My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
SERVICE OF THE CONSECRATION OF AN ORTHODOX CHURCH: THE DEPOSITION OF THE HOLY RELICS
The Bishop enters the Sanctuary, carrying the Paten with the Holy Relics. Uncovering the Paten, he places the Holy Relics in a small gold box. He then pours Holy Chrism over the Relics; this act symbolizes the union between our Lord, and His Martyrs. Having done this the Bishop prays for the founders of the Church who have fallen asleep (died).
The Bishop: Eternal be the memory of the builders of this Holy Church.
Congregation: Eternal be their memory.
[In the early years of Christianity the Church was not allowed to exist; for many years the early Christians were persecuted and killed for their faith in Christ. In those days, the Christians met in underground burial places and celebrated the Eucharist on the graves of the martyred Saints. When the persecutions ended, and the Church was allowed to exist, the tradition of celebrating the Divine Eucharist over the graves of Martyrs continued by placing Holy Relics in the Altar at the time of the Consecration. In this manner, we are always reminded that the Church was built on the Blood of the Martyrs and their faith in the Lord.]
Since the Consecration centers around the Holy Altar Table (for it represents the center of all Mysteries (Sacraments) and services of the Church), the Bishop asks God's help to accomplish the service:
Deacon: Let us pray to the Lord.
Choir: Kyrie eleison
The Bishop: O Lord our God, Who hast bestowed upon the holy Martyrs which suffered for Thy sake this glory also, that their relics should be sown in all the earth, in Thy holy churches, and should bring forth fruits of healing: Do Thou, the Same Master, Who art the giver of all good things, through the intercession of the Saints whose relics Thou has graciously permitted to be placed in This Thy venerable Altar, enable us without condemnation to offer unto Thee thereon the bloodless sacrifice: And grant us all those petitions which are unto salvation, vouchsafing also to the relics therein of those who have suffered for Thy Holy Name, that they may work miracles into our salvation.
For Thine art the Kingdom and the power and the glory, of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
There follows a shorter prayer in which the Bishop once again asks for God's Blessings and
Deacon: Let us pray to the Lord.
Cantors: Kyrie eleison
The Bishop: O Lord, God our Savior, Who createst all things and makest the race of man for salvation, accept the prayer of us, Thine unworthy servants; and enable us at this present hour without condemnation to accomplish the consecration of this Church, founded to Thy praise in the name of (Church's Name) and to consumate the building therein of an Altar.
For unto Thee are due all glory, honor and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the
Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.
[Following these two prayers the Bishop places the gold box containing the Holy relics into a special cavity (crypt) in the altar. In order to seal them permanently the Bishop pours wax/mastic over them. The wax/mastic contains many sweet smelling and fragrant spices, which were used by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus to anoint the Body of Christ in preparation for burial. The Holy Altar represents the Tomb in which our Lord's Body was placed. All of this takes place during the reading of Psalm 145.]
As the Bishop removes the excess wax/mastic, Psalm 23 is read. The Deposition (placing of the Holy Relics in the Altar Table) is now completed, and the Bishop prepares to wash and anoint the Altar Table.
The Holy Relics of the Saints That are Entombed in the Saint Andrew Altar Table
The Consecration of Saint Andrew was conducted by Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago of blessed memory on October 7, 1990.
The Holy Relics are of:
Saint Haralambos the Hieromartyr (February 10), Saint Kerykos the Martyr (July 15), and the Holy Fathers of Sinai and Raitho (January 14).
We are blessed also to have two portable Reliquaries that sit on top of the Altar Table: Saints John Chrysostom (November 13), Saint Vlassios the Holy Martyr (February 11), Saint Mark, Bishop of Ephesus (January 19), Saint Artemios the Great Martyr (October 20), Saint Antipas, Bishop of Pergamos (April 11), 614 Holy Martyrs of the Holy Monastery of Hotzeva and Saint Christophoros the Holy Martyr (May 9).
[Please note: The Consecration Service is of course much more involved, extremely memorable, and beautiful. For example there is after the Deposition of the Holy Relics the Washing of the Altar Table since the Altar Table represents the Tomb of Christ and His body lies therein. The Altar must undergo its own "Baptism" (washing) and "Chrismation" (anointing). Then there is the Anointing of the Altar Table. The Bishop sprinkles rosewater on the Altar Table as he recites: "Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop and I shall be clean: Thou shalt wash me and I shall be whiter then snow. Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness, that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice." Rosewater is a sweet smelling fragrance which was used to anoint the Body of Christ for burial. The Bishop continues the rest of Psalm 51 while the Altar Table is wiped dry by the assisting Priest. The Priests use Antimens to do this.
Then there is the Vesting of the Altar Table. The Altar Table isnow covered with the "Katasarkion". This white linen cloth represents the Lord's burial shroud. The Katasarkion is tied with a cord which represents the cord with which our Lord's hands were tied as He stood before the High Priests. The Katasarkion will never be removed and will remain on the Altar for as long as the Church remains standing. As the Katasarkion is being placed on the Altar, Psalm 132 is read by the chanter.
Then there is the Anointing of the Church itself.
Lighting of the Vigil Light
[During the service the Bishop invites the faithful to come forward and to offer a few drops of oil in a Vigil Light. This they do as an offering to the church. The Bishop will later light the Vigil Light and will place it on the Altar Table near or front of the Artoforion. This light will be kept burning at all times and is symbolic of the never failing Light of Christ which came into darkness of the world to be a Light to enlighten all people. The Bishop the removes the Savanon (shroud). The Savanon will be cut into small pieces and each person in church will receive a piece of it to keep as a "Phylakton" (a blessed object worn to help ward off evil).
At the end of the Consecration Service the church has now been Baptized, Chrismated, Sanctified, Consecrated, and dedicated to God for eternal use as an Orthodox Christian House of Worship. The first Divine Liturgy is then celebrated in the newly consecrated "House of the Lord."
Next time you enter a Consecrated Orthodox Church, remember that it is a Holy Place, a Holy Space, a Place of Prayer and Worship. Make sure that you show the proper reverence, respect, and piety. It absolutely matters how one behaves or conducts himself/herself inside the House of God. It matters how one dresses, how one sits, how one follows the divine service, how one participates in the Divine Liturgy or any of the Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church. The Orthodox Christian is not in the House of God to observe a performance by the priest or choir. The Orthodox Christian attends for the purpose of worshipping our Ever-Loving God and of receiving the Divine Eucharist through which we receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
Never but never disrespect the house of god whether there is a service taking place or not!
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" -- Saint John Chrysostomos
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God