Hamilton, NJ – St. George Greek Orthodox Church was consecrated on Sunday. Led by His Eminence, Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey, parishioners, guests and media witnessed customs rarely seen in Orthodox churches. The day concluded with a formal celebration, series of speeches, dinner, and dancing at the Merion in Cinnaminson, NJ.
When a church is consecrated, its altar is entombed with holy relics of saints and is anointed with Holy Myron. The ceremony of consecration also contains a procession around the building and a ceremonial opening of its doors by the bishop. The doors, walls, columns, and icons are also anointed by the bishop.The Consecration should not be confused with the blessing of the building and the church’s formal opening for worship.
Service of the Consecration of a Church
What is salvation for an Orthodox Christian? For an Orthodox Christian, salvation is union with Christ. This union with Christ is called the “Life in Christ”. The center of this “Life in Christ” is the Holy Altar, as well as the services which are related to it, i.e. the Seven Sacraments. Because the Holy Altar is so important in the life of an Orthodox Christian, the service of Consecration centers around the Holy Altar Table. In simple terms, the Consecration Service is the Baptism and Chrismation of the Church.
Before the Consecration Service begins, all Articles on the Altar Table are removed, and the Altar is left uncovered with nothing on it. When the Bishop enters the Church he will bring with him the relics of three Saints. These relics will be placed on a Paten (Diskarion), which will remain on the Altar Table overnight, together with a Vigil Light.
Introductory Services and Vespers
The Consecration of the Church begins on the Eve of the celebration with a short Prayer Service honoring the memory of Martyrs. The Vespers, a very joyous celebration follows, and many Priests participate in it to share in the joy of the coming event.
On Sunday Morning the order of services is Matins (Morning Prayer), the Consecration Service and the first Divine Liturgy in the newly consecrated Church.
The Orthros is a morning service held prior to the Divine Liturgy. It begins with the reading of the six Psalms (3, 37, 62, 87,102,142) and ends with the Great Doxology. During Orthros, resurrection and consecration hymns are sung. The Priest will also celebrate part of the Proskomidi Service (preparing the Gifts which will be used during the Divine Liturgy). At the appointed time the Bishop will enter the Church and will put on his vestments (Ceremonial Robes). At the end of Orthros, the Bishop will begin the Service of Consecration.
The Consecration Service
What exactly takes place during the Consecration? The Consecration is a special service which “changes” an ordinary building into the House of God. This change takes place through the Grace of God and the Holy Spirit. Many symbolic actions take place such as:
- The Three Processions around the Church Building.
- The Placing of, and Sealing of, the Holy Relics in the Altar Table.
- The Washing and Anointing of the Altar Table.
- The Placing of the new Altar Coverings and other Holy Articles on the Holy Table.
- The Lighting of the Vigil Light.