Reading in Church

Since the earliest days of the Christian Church, the books of the Old Testament have been read during church services, and when the books of the New Testament were compiled, these were read also:

The Gospel is ordinarily read by a bishop priest or deacon, while the reading of the Old Testament and the remainder of the New Testament is ordinarily given to readers: members of the community who are specially skilled in reading, chanting, or singing the words of the Church's books so that they can heard and understood by all those present.

What is read?

The bulk of what is read in Church is precisely the scriptural books of the Old and New Testaments, according to an order (called a lectionary) developed by each particular Church as part of its liturgical heritage. In early times, the Scriptures were sometimes read continuously - that is, the same book would be read, in order, over several consecutive meetings, and commented upon by the Church's teachers (bishops or priests). Over time, particular sections of each biblical book were assigned to services throughout the liturgical year. These sections are sometimes called pericopes.

Lectionary of the Byzantine Rite

A smaller number of non-Scriptural texts are sometimes read in church as well:

Often, the readings were originally part of the monastic tradition, and passed into general use.

How is reading done?

The Gospel is read from the solea, before the holy doors of the sanctuary, facing the people, while other readings are chanted from the middle of the church, in the nave. Wherever possible, reading is done from the appropriate liturgical book (such as a Gospel book or Apostol) rather than a booklet, loose papers, or Bible. These liturgical books contain all the readings for the liturgical year, as well as readings for special occasions such as the celebration of the Holy Mysteries and other occasional services.

Although we use the term "read" and "reading", it is rare that the Scriptures are read liturgically in an ordinary speaking voice; instead, they are chanted or sung, using melodies that are part of each Church's tradition. In our church, the prostopinije reading melody is used for most readings, while the psalms are chanted recto tono or to a psalm tone.

Preparation is vital for church reading. Readers should study the Scriptures in order to correctly understand them and be able to read them clearly and well, pronouncing each word correctly and making sense of the entire reading.

Becoming a reader

The Church needs individuals willing to learn and apply the techniques of proclaiming the Scriptures so that they can be heard and internalized by the faithful. This requires Scriptural study, musical knowledge, and preparation before services.

At times, cantors have served as readers for the same service, but this is not ideal, since the cantor sings from among the congregation, and the people are expected to sing with him or her, while the reader is a soloist in the assembly.

Anyone who is interested in becoming a church reader should consider taking the following courses in the MCI program:

Two hour-long videos can also be found on the Archived Classes page, along with corresponding handouts.