Orthodox America

  Instructions for the Church Reader 

 (Part 1)

Read with pauses that make sense.

In order that the content of the prayers be more easily apprehended by those praying in church, one must separate each sentence (phrase) from another by a small pause, slightly drawing out the voice. Within the sentence itself, one should also make pauses (retardations) that enhance the sense, using them to divide definite meaningful groups of words one from another.

For beginning readers it is recommended that such pauses be made according to the punctuation marks in the text: commas, colons and periods. At commas, one should make briefer pauses; at periods and question marks - longer pauses (drawing out the voice).

 Read correctly, in the church way.

While reading, the pronunciation of the words ought to be Slavonic,  i.e., each letter in a word should be pronounced just as it is printed: for example, […….] However, here, too, there are no rules without exceptions. Thus, for example, [……].

While reading in Slavonic, one should pay attention to the accents and the titlos (abbreviation marks), in order to pronounce the words correctly. One must keep to the ancient manner of church reading. While reading, one should not artificially shade or underscore, as it were, the meaning of what is being read. In church reading, worldly, artistic expressiveness is inappropriate. One needs to read without pouring out one's own feelings through modulations and changes of voice; one should not impart tenderness, emotion, sternness or any other personal feeling. Even more, assumed feeling ought not to have any place: The church reader is not an actor. Let the holy words of prayer act on the hearers through their own spiritual merit. The desire to impart one's own feelings and experiences to others or to affect them by changes of voice is a sign of conceit and pride (Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov).

One must read in one's natural voice, and not in an assumed one. One should not read in low pitches: The reading then turns out muffled, inaudible, and the reader quickly becomes tired. For reading, one needs to take the pitch of the tone closest to the pitch of his natural voice while singing. One should read simply, evenly, in a chanting voice (as if half singing), on one pitch, with small raisings and lowerings of the voice (one tone or half tone). This has been the manner of reading in the Orthodox Church from earliest times.

One must read in a moderate voice and not lower or raise it too much, but make it balanced so that all the words clearly reach the hearing of each person praying. Obviously, the larger the church or the more people there are, the more essential it is to amplify the voice, but one should never reach the point of shouting.

The reader ought to stand erect before the book, without bows and without shifting from foot to foot or putting one foot to the side; he ought not to sway his body or shake his head; his arms should hang freely; he ought to read unhurriedly, but also not draw it out; he should pronounce the words precisely, distinctly (with clear diction and correct articulation, making pauses that enhance the sense within the sentence itself).

If the reader is reading at a stand (analogion), he ought to watch that the cloth cover on the stand lies straight, and to pick it up if it should fall down.

 Learn to read well.

If one of the readers does not know something, he ought to ask the cantor* or the ecclesiarch beforehand. For, after having begun to read, it is already awkward to learn, to search for what is necessary or to rely on prompting. Every mistake, every delay produces confusion in those present and distracts them from prayer.

Even a good reader can be grossly mistaken about something. Therefore, it is better to check oneself and not to be offended, but to be grateful if someone else points something out. Ask someone else (the cantor or a very knowledgeable reader) to listen to your reading and to point out mistakes, which in the future you should try not to repeat.

 Do not be vainglorious; read without embarrassment or timidity.

Vainglory usually seizes the best readers, especially when preference over others is given to them, or when they are only beginning to read in church. It is only possible to overcome it by self-reproach and by being aware that one's abilities and voice are given by God, and we ought to use them for good, for we shall give an answer to God concerning their use. And why exalt ourselves if we are simply fulfilling what is due?

It is especially necessary on the cliros for readers and singers to avoid every kind of envy and animosity among themselves; on the contrary, one must rejoice that others, too, are laboring for the Church to the glory of God.

Readers, especially young and beginning readers, should overcome in themselves unnecessary embarrassment and excessive timidity while reading in church. We are reading prayers before God and to God, and we ought to read in spiritual self-collectedness, not thinking about how people are looking at us or what they are thinking about us.

 Take care of the church books.

Treat with reverence and care the divine-service books, in which are located the hymnody and prayers written by the holy fathers according to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. These are not simple books, but holy books, precious treasures of the whole Church's centuries-old, inspired, prayerful creativity. Therefore, it is essential to treat the church books very carefully, and not to tear them, not to soil them, but to leaf through them carefully and accurately, not to bend the pages, not to lick one's fingers while turning the pages, not to make one's own pencil and ink marks and corrections.

While reading with a candle, one should not move it along the lines, lest wax begin to drip on the book. It is better to hold the candle to the side, to the right or to the left, whichever is more convenient.

May the Lord bless good and diligent readers and singers who love God's work, and may He help them become better, so that they might be vouchsafed to hear from the Lord the desired words: Good and faithful servantŠenter thou into the joy of thy Lord (Matt. 25:21). And you, the careless and lazy, do not forget the words of the prophet: Cursed is the man that ... doeth the Lord's work with carelessness (Jer. 48:10).

Preparation at Home for the Church Service

The intelligent, sober, honest and religious cantor will consider it his sacred duty to prepare himself at home for the church services. For this purpose, he will take church books home, and in his free time he will read from them those things that he will be reading in church during the Divine services. There, he is able both to follow the whole order of the service and, through attentive, unhurried reading and repetition, to make sense out of what is read, feeling all its power. Then - as is self-evident - his reading and singing in church will be correct, intelligible, animated, understandable to everyone, beneficial and pleasant, as indeed they ought to be.

Translated by Daniel Olson from The Orthodox Divine Services, Practical Guidance for Clerics and Laity, pp. 181-187. The instructions were taken from a 1956 typewritten publication by G. Shimansky, an instructor at the Kiev Theological Academy.