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Altar Serves Handbook

Altar Server Pledge

In the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit

I, name an altar server of St. Luke Orthodox Church, do solemnly promise to serve You faithfully, obediently and reverently. Let nothing separate me from You. If I am weak in my faith, strengthen me. Help me to devote myself to Your Holy Gifts. Guide me in the path that leads to Your Kingdom. Teach me to become a better Christian so that I may wear the altar server's robe worthily and in humility. My prayer is to serve You in all my thoughts, words and deeds and to become a better Orthodox Christian so that in all I do I may testify to Your glory. For blessed glorified is your Holy name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen!


1. Learn the order of the Divine Liturgy so that you know what comes next.

2. Memorize the Creed and Lord's Prayer

3. Servers must be vested at least 5 minutes before the beginning of the Liturgy.

4. No shorts. Shoes or sneakers should be dark.

5. No sitting behind the Altar. Stand in a neat and orderly manner

6. Washrooms should be used only when absolutely necessary.

(Remove your robe before entering)

7. Sing & Pray along with the Priest and keep your mind on the service

8. Unnecessary talking and fooling around will be grounds for suspension.

(Reinstatement will be made under the discretion of the priest).

Eli's sons did not show any respect for the sacrifices that the people offered. This was a terrible sin, and it made the LORD very angry. 1 Samuel 2:17

The Church Year

The Church Year of our Holy Orthodox Church begins on September first and continues through August 31st. It is divided into three seasons based upon Pascha (Easter), and all the seasons refer to it as their starting point. The three seasons are: (1)The Triodion, the ten weeks before Pascha (Easter) including Lent; (2) The Pentecostarion or Pentecost Season which begins with Pascha (Easter) and ends the Sunday after Pentecost Sunday which is All Saints Day; and (3) the Season of the Eight Tones (Octoechos) for the rest of the year.

The Triodion

The first part, of the Triodion, begins just prior to Lent and runs through Holy Week. The Sundays of the Triodion are: The Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, Meat-fare Sunday, Cheese fare Sunday, and the Sundays of the Great and Holy Lent. the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas, the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross, the Sunday of St. John of the Ladder, the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt, and Palm Sunday, finally closing on Holy Saturday morning.


The second season is the Pentecostarion, the Paschal or Pentecost Season which begins on Pascha (Easter) Sunday and is followed by St. Thomas Sunday, Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women, the Sunday of the Paralytic, the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman, the Sunday of the Man Born Blind, the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council (325AD), Sunday of Pentecost and the Monday of the Holy Trinity, and ends with the Sunday of All Saints.- This period focuses around the Resurrection of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon us.

Eight tones Season (Octoechos)

The third season, is the season of the Eight Tones, the Octoechos as it is called in Greek and deals with all the other Sundays of the Year. This season begins on the Sunday following All Saints Sunday and ends on the week before the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. The Octoechos is a liturgical book of the Orthodox Church and is also called the Parakletkie, and has the hymns for the divine services during that period from Pentecost to the beginning of the Triodion. Its hymns are sung consecutively in the eight tones of which were composed by the hymnographers from the very first days of our Church. Occasionally, an important Feast Day replaces the Octoechos when the feast falls on Sunday.


As you may already know, there are three major orders of clergy in our Orthodox Church: The Deacon, the Priest and the Bishop and two minor orders, Reader and Sub-deacon. All have vestments that are common to them all. With each elevation, from Reader to Sub-deacon to deacon to Priest and from Priest to Bishop, there are some additions that occur in the vestments. Clergy usually vest in what is called the Sacristy, the room where the vestments are kept. Many times, the clergy vest in the Altar as there may not be a Sacristy for them. As they put on each vestment particular to their position, they recite certain prayers as appropriate for each item.

Robe Or Sticharion (Reader, Deacon, Priest and Bishop)

This is the basic vestment of the clergy and must be worn for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and Baptism. This is usually along straight robe with wide sleeves and is called" a robe of salvation and a tunic of happiness." It symbolizes a pure and peaceful conscience and spiritual joy.

Stole Or Orarion (Sub Deacon and Deacon).

This is a wide and long band of material that is the distinctive vestment of the Deacon and Sub-deacon. It is crossed over the back or falls over the left shoulder. As the deacon prays, he holds the front part of it while the back part hangs behind his back. . During the Lords prayer it is crossed over the back. It symbolizes the wings of angels. The Sub-deacon wares the stole crossed over the back always.

Cuffs Or Epimanika (Deacon, Priest and Bishop)

These are the cuffs, one for the right hand and one for the left which are worn by the Deacon, the Priest and the Bishop. Thus, they are common to all the major clergy. They symbolize the tying of Christ's hands and wrists at the time He was flogged, and also serve to remind us that all things that we do with our hands, we should do for the glory of God. They also have a practical purpose; to hold the wide sleeves of the Sticharion in place.

Stole or Epitrachelion (Priest and Bishop)

This is the distinctive sign of the Priesthood and is worn on the shoulders and hangs down in front. It symbolizes the grace of the Priesthood that the Priest receives on the day of his ordination. Thus it is worn by Priests and Bishops. In effect it is a development of the Orarion, actually being an Orarion doubled with both ends handing in front and reaching the full length of the tunic or Sticharion.

Belt or Zoni (Priest and Bishop)

This is ceremonial belt that ties at the back. The Zone is worn by the Priest and the Bishop. It Symbolizes the power of the grace of the Priesthood and has the practical function pf holding the epitrachelion or stole in place against the sticharion or tunic.

Award or Epigonateon (Priest and Bishop)

The square or diamond shaped Epigonateon is suspended, hanging over the right knee. It is Worn by Priests who have received the privilege to wear it and by Bishops always. It symbolizes the Holy Spirit and the power of the angels. It denotes that the Priest wearing it has the title of distinction given to him by the Church.

Cape or Phelonion, (Priest only)

Resembling a cape, the Phelonion rests on the shoulders of the Priest and is put on through a head opening. It is about arms length in the front and reaches the edge of the tunic or Sticarion in the back. On the back is usually an embroidered Cross or an icon. Symbolizing the seamless robe of Christ it stands for righteousness. With the Phelonion, the Priest's liturgical attire is completed.

Pectoral Cross, (Priest)

A Priest wears a cross according to the rank bestowed on him by the Bishop beginning with silver then the gold then to an ornately decorated Arch-priest cross.

Sakkos, (Bishop only)

The Sakkos is a richly embroidered liturgical vestment. It is one of the principal vestment's worn by a Bishop and replaces the Phelonion of the Priest yet it carries the same meaning: the seamless robe of Christ.

Omophorion, (Bishop only)

This scarf-like article worn by the Bishop is symbolic of the wayward lamb carried on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd. It falls over the shoulders and hangs in front and the back. There is a shorter one that hangs only in front and is worn after the reading of the Gospel.

Mitre,(Bishop only)

A Mitre is the Bishops ceremonial crown. It denotes his apostolic sovereignty

Pectoral Cross and Panaghia(MEDALLION Bishop only)

The pectoral cross and the Panaghia are worm by the Bishop during the Divine Liturgy. The cross denotes the self-denial of the Shepherd of the flock. The Panaghia is the distinctive sign of the office of the Bishop and is usually oval in shape and suspended from a chain.

Pastoral Staff or Pateritsa (Bishop only)

This, made of a precious metal and having at the top a cross with serpents turned inward towards it, denotes the power of the Holy Spirit and especially the Cross as an instrument of support for all the faithful. It is pastoral in nature and is there for all the people to see and to know that the Cross can lead them, chastise the disorderly, and gather the dispersed. It reminds us of Moses who held up the staff in the wilderness as the snakes came to bite the people. As long as they looked at his staff, they suffered no harm. The serpents on top, turn inwardly toward the Cross as reminders of the Lord saying-. "Behold I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves."

Kalimafkion(Priest and Bishop)

The Kalimafkion is the black cyclindrical head covering or hat worn by the Bishop or Archmandrite Priests. It is tall and has a flat top and is covered with a black veil.

The Sacred Vestments Of Orthodox Clergy


A bishop
  1. Robe or Sticarion
  2. Stole or Epitrachelion
  3. Cuffs or Epimanikia
  4. Epigonation
  5. Sakkos
  6. Omophorion
  7. Mitre
  8. Pectorial Cross
  9. Medallion or Panaghia
  10. Staff or Pateritsa


A priest
  1. Tunic or Sticharion
  2. Stole or Epitrachelion
  3. Belt or Zoni
  4. Cuffs or Epimanikia
  5. Award or Epigonation
  6. Cape or Phelonion


A deacon
  1. Robe or Sticarion
  2. Stole or Orarion
  3. Cuffs or Epimanika

Altar Boy Vestments


The long robe or sticharion that is similar to that of the deacon, is a reminder of the role the Altar Boy has in the service in the Altar. It symbolizes the cleanliness of mind and heart that the server brings each time he enters the altar.


The Stole or Orarion is also similar to the deacon but it is worn differently. It is shaped in a cross at the back with two parts hanging down the front. It denotes the calling of the altar boy to be a server much as the angels of God serve Him attentively and willingly. It is given by the Bishop as a special honor for years loyal service as an altar boy.

The Sacred Vessels

Chalice and Paten (Discos)

Every Altar Server has seen the Priest vest himself and arrange the sacred vessels for the Divine Liturgy and other services. The two most important of these is the Chalice and Paten. The Chalice will contain the Sacred Blood of Christ. It is frequently made of gold or gold plated silver. The Paten is a plate that matches the Chalice, and is usually on a small stand. During the Service of Preparation or Proskomide, the bread that will become the Body of Christ is placed there with the appropriate prayers along with particles for the Virgin Mary, the Angels and Saints, particles for the living and for those who have departed this life. The Paten symbolizes, the cave where Christ was born and the manger where Christ was laid.

Spear And Spoon

The Spear and the Spoon are also found alongside of the Chalice and the Paten for they are used during the services. The Spear is used to cut the Prosforon during the Service of Preparation. It denotes the Spear that the soldiers used when they pierced Christ's side out of which came blood and water. The Spoon is used for Holy Communion.

Asterisk Or Star

The Asterisk or Star is a ceremonial implement consisting of two gold plated metal strips held together in the middle and bent at a right angle and is set upon the Paten. Along with serving the practical purpose of keeping the cloth cover from touching, the bread to be consecrated into the Body of Christ, it is believed to symbolize the star that led the Magi to Bethlehem and stood over the manger where Christ lay as a new born child.

Cloth Coverings Or Vails (Kalimata)

The Cloth Coverings or Kalimata are the veils cut in the shape of a cross and are used to cover and protect the Chalice and the Paten. There is a larger one which is used to cover both of these during the Divine Liturgy, and is worn on the shoulders of the Priest or the deacon during the Great Entrance.

Red Communion Cloth

The Red Communion Cloth is a square cloth used as the Priest administers Holy Communion to the faithful and it covers the Chalice following the giving of Holy Communion. It should be in place on the Altar Table prior to the Divine Liturgy along with the Spoon that is used for Holy Communion.


Also found on the Preparation Table are the Cruets; one holding wine and the other water. These are to be kept full at all times and are used in the Preparation Service. during the Great Entrance

Preparation Or Prothesis

All of the above are usually in place prior to the Divine Liturgy on the Preparation or Prothesis Table. Here is where the solemn preparation of the Elements takes place. The Prothesis Table is on the left side of the Altar and it can be either a separate small table, or built into the wall. It symbolizes the Manger of Christ and is decorated with an ornate table cloth, an icon of the Birth of Christ, or that of the Extreme Humility.

Altar Bread (Prosforon, Antdoron)

Altar boy/Handmaidens

The Altar Bread that is used for the Divine Liturgy is the round loaf of bread that is brought to the Preparation Table to be cut and used for the Service. Along with it there are names to be remembered and prayed for at the proper time. If you un-wrap the bread, make sure you do not misplace any names, but take them and place them on the left side of the Preparation Table. If it is your turn to cut the remaining bread for distribution to the faithful after the Divine Liturgy, make sure that you cut them all the same size, cutting them neatly and cleaning up after you have finished. At the end of the service, you will be called by the Priest to bring the antidoron, the bread that has been cut for distribution to the faithful. Left over Antidoron will be placed outside on the grass for the birds.


Close by the Preparation Table is found the Censer where incense is placed on a burning charcoal - It symbolizes the prayers that are offered and rise to heaven. The Censer has four chains which denote the four evangelists and twelve bells which denote the twelve disciples of Christ.

Altar Server Ant The Censer

Care should be taken in lighting the charcoal, care must be shown since most of the charcoal we use in our Church services is quick lighting. When you light it, it sparks until the whole of the top is lit. When you take it in the tongs, hold it to the tip of the flame and make sure that the sparks from it do not fall on anything that will catch fire. Make sure that any sparks that have fallen are extinguished.

a. Place the charcoal in the censer.

b. Ask your Priest before placing incense in the censer. Whenever you go in procession make sure you have some incense along with you to add, as needed.

c. If anyone ( Servers, Priest, Deacon) drops the lighted charcoal on the rug it is quickly extinguished with water

The Preparation (Proskomide)

The Preparation (Proskomide)

Altar Table

This is the most sacred part of the Church. It is on the altar table where the offering of bread and wine changes into the very Body and Blood of Christ. The altar table is symbolic of the Ark of the Covenant and has within it the relic (bone of a holy martyr) revealing that the Church is built on the faith of the martyrs. Placed on the top of the table are the Antiminsion, the book of the four Gospels, the tabernacle containing the reserve sacrament and seven branched candle holder. For this reason only ordained clergy are allowed to touch the table or anything on it. Never cross from one side of the altar to the other in the front of it and always make the sign of the cross at the high place.

Diagram of the Altar Area

A View Of The Altar

The Divine Liturgy

The Little Entrance

Diagram of the Little Entrance

a. At the beginning of the Second Antiphon the torches are lighted, during the Third Antiphone, the servers stand behind the Altar facing the Priest with the lighted torches.

b. The Little Entrance is made with order and dignity. Room should be made in front for the Priest.

c. After the Little entrance the center Icon stand is removed to the side.

(On certain Feast days it remains in the center, check with the Priest)

The Apostolic Readings

a. The torches are lighted again while the reader is reading the Epistle. One server should be assigned to get the torches ready. Another server assigned to get the censer ready and to give it to the priest or deacon.

Diagram of the Apostolic Readings.

b. The servers exit from both the sides of the Iconastasis when the Priest or Deacon carries the Gospel out the Holy Doors for the Gospel reading.

c. After the reading, the servers return the torches and Fans to the Altar the same way they came and then come out and "Sit in the front for the sermon." One server should be assigned to put the lectern in front of the Royal doors for the sermon

The Great Entrance

Diagram of the Great Entrance.

a. The censer is made ready during the Litanies of the Faithful and given to the Priest or Deacon at the start of the singing of the Cherubic Hymn.

b. During the singing of the Cherubic Hymn the torches are lighted and preparations made for the Great Entrance.

The Anaphora("Let us lift up")

Diagram of the Anaphora.

a. During the Anaphora the servers stand with lighted torches at the corners of the Altar Table with-the censer bearer on the right of the Priest or Deacon until the Theotokion - (Hymn to the-Theotokos).

The Lord"s Prayer

Diagram of the Lord's Prayer.

a. When the Lord's Prayer is sung the servers stand with lighted torches at the around the altar table singing the prayer.

b. After the Lord's Prayer preparations are made for the hand washing.

c. When the Priest says, "Through the Grace and Compassion and Love towards mankind" Three servers, one with the pitcher, one with the towel and one with the bowl wash the hands of the priest.

d. The remaining server pours the hot water into the cup and then stands to the right of the Priest or Deacon.

The Elevation

Diagram of the Elevation.

a. When the Holy Gifts are raised and the word, "Holy Things for the Holy" is said the Standing Candle is placed on the Ambo.

The Communion

Diagram of Communion.

a. While the Priest and Deacon is taking Communion the servers are to remain still and recite the Communion Prayer with the Priest, Deacon and the people. When the Holy Communion is brought out the Standing Candle is removed.

b. The censer is prepared and given to the Priest or Deacon after he says, "O God save your people". He then goes to the table of oblation and waits until the Priest or Deacon returns the censer.

c. The gold cup is then filled with the wine and water mixture and several pieces of bread are left on the dish and placed on the Table of Oblation for the priest.

d. When the Cross is brought out the servers venerate the Cross first and then servers are assigned hold the bowl with the Antidoron Bread.

Clean Up

a. The other servers begin to clean up.

b. All dishes are to be cleaned and put away.

c. The cabinet is to be left neat.

d. No-crumbs are to be left on the cabinet or floor.

e. The censer is to be emptied outside; care should be taken not to start a fire.

f. All remaining prosphoron are placed outside for the birds.

g. Make sure the Hot Water Pot is turned off.

h. All candles/torches in the Altar are to be extinguished

i. Receive the Blessing from the Priest and return vestments to the Vestment Closet.

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