Thursday, June 16, 2022

What place for the heterodox in commemorations?

(Orthodox Life) - Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It has come to our attention that, as a result of the influence of renovationism and ecumenism on the Orthodox faithful in America, there are clergy that commemorate non-Orthodox Christians at services for the reposed and at the preparation for the Divine Liturgy, the Proskomedia. In an article posted on Ancient Faith Blogs, one justification for such an aberrant practice is that the liturgical manuals of the Holy Fathers on the subject are “…dusty and sometimes dubious tomes…” and thus need to be revisited with a more up to date interpretation. I have asked Fr John Boddecker, a professor in our Seminary, to comment.

+ Bishop Luke

Holy Trinity Monastery

Commemorations at the Divine Liturgy

By Priest John Boddecker

At the Divine liturgy, the Orthodox faithful regularly commemorate their living and departed loved ones by offering prosphora and submitting names to be read by the clergy in the altar at the time of the Proskomedia. During the Proskomedia, the priest will remove a particle from the prosphoron for each of the living or departed Orthodox Christians he has been asked to commemorate and place it on the diskos on which stands the Lamb, the bread which will be transformed into the Body of Christ, along with larger particles commemorating the Mother of God and the various ranks of saints in Heaven. The Holy Fathers have seen the diskos as an image of the Heavenly Kingdom and the Church where our Lord reigns with all His saints. Because of this, the Church has only ever included in her commemorations at the Proskomedia those who are fit to receive of the Holy Mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood and who may hope to have a share in the Heavenly Kingdom. Therefore, while we certainly must pray for our loved ones who are outside of the Church, during the Divine Liturgy we only commemorate the Orthodox living and departed.

Concerning this, our Father among the Saints, Symeon of Thessalonica, one of the greatest liturgical theologians of our Church’s Tradition, says the following: “There is no place here on the diskos for unbelievers, let alone for the heterodox. ‘For what communion does light have with darkness?’, since, Scripture says, the angels will separate out the evil from the midst of the just. Therefore it is also not at all right for a priest to make an offering for a heterodox or to make a commemoration of him; neither is he permitted to do so for those openly sinning and unrepentant. For the offering is to their condemnation, just as it is also for the unrepentant who receive communion of the awe-inspiring mysteries, as the divine Paul says.”

The particle of the one improperly commemorated at the Proskomedia before the Liturgy, by being placed in such close proximity to the Lamb, which will become Christ, and on the diskos, imaging the heavenly kingdom, is like that man who sought entry into the wedding feast of the Heavenly Bridegroom without the proper wedding garment and so was expelled. And not only this, but as St Symeon also points out, “the particle that is placed near the eucharistic Bread, when that becomes the Body of Christ in the course of the Liturgy, the particle too is immediately sanctified.  And when it is placed in the Chalice, it is united with the holy Blood.  That is why it transmits divine grace to the soul of the one for whom it is offered.  So a spiritual communion takes place between that person and Christ.  If the person commemorated is among the godly, or those who have sinned but then repented, that person receives the communion of the Holy Spirit invisibly in his soul.” Here again, we must keep in mind the warning of St Paul about the risks of improper reception of the Eucharist (I Corinthians 11:27–32) and recognize that it is not fitting that we should commemorate at the Proskomedia those who, either because they are outside of the Church or because they are living in unrepentant sin, would be unfit to receive from the Chalice themselves in the course of the Divine Liturgy, were they in attendance.


  1. Many US converts are torn because they want to pray for their reposed family members, most of whom are not Orthodox, but do not know the proper way. Obviously they cannot be commemorated at the proskomedia, but what about the trisagion prayers for the departed? I doubt such could be done by the priest, but perhaps by the person privately? What prayers, if any, is a priest allowed to offer for a non-Orthodox Christian who has reposed?

  2. Too bad ROCOR can't be as straightforwardly clear when it comes to the neo-Sergianism of today's Moscow Patriarchate, i.e., the weak-willed cooperation of the clergy with state-sponsored sin in the face of danger. It's understandably difficult for ROCOR to oppose Putin's kleptocratic, undemocratic police state while still lauding the aristocratic, undemocratic, domination of the Tsarist state. ROCOR never understood Sergianism was simply run-of-the-mill Orthodox servility to state power ("symphonia") applied to an atheistic state. (And to be fair, this accommodationism is a hallmark of all imperial Christianities, whether that of Rome, New Rome, Third Rome, the Protestant state churches in Europe, the petty wannabe theocrats of American Evangelicalism and trad-cath illiberals, etc.)

  3. "the Church has only ever included in her commemorations at the Proskomedia those who are fit to receive of the Holy Mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood and who may hope to have a share in the Heavenly Kingdom...."

    In the past I would have relied on ROCOR/Russian Church to get such factual statements at least correct - that I would have trust that they would be telling the truth as to what was "normative" at least for them in the last 500 years or so.

    However given their (recent and not so recent) overt willingness for self serving "canonical" interpretation/judgements, and this idealistic/passionate view of what they call "ecumenism", I don't trust them to really know what is normative even in their own (parochial) tradition, let alone the Tradition.

  4. Next we can only light candles while thinking of Orthodox family and friends because of the church is an image of the heavenly kingdom and a candle lit for a non-Orthodox person is like a demon attacking the heavenly incense burner and on and all of this pharisaism really of Christ? Would Christ really have refused to pray for someone in need, to help someone suffering, to die for a sinner?

  5. One may for whomever at any time. Liturgical commemorations are made for Orthodox Christians.

  6. I'm always loath to question the saints, but the citations of St Symeon of Thessalonica seem to overstate the image of the diskos and to offer limited applicability in our circumstances. It seems like quite a leap to have placement of a crumb on the diskos serving, in effect, as communion of the person represented. If we can do that, is there some way to baptize people "remotely" similar to what Mormons do? And, if this is true, how much damnation have I brought on myself for commemorating someone who isn't really worthy of it (i.e., unrepentant sinners, especially when I don't know that a person might have sins they're not repentant for)?

    I don't deliberately commemorate the the non-Orthodox by name at either the proskomide or the petitions of the litany according to the received practice. Yet I'm also certain that I have mistakes in this area for a wide variety of reasons. Add to that the difficulty of knowing whether to commemorate those on the Orthodox "periphery": those who are Orthodox but largely non-practicing or holding opinions contrary to the theological and moral dogma of the Church. Do I or don't I? Should I be testing these people more thoroughly? What if they're presented on a list given to me with the commemorative prosphora? Should I ask for documentation? This is what I mean by "circumstances," and I don't think it's at all clear how I'm supposed to manage this as a clergyman if I am to adopt a strict reading of St Symeon as normative.

  7. Are we to imagine that the earliest believers (and us) were warned never to pray for their families who weren't baptized? I'd like to see where/when this imagined Theology Of The Crumb is supposed to have taken the whole Church by storm. The whole liturgy of bread cutting, lancing, lineup on the diskos is one of the weirdest things going. It's a thing that somehow gets into the front of liturgy books before the actual liturgy and is a distraction. Also useful for clergy who can't think of any other way to teach their congregation and in a gesture of desperation do an "instructional" presentation of this strange rite in front of all. "This crumb is the Theotokos, it goes here...". It happens in front of an icon of the Nativity and the odd idea that the liturgy is some kind of mystical representation of the life of Christ is off and running.