Altar Server Training
Holy Protection Russian Orthodox Church, Austin-Pflugerville, Texas
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10)
“Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord negligently.” (Jeremias 48:10)
The altar servers represent the presence at the Liturgy of God’s holy angels. Therefore they should behave at all times with reverence, fear of God, a prayerful frame of mind, and alertness. No sudden or overly quick motions. No prolonged times of turning away from the priest. No going into the vestry without need. No whispering or talking unless absolutely necessary.
All servers must pass the test which will be given on this training one week after the training itself. If a server does not pass the test, or if he acts in a disobedient or irreverent manner even after being corrected, he will not be permitted to serve in the holy altar. Also, all servers must arrive by 9:30 a.m. to be able to serve at Liturgy.
1. Enter church: (a) three bows, (b) kiss the main analoy icon, and (c) get the priest’s blessing (usually by (1) kissing the deacon door icon, (2) entering the altar, then (3) bowing three times to the holy table, then (4) finding the priest). Psalm 42 says, “I shall go into the altar of God, unto God Who giveth joy to my youth.”
2. Light all lamps and the charcoal for the censer. Hold the charcoal upside down using the tongs.
3. Wash your hands in the vestry side-room.
4. Fold your stikhar, get a blessing to put it on. The blessing is asked from the rector, not from any other priest.
5. Sign language: Know the hand signals for censer, royal gates (open and close), curtain (draw and open), hat, phelonion, light a candle or candles, “pick up your lanterns.” Because an instruction could come at any moment, always keep one eye on the priest, and usually two.
6. Take commemoration loaves (prosfori) into the altar at the beginning of Liturgy, then check again a time or two prior to the Great Entrance.
7. How to make the entrance (pre-open the door, line up facing east, turn to face west, bowing to the priest (wherever he may be), know the signal for re-entering the altar. After re-entering, line up facing east, turn to face west, bow to the priest, and put items away. “Bow” means a very slight bow of the head in this situation.
8. Hot water for the chalice is boiled prior to Liturgy and placed in the altar thermos. Pour a little hot water onto the sides of the thermos to warm it up prior to pouring in the remainder. At “Holy Things are for the holy!”, first all the servers make a deep bow, then one brings the hot water to the priest.
9. Cut up bread for the people. Pour wine into a zeon cup. Do not add the hot water to the zeon cup until just before it is to be used. Correct ratio: 60% wine, 40% hot water.
10. Servers unvest if they are to receive Communion. Then, after the time of the giving of Communion, they re-vest. This requires no blessing from the priest. Know what is necessary to prepare for Holy Communion (no unforgiveness, confession within the past week, prayers, fast from midnight, arrival by the time of the Gospel at Liturgy).
11. Communion candle. Taking out of the zapivka. Preparing bread and wine with water, for any and all clergy present (two pieces of bread for each clergy).
12. How to help with the communion cloth. Server on priest’s left wipes the lips of each person. How to handle babies’ Communion.
16. Unvest after the service after getting a blessing to do so. Hang up your stikhar. Make sure the altar lamps and candles are put out, the censer is closed, and everything is put away and neat in the altar.
17. Proper dress for altar servers: Black pants. Black shoes. Black socks. Long-sleeved Shirt which has a collar (no T-shirts).
18. Do not extinguish the seven-branch candlestick before checking with the priest to see if there will be any subsequent service at which it should remain lit (such as a baptism). If there is such a subsequent service, check if a new charcoal needs to be lit for it.
19. As you leave the altar for the last time, again make three bows to the holy table and give thanks unto the Lord “for all that He hath rendered unto me.” (Psalm 115).
20. Altar servers should mention in their Confessions if they made in the altar any mistake, even by accident, or committed any irreverence.