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Educational Materials for Clergy, Readers, Ecclesiarchs, Chanters and Choir Directors

Roles and Responsibilities of the Service Leaders:
The Ecclesiarch, Choir Director(s) and Reader(s)


• First and foremost, it is necessary that Service Leaders (the Ecclesiarch, Choir Director and Reader/s), and those who wish to serve in the altar, etc. should be exemplary members of the community, not living in sin or struggling with issues which are spiritually detrimental to the life and growth of the community. Parishioners will naturally look to us as examples of living the Christian life. Our actions and our attitudes can have a profound influence (a "ripple effect") on the spiritual direction and participation of the entire congregation. [As an example, we should remain in the church to hear the Post-Communion prayers and encourage others to do so as well; if we do not take the act of receiving the Eucharist seriously, the example that we set by ignoring the prayers will tacitly tell the rest of the congregation that it is not a spiritually important part of our Church life, nor is it even necessary to pray such prayers (and then it could even have the adverse effect of people neglecting to read their Pre-Communion Prayers, or to even fast or perform any level of spiritual preparation).]

• Of the greatest significance for all who serve in the Church, no matter their position or rank, is the spiritual state of those who wish to serve in the ministry of worship and leadership. One's service to the Church is not to be considered as a position of power or prestige, but as a public service, freely offered out of love for God, love for the community and its growth through spiritual enlightening, and love for the divine services. It is an earned privilege, and not an assumed right. Furthermore, since Service Leaders are offering a service of ministry, by tradition we should go to the priest a few minutes before the service starts and ask for his blessing to serve; Service Leaders, after their official installment, should wear a cassock or rasson (simple robe) appropriate to their office (if this applies).

• Furthermore, all who serve should be participating in frequent Confession of sins and partaking of the Eucharist. Those who have any spiritual struggles which are incompatible with serving God and the Church with a pure heart should abstain from serving until their problems can be corrected. Those who are not yet baptized into the Holy Orthodox Church (i.e. catechumens) may be given a blessing to help read and sing, at the discretion of the priest as encouragement to join the Faith, but this is the limit of their participation in the divine services, and is not considered the norm in Orthodox worship. (It should go without saying that those who are not Orthodox and are not even on the path of coming into the Holy Orthodox Faith should not be permitted to be a participant in the ministry of worship, for we do not condone the practice of Ecumenism.)


• Apart from the ordained clergy (the three-fold system of bishop, priest and deacon), Service Leaders are members of the laity and minor clergy (Readers and Subdeacons). Service Leaders perform specifically defined roles in the divine services, which for most parishes following the Byzantine Rite consist of the following:

The Ecclesiarch interprets the performance of the services according to the Typicon, requiring a significant amount of training in Liturgics and Chant, preferably at the seminary level. As a duty of his office, he should be completely familiar with the order of the services, either by studying the calendar and Typicon, and taking notes of the details of the upcoming service(s), or by downloading the daily rubrics from the jurisdictional web site and studying them to become acquainted with recurring liturgical patterns. He works closely with the priest to coordinate the scheduling of services and their smooth performance. Ideally, an Ecclesiarch should be an ordained Reader or Subdeacon, as he may need to periodically assist the priest in the altar, or enter the altar during the services to consult with the priest on liturgical matters, but someone may serve in this capacity with only a simple blessing. An Ecclesiarch typically leads all services which use a small number of chanters standing at the chant stand, as opposed to a full choir; these include Vespers, Orthros (Matins) until the Praises or Great Doxology, and some of the lesser services.

The Choir Director/s typically leads services which have a full choir, which may include Great Vespers, and from the Great Doxology of Orthros until the end of Liturgy. (The leadership of Great Vespers is often shared between the Ecclesiarch and the Choir Director.) In larger parishes, the use of two kliroi (choirs or chanter stands) on opposite sides of the nave is traditionally appointed for antiphonal singing (according to the Typicon). The role of Choir Director does not involve any formal ordination.

The Reader/s typically assist with the reading of psalms and prayers that are intended to be read during the services. While it is not necessary to be tonsured (ordained) to the position of Reader, it is desirable that each parish have at least one tonsured Reader, as he may be of service to the priest in the altar (as needed), and he should be entrusted to read the Epistle and liturgical homilies.

Monasteries and cathedrals may also have a Canonarch (a solo cantor, equivalent to a Subdeacon) for the performance of Prokeimena and other short responsorial dialogues, and a Psaltes/Psalmist (who typically reads the Kathismata of the Psalter and the Six Psalms).


• Just as the ranks of clergy must properly prepare themselves before serving, so too must the Service Leaders prepare themselves at home (or in church) before the services. The Choir Director (and Ecclesiarch) should obtain the appointed music from the appropriate chant books or from the jurisdictional web site, practicing and printing out copies as needed, and organizing materials in notebooks to avoid excessive switching of books during services. Likewise, the Reader(s) should identify the service texts that they will need to read at upcoming services, and practice them if necessary; the readings of the Prokeimenon, Epistle, Alleluia, Synaxarion, etc. should be all be identified before the service starts and bookmarked accordingly, so there is no confusion or disruption of the flow of the service. (Remember to check for the correct pronunciation of little-known saints' names and place names, so there is no stumbling over unfamiliar words during the readings.)

• It is a good idea for the priest and Ecclesiarch to have a monthly meeting to review the calendar, set a schedule of weekday services for notable feasts and saints, and to discuss the details of any services that require clarification; shortly afterwards, the Ecclesiarch should obtain and prepare all the texts and music needed for the upcoming month, and send copies of these materials to the Choir Director and Reader(s) as needed, to assist them in their preparations.

• It is essential for the Choir Director (and Ecclesiarch) to schedule rehearsals as needed, and (at least a week in advance) email PDFs of the music or texts to choir members for all new music, especially for upcoming Great Feasts and during the Lenten-Pentecostarion period. (If there are recordings on YouTube, etc., it is helpful to include links with the PDFs, so people can familiarize themselves with the music at home.)

• The Service Leaders should all be responsible for arriving to church in a timely manner to get set up, relax mentally, coordinate with the priest and other members of the kliros, delegate (or find volunteers) for the various readings, and assign parts to other singers in a manner that is fair and inclusive. Arriving late or after the service starts is sometimes unavoidable, but when doing so, please keep in mind that someone else may have already stepped into your role and made decisions regarding how the service will be performed, so please check with whoever is leading the service to determine what is going on; failure to arrive early and prepared, and to coordinate the distribution of parts of the service can result in people's feelings getting trampled on during the worship. Especially consider that arriving to church at the last second, propping your books up on the chant stand and assuming control of the choir without getting a blessing from the priest and consulting others who have already prepared a "backup plan" can be perceived as inconsiderate of others (and perhaps even a bit rude). A simple word of apology and some quick communication to determine the distribution of parts can go a long way to avoid hurt feelings. Please also keep in mind that in some parishes, it is the rule that if you arrive late for services and are not able to participate in the pre-service preparation, you should assume that you humbly forfeit your leadership of that service, or a portion thereof, in order to maintain good ecclesiastical order.

• If one is unable to attend a service, is important that Service Leaders attempt to find a substitute for one's role of leadership, or at least notify the priest or another kliros member who has sufficient skills and ability to assume leadership of the singing or reading. Simply not informing people of an absence leaves others at an unfair disadvantage.

• It is incumbent of the Service Leaders to demonstrate consistent attendance at church services, in good faith, and to take seriously one's role of leadership and its responsibilities. It is reasonable to take an occasional day off from serving, if one has a justifiable need to be elsewhere or if one is sick, but be mindful that Service Leaders have committed themselves to the role of ministry, and as such, excessive absences are detrimental to the spiritual health of the community. If one has plans for a vacation or travelling elsewhere to attend services, it is important to let the rest of the Service Leaders know in advance, so they may have a fair opportunity to cover your responsibilities; not informing the other Service Leaders of planned absences is unfair and inconsiderate.


• The Choir Director(s) should demonstrate decisive leadership of the choir by using clear hand signals to control tempo, volume and the assignment of parts. Rather than waving one's arms about like a modern conductor, one should develop a system that is modest (somewhat discreet) and not visually distracting to the rest of the congregation. However, not giving clear direction can result in the choir sounding sloppy and disorganized.

• The Choir Director (and Ecclesiarch) should provide a clear starting pitch to the singers slightly in advance of starting a hymn or a series of hymns, as well as maintaining the pitch from one verse to another (to provide a cohesive and aesthetic consistency of the hymns). In order to set a good pitch, the choir director or ecclesiarch needs to be familiar with their music ahead of time, and have a clear idea of the requirements of the music, including its lowest and highest pitches, in order to know how to give a starting pitch that will allow the entire piece of music to be sung in a comfortable vocal range. A habit of setting pitches that are too high or low will cause stress for both the choir to sing and for the congregation to listen to. It does take patient practice to develop a good sensitivity for setting pitches, often with much trial and error, but it must be done.

• In liturgical dialogue with the priest (and/or deacon), it is essential to either match their pitch or develop a solution for setting a pitch for the singers that is not dissonant or disruptive to the beauty of the service. When the priest or deacon recites a litany or other liturgical dialog in a pitch that is too high or low for the choir, establishing a pitch that is a fourth below or above the priest or deacon is often a successful solution. (Over time, we get to know the vocal patterns and habits of the clergy and can find solutions to make the dialog as clean and clear as possible.)


• As previously mentioned, it is essential for the Choir Director (and Ecclesiarch) to schedule rehearsals as needed, if the choir is expected to learn and grow in their abilities and skill level. Failing to provide rehearsals can result in stagnation for choir members, both in terms of their skills as well as what they personally get out of being choir members, and can breed a sense of apathy and boredom within the entire congregation. Singing the same melodies for every service, without regard for the diversity of service ranks, does not elevate the worship for festal celebrations or provide a more penitential mood for fasting periods. Always maintating the "status quo" by singing the same music without variation, or always trying to sing the simplest music (the "lowest common denominator") will also fail to draw new people to join the parish, or to inspire new people to join the choir. We must have enthusiasm and a desire to learn and grow. Remember that the attitude of the Choir Director will set the tone for how the rest of the choir thrives (or withers).

• It is important to know how to choose music that is not too simple and makes people feel unchallenged (or condescended to); on the other hand, it is equally as important to not choose musical setting which are too difficult for choir members to learn or sing, as it has the effect of intimidating those who are not able to participate. One must consider the vocal range and complexity of any piece, as well as its appropriateness for the service.

• It is obligatory for the Service Leaders to provide mentoring and one-on-one assistance as needed, upon request, as ours is a role of ministry to the parish. Rather than taking all the solo parts, a good mentor leads by drawing others into participation in the divine services, according to their skills. It is NOT a matter of delegating responsibility, but rather it is a gracious attempt to encourage and foster the participation of new or beginning choir members, to assess their talents, and to offer them a supportive environment and fair opportunities to attempt to sing portions of the service. – On the other hand, "hogging the chant stand" is not an admirable or gracious way to conduct the services, and while it sometimes is necessary to take firm charge (due to time constraints or because the chanter realizes that if they don't lead firmly, the service could become an embarrassing disaster), others can possibly perceive that your decisions to take most of the parts are done more out of arrogance than out of necessity. Please consider your decisions carefully in this regard.

• It is useful for Service Leaders to provide periodic education through classes and workshops as needed, as well as sending out internet links of recommended music or educational materials for the benefit, edification and instruction of kliros members. Likewise, if possible, it is useful for Service Leaders to attend annual Church Singing or Choir seminars, workshops, classes, and other educational programs. In addition to this, there are countless opportunities to increase one's education and skills by taking online courses at home, including watching many of the YouTube videos posted on the LINKS page, as well as studying the lessons provided on the EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES FOR CHANTERS page.