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Question 88.

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 it)
Thank you so much dear Father for you answer if you find some time to help me.
In Christ
Maxime
 

Answer to Question 88.

Dear Maxime,
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.

Matins

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.

Divine Liturgy

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 the censer.
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
Fr. Christopher