The information on this page is general information about the practicalities of certain special services, or services of need. It is current as of 31 August 2019 and applies to all services arranged on or after this date. It has been prepared to assist parishioners and friends to plan baptisms, weddings, funerals and other special services. If there are questions or if more detailed information about the form, history and meaning of such services is required, contact may be made with the parish rector through our contacts page.
In the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia children and adults are customarily received into Orthodoxy by the Holy Mysteries of Baptism and Chrismation.
If a child is to be baptised in our parish, at least one of the parents or godparents should be a practising Orthodox Christian known to the parish rector who intends to raise the child in the Orthodox Christian faith. If the parents or godparents are unknown to the parish rector they should be willing to meet with him at least three weeks before the service to discuss their responsibilities and the necessary arrangements.
Children are baptised on the understanding that their parents and godparents will attend, as the children grow, to their believing, behaving and belonging as Orthodox Christians. The family is encouraged to form an ongoing relationship with the parish and to involve itself in church life.
Adults wishing to be received into the Orthodox Church should begin by attending services and becoming involved in parish life. There is at this stage of parish life no fixed period or formal program of preparation for reception. The parish rector will, in consultation with the Diocesan Bishop, make a decision about the reception of each individual. Such decisions will be made with regard to each individual’s circumstances. In general, an adult convert will be received into Orthodoxy only when the parish rector is satisfied with regard to the faith and manner of life of the convert.
The Holy Mysteries of Baptism and Chrismation are generally performed in church during a special service that takes about 45 minutes. It is good for family and friends to be there to pray for the person being baptised. The service takes place in three parts:
The first part of the service includes prayers that the person who is to be baptised will be saved by God from the power of the devil, and given eternal life. The new Christian publicly declares that he has turned away from the devil, believed in Jesus Christ, and accepted Him as King and God;
The second part of the service includes prayers for the blessing of the water, asking God that it will be for the spiritual cleansing of the person to be baptised. The new Christian is then baptised and given a white robe (a sign of purity) and a Cross (a sign of God’s victory);
The third and final part of the service includes the anointing with Holy Chrism, readings from the New Testament, the cutting of a small amount of the hair of the newly baptised as a first offering to God, and prayers for his or her salvation.
At such services there must be at least two witnesses present in addition to the priest and the one being baptised.
A fixed order of service is used. A copy of the English-language text in Word format - also suitable for adaption as a booklet to be distributed to those attending the ceremony - is available upon request from the parish rector.
All adults seeking to be received into the Orthodox Church from another Christian confession or another religion must publicly repudiate their former beliefs and promise to be faithful sons and daughters of the Orthodox Church. It the case of converts from another Christian denomination, this renunciation replaces the first part of the service. In all other cases it precedes the service. The renunciation of erroneous or false beliefs follows an established form, the details of which are available from the parish rector upon request.
Children under the age of 16 will not be received into the Orthodox Church without the written permission of a parent or legal guardian.
In certain limited circumstances, a Christian from a non-Orthodox confession who has received full baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit may be received into the Orthodox Church by Chrismation alone. Such decisions are at the discretion of the Diocesan Bishop.
All those being received into the Orthodox Church must have at least one sponsor or godparent. The sponsor must be an Orthodox Christian and will preferably be of the same gender as the candidate for baptism. It is possible to have additional sponsors, all of which must have valid baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Baptism outside a mainstream Christian denomination is not considered valid.
Customarily, the sponsor(s) will provide a baptismal cross. Baptismal crosses should be of an Orthodox Christian style. Those unable to obtain such a cross should speak with the parish rector.
Baptism in the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia is by full immersion. In the case of babies and small children, the immersion will be done without any clothing. Older children and adults should have a new white t-shirt and shorts in which to be baptised.
In the Russian Orthodox Church it is customary to take an Orthodox Christian name at baptism. The name should be of a saint in the Orthodox calendar who is of the same gender as the candidate for baptism. The name should be one in common use.
On the day of the service candidates for baptism should arrive at church in their usual church clothes. Each candidate should have a new white towel for drying after immersion. After the first part of the service, babies and small children will be undressed and wrapped in the towel. Adults will change into their white t-shirt and shorts.
Once baptised, older children and adults will withdraw from the church, remove their wet clothing, and dress in the clothes that they wore to church. Babies and small children will be dried and dressed in baptismal clothes or a gown by their parents and godparents. Older children and adults will be vested in a white gown worn over their clothing. In preparation for Chrismation, clothing should remain unbuttoned at the neck and the feet should remain uncovered.
Prior to the service the parish rector will ask for information for the Baptismal Register. This includes the name and the date and place of birth of the one being baptised and details of his or her patron saint, together with the full names of his or her parents and sponsors. A form setting out this information can be downloaded here. Following the service, the parish rector will provide a Certificate of Baptism.
In our parish there are no charges for any Holy Mysteries. Those who wish to do so may make a donation. In such cases the donation should not be given to the parish rector, but placed in the donation box in church.
This information was comprehensively revised and updated on 9 December 2017 to reflect the commencement of amendments to the Australian Marriage Act 1961 and the adoption by the Bishops Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, on 2 December 2017, of the document ‘On the Canonical Aspects of Church Marriage’ (‘О канонических аспектах церковного брака’). Further changes were made on 11 April 2018 to reflect the commencement of the Marriage Regulations 2017 on 1 April 2018.
A man and a woman who meet the requirements of the both the Australian Marriage Act 1961 and the Marriage Regulations 2017 (the “legal requirements”) and of the Russian Orthodox Church (the “church requirements”) may be married in our parish. To avoid misunderstanding, confusion and disappointment, those desiring to be married in our parish should discuss both the legal and church requirements with the parish rector at the earliest opportunity. Some general information is set out below.
In Australia, most priests of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia are registered as ministers of religion for the purposes of the Marriage Act 1961 and the Marriage Regulations 2017. This means that in officiating at a marriage they may exercise both legal and church authority.
The legal requirements for marriage by a registered minister of religion in Australia are that:
- Notice of the intended marriage has been given to the relevant registered minister of religion – in this case, the parish rector or another canonical Orthodox priest participating in the service – within the required notice period;
- The registered minister of religion has been provided with documentation confirming the date and place of birth and the identity of the parties to the marriage, and evidence of the termination of any previous marriage;
- The couple is not in a prohibited relationship – this means a relationship between a person and an ancestor, descendent, brother or sister;
- Each party has made a declaration that there is no legal impediment to the marriage;
- The registered minister of religion is satisfied that the marriage will be valid, and that real consent has been given; and
- The registered minister of religion has made available specific information about marriage education and counselling.
More information about the legal requirements for marriage in Australia can be obtained here.
It is important to note that the fact that a marriage may be lawful in Australia does not mean that a church marriage will be possible. For example, the marriage of two persons of the same sex is not possible in the Russian Orthodox Church. In addition, the Russian Orthodox Church has its own system of prohibited relationships.
The church requirements are that:
- The legal requirements have been met;
- The parties to the marriage are a man and a woman who are not in a relationship prohibited by church law;
- The number of marriages since baptism – including the marriage to be entered into – does not exceed three;
- In the case of a second or third church marriage during the lifetime of a former spouse, dissolution of the previous marriage(s) and a formal blessing to enter into a further marriage has been obtained from the Diocesan Spiritual Court;
- At least one of the bride or groom is an Orthodox Christian and the other, if not an Orthodox Christian, has been baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in a mainstream Christian denomination that is not hostile to Orthodoxy;
- Both the bride and groom accept the fundamentals of Christian faith and moral teaching;
- The non-Orthodox partner, if there is one, has consented to any children of the marriage being baptised and raised as Orthodox Christians;
- The priest has satisfied himself that there is no other church impediment to the marriage; and
- The marriage occurs on a day permitted by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Priests of the Russian Orthodox Church are not permitted to perform marriages that will not be legally registered. Exceptions may be made in certain limited circumstances with the approval of the Diocesan Bishop. Such circumstances include the imminent death or departure on active military service of one of the parties to the marriage. If legal registration subsequently becomes possible the marriage must be registered at the earliest opportunity.
For the purposes of marriage in the Russian Orthodox Church whether or not one of the parties to the marriage is a man or a woman is based on their sex at birth. The marriage in church of a man or woman who has undergone a “change of sex”, and so refused the sex given to him or her by God, is impermissible.
The Orthodox Church has its own system of prohibited relationships. These include relationships by blood, by marriage and by baptism. When discussing plans for marriage with the parish rector the parties should carefully explain their connection so as to make clear any relationship that might prevent a church marriage.
Marriage between a man and woman related by blood is prohibited up to the sixth degree of consanguinity, although marriages in the fifth or sixth degree – that is, the marriage of first cousins once removed or of second cousins - may be permitted with the blessing of the Diocesan Bishop. The degree of consanguinity is calculated by counting up from one prospective partner to the common ancestor and then down to the other prospective partner. Adoptive relationships are treated in the same way as blood relationships.
Marriage between a man and a woman closely related as a result of another couple's marriage is prohibited when their relationship is essentially the same as if they were related by blood. As with blood relationships there must, as a general rule, be six degrees of separation. For example, a widower may not marry his wife’s sister or first cousin, and a person may not marry his or her step-son or step-daughter.
Marriage between a man and a woman related by baptism is prohibited when, for example, it involves a godparent and his or her god-child, or a godparent and one of the parents of his or her god-child.
Although Christian marriage is entered into for life, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself permitted adultery as a ground for the dissolution of a marriage. At the Local Council in 1917-18, the Russian Orthodox Church added apostasy from Orthodoxy; perversion; impotence the onset of which was either before marriage or self-inflicted; the contraction of syphilis or leprosy; prolonged disappearance; conviction of a serious crime; encroachment on the life or health of the spouse; incest; profiting from the marriage or from the indecency of the spouse; incurable mental illness; and malevolent abandonment. Chronic alcoholism and drug addiction, and abortion without the husband’s consent, are now also grounds for divorce in the Russian Orthodox Church. All of these things involve either a conscious betrayal of the love and faithfulness that marriage requires, or an inability to provide them. They nevertheless do not necessitate divorce.
Regardless of the circumstances leading to the dissolution of a marriage, a fourth marriage after baptism is impermissible.
Marriage by a religious celebrant is only valid under Australian law if the form of ceremony is approved by the relevant religious body. In the Russian Orthodox Church a fixed order of marriage is used. A copy of the text in Word format - also suitable for adaption as a booklet to be distributed to those attending the ceremony - is available upon request from the parish rector. Although Orthodox Christian marriage is generally only solemnised in church, exceptions may be made in extraordinary circumstances with the blessing of the Diocesan Bishop.
Detailed information about the dates on which weddings are permitted, together with a list of the Sundays and Fridays available for weddings in 2019 and 2020, is available here.
The funeral service in the Russian Orthodox Church is different from other contemporary Christian funeral services in three main ways:
The casket is open, and the priest and congregation make physical contact with the departed one;
The priest stands at the head of the casket, facing away from the people and towards the sanctuary, rarely addressing the congregation directly during the service; and
Very little, if anything at all, is said about the past of the departed one; instead, various prayers are read and hymns sung, expressing Orthodox Christian belief about death and hope for the one departed.
It is helpful to know a little about these things and why they are done before arranging or attending a funeral in our parish. With such knowledge, one can participate more prayerfully in the funeral service and properly farewell an Orthodox Christian who has departed this life.
In these times and in Australia, an open casket is for some people confronting and even disturbing. It has from ancient times, however, been the usual practice of Orthodox Christians to have the body of each departed Christian visible to all. Many of the hymns and prayers reflect this, and an important part of the service – the “last kiss” – is impossible without it.
From time to time, the request will be made to have the funeral served with the casket closed. In general, such a request will only be granted if there are compelling pastoral reasons or if NSW public health regulations require it.
The body is laid reverently in the casket, and is prepared in a way that gives expression to the Orthodox Christian faith. A simple paper headband or “crown” – an ancient symbol of victory - bearing the words of an important prayer –“Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us!” - is placed on the head. The body is covered with a white shroud bearing symbols of the resurrection of Christ. A cross is placed in the hands, symbolising the departed one’s confession of the Christian faith.
Later, a copy of the Prayer of Absolution is also placed in the hands, bearing witness to the prayer of the Holy Orthodox Church for the forgiveness of the departed one. The body is treated reverently, as something precious, all that remains to us in a physical sense of one dear to us. It is kissed at the end of the service for one last time in this world. At the cemetery, the casket is lowered with solemn prayer into the grave, there to await the general resurrection.
The ‘Guidelines for Clergy’ of the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia state that the faithful are “forbidden to burn the bodies of their dead in crematoria”. Priests are instructed to “explain to their flock the sinfulness of violating our tradition of committing the bodies of the dead to the earth, which has been established by the Church following the example of the burial of our Saviour Himself, and likewise the unacceptability of adapting for Christian use what was practiced by the worst pagans of antiquity and those contemporary opponents of the principles of the Christian Faith”. The Guidelines state that Holy Communion and a church funeral are to be denied to those who intend to have their bodies burned.
It has become the practice for funeral services to focus primarily on the needs of the living: for consolation, for reminiscence, for a sense of the value of the life of the one now removed from us. These are important needs, but they are not the immediate focus of the Orthodox Christian funeral service. The focus of our service is not on the past of the departed one and the present and future of the congregation, but rather on the present and future of the one who has died. As Christians, we believe that there is life beyond the grave. The Orthodox Church prays at the funeral service that the departed one will find rest in this new life beyond the grave, rest in a place where there is no sickness, no sorrow, and no sighing, but everlasting life in the presence of God. It prays that God will forgive the sins of the departed one – for there is no man or woman who lives without sin – whether sin that is voluntary or involuntary, known or unknown. It follows, then, that the priest faces the sanctuary symbolically to address these prayers to God, and to lead those present in prayer.
In view of this, requests to have the funeral service somewhere other than in our parish church – in a non-denominational chapel, for example - are generally declined. Although prayer is possible at all times and in all places, it is in an Orthodox Christian church that our prayers for the departed are most appropriately offered.
Some of the prayers and hymns in the service are very theological in content: these express the Orthodox Christian faith of the departed one and those who pray. Some prayers refer to the Christian martyrs, for whom death was not a thing to fear or dread, but an entry into eternal life. Some are written as if in the words of the departed one: “I beg and entreat you all, that you pray without ceasing unto Christ God for me”. Others are simple requests to God for mercy, forgiveness, and loving-kindness. The readings from the Holy Scriptures encourage faith and hope.
Although not primarily directed to this purpose, one finds that these beautiful prayers, hymns and readings do bring consolation, and that they do inspire one with a sense of the value of the life of the newly-departed relative, friend or acquaintance. One feels that the Orthodox Christian is farewelled fittingly, with all the reverence and solemnity due to a faithful servant of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Those who wish to celebrate the life of a departed Orthodox Christian are nevertheless welcome to do so at an informal gathering after the funeral and burial service.
Orthodox Christians who desire to be buried with the prayers of the Orthodox Church are strongly encouraged to make their wishes known to family and friends well in advance.
In our parish general molebens – or services of intercession – are served at various times throughout the year. A general moleben to the Mother of God is served on the feast of her Protection (1/14 October), and a general moleben to Saint Nicholas is served on his feast-days, 9/22 May and 6/19 December. General molebens will also be served on the day of other significant saints. At such times, all parishioners and regular worshippers are commemorated by name. Lists of names for this purpose are maintained by the parish rector.
In accordance with the practice of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Order for a Hymn of Supplication for the Conversion of Those in Error is served on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the first Sunday in Great Lent.
General molebens of thanksgiving are customarily served on the feasts of the Transfiguration of the Lord and the Dormition of the Mother of God, days closely associated with the foundations of Russian Orthodoxy in Newcastle and the wider Hunter Valley. They may also be served on significant civil occasions such as Australia Day, or significant dates in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church and people.
The faithful may also ask at any time for molebens for specific purposes. Such purposes include deliverance from sickness and misfortune, help in finding work or housing, and the seeking of God’s blessing and protection in beginning some good work or undertaking a journey. The faithful may also ask for a moleben of thanksgiving when their prayers are answered, or when God’s blessing is particularly felt in their lives. Arrangements for such services should be discussed with the parish rector.
General memorial services – in Russian, панихиды – are also served at various times throughout the year. If we have an evening service scheduled on one of the customary Saturdays of the Departed – the Saturday before Meatfare Sunday, the second, third and fourth Saturdays of Great Lent, the Saturday before Pentecost, and Demetrius Saturday – a general memorial service will customarily be served beforehand. On Radonitsa, the second Tuesday of Pascha, a general memorial service is served after Divine Liturgy, followed by graveside services in Wallsend, Sandgate and East Maitland Cemeteries. The parish maintains a list of departed parishioners and benefactors for commemoration at such services.
Our departed parishioners and benefactors are also commemorated after Divine Liturgy on our parish feast day of Saint Nicholas, 9/22 May. The departed parishioners and benefactors of the Holy Protection church in Greta are similarly commemorated on the feasts of the Dormition and the Protection of the Mother of God, and the departed parishioners and benefactors of the Theophany parish in Mayfield are commemorated on the Sunday after the Great Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
If possible, a memorial service for “all Orthodox soldiers killed on the field of battle” – and, more broadly, all Orthodox Christians killed in war – is served on the feast of the beheading of Saint John the Baptist, 29 August/11 September. Such services may also be offered on Anzac Day, 25 April, and Remembrance Day, 11 November.
As far as is possible, we serve Divine Liturgy for the Departed each year on 22 November, the day of repose of the ever-memorable Archpriest John Lupish. A "parastas", or augmented memorial service, is served the preceding evening. Following Divine Liturgy we gather at his graveside in Sandgate Cemetery for a simple memorial service.
We also endeavour to remember the ever-memorable Ruling Bishops of our Diocese who have departed this life - Archbishop Theodore (Rafalsky)(+5 May 1955), Archbishop Savva (Raevsky)(+17 April 1976), Archbishop Theodosy (Putilin)(+13 August 1980), and Archbishop Paul (Pavlov)(+15 February 1995) - together with other significant clergymen of the Australian-New Zealand Diocese and the departed First Hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.
The faithful may also ask at any time for memorial services for their own departed relatives and friends. These may be served in church or at the graveside in one of the cemeteries. As with molebens, arrangements for such services should be discussed with the parish rector.
Orthodox Christians customarily seek God's blessing when taking up residence in a new home. In a short service generally served by the parish priest, the new home is blessed with Holy Water, the four walls are anointed with Holy Oil, and prayers are offered for the health and salvation of those who will live there. This service is intentionally reminiscent of the consecration of a church, the Orthodox Christian home being a place in which one serves God and offers up prayers to Him - a domestic church.
In addition to this initial blessing, it is customary to have one's home blessed each year on or around the Great Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, or Theophany, celebrated on 6/19 January. This is a shorter and simpler service in which the parish priest sprinkles the Holy Water blessed at the Theophany services throughout the home, again offering up prayers for the health and salvation of those who live there.
Both forms of house blessing are an important way that we can bring the Church into our homes.
Arrangements for the fuller blessing of a home may be made with the parish rector. On the Great Feast of Theophany, a list is usually made available in church for those who wish the parish rector to visit and bless their homes to record their intentions.