Dear Father Christopher bless,
My sons ( 7 and 11) are Ιεροπαιδες (altar boys) in our French-Greek
parish in France. They do what they are told to do but if they could
learn a little bit, it would be better I think. The way processions and
other things are done are sometimes different, in different churches. In
our church the Priest doesn't want show them how to do a day of the week
because he has no time and during the liturgy he doesn't want to be
disturbed praying. Well there is an old servant he's a very kind and
very simple person but he is not very really able to explain...
Have you ever written some kind of manual for altar's boys? Or does it
exist even in Greek (a friend of mine will translate it, I am sure of
Thank you so much dear Father for you answer if you find some time to
Answer to Question 88.
I don't think there exists a manual for altar boys (acolytes). The best
way for the boys to learn is to watch and recognize the various stages
of the Liturgy. Of course at their young age they should be guided by
the priest or an experienced layperson who knows what the priest demands
of his helpers.
In general there is little difference between a Sunday Liturgy and a
weekday Liturgy. The Liturgy is in fact the same and the difference is
only during the Matins service where the priest offers the Gospel for
veneration. The two services are sung consecutively, which can seem to
some people that it is one long service but the Divine Liturgy only
begins after the singing of the Doxology which is the last part of
matins. In most churches the altar boys are not needed for matins, but
only for the Divine Liturgy, but if the boys go early they can serve for
matins as well.
The altar boys are usually candle bearers or they bear the Exapteriga
(six-winged seraphim) during the processions. Below is a list of the
times when the altar boys help during matins and the Liturgy.
1) On Sundays during the reading of the morning Gospel which is read to
the side of the altar the boys hold lighted candles opposite the priest.
On weekdays the Gospel is read from the Holy Doors and two altar boys
stand with candles on either side of the priest.
2) On Sundays, a little after the Gospel reading, the priest will come
out of the sanctuary with the Gospel book to be venerated by the
faithful. Again the boys will stand with candles on either side of the
priest. This is not done on weekdays
3) At the singing of the "Tin Timiotera ton Herouvim" the priest will
cense the altar and the sanctuary and come out by the North door and
cense the Iconostasis and then will go around the church censing the
people. The altar boys with lighted candles will go with the priest one
in front and the other behind. While the priest censes the Iconostasis
the boys will stand on either side of the priest. When he has finished
with the Iconostasis the first boy on the priest's right will lead the
censing of the rest of the church, but the route he takes depends on the
shape and size of the church. Here the priest must tell him where to go
until he learns by experience. After censing the people they again come
before the Iconostasis where the priest will again cense and then the
first boy will lead the priest into the sanctuary through the south
door. If there is no south door, the second boy on the priest's left
will lead through the north door.
4) Some priests cense during the Doxology. If your priest does then the
above will be repeated.
1) At the Little Entrance the priest will exit the sanctuary with the
Gospel Book from the North door. The altar boys will accompany him with
lighted candles. The first boy leads the way in front of the priest and
the other behind. On reaching the centre of the church the boys stand on
either side and after the priest exclaims "Sofia Orthi" the priest will
enter the sanctuary from the Holy doors while the boys will enter from
the north and south according to how they were standing.
2) During the reading of the Gospel from the Holy Doors the two altar
boys stand with candles on either side of the priest.
3) During the singing of the Cherubic Hymn just before the Great
Entrance, the boys with lighted candles and/or Exapteriga (six-winged
seraphim) and Cross depending on how many others there are to help, will
come out of the sanctuary and stand in the centre facing the
Iconostasis. When the priest is ready for the Great Entrance he will
exit the sanctuary by the north door preceded by someone censing. One
candle, one exapteriga and the Cross bearers will lead the priest in
procession around the church followed by the other exapteriga and candle
bearers. When they reach the centre of the church the bearers in front
will move to one side to let the priest continue into the sanctuary.
Then the bearers stand in order facing the Sanctuary (cross in centre,
the exapteriga on either side and then the candle bearers) until the
second part of the Cherubic hymn has ended. When the hymn comes to an
end the bearers enter the sanctuary through the north door and return
the instruments they held back in their place.
4) In large parishes where many bowls of antidoron are required, the
altar boys also bring the bowls to the priest to bless the breads during
the singing of "Axion estin".
5) Sometimes the altar boys also help the priest during Communion, but
that is for the priest to direct them in what to do.
These are the basic duties of the altar boys. There are other things
they can help with but they must be taught by someone who knows. They
can also learn by watching. They can for example learn how to prepare
the censer, when to bring it to the priest, how to give it and how to
receive it back.
They can also learn to boil the water for the zeon, when to fill the
zeon and when to give it to the priest.
I understand that it is difficult for the priest to stop in the middle
of prayer to instruct the boys on what they must do, but it is also
important that the priest does not ignore the boys. He should make them
feel welcomed in the sanctuary. His attitude towards them is fundamental
to how the boys in their difficult teenage years will want to continue
going to church regularly or not. Very often a good and loving
experience in the sanctuary has led altar boys to the priesthood.
The priest is not praying continually. There are times even during the
Liturgy when he can instruct them beforehand and teach them through sign
language what they must do. Without speaking he can point to the candles
to let them know to prepare the candles for the entrances, or point to
the censer to let them know that soon he will need for them to bring him
I cannot understand that a priest does not have time to teach some very
simple steps to altar boys who are his helpers; does he at least know
their names: it is his duty to find the time. This doesn't have to be
during the actual Liturgy. He can invite the boys after school, during
holidays or on a Saturday and rehearse with them the steps of the
service. After this very time consuming and exhausting work he might
think to take the boys out for a burger and milkshake and get to know
them a little better.
With love in Christ