Impressions from a mid-October gathering “What is a Reader?”
An Anglican Reader: “Your Vespers took really long [60 min +] but we forgot time or the pain in our feet [bravely standing up throughout] , immersed as we were in the beauty of pure worship”
Abouna Philip: “I think it is almost impossible to go to an Orthodox Church without being fed a lot. “
Another Anglican Reader: “If this is how you fast [the event took place on a Friday], then how do you feast?!”
What is a Reader? In-mid October a gathering of 20 Readers from the Anglican church from all Lancashire area took place at the parish of Holy and Living Cross at Lancaster, UK. The goal was to introduce them to the office of the Reader in the Orthodox Church. The evening began with Vespers, was followed by a presentation and a question and answer session, and was concluded with a rich tea buffet.
The Office of Reader is of course a very ancient one. Lectors used to read the epistle at the Eucharist in the early church, but Reader ministry in the Church of England today has developed in a radically different manner than that of the Lector.
What is a Reader?
We learn a great deal about what it means to be a Reader from the admonition that the bishop gives to a Reader after he is tonsured (i.e. made a Reader):
“My son, the first degree in the Priesthood is that of Reader. It behooveth thee therefore to peruse the divine Scriptures daily, to the end that the hearers, regarding thee may receive edification; that thou in nowise shaming thine election, mayest prepare thyself for a higher degree. For by a chaste, holy and upright life thou shalt gain the favor of the God of loving-kindness, and shalt render thyself worthy of a greater ministry, through Jesus Christ our Lord: to whom be glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
This tells us that the office of the Reader is the first rank of the priesthood, and so can only be a man, with the exception of women’s monasteries. Readers are tonsured, which means that rather than being ordained in the Altar, they are set apart by having some of their hair cut in the form of the Cross (as also happens at baptism, and when someone is made a monastic) and ordained in the Nave of the Church, as are Subdeacons, who are also minor clergy. Their office thus is sacramentally instituted and defined.
Readers in the Anglican church, on the other hand, are lay people, male as well as female, trained and licensed by the Church to preach, teach, lead worship and assist in pastoral, evangelistic and liturgical work.
In church, Anglican Readers can be distinguished from their ordained colleagues by the distinctive blue Readers’ scarf, whereas an Orthodox Reader would ideally wear clerical attire at all times, and it is at minimum necessary that he should wear a cassock on Church grounds, and at any Church functions off Church grounds.Specifically. The duties of a Reader in the Orthodox Church are primarily focused on the prayerful, liturgical ‘dialogue’ with the priest throughout all church services, representing the dialogue between heaven and earth. The Reader is also often the chanter, especially in the absence of a choir. He is not only essential to the Liturgical life, but in terms of the amount of the liturgy, he chants more than the priest! This became most apparent to the Anglican Readers who attended Vespers, because they themselves noticed how prominent the role of the Reader was throughout, since he was practically reading, intoning and chanting more than the 7/10, even 8/10 of the service.
Conversely, the duties of the Readers in the Anglican Church are varied, broad and diverse, differing from parish to parish, depending on the local priest, and encompass even
- authorisation to preach;
- presiding at Services of the Word;
- taking the traditional role of deacon at the Eucharist;
- distributing the sacrament of Holy Communion in church and/or to the sick at home or in hospital;
- reading Banns of Marriage.
Anglican Readers ‘work’ even in schools, prisons, hospitals, hospices, factories and shops, among seafarers and in the Armed Forces, with children and young people, the elderly, housebound and bereaved, and with those preparing for baptism, confirmation and marriage. Such ‘duties’ would be unthinkable to an Orthodox Reader, and the delineation of their duties applies throughout all orthodox churches.
Finally, as the first rank of the clergy in the Orthodox church, a Reader should conduct himself with the humility, sobriety, and care appropriate to his order, in order to prepare himself “for a higher degree.” In other words, a Reader should be preparing himself for the possibility of serving in a higher rank of the clergy.
Also. cf. “The Reader in the Orthodox Church”