then turn and bow towards the priest.
  2. During the singing of the last verse of the Third Antiphon, the priest (or deacon) carries the Holy Gospel from the altar table around the high place, and stands in front of the royal doors (on the ambvon). The servers all carry candles or torches, and precede the Holy Gospel. The servers form a straight row facing the iconostasis, and centered in front of the royal doors, behind the clergy. If there is an icon in the center of the church, they also stand in front of it.
  3. At the End of the singing, the priest (or deacon) raises the Holy Gospel, and chants "Wisdom! Aright!" and makes the sign of the cross with the gospel. After this, the priest goes through the royal doors, back into the altar, pausing to venerate the icon of Christ which is on the right door post, turning to bless the servers, and venerating the icon of the Theotokos on the left door post.
  4. After the priest blesses the servers, they go back into the altar, with those on the left using the left deacons' door, the those on the right the other deacons' door.
  5. When they return to the altar, they go to the high place, and make their bows just as they did before the entrance.
  6. Then they put their candles away.



How many times is the censer used in Great Vespers with a Litya service following? When? How is the censer used and by whom?







The censer is used 5 times in the Great Vespers service with Litya:

  1. Great censing at the beginning (if the service is part of the All Night Vigil, which is always served on Saturday evenings).
  2. Censing at Lord I have cried.
  3. Small Entrance.
  4. Beginning of Litya while the troparia are being sung.
  5. Censing of 5 loaves while the troparia are sung, just before the blessing of the loaves.

The priest uses the censer for the first censing, and is led by the deacon around the entire church. He first censes the altar, then the iconostasis, and the people. Then he senses the center icon (if there is one) and walks around the perimeter of the temple, censing the icons, and turning occasionally to cense the people, who have moved away from the walls. He finishes by censing in front of the royal doors, reentering the altar through the royal doors, censing the altar three times. When the priest is finished, and acolyte should be ready to take the censer from him.

All the other censings are done by a deacon if one is serving:

  • The censing at Lord I have cried is just like a great censing, except that the priest (deacon) uses the deacons' doors.
  • The censer is carried by the priest (deacon) during the small entrance, and used to cense in front of the royal doors. At the end of the singing of the Theotokion (at the end of the Lord I have cried stichera) the priest (deacon) raises the censer, and chants "Wisdom! Aright", then makes the sign of the cross with the censer.
  • At the beginning of the Litya service, the priest (deacon) censes the iconostasis and the people.
  • At the signing of the main troparion, near the end of the Litya, the priest (deacon) censes the loaves of bread, wheat, wine and oil, on all four sides, three times.



How many times is the censer used in Sunday matins? When?







The censer is used 2 times during most Sunday matins services:

  1. Polyeleos and magnification (if appointed), followed by "Blessed art Thou O Lord".
  2. Great censing during the eighth ode of the canon and the Magnificat.



How many times is the censer used during the Oblation service and Divine Liturgy? When?







The censer is used twice before the Divine Liturgy:

  1. It is used to cense the Holy Coverings and the Holy Gifts at the end of the oblation service.
  2. The entire altar and temple is censed before the Divine Liturgy begins. This often occurs immediately at the end of the oblation service, but it may occur later.

The censer is needed 4 times during the Divine Liturgy:

  1. Small censing (the altar, iconostasis, servers and the rest of the faithful) during the reading of the epistles.
  2. Small censing before the Great Entrance. The censer is also carried by the deacon or an acolyte during the Great entrance, and used to cense the holy coverings and Holy gifts after the Entrance.
  3. The altar table (and altar, if a deacon is serving) is censed after the Epiclesis.
  4. After Holy Communion, the priest censes the Holy Gifts on the altar table, and again after he has brought them to the table of oblation.

The total items the censer is needed is six. The acolytes need to be alert, and keep the censer hot!



List all the things that need to be cleaned and put in order after the Divine Liturgy.







After the divine liturgy, the acolyte is responsible for cleaning the Holy altar. Here are some of the things he must attend to:

  1. FIRST, he listens attentively to the thanksgiving prayers after Holy Communion.
  2. Before cleaning, he should remove and hang up his sticharion, after getting a blessing to do so from the priest.
  3. Clean the censer.
  4. Clean the table that is used to hold the incense and charcoal, and put these things away. Before putting them away, make sure the containers are filled
  5. Clean the vessels used for the after supper.
  6. Distribute the antidron, and clean the bowl it is in.
  7. Empty and put away the zeon. The water should not be poured in a common place.
  8. Sweep the altar.
  9. Extinguish all candles, and some or all of the oil lamps.
  10. Be ready to do anything else the priest or deacon asks him to do.


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St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas