All Saints Church Reconsecration - 09/17/11

On Saturday, September 17, All Saints Church in Olyphant celebrated its reconsecration.  Five years after a devastating fire in 2006, the church has been restored, complete with new iconography, chandelier, altar, and carpeting.  His Grace, Bishop Tikhon, along with 20 clergy celebrated the consecration service and the Divine Liturgy.  To view more photos of the event, click here.

Summary of a Consecration Service
The Consecration of a church  (in Greek, thyranoixia; literally "opening of the doors") is the service of sanctification and solemn dedication of a building for use as a church. The consecration of a church is a complex service that is filled with profound symbolisms. Many biblical elements are taken from the Old Testament : the Consecration of the Tabernacle  (Exodus 40) and of the Temple of Solomon (1 Kings 8; 2 Chronicles 5-7).

In preparation for the consecration, the altar table is cleared, leaving it uncovered with nothing on it. The consecration begins with the celebration of an All Night Vigil on the eve of the consecration service. At this time all the materials needed for the Consecration service are assembled.

After the vesting of the Bishop and some initial prayers, the Bishop sprinkles the Altar with Holy Water.  Hot wax-mastic is then poured in several places on the top of the Altar which symbolizes its founding. The Bishop then reads this prayer:

O Lord God, our Savior, Who createst all things and makest the race of man for salvation: Do Thou accept the prayer of us, Thine unworthy servants, and enable us, at this present hour, to accomplish, without condemnation, the consecration of this church, constructed to Thy praise in the name of All Saints, and to consummate the raising up therein of a Holy Table.

Soon after, four dowels are blessed and pounded with stones into the columns of the Holy Table by the Bishop and clergy.  Facing the people, the Bishop then reads:

(excerpt) O God Who aret without beginning and eternal; Who from nothingness bringest all things into being; Who dwellest in the unappproachable light, and Who hast Heaven as a throne and the earth as a footstool; Who gavest unto Moses a command and a patern; and didst inspire Bez'alel with the spirit of wisdom, and didst enable ethem to complete the Tabernacle of Witness, wherein divine service and ordinances were appointed, as images and types of the true; Who gavest unto Solomon breadth and expanse of heart, and thereby raised up the Temple of old, and to Thy holy and all-praised Apostles, didst renew the service in the Spirit and the grace of the true Tabernacle; and through the same, O Lord of Hosts, Thou didst plant THy Holy Churches and Thine Altars in all the earth, wherein the Sacred and Bloodless Sacrifices may be offered unto Thee.

The bishop proceeds to the washing and anointing of the altar table. For this purpose the bishop is vested in a special white linen garment over his vestments called a sratchiza or savanon. The baptism of the altar table begins with the prayer of consecration by the bishop, followed by petitions by the deacon . The bishop then is given a basin of water and, with a blessing and prayer, pours the water over the table three times and washes it while Psalm 84 is read. Symbolizing baptism, the table is cleaned by washing and made holy by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

After the table is dried, the bishop sprinkles rosewater on it and continues reading Psalm 51. The assisting priests then dry the table with the antimins . Having anointed the table with chrism, once in the center and on each side, the bishop proceeds to spread the chrism over all the table while reciting a section of Psalm 133. The excess chrism is wiped off by the priests with the antimins, and icons  of the four Evangelists are fastened, one at each corner, to the altar table. 

In the early days of Christianity when the Church was heavily persecuted, the Christians met in underground burial places where they celebrated the Eucharist on the graves of martyred  saints. After the Church was recognized this custom was continued by placing relics in the altar table during the consecration of the church. This is a reminder that the Church was built on the blood of the martyrs and their faith in the Lord.

After the bishop has entered the church, he continues into the altar. In the altar he places the diskos on the altar table. There he removes the relics and places them in a small box. The bishop then pours holy chrism  over the relics, symbolizing the union between our Lord and his martyrs. With prayers and the reading of Psalm 145, the bishop then places the box with the relics in a cavity in the altar table where it is sealed in with a wax/mastic that contains fragrant spices as were used by Joseph of Arimathea  and Nicodemus  to anoint our Lord's body before his burial. In this, the holy altar represents Christ's tomb.

While Psalm 132 is read, a white linen cloth, representing the Lord's burial shroud, is laid over the altar table. The cloth, called the katasarkion , is tied on the table with a cord that represents the cord with which our Lord's hands were tied when he stood before the high priests. The katasarkion is permanently installed, to remain as long as the church stands. After washing his hands, the bishop now covers the altar table with a more ornate cover that symbolizes the glory of God and places the other holy articles, including the antimins, Gospel Book , the artophorion, and candle sticks, on the altar table, as the reader reads Psalm 93.

After the altar has been consecrated, sanctified, and adorned, the entire church is censed while Psalm 26 is read. Then, the bishop anoints with holy chrism the four walls of the church and holy icons, making the sign of the cross on each with the chrism. The bishop then offers prayers for the altar, church, and faithful and places a lighted vigil light on the altar table. As the consecration service comes to an end, the bishop removes the sratchitza he is wearing and may offer it to be cut up into small pieces that are given to each person in church. Concluding prayers are then offered and the consecration service is dismissed before the first Divine Liturgy is celebrated in the newly consecrated church.