The meeting of the bishop does not happen very often in the life of any parish, and there are some remote parishes that have never been visited by a bishop. A visit by an archpastor to his flock can be an important event in the parish and contribute to the revival of church life. This article is intended to shed light upon the meeting of the bishop in its historical and liturgical evolution, as an important element in pastoral visits to local parish communities and the celebration of the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
The Inception of the Ceremonial Meeting
Prior to the 14th century, bishops, according to the Byzantine tradition, were dressed in their chambers, or in the sacristy (which at the time was a separate building for storage of sacred vessels), and entered the church in full attire, met by deacons with censers. The solemn procession of the bishop was accompanied by clerics on major holidays, and even by military officers in Constantinople, because the emperor also entered the temple along with the bishop of New Rome. The entrance of the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Emperor into the Church formed the Little Entrance, and that is why they exclaimed Many Years to the ruling dynasty of the Basileus at the Liturgies of the Byzantine type shortly after the Little Entrance and the recitation of troparia of the feast, which was reflected in the singing O Lord Save the Pious, preserved as a rudiment in the Orthodox divine service (Sergius A. Golubtsov. 150-152).
After the iconoclastic period, three antiphons were made an obligatory initial part of the Liturgy. This led to the bishops coming before antiphons and listening to them in the narthex in the 11th-12th centuries, and then entering the church and the altar during the Little Entrance (Mateos. Célébration. P. 34-44). Following the widespread adoption of the Jerusalem Typicon by the Churches in the 13th century, the custom of clergy putting on their vestments in a diaconicon, that is, the room in the altar where the garments and vessels are kept, rather than in a separate building, was established, while the bishop began putting on his clothes on his throne in the narthex. This practice is reflected in many Greek sources (e. g., Diataxis of Demetrios Gemistos, the deacon and protonotarius of Hagia Sophia, 14th century).
The meeting of a bishop, and consequently, the rite of the bishop’s entrance prayers, is fairly straightforward in the Greek tradition. A bishop comes to the church prior to Matins. As soon as he puts on his mantle, the clerics who have waited for him in the narthex approach him to receive his blessing. The procession marches into the nave. The bishop lights a candle by the icon of the holiday, and then, standing in the middle of the church and making a bow, blesses the four ends of the world with a sign of the cross. Matins starts after the bishop takes his place on the cathedra and blesses the clergy one more time. Entrance prayers are said during the Lauds, that is, shortly before the beginning of the Liturgy, and the bishop is dressed in the sanctuary. The bishop is dressed in the nave only on the most solemn church feasts, in which case entrance prayers are read after the Great Doxology (Χριστόδουλος (Παρασκευαΐδης), ἀρχιεπ. 2000).
The Russian Practice
The Russian tradition of meeting a bishop was a lot more solemn and sophisticated than the Greek one. The bishop was first met by lamp-carriers and the choir at the porch of his house, and accompanied to the church. On major holidays, the bishop was accompanied by priests and the patriarch by state officials. When the bishop went out to his porch, he blessed the singers with the words “Praise ye the LORD. Praise, O ye servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD,” to which they replied “Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and for evermore” (Psalm 113:1-2). Next, they sang the sticheron of the feast, usually the one after the Glory, so the solemn procession of the bishop, as opposed to the simpler one, was called “a march with glory”. On his way to the church, the hierarch was to read the first part of the entrance prayers, consisting of the prayers entitled “While the Bells Chime” and “When Going to Church”, and at the church door he made the usual opening and read Psalm 51 (Have mercy upon me, O God); Psalm 15 (Lord, who shall abide), Psalm 23 (The LORD is my shepherd), and several troparia (Alexei A. Dmitrievsky. 1884. P. 69-70).
When the bishop entered the church, he stood in front of the Royal Door and recited the second part of the entrance prayers, which consisted of many troparia. Having kissed the icons and recited the prayer Lord send thy hand down, the archpastor would walk into the altar and, having venerated and kissed the Cross and the Gospel, he would bless the clergy with the cross, after which he would be dressed either at the holy place or in the center of the temple depending on the degree of the celebration (historian Sergius A. Golubtsov). Under Patriarch Nikon, the ritual of meeting the bishop was simplified and reformed as a result of Greek influence. In particular, many prayers were eliminated, and the entrance of the bishop to the altar was only after the Little Entrance.
According to the Archieratikon, clerics are waiting for the bishop in the narthex in full attire while the bells are ringing. A junior priest has a cross on a platter, and deacons are waiting with censers. The recitation of It Is Truly Meet at the bishop’s entrance to the temple is an echo of an ancient custom, which used to be the dismissal of the first part of the entrance prayers recited on the way to the church. The bishop blesses the clergy with a cross, then everyone enters the temple to read the entrance prayers, after which the hierarch blesses the people from the ambo and ascends the bishop’s ambo for putting on his vestments. The distinctive feature of the Russian tradition is that while the bishop is being dressed in his cathedra in the center of the church, deacons are censing him from the soleas and loudly recite prayers for the clothing of the bishop. For a variety of reasons, bishops can permit the celebration of a Liturgy without a solemn meeting ceremony.