THE CONSECRATION OF A NEW CHURCH

 

An explanation of the service to the better  understanding of those who will be present.

The Ritual of The Consecration of a New Church has three parts:

The Vesper Service the evening prior to the consecration. At this time, the principle action is the removal of the holy relics from the holy table in the old church. We will not go into depth about this.

The Service of The Consecration of a New Church which takes place the next morning. At this service the relics are placed into the new holy table. This will be the service we will consider. This will be discussed below.

The Divine and Holy Liturgy which follows the Service of Consecration „seals” the ritual of consecration with the celebration of the Mystical Supper which is offered over the holy relics on that day and always.

Ritual Actions 

There are a number of unique ritual actions which take place during this service. By knowing about them in advance, one can anticipate them and more profitably follow the service.

  1. Three processions around the church building with three scripture readings in front of the building;
  2. The formal entrance into the church;
  3. The blessing of water to be used in the service;
  4. The preparation of the holy table;

placing the holy relics into the surface top of the holy table;

washing the holy table;

anointing the holy table;

dressing the holy table;

censing the holy table;

  1. The Prayer of Consecration of the holy table;
  2. Lighting the church; God’s glory fills the temple;
  3. Anointing the walls of the church;
  4. Veneration of the sanctuary by the faithful.

The Antimension: Authorization for Services

A specific small cloth is laid on the table. On the cloth, (which looks like the Burial Sheet used on Great and Holy Friday,) called the „Antimension” which, for the most part means „tablecloth,” there is a small pocket which has holy relics sewn into it. The name of the church and the signature of the Bishop, who alone has the right to allow the holy services to be held, are written by his hand on this cloth.

This Antimension is not the property of the parish nor of the parish priest. It belongs to the Bishop because it is his seal of authority. In some cases, the Bishop may remove the „Antimension” which means that no service may be held in the church. If a priest dares to hold a service without the express blessing, i.e., meaning approval, of his Bishop, he can be defrocked. Such a service is considered to be unacceptable to God and is devoid of grace.  Thus, a marriage is not a marriage; a baptism not a baptism; sacraments are not sacraments but only empty forms, devoid of grace.

Thus, it should be understood that only a Bishop can consecrate a church because all services are done with his blessing and under his authority. He is answerable to God for his „episcopacy” or „supervision.”  He alone places the holy relics into the table which becomes a „holy” table; he anoints the able and he signs the „Antimension”, thereby establishing the canonical or church authority to hold services. In rare cases, the Bishop may delegate to a priest his blessing to perform the rite.

Usually, for the Service of Consecration of a church, the Bishop will invite priests, deacons and others to take part in the service. If possible, neighboring parishes should participate so that as many faithful as possible can join their prayers together for this wonderful event. Oftentimes, the Bishop will consecrate new Antimension during the consecration of a new church for future distribution in new missions.

Consecration of a New Church

When a building has been completed for use for the spiritual needs and services of a particular community, the parish priest and parish council will work with the Bishop to establish the time of the consecration. In some cases, churches are not consecrated until the mortgage has been paid and the building is totally ready for use, including interior painting, iconostasion, etc. It is a general practice in the Romanian Episcopate to consecrate a church even if a debt has not yet been paid.

Let us remember that a parish is a local community of the Church under the jurisdiction of the local Bishop.  Thus, it is not the building which makes up a parish but a group of individuals who profess the same belief, the Orthodox faith. There can be a group of individuals which has no building and it is still a community. It is a community, because the Holy Spirit is present uniting the many into one. It is over this flock of believers which the Bishop has authority. The building is an expression of the permanent existence of the faithful in one particular place.

However, because people live in communities and there is a need for stability, we construct buildings which are set aside or „consecrated” as we say, to the specific use in which worship services to God are held.  This building is sometimes called the „Temple”, but usually is called the „church”.  We often say we are „going to church”. On the other hand, we are the Church and thus, wherever we go we are taking the Church, that is, our faith with us!

The word „church” comes from an old English word, „Kirk,” a form of the Greek word, „ecclesia” which means, the group of people „called out” by God. To what are they called? To be a witness to the Holy Trinity, being „called out” of the rest of the people who do not know or confess faith in God or do so in a different way.

The usual order of progression of a parish is from a calling forth of individuals by God to live a certain life and worship according to His desire; to forming a group; maturing in a determination to build a structure in which the worship of the community can be held; to the completion and consecration of the church; with the maintenance of the church for restricted use.

The essential center of a parish is the Holy Table in the altar/sanctuary. Every family has its own table at which meals are eaten. The gathering of each individual family around its dining table is a kind of primal image of the parish coming together around the table in the church. A dining room table at home is “sacred” to its family and the prayers said over meals makes the house dedicated or holy to God. So, too, the table in the church becomes „holy” by the „coming and the power and the working of the All Holy Spirit” called by the prayers of the Bishop, together with the clergy and faithful.

This table is called the „Holy Table” because it is dedicated or consecrated for specific purposes. It is the table on which we offer God our gifts of bread and wine, which he blesses and gives them back to us as the Body and Blood of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, which is our spiritual nourishment and the source of our individual  sanctification and that of our families, city and nation. It is also the place on which the Holy Gospel Book, representing Jesus Christ himself, rests.

The highlight of the consecration service is the setting aside, or „consecration,” „sanctifying” of the table. The table is considered to be like a person being baptized. After it is physically prepared, it is washed with holy water; anointed with the same holy chrism as a person is at baptism; and dressed in white robes or coverings. There is definitely a spiritual tie between the holy table and the faithful.

Once the table becomes or is made „holy,” no one is allowed to touch it except the priest or the deacon. No one else may put things on it or take them off. Anyone helping the priest in the altar or sanctuary may not touch the Holy Table.  If anything is needed to be put on or taken off it is the responsibility and prerogative of the clergy to do so.

We do not encourage placing unnecessary things on the holy table; artificial flowers, a multitude of candles or vigil lights; crosses, etc. strictly speaking there should not be any books on the holy table. Only the Holy Gospel which contains the Gospels of the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is on the Holy Table. The priest may have the Liturgy Book on the holy table when he is officiating the service.

The Service of Consecration

On the day of the consecration, the faithful do not enter the church but gather outside in front of the new church, leaving room for the table which is placed directly in front of the entrance.

At the appointed time, the bells are rung and the procession of the Bishop and Clergy comes to stand before the doors of the church building.  The Clergy carry liturgical objects that they will later carry into the church for use in the holly services. The Bishop is clothed with his full hierarchal vestments and the mantia. He carries his staff, which is the symbol of the shepherd and of his authority over his sheep.  The Clergy are dressed with all their priestly garb and carry objects used in the adorning of the church.

Gathered in Front of the Church

The service begins in front of the church with the Bishop censing the Gospel Book on the table, the Clergy and faithful. This is followed by Psalm 142, a pleading with God to hear our prayer and then the Great Litany in which we pray that „this church and this holy table erected herein, be consecrated through the coming and the power and the working of the All-Holy Spirit.”

The first prayer offered by the Bishop recalls Saint Paul reminding us that each person is a temple of the Holy Spirit, a dwelling-place for God and, as we have dedicated ourselves to God through baptism, we also now want to dedicate this temple, this building, as a „dwelling place” for God. This is a prayer calling upon God to listen to our intention to offer him this building and to accept it by sanctifying it by his presence within.

Hymns are sung to the martyrs, those who died rather than deny their belief in God. These faithful, although dead in the flesh, are alive in the spirit and are present with us as fellow members of the Body of Christ. They remind us to be strong in our faith. We may not be called upon to die physically for our beliefs but we can die spiritually if we abandon our Orthodox faith. We could be alive in the body but dead in the soul. In fact, we are also in some way dead in the body because the soul permeates the body and makes it holy. A spiritually dead soul means a spiritually dead body.

Three Scripture Readings

Standing in front of the church, we will hear three readings, all from the Old Testament of the Bible.The first is a prayer of King Solomon from the Book of Kings. It is a powerful prayer, full of faith and beauty. It asks the question: „Yet will God really live with men on the earth?  Why the heavens and their own heavens cannot contain you, how much less this house/temple that I have built!”

The second is from the Prophet Ezekiel in which it speaks of the „Eighth Day”, the Christian Sunday, when the priest is to offer communion sacrifices”… no one is allowed to go through the east gate of the sanctuary because God has gone through it.” We take this to mean a reference to the Holy Doors in the iconostasion through which only the Bishop, or his priests and deacons may enter.

The third reading is from the Book of Proverbs. It reminds us of God’s bidding, to be prudent and sound in judging. These words are echoed in the New Testament. They end with the statement, „God accords his favor to the humble.”

First Procession

The building is dark, as a tomb, a symbol of the tomb of Christ when he was buried. The darkened church is also a symbol of the waters of baptism into which we are plunged and made clean, coming up from which we are given new life, air, a new existence, light.

The procession walks around to the right of the church and the faithful follow. During this time the bells are rung and hymns are sung. The procession continues until it returns to the front of the doors of the church for further readings and prayers. The reading is from St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews describing Christ as our High Priest, stating that he who sanctifies man, that is, Jesus who is God and who is man born of the Virgin Mary and those who are sanctified, in other words, men of faith, are of the same stock. He is God who became man of the Virgin; we are human who become like God through baptism and through our life of faith by God’s grace.

The Gospel of Matthew is read in which the confession of St. Peter, really the confession of every faithful is made. Christ asks: „Who do men say I am? Peter finally answers and says: „You are the Christ, the chosen one, the Son of the living God.” At this time Peter’s name was Simon son of Jonah but Christ nicknamed him, „Peter” which means, „Rock”. Thus, when Christ said, “You are Peter and I will build my church on you,” he was saying, „Anyone of you who says this same thing, who confesses me as his Savior, is like a rock, a stone to which others will be added to build a community of believers, the Church.”

Second Procession

A second procession begins as did the first, in front of the church. Again a reading from Hebrews is heard. It speaks of the outer temple in Jerusalem and the Inner Sanctum or Holy of Holies where the High priest entered only once a year to offer sacrifice for his sins and those of the people. The „inner sanctum” of our Orthodox churches is the altar or high place where the Holy Table is established on which the Divine and Holy Liturgy is served.

The second reading from the Gospel is from Luke who reminds us that we must not be overly concerned with things of this earth but with the kingdom of God. „Happier are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Christ says.

Third and Final Procession

The procession forms for a third and final time, encircling the church and arriving in the front of the church. From the Letter to the Hebrews, we hear that Christ is our High Priest and deserves glory greater and beyond that in which Moses was held by the Jewish people. „It is the difference between the honor given to the man that build the house and to the house itself. Every house is built by someone, of course; but God built everything that exists.”

The final Gospel is from John in which Christ states: „The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life; they will never be lost.”

Entering the Church

Before entering the church, the Bishop offers a Prayer for Worthiness to be able to accomplish the consecration of this temple built to God’s glory and to be allowed to establish the holy table in it.

Moving forward, directly in front of the doors, the Bishop offers the Prayer of the Entrance, a prayer offered at every Divine and Holy Liturgy, in which we ask that the holy angels also be present to accompany us into the church. Remember that the angels are God’s servants; thus, this is a way of saying that we are also God’s servants.

As on the night of Resurrection, Holy Pascha, the dialogue begins with the Bishop exclaiming to the doors of the church: „Gate! Raise your arches, rise, you ancient doors, let the king of glory in!”  Inside, speaking for the doors, which of course represent both the exclusion of anyone unworthy from entering and also represent the way into the building for those deemed worthy, a voice asks: „Who is this king of glory?” This is from Psalm 24.

The Bishop knocks on the doors with the cross, symbolizing that it is through the power of the Christ’s cross that the gates of paradise are opened and the gates of Hades destroyed.

Blessing Water

The Bishop blesses water to be used in the service. The prayer reminds us that Christians are allowed “To wear the robe, brilliant and whiter than snow, given through water and the spirit.”  After the water has been blessed, the Bishop goes first into the altar, sprinkling it and then around the rest of the building with holy water.

Now the Prayer for Glorification is said. The heart of the prayer is: „0 merciful one, fill with divine glory this temple which we have erected to your praise and show forth this holy altar established here as the Holy of Holies… so that your most holy name may be blessed.”

The actual preparation of the Holy Table begins. The Bishop censes the Holy Relics. Just as the table, icons, relics and other holy things are censed, so, too, we the faithful are censed because we are one with God, made in his image and likeness. Censing is a sign of prayer, purification and offering. Taking up the Holy Relics, the Bishop enters the altar and places them on a table prepared for them. The Clergy place the objects that they have been carrying on other tables.

At this time, the Bishop puts on a garment-apron which has a practical use; that his vestments do not get in the way of his actions. He takes the Holy Relics and places them into an opening in the top of the table. They are sealed in place and a cover fastened over them so that they cannot be removed. During this time, Psalm 145 is read: „The Lord’s praise be ever in my mouth, and let every creature bless his holy name forever and ever!”

When the Psalm has been concluded, the Bishop says a prayer over the relics. „Graciously enable us to offer to you un-condemned upon this table the bloodless sacrifice.”

Then, in a loud voice, the Bishop remembers the founders of the Church for the first time: „Eternal be the memory of the founders of this holy church.” Three times he states this.

The table is now washed with warm water, scrubbed with sponges, and wiped with new towels.  „0 Lord, a single day in your temple is worth more than a thousand elsewhere!” Rose water is sprinkled on the table and Psalm 50 is read. Holy Chrism mixed with wine and olive oil is mixed and the sign of the cross is made with this on the surface of the table and on its sides.

An icon is placed on each of the corners of the top of the Holy table; the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Next, a white linen cloth is put on the top of the table and fastened down. This is a symbol of the white baptismal robe each of us wore on the day of our baptism. During this time, Psalm 132 is read and it refers to the Holy city of Jerusalem. „Zion, cloth yourself with strength, and you, Jerusalem, Holy City, cloth yourself with glory.”

Other cloths are laid on top of this white one; these can be changed according to the season of the liturgical life of the church. The lines from the Psalter are, „The Lord is king robed in majesty. The Lord is robed in power, he wears it like a belt.” After the cloths have been laid out, the priests place all of the objects on the Holy table which are necessary. Likewise, the Table of Oblation where the bread is cut and the wine poured is clothed and adorned.

The first censing of the church is now done. The Bishop censes the table, the altar and the entire church.

Returning to the altar, the Bishop then kneels in the Holy Doors, facing the Holy Table, and offers the Prayer of Consecration. All those present also kneel during this prayer.  This is the principle prayer of the service and it must be heard in its entirety.

The Bishop rises, taking a large candle, turns to the faithful and blesses them saying, „The light of Christ illumines all!” From this candle, all the candles in the church are lighted, the electric lights are put on and the coverings of the windows removed. A burst of light and a song of joy fill the church.

While the hymn to the Virgin, „Shine out, Shine out, 0 New Jerusalem” is being sung, the Bishop walks around the church anointing the walls with the chrism and returns to the altar.

A final Prayer of Thanksgiving is offered and a litany. The final blessing of the Consecration service is bestowed.

A Unique Occasion for Veneration

A particular Romanian tradition is the prerogative of the Bishop to invite the faithful to come through the south deacon door, around the back of the holy table and out the north door. The sealing of the service is in the celebration of the Divine and Holy Liturgy which now follows. This veneration is allowed only before the Divine and Holy Liturgy is served that day.

Sometimes the hierarch will give a blessing to have the building blessed with holy water for temporary use by the community until everything is finalized for the Consecration of the edifice.

 

Romanian Orthodox Episcopate Office of the Archbishop

Pascha 2001/ Revised March 12, 2019

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