Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Readers in the Orthodox Church

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Reader (in Greek, ἀναγνώστης anagnostis; in Church Slavonic, Чтец Chtets) is the second highest of the minor orders of clergy. This order is higher than the Doorkeeper (now largely obsolete) and lower than the subdeacon. The reader's essential role is to read the Old Testament lessons ("parables") and the Epistle lessons during the Divine Liturgy, Vespers and other services, as well as to chant the Psalms and the verses of the Prokimen, Alleluia and certain antiphons and other hymns during the divine services. Due to this fact, it often falls to the reader within a parish to construct the variable parts of the divine services according to the often very complicated rules. This can lead to a very intimate knowledge of the structure of and rules pertaning to the services. There is a special service for the ordination of a reader, although in contemporary practice a layman may receive the priest's blessing to read on a particular occasion.

Immediately before ordination as a reader, the candidate is tonsured as a sign of his submission and obedience upon entry into the clerical state. It is a separate act from ordination. The tonsure is performed only once, immediately prior to the actual ordination of a reader, which the ordination rite refers to as "the first degree of priesthood". However, it is not the means whereby a person becomes a reader. Readers, like subdeacons, are ordained by Cheirothesia - literally, "to place hands" - whereas Cheirotonia - "to stretch out the hands" - is practiced at the ordination of the higher clergy: bishops, priests and deacons. It is through ordination - not the tonsure - that one is made a reader or subdeacon; this is highlighted by the fact that the tonsure is performed only once and is not repeated before the ordination of a subdeacon. The confusion has arisen by the common reference to a man being "tonsured a reader" which, while widespread, is not technically correct. The office of a reader subsumes that of a taper-bearer, and the service of ordaining a reader mentions both functions.

Readers are permitted to (and should in accordance with his particular church's practices) wear a cassock as a sign of his suppression of his own tastes, will, and desires, and his canonical obedience to God, his bishop, and the liturgical and canonical norms of the Church, although many do so only when attending services (again in accordance with particular church practices). Readers will generally not wear a clergy shirt, and may not perform any of the duties reserved for a deacon, priest or bishop.

After being tonsured, the reader is vested in a short phelon , which he wears while reading the Epistle for the first time. This short phelon is then removed (and never worn thereafter) and replaced with a stikhar, which the reader wears thereafter whenever he performs his liturgical duties. This practice is not universal, however, and many bishops and priests will allow a reader to perform his function dressed only in a cassock or (if a monk) a riassa . Often, a bishop will decree what vesting practice he wishes to be followed within his own diocese. Byzantine icons often show readers and church singers wearing a stikhar-like garment (more loose and flowing than the modern stikhar) and a pointed hat with the brim pulled out to the sides. This distinctive garb is now obsolete.

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