September 13, 2023

Homilies on the Commonwealth of the Church - The Reader (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

 The Commonwealth of the Church

The Reader

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

Among the Lower Clergy, though they are not Clergy as we know them in modern reality, along with the Chanter is the Reader.

Various readings from the Old Testament and the New Testament have been included in the worship of the Church and there needed to be some Christians who, together with the Chanters, recited these texts during the Sacred Services.

Thus, the Reader reads, apart from the texts of the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Prophecies, and the Apostolic Readings at the Divine Liturgy or at other services, such as for example during the Great Hours. Chanters are also Readers, but Readers may not be Chanters.

The selection of a Christian in the order of Readers is an ancient ecclesiastical custom, which was adopted from the Old Testament. That is why the "Apostolic Constitutions", an ancient text, establishes the prayer that is read by the Bishop during the laying on of hands of the Reader. Among other things, the Bishop prays for God to send His Grace to this particular person, so that he can read His Holy Scriptures to the people and give him "a Holy Spirit, a Prophetic Spirit", as He gave wisdom to Ezra to read His laws to the people.

Because nothing happens in the Church without the prayer and blessing of the Bishop, that is why even today there is a special order for the laying on of hands of the Reader, according to which the Bishop tonsures the hairs of his head in a cross pattern in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Then he reads the "consecration prayer", in which, among other things, he asks God to sanctify His servant and to give him the strength to interpret the texts "with all wisdom and prudence" and to protect him "in a blameless state". Immediately after, the Reader reads an apostolic passage.

The Reader may not wish to become a Clergyman, but if a Christian wishes to become a Clergyman and was not previously ordained as a Reader, then before his ordination as a Deacon he receives the laying on of hands of a Reader.

In the past, it was widespread to have the laying on of hands of a Reader, because the Bishop-Metropolitan in his tours of the parishes usually made young people Readers with the laying on of hands, which was, as I stated earlier, an ornament in the life of worship, because they read the texts of the Old Testamant and the Apostolic Reading with their children's voice. That is why various surnames prevailed among the Christians, such as Anagnostis, Anagnostos, Anagnostopoulos (that is, son of the Reader), Anagnostidis, Anagnostakis, etc.

This beautiful ecclesiastical and liturgical act also had a catechetical character. Because, usually, the Readers were young children, who were students of Elementary School, Middle School and High School, and who showed a special zeal to approach the two lecterns of the chanters of the Sacred Temple or to serve the Priests in the Sacred Sanctuary for the performance of the Sacred Services, therefore from a young age they learned to read clearly the texts of the Old Testament and the Apostolic Readings.

Thus, they not only learned to read these ancient texts, but also to understand this language, so this whole work became like a "Catechism School", like an initiation of the children into the worship of the Church. In fact, from this order, they evolved into Sacred Chanters, Deacons, Presbyters, Bishops and Patriarchs, but at the same time also into educated people of that time, some even became scientists of the various sciences.

We do not forget, of course, that in earlier times when there were not many schools, the Readers and the Chanters were the most literate and educated people in the countryside, the villages, but also in the cities.

This was also a great experiential offering of the Church to the children, who did not learn the liturgical life of the Church simply as a lesson, but as experience and life. Many of us Clergy and Bishops were raised and grew up in the Sacred Sanctuary, as sacred children (altar boys), who are usually called "papadakia", as Readers and as members of the choirs of the Sacred Temples. Thus, ecclesiastical and worship life is in our entire existence, in our breathing and in our childhood experiences, that is why we love the Church and ecclesiastical life.

What we have said so far shows what Holy Scripture is, how it is read in worship gatherings and how it is interpreted. Both the reading of Holy Scripture during the Sacred Services and Divine Liturgies as well as its interpretation is a sacred work of the Church and not an autonomous work and independent of the ecclesiastical life.

This can be seen from the fact that the Readers, who receive the laying on of hands by the Bishop for this purpose, read the Psalms of David and the Apostolic Readings, the Deacons read the Gospel Readings and the Bishops or Preachers and Priests interpret with the sermon that follows these holy writings. Everything is done according to order in the Church, during the Sacred Assemblies, and the churchgoers, the people of God, hear and are taught what God's will is.

Thus, the Church wrote these texts and the Church interprets them. Everything is done in the best ecclesiastical way and within the worship gatherings. When we say that this happens in the Church, we mean that God enlightens His friends, i.e. the Prophets and the Apostles, to write His will to the people and God Himself enlightens the holy Fathers to interpret this divine word, and in fact this is done in an official way during ecclesiastical gatherings.

This also shows what inspiration is and how it manifests itself in ecclesiastical life. The texts of Holy Scripture are inspired by God, according to the words of the Apostle Paul: "All scripture is inspired by God and beneficial for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16), because they were written down by divinely inspired Prophets and Apostles and are interpreted by divinely inspired Fathers. Thus, we have the certainty of our salvation.

And because in today's sermon I referred to the Readers, who usually are young people that receive the laying on of hands to do this important work in liturgical gatherings, that is why what the Apostle Paul writes to his disciple Timothy, Bishop of Ephesus, is important: "From infancy you have known the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:15). When a person learns "the sacred writings" from his parents "from infancy" and reads them from a young age in worship gatherings, then from his young years he receives a solid, serious and responsible ecclesiastical education.

Today is the feast day of our holy Father Kallinikos, Bishop of Edessa, who loved the children who participated in worship very much and even loved to perform the laying on of hands on Readers and commanded them to read the Apostolic Readings, to recite the "Creed" and "Our Father " and to chant in the Church.

May God bless all the Readers for the wonderful work they do in the Church.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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