A person who enters a church for the first time
has difficulty in finding an appropriate form of addressing people. Indeed how
should we call a person selling candles — " woman,"
"madam," "misses"? How should we address a priest —
"master," "mister," "comrade"? In fact it is
easy. Christians are one family in which all of us are related to each other.
Relatives do not have to observe ceremonies. "Brother" and
"sister" are the best forms of address to laymen. We are all the
children of one God and the descendents of Adam and Eve. "Father" is
the title for all the clergy who perform the mysteries through which people are
born to the spiritual life. Usually after the word father a name is added, for
example: "Father Peter." A deacon can be address with "Father deacon" and the Father Superior (of a monastery) can be
called "Father Superior."
We should not call our priests "holy
father" like in catholic countries. Whether a person is holy or not
becomes clear after his or her death. The wives of the clergy as well as old
women should be addressed with a kind word "matushka" (mother).
We should address archpriests: bishops,
archbishops and metropolitans with the word "Your Eminence" as they
are endowed with church power.
Sometimes we need to send a written message to a
priest. A priest should be addressed with "Your Reverence," bishops
and archpriests — "Your Grace," archbishops and metropolitans —
Sects that do not have priests rebuke the
Orthodox believers for allegedly violating the words of Christ: "And do
not call anyone on earth your "father," for you have one Father,
and he is in heaven" (Mathew 23:9). But it is clear that the word
"call" means "worship" in this context, otherwise the words
of the Lord can be turned into nonsense. As far back as in the 1st century John
the Theologian addressing Christians in his letters, referred to them as
"children." The response was obviously the respective one. The matter
here is not as much in the word as in the internal attitude to it. Deacon
Andrew Kuraiyev wrote well about it:
"Even the most convinced Baptist calls his
parent "father" and does not mind hearing his own son call him
"dad." This case is similar to that of an icon: we revere and worship
only one God. But we should and must respect those through whom we received the
gift of life.
We are used to see a priest standing on the
soleum proclaim: "May the Lord bless you" — and makes a sign of cross
over the parishioners. The old grannies put their hand together prayerfully and
for some reason press them to their chest in some unknown ritual. It is an
obvious misunderstanding of how one should treat the priest and what Father’s
blessing means. Every faithful person considers it necessary to ask for a
blessing when meeting a priest, but many do it incorrectly. There are naturally
no strict canons concerning that, but the traditions of the Church and simply
common sense prompt us how this should done.
Blessing has many meanings. The first one is a
greeting. Only those equal in church title can shake hands with a priest, all
the rest of us and even a deacon would receive a blessing from a priest. To do
it we should put our palms together placing the right one over the left so that
we can receive the blessing hand into our right hand and kiss the former
showing respect to the clerical title. There is nothing else to it! No mystical
meaning should be ascribed to the palms put together,
no grace is "descending" into them as some old ladies teach us. We
can get a priest’s blessing not only when he is dressed in the clergy garments,
but also when he is wearing civil clothes, not only in church, but also outside
or in some public place. But you should not approach an unknown priest for a
blessing outside the church.
In the same way every layman parts with a priest.
If there are several priests standing together and you want to receive
blessings from all of them, then you should first approach the priest of a
higher title. The second meaning of the blessing is acquiescence, permission
and parting counsel. Before carrying out some important and responsible task or
traveling or under some hard circumstances we can ask the priest for advice and
blessing, and kiss his hand.
Finally there is a blessing during the church
services. Saying "Peace be to all,"
"May the Lord’s blessing be upon you" and "the Grace of
our..." the priest makes the sign of cross over the praying people. In
response we bow our heads humbly without folding our hands — since we cannot
kiss the blessing hand at that moment. If the priest makes the sign of cross
with the sacred things: the Cross, the Gospel or the Chalice, we make the sign
of the cross first and then bow.
One should not approach a priest for blessing in
an inappropriate moment — when he is giving Communion, burning incense in the
church or anointing people. But we can do it after the Communion or at the end
of the Liturgy. One should not come up to the same priest for a blessing
several times a day. The word "Father, bless" should always sound
joyously for a layman, we should not turn them into a mumbled saying.
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