The Rite of a Reader’s Chirotesy

Part 1 described the emergence of the rank of readers and the special respect that Christians had for them. The ministry of the readers as messengers of the Word in the early Church was so great that the Church decided to develop a special liturgical rite, through which the grace of the Holy Spirit would be bestowed upon those who were entrusted with that ministry. The ancient principle Lex orandi est lex credendi (the law of prayer is the law of faith) suggests that the content of our faith is revealed through the way we pray and the sacred actions we perform. This article will talk about the rite of appointment of the reader, which best reveals the content of this ministry.

Ancient Practice

The oldest reference to the appointment of a reader as a special act of a bishop is noted in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome, which stresses that the appointment of a reader is significantly different from the ordination of the higher clergy, because the reader is elevated to his rank not through the laying on of hands, but through the handing down of the Bible. This ancient rite of giving a minister a liturgical object that is directly related to his church ministry was widely developed in church practice in both the East and West. Thus, the four ranks of church ministers that existed in the West as early as the first millennium, namely ostiarius (Lat. ostium – door), reader (lector), exorcist and acolyte, were elevated to their ranks by the bishop’s blessing, by prayer and by the conferment of objects relevant to their ministry. An ostiarius (in the East they were called porters) received the keys to the church, a reader got the Lectionary, an exorcist (in the East the baptismal exorcism was performed by priests) was handed a book with spells, and an acolyte received liturgical vessels and a special bag for carrying the consecrated Gifts.

Over time, a special template of this ritual began to take shape. It was already present in the Apostolic Constitutions. That book contains the bishop’s prayer during the consecration, “O eternal God, who is rich in mercy and bounty, who made the creation of the world clear through Thy works, and who keeps the circle of Thy chosen ones: Look at Thy servant now, for he is entrusted to read Thy holy writings to the people, and give him the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of prophecy. You made Ezra, Thy servant, wise enough to read Thy laws to Thy people, and now, as we call upon Thee, make Thy servant wise, and grant him that he may be worthy of receiving a higher rank for the work he is entrusted with.” Apparently, back then the bishop asked God for the gift of the Spirit of prophecy to the reader, which indicates the charismatic nature of the reader’s ministry. The end of prayer implies the spiritual growth of the appointee and the dedication of all his life to God, as well as his possible future elevation to higher ecclesiastical ranks, which is why there was a special litany for the appointee, so that he could carry out his obedience properly.

The Rite of Chirotesy

The modern rank of chirotesy consists of two parts, the first of which was previously part of the initiation rank of the candlestick bearers and that of the special position under the Patriarch (depote), abolished in the 15th century. The depotes cleared the way for the Patriarch during the religious processions, and like candlestick bearers they also carried the lamps before the Gospel and the Gifts. It is customary to perform the consecration either before the Liturgy after the vesting of the bishop, or after a service. The appointee bows towards the altar, and then is led to the bishop and bows to him, and the latter blesses him with a sign of the cross three times, laying his hand on the head of the candidate. Then comes the first prayer “Thou who hast enlightened the whole creature with light”, which makes the layman a candlestick bearer. After the prayer, they read troparia to the saints who composed the Liturgy, and then the bishop cuts his hair crosswise and calls upon the Name of the Most Holy Trinity. Rule 33 of the Quinisext Council (691 AD) prohibits the performance of this rite if there has not been a cutting of hair as a symbol of full commitment to the service of the Church. Prior to the 17th century, after the cutting of hair, senior clerics cut off a tonsure, that is, a visible mark of belonging to the clergy.

After that, the candidate is dressed in a short (or small) phelonion (“the first sacred vestment of a clergyman” according to St. Symeon of Thessalonica), the bishop again blesses the candlestick bearer and reads the main prayer of appointment of a reader Lord God Almighty in which he asks God for sanctification and wisdom in reading and teaching of Holy Scripture. Then, following an ancient tradition, the reader receives the Epistle and he must read a short passage, that is, he must immediately begin to perform his duties. After taking off the small phelonion, the reader is given a sticharion, which is the first sacred garment of a clergyman. After a short instruction from the bishop, the appointee is proclaimed the reader of the church.

It used to be the duty of the reader to read not only the Epistle, the Paremias and other divine service texts, but even the Gospel, but over time the latter became deacons’ responsibility. Readers must come to the church earlier than anyone else (as stipulated by the Rules of the Holy Apostles), be able to read the holy texts loudly and clearly so that everyone can hear and understand them, and be able to draft the service. Readers can serve in the sanctuary, sing in the choir, and do catechism. Historically, readers used to translate Scripture into local languages and were scribes for their bishops. They were entrusted with keeping the sacred books, so they also managed church archives. Bearing all this in mind, a reader should be respectful of his ministry and honor it very highly, and improve his knowledge of the Scriptures, because according to the early church writer Ambrosiaster, “readers can be considered shepherds because they feed the people who listen to them.”

John Nichiporuk

About the author

John Nichiporuk,
a Master of Theology, specialized in Biblical Studies; a member of The Catalog of Good Deeds team

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