The Orthodox Church in America

The Bishop of San Francisco and the West

650 Micheltorena Street, Los Angeles, CA 90026-3629
Telephone: (213) 913-3615; Facsimile (213) 913-0316

Sunday, October 20, 1996
Holy Hieromartyr Artemius

Letter of Instructions #9 On Two Topics:

I. About Censing
II. The Burial of Priests

[by Bishop Tikhon]

The Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy
Diocese of the West

Dear and very esteemed reverend and very reverend Fathers!

The Lord's blessing be upon you!

Enclosed are two documents. The first, "About Censing," is an endnote from my work in progress: "THE DIVINE LITURGY WITH NOTES FOR SERVING." It will, of course, appear again, possibly with minor changes, together with that work on its completion; however, I feel the topic is worthwhile adding separately to this series of Letters of Instruction.

The second document is meant to supplement the Funeral Service for a Priest, e.g., the one in Hapgood -- it has proved helpful in the past. I would advise further, that I have recently learned that the laws of the State of California do not mandate embalming, and the preparation of laity as well as clergy for burial may, with the observation of some practical limitations, be done by family members, and at home. Neither is embalming required for shipment over state lines, providing a process such as packing in dry ice is used. I learned this all from the Archpriest Alexander Lebedeff, who with other Priests and with the cooperation of the local funeral director prepared the remains of the late Archbishop Anthony of Los Angeles. They took the body from the hospital to the Church and prepared it there. At the conclusion of all the various memorial services, etc., the coffin and remains were taken from the Church, packed in a container filled with dry ice, and sent to the Holy Trinity Monastery in New York. Those Rectors of parishes outside California may wish to check with their local morticians or other local authority. It may be difficult to learn the truth without persistence, due to commercial factors. I remember in one of my last conversations with the late Protopresbyter John Meyendorff that he remarked that the modern process of embalming was in many respects at least as disrespectful of Christian remains as cremation.

Invoking the Lord's blessing and assuring you of my prayers,

With love in Christ,

+ Tikhon

About Censing

(And some other important basics)

The Liturgy of the Catechumens begins with the opening of the Curtain and a complete censing by the Deacon. This censing, like the censing at the beginning of the All-Night Vigil, is done in silence (save for the prayer "In the grave with the body...."); however, in our time, the Hours are being read at this point[1], and usually have begun some time before the Curtain is opened and the censing starts. Censing occupies a prominent place in the Church's Ordo. Properly executed, it is an integral part of the services where it takes place, of positive value to the purposes of all our Church's services, bringing man to God in and through communal worship. Before outlining the directions for censing, some general remarks would be appropriate, and these apply not only to censing but to certain other matters relevant to the conduct of all the Church's services.

The clergy are responsible for the conduct of the Church's worship. In the liturgies of the Church, a clear distinction is made between "clergy" and "people;" for example, every Great Litany, or Irenicon contains these words in the petition for the hierarchy: "for all the clergy and the people." Further, in the traditional service books, some utterances are designated for "Hierarch", "Priest", "Deacon", or "Reader", on the one hand, while other parts are designated for "The Choir", "The People", or just "We." Neither the Typikon nor any of the liturgical books provides any rubric which gives responsibility for conduct of any service to the people. The very prayers at the Laying-on-of-hands and at the setting apart or tonsuring of minor orders, as well as the promises executed in writing at the time of Laying-on-of-hands, clearly direct the clergy to be responsible for the conduct of worship.

Ideally, the Church's temples are constructed and the services taking place in them conducted so that the worshipper in Church would be occupied with prayer, with worship, and with nothing else. All the church's sacred utensils, all the furnishings and vestments, indeed the building itself is set aside by prayers and blessings for sacred purposes. It is always improper and inconsistent with the "good order" of the Church, then, that the building or any of its furnishings would be used for anything else. Likewise, the vestments of the clergy are also blessed according to the rubrics and set aside for use during the sacred services and for no other purpose and at no other time. Therefore, the rule that one does not make conversation with anyone while wearing the blessed vestments set aside for worship should be observed strictly in the parishes of the Diocese of the West. The temptation to engage in such informal conversations arises very often, especially when the clergy are required by rubrics to be walking among the people, as during processions and while censing. Clergy are also frequently tempted to hold conversations with each other, especially when they cannot be observed by the people. This should not be tolerated, especially by anyone who may be occupying "the first place" at any service.)

The temple must be clean and in order. So, too, the vestments and appearance of the clergy must be clean and in order and must be of the highest quality. The actions of the clergy and of all who serve in the Altar must be such as to assist the people in their prayer and worship. Anything done so as to distract the people is a sin. Making eye contact with people in church is one of the most common ways of distracting them, of directing their attention to the clergyman rather than to the progression of the service and to the content of the prayers and to worship of our Lord. Eye contact should be reserved for sermons and lectures. The clergyman would do well to always keep his main attention directed to God, while the rest is directed to the proper execution of his actions and readings. So this is how the censing will be conducted:

I. How to swing the censer. The directions for censing found in the Typikon were written when the censers were made differently from our present-day censers. They did not have chains. The censer consisted of a receptacle with a handle on it. The Typikon prescribes that censing be done this way: "(the celebrant) makes the (sign of the) cross with the censer." And "thereupon he censes the entire right choir brethren, doubly, raising the censer before each one vertically and then across, making the cross." Some accommodations to the modern form of the censer are now customarily made, but the basic prescription is, and must be, of course, maintained; that is, the censer's movements should depict the cross. For example, some deacons and priests have been trained to make one swing (up and down) toward the person or object being censed, followed by an horizontal swing in an arc bisecting the line of the first swing, at a point somewhat below the highest extreme reached by the first swing. Thus, the first swing represents the vertical beam of a cross, and the second represents the horizontal beam of a cross. Others, and this is now the most common style of swinging the censer, make three swings with the censer toward the person or object being censed: The first swing is exactly the same as the first swing in the first method, above. The extreme point of the upward swing in this first swing is considered to be the top of a sign of the cross, that is, the top of the vertical beam of the Cross. Next, the censer is again swung once (up and down) toward the person or object being censed, but a little to the left (from the aspect of the person censing) and to a point not so far as the extreme of the first swing. That point represents the tip of an arm of a cross, that is of the horizontal shoulder-height beam of the Cross. Next, the censer is again swung once (up and down) toward the person or object being censed, but a little to the right (from the aspect of the person censing) and to a point not so far as the extreme point of the first swing. This point represents the tip of the another arm of the cross, that is the other end of the horizontal shoulder-height beam of the Cross. This is also called "censing three times" toward a person or object. Some following the first method of censing now repeat the first swing before crossing it, possibly so as not to distract any faithful who are acquainted with such rubrics. Nothing, of course, prohibits the clergy from educating the faithful in this and anything else connected with the Church.

In present practice, the original way of moving the censer is seen only, if then, at the Little Entrance at Vespers, as the Deacon intones, "Wisdom! Attend!", at Divine Liturgy at the words "Especially our All-holy... ", and at the beginning blessing of All-Night Vigil: "Glory to the holy, Consubstantial ...", and at the beginning blessing, "Blessed is our God ..." at other services of the daily round when they are begun with the censer in hand. However it is not uncommon for priests and deacons to swing the censer in the customary way "Three times" or with crosswise swings at these points in the service as well, and they do not sin thereby.

It is accounted good form, too, that whenever the sign of the cross is called for and the Deacon or Priest is holding the censer in his right hand, as, for example, at a litany for the departed, then the censer is swung in crosswise form, rather than transferring the censer to the left hand and making the sign of the cross with the right...

It is customary and proper to bow towards the object or person being censed at the second swing of the censer in both methods. Faithful churchgoers customarily return these bows. No sign of the cross is made. (There is, of course, nothing "Eastern" about bowing, as members of, for example, the Church of England are quick to point out.) While a deacon or priest must not exaggerate his bows lest he risk not edifying, but distracting the faithful, neither would he make a bow so slight as not to be recognized as a bow at all, rather a curt nod of recognition inappropriate off the military drill field.

Learning the order or sequence followed in censing frequently intimidates the novice server. I believe it would be helpful to break the pattern of censing down into sections, then it can be seen that all censings are more or less alike, adaptations of one order.

A. Censing "crosswise around".

All censings begin before an object, usually a table, either the Holy Table itself, or a table (or analogion) in the center of the Temple or before an icon, or a table for the commemoration of the departed. At a funeral the table is represented by the coffin. Censing "crosswise around" means to cense first in front (while standing to the west) of the table, towards the east. Then one goes to stand on the right (south) side and censes it towards the north. Then one goes to stand on the far (east) side and censes towards the west. Finally, one goes to the left (north) side and censes towards the south. That is "censing crosswise around."

B. Censing the High Place and the Icons. (Holy Gates closed.)

Frequently, after having done an "A" censing of the Holy Altar Table, the rubrics prescribe that the high place and the Icons be censed, or "all the altar," etc. This censing begins by standing opposite the High Place or a little to one side of it (or, lacking a physical High Seat or Throne, the center of the Eastern wall of the apse), and censing towards it, then proceeding to cense each icon which hangs in the south side of the Altar (area) by going to it and censing before it, then walking over to the north side of the Altar (area) and censing each icon which hangs on that side. If there is an Icon hanging within the Altar (area) over the Holy Gates, this icon is censed last. NOTE: If the Prosthesis, or Table of Oblation is "active" during the service, i.e., if it is a censing at Divine Liturgy, then the Table of Oblation is censed just prior to the High Place.

C. Censing the superior and all in the Altar.

Sometimes, after a "B" censing, the rubrics prescribe that everyone in the altar, or "the superior and the rest of the sacred servers", etc., would be censed. Unless one is a hierarch, one does no actions which involve standing or sitting at the High Place itself. The place for a deacon or priest to stand while censing those serving in the Altar (area) is exactly southeast of the Altar Table, i.e., to the south of the High Place itself. If the superior, usually, but not necessarily, the first-ranking celebrant, is standing before the Altar Table then the deacon or priest censes first in that direction; if he is standing at the High Place, then the deacon or priest censes in that direction. Next, the person censing censes all those, preferably in order of seniority (Archimandrite, Hegumen, Archpriest, Priest, Arch/Protodeacon, Deacon, Subdeacons, Readers, Church Servitors), standing in the south side of the Altar (area). Next, standing in the same place, he censes all those, preferably in order of seniority, standing in the north side of the Altar (area). He need neither move around nor cense back and forth from north side to south side strictly according to rank.

D. Censing the High Place and the Icons. (if Holy Gates are open.)

One does a "B" censing, but after censing the icon over the Holy Gates, one censes the icons on the open Holy Gates, first the gate opened into the south side of the Altar (area), next the gate opened into the north side of the Altar (area).

E. Censing the Icons on the Iconostasis.

One goes to stand on the Soleas, on the very center of the Ambo, facing toward the east. Whether or not the Holy Gates are open, the first censing is toward the east, i.e., one may consider oneself as censing toward the front of the Holy Altar Table or censing toward the Icon of the Mystic Supper customarily placed over the Holy Gates. Next one censes towards the Icon of the Savior (or other Icon found directly to the south of the Holy Gates) and then (in our usage), in order, one goes to cense before every icon on the first tier of the south portion of the iconostasis, and any group in the vicinity of the south end of the iconostasis. Then one goes and censes towards the Icon of the Theotokos (or other icon found directly to the north of the Holy Gates) and then (in our usage), in order, one goes to cense before every icon on the first tier of the north portion of the iconostasis.

F. Censing the choirs and the people.

While standing on the Soleas, on the very center of the Ambo, one censes first toward the choir or reader standing in the south kleros. Next, if there is a choir or reader standing in the northern kleros one censes towards him or them. Then one censes towards the southwest, i.e., toward those standing on the south side of the Temple. Next one censes towards those standing in the west or in the Narthex. Finally, one censes towards those standing in the northwest.

G. Censing the whole Temple.

One goes down from the Soleas and censes first before any icon on an analogion in the center of the nave. Next one goes and censes before all the icons on the south side of the church, starting with the icon of the Savior on the analogion placed in line with His icon on the Iconostasis and then proceeding around the Temple clockwise. When one reaches the Western doors one censes the icon over the Western doors (usually that of the Dormition of the All-Holy), proceeds into the narthex and censes clockwise around the Narthex, turning to cense toward the Holy Altar before crossing from the South to the North, then returns to the Nave and continues around on the north side of the Church until one finally censes the icon of the Theotokos on the analogion placed in line with her Icon on the Iconostasis.

H. Concluding the censing.

One stands on the Soleas, facing east and censes first towards the icon over the Holy Doors (whether or not the Holy Gates are open), next, while standing in the same spot, the icon of our Savior, then of His All Pure Mother, and then, depending on whence one has started the censing, one censes before the front of the Holy Altar Table or before the Table/icon/Gospel Book/Panikhida Table/Coffin in the center of the Nave, and then censes the Superior, or the ranking one censing, then gives the censer up.

I. Censing at Funerals and Memorials

The censer is swung throughout the prayers of panikhidas and funerals, save at the time of the reading of the Holy Scriptures and the Absolution. Near the conclusion of these services, the Priest must go the Holy Altar, pick up the Hand Cross, and then bless at the Dismissal. So, after "Most Holy Theotokos, save us," he transfers the censer to his left hand, takes up the Hand Cross that is on the Memorial Table, an Analogion, or the Coffin, then transfers the Cross to his left hand, and, censing 3x3, he exclaims, "Glory to Thee, O Christ God, our hope, Glory to Thee," and walks up to the Soleas, censes toward the Holy Table, turns and, placing the Cross again into his left hand together with the censer, crosses himself as usual upon beginning the Dismissal, then holds Cross and Censer with both hands, and blesses the Faithful while holding both, before turning, transferring the Cross to his left hand to proceed with the censing of the Iconostasis and the People ("E" & "F", above), during "Memory Eternal," then returning to conclude before the Coffin, where he finally gives up the Censer.

Bishop Tikhon

Burial of Priests


The body of a dead priest is washed by three priests, who wipe with the sponge in crosswise form, according to the pattern used at baptisms: forehead, eyes, ears, breast, hands and legs, and then he is wiped with pure oil.

After clothing him in all his usual clothing except the outer cassock (rason), they vest him in complete sacerdotal vestments.

When the body is laid on the prepared table, the face is covered with an aer; in the right hand is placed a cross, and the Gospel is read over him in the interval between panikhidas, until the time of the funeral.

The sacerdotal vestments in which the departed priest's body is clothed must be new ones, and not ones which have been used; his footwear (slippers) must also be new.

The aer which is placed over his face is not removed at burial. The Gospel which was read over him is placed in his hands at the time he is carried out and remains with him in the coffin.

Proceeding with the body

At the bringing of the body of a priest to the church and to the grave, banners, cross and Gospel are borne before the body and the funeral toll is rung, because this procession is a regular cross-procession. The coffin is halted in front of the temple and the funeral litiya is sung there.

After the litiya, when carrying the body of a departed priest, the Irmosi of the canon "Thou art my helper and protector" are sung (but from Pascha to Ascension, "Christ is risen").

In the Church the coffin is placed nearer the Ambo than that of a lay person, and around the coffin without exception there are placed four candle-stands on the four sides.

The body of a dead priest must be born by priests, if there're enough of them.

The order of the ritual

The burial of a priest starts out at home just as does that of a lay person, with a litiya, but the dismissal is not prescribed--it is joined to the service of burial.

After "Blessed is our God", the Trisagion is sung and the introductory prayers are read.

After the exclamation at "Our Father", the troparia of the litiya, "With the spirits of the righteous", are sung, and there is a litany for the departed, upon which the priests pick up the body and proceed to the temple.

In the church the "Undefileds" are sung in three stases, and after them the troparion, "Give rest, O our Savior, unto Thy servant", as at the burial of lay-person, but immediately after this troparion the "stepenny", hymns of degrees, are read, then epistle and Gospel.

The presiding priest reads the first Gospel, then he also reads the first prayer, which follows it; the succeeding Gospels and prayers are read by the rest of the priests in order.

The Psalms which come between the Gospels are read separated into verses, and "alleluia" is sung in between the verses. (All the readings at a priest's funeral are done by priests--stepenny, Unclefileds, beatitudes--and not by the lower clergy.)

After the 4th Gospel the Beatitudes are read, with their troparia.

After the 5th Gospel Psalm 50 is read and the canon in tone six: "The cruel tyrant" is sung, and after the 6th and 9th odes the little litany for the departed is intoned.

After the 6th ode, after the Kontakion, "With the saints..." the 24 _lkosi_ are read, usually by the presiding priest; after each one of them the singers sing "alleluia." After they've all been read the Kontakion is sung again, and the canon is continued.

After the 9th ode and after the litany, the Exapostilarion is read with verses, and the verses on the Praises, the Great Doxology, and Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin are sung, followed by the reading or singing of the Aposticha: 24 stanzas divided into groups of three stanzas, each in one of the eight tones.

Then, after the Trisagion, the troparia of the litiya are sung, then the litany, at which the prayer "O God of spirits" is read out loud, and, after the exclamation, the verses of the last kiss, as at the funeral of a lay person, are read. After the kissing, the prayer of absolution is read, then laid in the right hand of the departed, and his body is then born to the grave, nowadays after the dismissal and the intoning of "memory eternal."


While the body is being carried to the grave, the canon, "A helper and protector" is sung again (but from Pascha to Ascension, "Christ is risen.") When the body arrives at the grave-site, the Trisagion is read, then troparia of the litiya, litany for the departed and the dismissal. Oil is also poured, if the departed was anointed, and then the body is given to the earth as is a lay person's.

[1] The Hours are "services of the narthex." When served in the Nave, the curtain and doors remain closed, except here, when the censing for Divine Liturgy begins. While the custom is widespread of opening them at the beginning of the Hours before Liturgy, that is, if not a mistake, not the best usage, nor is it consistent with the Ordo.

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