Friday, March 09, 2012

NLM Quiz no. 12: What Are They Carrying On Their Shoulders? : The Answer (sort of)

Can you guess what these deacons are carrying on their shoulders and why? Please give your answer in the comments, and give whatever detail you can about the context. To make this more interesting, please make your answer in the combox before reading the other comments.
A view from a different angle, for clarity's sake.
The Answer: In point of fact this was something of a trick question; nobody really knows what they are or where they came from, although theories abound. Some have proposed that they were originally reliquaries, containing relics from the churches of the Cenacle and of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem; this would perhaps explain why they are shaped like churches, used in pairs, and called "Zions", although they were formerly called "Jerusalems." They would then serve as a reminder of the heavenly city of Jerusalem to which we journey in this life. It has also been proposed that they were Eucharistic vessels of some sort, processional items to be used at the Great Entrance (suggested by the handles), or a very elaborate sort of vessel for incense. Note that commenter Fr. G has provided a link to an interesting article explaining them as incense boats. Congratulations if your guess was within the field of possibilities; my thanks to Mr. Daniel Galadza for providing me with a summary of the various theories. The liturgy shown is the Vespers of the Presanctified Gifts, celebrated by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior; here is the full video from the Russian Church's youtube channel.

The award for the Most Creative Wildly Incorrect Answer goes to the Rev. Michael Forbes suggestion that the handles are spigots, and that the vessels contained Holy Chrism for the Bridegroom Matins. As I suspected would be the case, this quiz spurred our estimable readership to some of their finest efforts for the Best Humorous Answer award. I was very much hoping that someone would actually use the word samovar; an honorable mention goes to Calvin Kwong's suggestion that they are full of cold water in case the censer catches fire, with the nice touch of adding that the deacon can put the fire out "elegantly". The winner, though, is incontestably Inigo, whose answer deserves to be quoted in full: "The containers are filled with insecticide and are connected with hoses to the thuribles. It's an ancient rite of exorcism, unique to the eastern liturgical rites. It's origin is linked to a not so well known legend about Saint Anthony driving out the demon Beelzebub from (a) child who did not like taking baths. The rite fell into disuse due (to) the spreading of the water system, and is now only performed once a year, on the feast of Saint Anthony the Great." Well done, sir!

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: