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Question: 10

Dear Father Christopher,
Christ is in our midst!
In our archdiocese, for many years we have used English translations of Russian liturgical books. I believe this is because most of our seminarians go to Saint Vladmir's seminary which is the Russian-Orthodox Church in America seminary. Our bishops are trying to encourage us to follow "Byzantine-Greek" practice when this differs from the Russian practice (i.e. funeral and memorial practices, Divine Liturgy rubrics etc) Since we don't have our own proper Euchologion, besides the Russian English books, we use English translations from the Greek archdiocese (and I tend to use yours as it has better English!) Anyways, one of the big differences I have found between the Russia and Greek Euchologions (or Trebnik's ) is that the Russian books have all sorts of blessings for: Icons, vestments, liturgical items, chalices gravestones, graveyards to name a few.
So, my question is this, in the Greek books (our bilingual books are abridged) in the Greek practice, do we bless Icons, vestments, gravestones and liturgical items? I have been told that in Byzantine practice these items are "blessed" by their use and the Russian practice of formal blessings is "Latin". We do "church" icons in our parish but is it proper Greek practice to "bless icons"? I hope my questions make sense.

In Christ,
Fr. Polycarp

Answer to Question 10
Dear Father Polycarp,
Christ is in our midst!
Yes, I understood the point of difference you were making between churching Icons and blessing Icons. Greeks donít bless Icons, but as you said we do bring them to church (usually on Orthodox Sunday) to be left there for 40 days. Theologically neither blessing by a prayer nor churching is required. The Icon is similar to the Bible, in other words it is the Word of God represented in images. From my book on Icons (Discovering the Icon) found on the web site there are two occasions where I mention how Icons receive their sanctification which I have pasted below:
1) The icon is sanctified through its communion with Christ and the saints, through the image and the inscription that it bears. It is holy in the same way that the Cross and the Bible are holy. St. Basil the Great says that iconographers are equal in honour to the Gospel writers. He says this because what the Gospels explain by means of words, the painter explains by means of his works. The Bible is holy not because of the paper and ink, but because the words it contains are the words of God, written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit. These words of God are holy because they proceeded from the mouth of God and sanctify us each time we hear them. In the same way we are sanctified through the Icon because it also is the word of God represented in images, and to put it another way, as the Icon is the image of Christ, so likewise the Bible is the verbal image of Christ, Both inspire and teach us how to live so that we may find the narrow road that leads to salvation.
2) An Icon must be a faithful interpretation of the prototype [original], showing a recognizable image and the name of the person it represents. The name identifies the person or persons and at the same time is a seal of sanctification, for as with the Cross and the Bible, the Icon does not need to have special prayers read over it or receive any other form of blessing by a priest to make it holy. It cannot receive any additional benefit from a priestís blessing or any application of Myron [holy oil]. Some icons have no inscription, which is contrary to the theology of the Icon, for it is the inscription that brings about its sanctification: without it, the Icon remains a common work of art.

As for other items that you mention we do have a special short service for blessing a new Chalice and it even says to anoint it with Myron. This is found in the Great Euchololion book. We recently had a new extra large silver Chalice made and our Bishop asked us to read the service and instead of Myron to sprinkle it with Holy water. As for Vestments, our original Vestments were blessed by the Bishop at our ordination and logically only he should bless any additional Vestments we purchase at a later date, but this is something we donít do. But as we vest ourselves for the Liturgy do we not bless each item as we put it on? Do we really need a special prayer to sanctify our vestments, is not our blessing on vesting enough?
As far as I know we do not bless cemeteries or gravestones. We consider cemeteries to be holy ground because Christians are buried there and in theory at least, all Christians are holy unto the Lord. Thus the bones of the saints bless the ground they are buried in. I think that blessing cemeteries is of a western influence which, except for the Roman Catholic Church, do not believe in the sanctification and theosis of man.

With love in Christ
Fr. Christopher.