Readers services and ikon stands in Atteridgeville
A couple of weeks ago we restarted Orthodox services in Atteridgeville, about 15 km west of Pretoria.
The parish was started by Fr Nazarios and Fr Elias, two missionary monks, and services were held in a children’s home, or the congregation was transported to the monastery in Gerardville. In 2009 we had a teaching week, which was quite well attended, and the parish seemed to be growing, but after the death of Fr Nazarius and the closure of the children’s home, there was nowhere for the church to meet, so it stopped meeting, yet there were two people who were able to lead Readers Services: Demetrius Mahwayi and Artemius Mangena.
With the blessing of our bishop, Metropolitan Damaskinsos, we arranged with the African Orthodox Church in Atteridgeville to use their church for services, and began a fortnight ago, on 7 January 2016.
My wife Val bought some wood, and made two ikon stands (analogia) and hangings, and mounted prints of ikons of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Theotokos (painted by our daughter Julia Bridget Hayes) on boards, and this Sunday we set them up in the church. Fr Frumentius Taubata joined us this Sunday, and so he was able to bless the ikons and ikon stands.
We were joined by some of the members of the African Orthodox Church congregation, including their deacon, the Revd Enock Thobela. Even though we did have a priest with us this time, we still used the Reader Service, because it will take some planning and preparation before we are able to serve the Divine Liturgy there.
The African Orthodox Church began in South Africa in 1924, and its l;eader, Daniel William Alexander of Kimberley, went to America to be consecrated bishop in the African Orthodox Church there, the seme year that the first Orthodox bishop of the Patriarchate of Alexandria was established in Johannesburg.
Daniel William Alexander went to Uganda in 1932 and Kenya in 1934, and established Afrikan Orthodox Churches there, which were received into the Patriarchate of Alexandria in 1946. You can read more of that history here. The South African branch of the AOC, however, remained independent, and after 1960 split into several separate groups, with a long and complex history.
For the last 20 years I think my main ministry in the church has been teaching leaders of mission congregations to lead reader services in the absence of a priest. This might seem odd to many Orthodox Christiasns, who, if there isn’t a priest, either go to a service in another parish, or stay away from church altogether. I think the importance and rationale of the Reader Services is best explained in the following description by a bishop in America. If you manage to read to the end of it, you will also find a link to where you can download a Reader Service book in pdf format, which you can read and use as the bishop suggests (with the blessing of your own parish priest and/or bishop, of course).
Comments on Reader Services by Archbishop Averky
(An excerpt from The Typicon of the Orthodox Church’s Divine Services: The Orthodox Christian and the Church Situation Toda.)
Archbishop Averky of Holy Trinity Monastery at Jordanville, New York, makes some remarks in a report concerning the “Internal Mission” of the Church which was approved by the whole Council of Bishops of the Russian Church Outside of Russia in 1962:
“It is extremely important for the success of the Internal Mission to attract, as far as possible, all the faithful into one or another kind of active participation in the Divine services, so that they might not feel themselves merely idle spectators or auditors who come to Church as to a theater just in order to hear the beautiful singing of the choir which performs, as often happens now, totally unchurchly, bravura, theatrical compositions. It is absolutely necessary to re-establish the ancient custom, which is indeed demanded by the Typicon itself, of the singing of the whole people at Divine services… It is a shame to the Orthodox faithful not to know its own wondrous, incomparable Orthodox Divine services, and therefore it is the duty of the pastor to make his flock acquainted with the Divine services, which may be accomplished most easily of all by way of attracting the faithful into practical participation.”
Further, in the same article Archbishop Averky dispels the popular misconception that Orthodox Christians are not allowed to perform any church services without a priest, and that therefore the believing people become quite helpless and are unable to pray when they find themselves without a priest. He writes, on the same page of this article:
“According to our Typicon, all the Divine services of the daily cycle — apart, needless to say, from the Divine Liturgy and other Church sacraments — may be performed also by persons not ordained to priestly rank. This has been widely done in the practice of prayer by all monasteries, sketes, and desert-dwellers in whose midst there are no monks clothed in the rank of priest. And up until the most recent time this was to be seen also, for example, in Carpatho-Russia, which was outstanding for the high level of piety of its people, where in case of the illness or absence of the priest, the faithful themselves, without a priest, read and sang the Nocturnes, and Matins, and the Hours, and Vespers, and Compline, and in place of the Divine Liturgy, the Typica.
“In no way can one find anything whatever reprehensible in this, for the texts themselves of our Divine services have foreseen such a possibility, for example, in such a rubric which is often encountered in them: ‘If a priest is present, he says: Blessed is our God… If not, then say with feeling: By the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen.’ And further there follows the whole order of the Divine services in its entirety, except of course, for the ectenes and the priestly responses. The longer extenes are replaced by the reading of ‘Lord, have mercy’ twelve times, and Little Ectene by the reading of ‘Lord, have mercy’ three times.
“Public prayer, as none other, firmly unites the faithful. And so, in all those parishes where there is no permanent priest, it is absolutely necessary not merely to permit, but indeed to recommend to the faithful that they come together on Sundays and feast days in church or even in homes, where there is no church, in order to perform together such public prayer according to the established order of Divine services.”
This normal church practice, which like so much else that belongs to the best Orthodox Church tradition, has become so rare today as to seem rather a novelty, is nonetheless being practiced now in several parishes of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, as well as in some private homes. This practice can and should be greatly increased among the faithful, whether it is a question of a parish that has lost its priest or is to small to support one, of a small group of believers far from the nearest church which has not yet formed a parish, or a single family which is unable to attend church on every Sunday and feast day.
Indeed, this practice in many places has become the only answer to the problem of keeping alive the tradition of the Church’s Divine services….
The way of conducting such services should preferably be learned from those who already practice it in accordance with both the written and oral tradition of the Church. But even in the absence of such guidance, an Orthodox layman, when he is unable to attend church services, can derive much benefit from simply reading through some of the simpler services, much as he already reads Morning and Evening Prayers. Thus, he can read any of the Hours (First, Third, and Sixth Hours in the morning, Ninth Hour in the afternoon), which have no changeable parts except for the Troparion and Kontakion; he can simply read through the stichera of the great feasts on the appropriate day; or he can read the Psalms appointed for a given day….
From Orthodox Word, Jan.-Feb., 1974, Reprinted in A Manual of The Orthodox Church’s Divine Services, compiled by Archpriest D. Sokolof, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY, 1975.
Click here to download a .pdf file of the text of the Readers Service, in English and North Sotho.
And if you would like to hear what it sounds like, click here to download an MP3 file of of the Typika/Obednitsa sung in North Sotho and English. No, it’s not s super polished choir, just our Mission congregation at Mamelodi meeting in a school classroom.