Orthodox America

 Instructions . . . For the Church Reader 

Compiled in accordance with the teaching of the holy fathers and ascetics, according to the directions of the church Typicon and on the basis of the Russian Orthodox Church's centuries-old experience in the Divine services.

(Part 1)
(Part 2)


Read reverently, with the fear of God. 

A God-fearing reader* ought always to remember that he is proclaiming doxologies and prayers for himself and for all who are praying in the church, where God Himself, His immaculate Mother, the angels and the saints are always invisibly present. The Lord, the Knower of hearts, knows the feeling and attitude with which the reader performs his obligations. A God-fearing reader knows that those standing in church also notice his mistakes, his inattention, etc., and that they may be tempted thereby. That is why he does not allow carelessness; he fears thereby to anger God. For it is said in Scripture: Cursed is every man that doeth the Lord's work with carelessness (Jer. 48:10). When reading words of prayer in the holy church in the hearing of all the faithful, we are carrying out God's work; therefore, we must read reverently and decorously, distinctly and unhurriedly.

Prepare carefully for reading.

One must prepare carefully for the reading which he is to execute: he must familiarize himself with it well in advance and read the text thoughtfully, paying attention to the pronunciation of the words, the accents, and to the contents, so as to read correctly, consciously, and in a way that makes sense. If you read badly, practice; read the appointed reading several times and ask someone else, who is knowledgeable, to check you.

Read in a way that makes sense.

Read so that first of all you yourself understand what you are reading, and so that the prayers and psalms that are read penetrate your heart. At the same time, do not forget the people standing in church, and read so that the people understand you, so that they too, together with you who are reading, would pray and glorify the Lord with one mouth and one heart. This is the purpose of our assembling in church.

When reading in church, always remember that by your lips the prayer of all who are present is uttered and raised up to the throne of God, and that each word you pronounce ought to penetrate the hearing and the soul of each person praying in the church.

Read unhurriedly, distinctly and precisely.

Therefore, do not hurry when reading the holy prayers, and do not demean the prayers by hurried reading; do not anger God. Hurried and indistinct reading is not apprehended by the hearing, the thought or the heart's feeling of the hearers. Such reading and singing, according to the words of the holy Hierarch Tikhon of Zadonsk, is "complaisance for the lazy, heartfelt sorrow and sighing for the good, and temptation and harm for all who come (to church)."

In order not to deprive those praying of the possibility to pray reverently, a God-fearing reader will not read quickly and carelessly to please a few. Many are disturbed and tempted by a reader's carelessness and may even leave the church. Those who are inclined to sectarianism or in general are inclined to see shortcomings in Orthodoxy, having heard careless and irreverent reading and singing in our churches, may even fall away altogether from Orthodoxy into sectarianism or grow cool towards the Faith. In this way, through the fault of careless readers and singers, our Orthodox Divine services, churches, clergy, and Orthodoxy itself are subject to dishonor, while those praying are deprived of prayers abundantly rich in content and of religious and moral edification.

In view of this, the church reader ought not to allow fast reading that passes over to carelessness, and ought not to fulfill the requests of those who require him to violate his duty to read piously. For we ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

In order to know at what speed it is appropriate to read, it is essential to read with a comprehension of what is being read, not mechanically, and not to pay attention to the external side of reading, but rather to the content - at the same time to pray for oneself in one's soul.

One must learn to read freely, without strain, so that while reading there would be no difficulties in pronouncing the words, abbreviations (titlos) and accents, in the choice of pitch and volume of the voice, in the raising and the lowering of the voice, etc; briefly speaking, so that attention would be distracted as little as possible by the technique of reading, but would be concentrated on the meaning of what is read.

One must read in such a measured way that the hearers succeed in mentally apprehending each word of the prayer and in feeling it with the heart. Such a feeling in the reverent reader is acquired when he himself tries to pray attentively with the mind and the heart in church and at home. Then he will find out by experience that during rapid reading it is impossible for those praying to succeed in catching the content of the prayer and to pray with the mind and the heart.

At the same time, one should avoid the other extreme; one should not needlessly drag out the reading!

(To be continued)

Translated by Daniel Olson from The Orthodox Divine Services, Practical Guidance for Clerics and Laity, pp. 182-187, which took it from a 1956 typewritten publication by G. Shimansky, an instructor at the Kiev Theological Academy.

Translator's notes:

1. Literally, "psalmist" (psalomshchik in Russian), in the sense of "a precentor, singer, or leader of music in the church" (Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary).

2. This instruction has been translated from The Orthodox Divine Services, Practical Guidance for Clerics and Laity, pp. 182-187, which took it from a 1956 typewritten publication by G. Shimansky, an instructor at the Kiev Theological Academy.

3. While this instruction was originally compiled for readers using Church Slavonic, its provisions are generally applicable to any language.

4. There is a need for a similar treatment of pronunciation problems in the English language.

5. Translated from The Orthodox Divine Services, Practical Guidance for Clerics and Laity, pp. 181-182.

*These instructions apply, of course, not only to tonsured readers, but to anyone who reads in church. The original title is "Instruction to the Cantor..," literally, "psalmist" (psalomshchik in Russian), in the sense of "a precentor, singer, or leader of music in the church (Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary) - trans.

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