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Church

On the Occasion of the Consecration of the St. Nicholas Shrine – How the Consecration of a Church Is Done

The consecration of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at the World Trade Center in Manhattan, where three thousand innocent people were ‘martyred’ in the inhumane terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, coincides with two events of historic and essential meaning for the Church and the Greek-American community: The 46th Clergy-Laity Congress of the Archdiocese as well as the Centennial anniversary of its establishment.

The Service of Consecration is the par excellence Blessing “of the House of God” in which the sacraments are celebrated, the most fundamental of which is the Holy Eucharist during the Divine Liturgy. The Liturgy is the act of prayer par excellence of the Church. It known as “the common work” of the faithful from ‘λείτος’ in Greek, meaning common and ‘έργον’, meaning work. Thus, the Liturgy is the common work of all of us and not only the bishops and the priests.

The church nave (Ναός) is not an ordinary building but a place or locus which is transformed into a place and way of worship and doxology of God.

The Consecration is a celebration of faith and thanksgiving, and Heaven and Earth rejoice every time a new nave is consecrated and dedicated to the worship of God. And this consecration and blessing has a dynamic of totality because all of Nature is the source of the elements used for the construction of the nave.

The prominent iconographer priest-monk Luke of the Holy Monastery of Xenophontos of Mount Athos painting the icon of ‘The Extreme Humility of Christ’. (Photo: Andrew Veniopoulos)

In the case of St. Nicholas, the church will also be a Pan-American and Universal Shrine. Of course, mainly and basically, it will be an Orthodox nave for the worship of the Living God as all Orthodox naves everywhere are places in which the name of God is glorified and the faithful people gather and become a Church.

At the same time, it will be a holy and historic point of reference for the entire American Nation because it will be a constant reminder that it is built on sacred ground, where tears flow over the blood of three thousand ‘neo-martyrs’ was shed, people who left their homes in the morning to go to work to provide for their families and never returned.

The Organization The Friends of St. Nicholas made history. They undertook the great and serious responsibility of finishing St. Nicholas after twenty years of delays and problems which had become an unfortunate embarrassment for our Church and Community.

Below we have included an extensive and detailed article taken from OrthodoxWiki, a free-content encyclopedia and information center for Orthodox Christianity, about the consecration or dedication of an Orthodox nave:

“The Consecration of a church (Eγκαίνια Ναού) is the service of sanctification and solemn dedication of a building for use as a church. The consecration of a church is a complex service that is filled with profound symbolism. Many biblical elements are taken from the Old Testament: the Consecration of the Tabernacle (Exodus 40) and of the Temple of Solomon (1 Kings 8; 2 Chronicles 5-7).

A portion of the iconography inside the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine. (Photo: Andrew Veniopoulos)

Background

Once a building has been consecrated as a church it may not be used again for a secular purpose. Before construction of a new building as a church, the local diocesan bishop must bless the endeavor. Before construction begins, the bishop lays a foundation stone that may or may not contain relics of a saint. After construction of the new church has been completed the building can be consecrated.

The consecration is usually performed by the diocesan bishop, but if he is unable to perform the consecration he may ask another bishop, archimandrite, or possibly a senior priest to perform the service on his behalf.

While the consecration encompasses the whole church, the ceremony centers around the holy altar and holy altar table in particular. As salvation for an Orthodox Christian is union with Christ, called the Life in Christ, the center of this Life in Christ is the holy altar – the consecration of a church is, in effect, the baptism and chrismation of the church.

Preparations

In preparation for the consecration, the altar table is cleared, leaving it uncovered with nothing on it. The consecration begins with the celebration of an All-Night Vigil on the eve of the consecration service. At this time all the materials needed for the Consecration service are assembled.

Consecration

On the day of the consecration, the service begins with the blessing of a quantity of water by an appointed priest. Matins (Orthros), a morning service, may be held using a covered table before the Royal Doors set with a candle, the ‘diskos’ and ‘asterisk’, and a cover for the ‘diskos’ where, upon his arrival, the bishop places the holy relics.

Priest-monk Luke is painting in the interior of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine. (Photo: Andrew Veniopoulos)

Processions

The service begins with reading of Psalm 143, followed by the reciting of petitions and prayers. The people and singers, led by the bishop, who carries the covered ‘diskos’ on which the holy relics have been placed, and priests, make a procession around the church three times, reminiscent of the three processions around the font during a baptism. Each time the procession reaches the front of the church, the bishop places the ‘diskos’ with the holy relics on a table placed there and reads from the Holy Scriptures.

After the third procession is completed, the bishop chants a dialogue from Psalm 24 as he enters the church; this represents Christ the King entering and taking over the building by defeating the power of the devil. After the dialogue is completed the bishop, holding the ‘diskos’ on which are the holy relics, makes the sign of the cross and enters the church.

From the Thyranixia Service of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in November of 2021. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

Sealing of the holy relics

In the early days of Christianity when the Church was heavily persecuted, Christians met in underground burial places where they celebrated the Eucharist on the graves of martyred saints. After the Church was recognized by the Roman state, this custom was continued by placing relics inside the altar table during the consecration of the church. This is a reminder that the Church was built on the blood of the martyrs and their faith in the Lord.

After the bishop has entered the church, he continues into the altar. In the altar he places the ‘diskos’ on the altar table. There he removes the relics and places them in a small box. The bishop then pours holy chrism over the relics, symbolizing the union between our Lord and his martyrs. With prayers and the reading of Psalm 145, the bishop then places the box with the relics in a cavity in the altar table where it is sealed in with a wax/mastic that contains fragrant spices reminiscent of those used by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus to anoint our Lord’s body before his burial. In this, the holy altar represents Christ’s tomb.

Washing and anointing the altar table

After placing the relics in the altar table (disposition), the bishop proceeds to the washing and anointing of the altar table. For this purpose the bishop is vested in a special white linen garment over his vestments called a ‘sratchitza’ or ‘savanon’. The baptism of the altar table begins with the prayer of consecration by the bishop, followed by petitions by the deacon. The bishop then is given a basin of water and, with a blessing and prayer, pours water over the table three times and washes it while Psalm 84 is read. Symbolizing baptism, the table is cleaned by washing and made holy by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

After the table is dried, the bishop sprinkles rosewater on it and continues reading Psalm 51. The assisting priests then dry the table with the ‘antimins’. Having anointed the table with chrism, once in the center and on each side, the bishop proceeds to spread the chrism over all of the table while reciting a section of Psalm 133. The excess chrism is wiped off by the priests with the ‘antimins’, and icons of the four Evangelists are fastened, one at each corner, to the altar table.

Vesting the altar table

While Psalm 132 is read, a white linen cloth, representing the Lord’s burial shroud, is laid over the altar table. The cloth, called the ‘katasarkion’ (κατασάρκιον), is tied on the table with a cord that represents the cord with which our Lord’s hands were tied when he stood before the high priests. The ‘katasarkion’ is permanently installed, to remain as long as the church stands. After washing his hands, the bishop now covers the altar table with a more ornate cover, the ‘endyton’, that symbolizes the glory of God and places the other holy articles, including the ‘intimins’, Gospel Book, the ‘artophorion’, and candle sticks, on the altar table, as the reader reads Psalm 93.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew delivering his homily during the Thyranixia Service of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in November of 2021. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

Anointing the church and conclusion

After the altar has been consecrated, sanctified, and adorned, the entire church is censed while Psalm 26 is read. Then, the bishop anoints with holy chrism the four walls of the church and holy icons, making the sign of the cross on each with the chrism. The bishop then offers prayers for the altar, church, and faithful and places a lighted vigil lamp on the altar table. As the consecration service comes to an end, the bishop removes the ‘sratchitza’ he is wearing and may offer it to be cut up into small pieces that are given to each person in church. Concluding prayers are then offered and the consecration service is dismissed before the first Divine Liturgy is celebrated in the newly consecrated church.”

Source

The Rite of Consecration of a Church, St Mark Orthodox Church, Bethesda, Maryland, June 13, 1982.

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