HOW TO: Reader's Service
Updated: Jun 4, 2020
The Kyivan Church, which is the church we are in, has a tradition of reader's services. Reader's services are services that can be done without clergy. All services in the life of the church, including the Sunday communion service, can be done as reader's services. We developed these services because the Kyivan Church, unlike the imperial churches, has had the experience being colonized by other empires, sometimes even being forced underground.
In this time of COVID-19, it might be a good idea to put this tradition of reader's services into practice. Amidst all the debate about social distancing and communion, perhaps what has been lost, in my observation, is that reader's services are not really a 'last resort option' in the life and history of our church, but fairly standard as far as what we have done as a colonized church over the centuries.
What I am detailing here below are what I've learned about how to practice reader's services. Inevitably, the Orthodox way is to privilege local practice. Thus, some of my suggestions (they are not instructions; that is not the Orthodox way) may be idiosyncratic to me. If you are reading this from another apostolic rite that is not Byzantine or from a Protestant background, feel free to adapt, as I think the principles are more important than the mechanics. As Bishop Benedict of Chicago once said, this is what we mean when we say we are a Catholic church: our experience is particular, but it is also universal. Also, someone may ask about whether parts of the services are gendered, whether some parts should be done by men and others by women. But the Holy Apostle Paul says that in Christ there is neither male nor female, and ours is an apostolic church.
HOW TO: Reader's Service
If you can, pray before the icons. If you are reading this on any device, that means that you can also get icons. Use Google Image. All you need is one icon, as all icons are ultimately icons of Christ, who shines with Uncreated Light. Also, you should probably pray facing east. I face liturgical east.
Anything you would need a priest to say gets the words Through the prayers of our holy mothers and fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us, amen either added to it or substituted altogether. For example, a reader does not say 'Blessed be the kingdom...' at the beginning of a service or 'For yours is the kingdom...' at the end of the Lord's Prayer. In those cases, substitute Through the prayers of our holy mothers and fathers, the principle being that though you are not ordained clergy, they stand before the face of Uncreated Light and mediate our prayers as if as an icon screen.
All litanies are removed and substituted with three Lord, have mercy. Anything that is an insistent litany that typically requires three 'Lord have mercy' responses now becomes twelve. Anything twelve becomes forty. For a lytia, I do 100.
If I do forty Lord have mercy, I use the Greek chant, here sung by our monastics at Univ. It's fancy, but it breaks up the monotony for me with some excitement. I am not above the need to get excited about fanciness. I am a weak human being.
You can sing in tones if you know them. But musical ability is not required to be a Christian, especially not when you are doing a reader's service. You can chant everything straight, or just read. But if you want a musical challenge or want to learn the tones, now's your chance -- and you can do it without other people judging! If you're into fancy music but don't have access to books, you can use Podoben or Unmercenary Sacred Music. If it's too hard, don't bother.
All Scripture readings should be read in a normal voice, not chanted.
When ending a service, I substitute Give the blessing with O Lord, bless, and then I use the formula from the Jordanville Prayer Book from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia for the final blessing: O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, for the sake of the prayers of Thy most pure Mother, our holy and God-bearing mothers and fathers [I insert: patron saints, patrons of temple, saints being commemorated that day, any other relevant saint], and all the saints, have mercy on us. Amen.
You probably should not be giving yourself communion, but I have heard from Byzantine Rite liturgists that monastics have used special tools do give themselves presanctified gifts before. I don't use this, as I don't have said objects. But if our church were to collectively discern the broader use of this, I'd be happy to be provided with such things. But I don't want to be part of the discernment process. I have a job and a family.
I use the books they print at St Elias Brampton, collated by Fr Roman Galadza, with the above adjustments. You can also find all the services transfigured into reader's services at St Jonah's, but keep in mind they are the full service, and you might not have all the time in the world. You can also find propers for moveable parts at St Sergius. If it's standard eight-tone stuff, you want the Octoechos. If it's something special to a saint, you want the Menaion. If it's something for the Fast, you want the Triodion, and if it's Pascha and after, you want the Pentecostarion. Just click through, figure out what you need, leave the rest.
The principle is that our services are living prayers, so what's appropriate in a monastic context might not be for a person who has secular commitments in the modern world. The Orthodox word to put into practice is oikonomia, to do what is best for your own household management because the whole church is also the house of God that requires the wise stewardship of prayer. Sometimes, for example, when I have to meet deadlines because I am an actual working person with a real job outside the church that is both fulfilling and stressful, I'll just do the readings from some services quietly. In my weekly practice, I'd say that if I am doing Vespers at some point on Saturday night and Typika on Sunday morning, it's a good week. Your practice will probably be different.
For the abbreviated Divine Liturgy that is called Typika, the Archeparchy of Winnipeg has a pdf. It's so similar to the booklet I have from my home temple in Richmond that I'd just say to use the online pdf.
I think that's all. You can use these pointers for Vespers (daily or great), Matins (daily or Sunday), All-Night Vigil, Typika, akathists, molebens, funeral services, and all the rest. If we have a service in our church, then we have a reader's version too, because as our Patriarch once said, we need nobody to give us permission to exist, except the Holy Spirit. I might be back with more suggestions from experience later, but these, I think, are the basics. Pray well. Be economic. Stay healthy.