The Consecration of Our Church
O Lord, I have loved the beauty of Thy house, and the place where Thy glory dwelleth.
The Church is the Kingdom of God both in heaven and on earth. As the communion of all the faithful with their Creator, our Lord Jesus Christ, it is that life for which God created us. The church building itself, of course, cannot contain God, yet it is rightly called His house, and it is the place where His glory dwells. It is the place where He meets us in the most wonderful way to instruct us, to strengthen us, to admonish us, and most gloriously to nourish us. It is the place from which He sends us to live the life He has given us: to live righteously and lovingly, to proclaim His truth with our lives, to grow in holiness, to love righteousness, to do mercy and to walk humbly with our God. It is truly the Holy of Holies. It is the point where heaven and earth meet. For this reason it is most important that we set this space aside, to offer it to God, and to receive it back from Him consecrated as “the temple of [His] holy glory” (from the Song of the Three Youths).
This offering of the church is called “consecration” or “renewal.” By renewal is meant the rebirth or remaking of something material and earthly into something spiritual and heavenly. The material and earthly nature is not given up, but it is imbued by the Holy Spirit with a power of holiness which provides a worthy place for the sanctification of His holy people. This sanctification by the Holy Spirit is consecration.
The consecration begins with the sanctification of the Holy Table, the Altar, on which the Bloodless Sacrifice will be offered. Our Holy Table is wooden with a stone top and a representation of the holy schema, the Cross with the spear and sponge on the front. After the clergy are fully vested in their sacred vestments, they wear over them special white aprons because they are able to engage in very special work. The Holy Table is then washed with warm water blessed by the metropolitan and wiped dry by the clergy. He then washes it with a mixture of red wine and rose water, recalling the blessing of the Holy of Holies by the high priest in the old covenant: “Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be made clean; Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow.” The clergy then wipe the Holy Table dry with sponges. These actions can be compared to Holy Baptism. The Holy Table is baptized. Then the Holy Chrism is brought, and the metropolitan anoints the Holy Table with it. This may be compared to Holy Chrismation.
At this point the metropolitan may bless a new antimension for the parish. “Antimension” means “instead of the table.” It is a cloth on which the Holy Eucharist is always celebrated. On it is an image of Christ in the tomb and in the center relics of a saint. At the bottom is the hierarch’s signature, authorizing the priest to celebrate the Holy Mysteries.
The temple itself is then sanctified with the blessing of holy water by a priest and with Holy Chrism by the metropolitan, on the four walls, first the east wall behind the Holy Table, then the west wall, then the south and finally the north wall. Thus the whole church is baptized and chrismated. It is reborn for the most holy of all holy purposes, the sanctification of all who heed the call of God to accept life in His Kingdom.
Then the iconostas is blessed by the metropolitan, ending with the words: “These icons are sanctified by the sprinkling of this holy water, in honor and glory of our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ, and in remembrance of His saints: in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Then the censing of the whole temple takes place as Psalm 25 is sung by the choir. We will hear the words: “O Lord, I have loved the beauty of Thy house, and the place where Thy glory dwelleth.” After several prayers by the metropolitan, a new candle is brought to him which he lights with his own hands and places in the high place (the space on the wall immediately behind the Holy Table, the place of Christ the Great High Priest). This is the first time a candle is lit in the newly consecrated altar.
We then form a procession with the holy relics which are to be placed in the newly consecrated Holy Table. The metropolitan himself carries the relics and priests carry the Holy Gospel and the icon of St Mary of Egypt and other holy items. When we reach the front doors of the church, the choir sings the troparia, “O Holy Martyrs” and “Glory to Thee, O Christ God”, the same that we sing at ordinations and weddings. The metropolitan and the choir then exchange the dialogue from Psalm 23, “Lift up your gates … and the King of Glory shall enter in” and “Who is this King of Glory?” … and finally the metropolitan says, “The Lord of hosts, He is the King of Glory”, and we enter the church. The relics are then placed in the Holy Table.
After some concluding prayers and the dismissal we then begin the first Divine Liturgy in the newly consecrated temple. This is a time of recommitment for all of us. We hope that we will be able to love and honor this holy temple with all our hearts. No idle word should be spoken here. The clergy will commit themselves to keeping holy silence in the Holy Altar, and it is right that the faithful make the same commitment for the rest of the temple. It is a place of holiness, righteousness, mercy, compassion, struggle, cleansing, forgiveness, strength, power from God, nourishment on the holy words of the Lord and life through His most precious Body and Blood. In it we work out our salvation in the fear of God, and from it we proclaim salvation to the world.