Quinisext Council, Canon 69.previous | next
Let it not be permitted to anyone among all the laity to enter within the sacred altar, with the exception that the Imperial power and authority is in no way or manner excluded therefrom whenever it wishes to offer gifts to the Creator, in accordance with a certain most ancient tradition.
The holy Bema is consecrated to those in holy orders. For this reason the present Canon prohibits every layman from entering it, except only that person who is the Emperor or King; and he is excepted not as a layman, but as having power and authority and as one anointed of the Lord, who has been permitted to enter it, in accordance with a most ancient tradition, whenever he wishes to offer gifts to God his Creator, and to partake of the Holy Mysteries.
That explains why c. XLIV of Laodicea forbids women to enter the sanctuary of the sacrificial altar. Canon I, however, of Patriarch Nicholas allows those monks to enter the Holy Bema who are not guilty of any transgression reflecting upon the modesty of the monastic habit, in order to light the candles or wax tapers. But even St. Nicephorus, in his c. XV, says that nuns ought to enter the Holy Bema for the purpose of lighting the lights and setting things in order and sweeping it. If, however, a person is not a monk but only a novice, he cannot go into the Holy Bema, according to what Balsamon says in his interpretation of c. I of Nicholas, q.v.
 Note that, according to the Ecclesiastical History of Theodoret (Book V, ch. 17), notwithstanding the fact that the believer Emperor Theodosius was absolved by St. Ambrose of guilt due to the foul murder he had caused, yet, in spite of this, when he offered the gifts to God inside the Holy Bema and expected to commune there, St. Ambrose would not let him in, telling him that “the inner sanctuary, O Emperor, is accessible to priests alone”; and he was ordered to stay out of the Bema. Thereafter even when the Emperor went to Constantinople, he offered the gifts to God inside the Holy Bema, but immediately stepped outside, and did not go back in to commune, according to custom. For, says Theodoret, after offering the gifts at the sacred table, he at once went out, the most faithful emperor thus showing by his example that emperors who have committed foul murders ought not to commune inside the Bema. See also Nicephorus Callistus, Book XII, ch. 41. Hence let priests and confessors be induced to see to it that the unlawful custom prevailing in many places be cut out — the custom, I mean, of letting laymen come into the Holy Bema, which, failing to distinguish between priests and laymen, causes the latter to incur the penalty which befell King Ahaz, who, though a layman, undertook to perform the functions of those in holy orders. For they too, in such a case, are in a way usurping the functions of priests by entering the place allotted to priests. But if it is unlawful for laymen even to enter the Bema, how much more unlawful must be that which some ignorant priests do in having laymen or anagnosts prepare the holy elements in the holy prothesis on Maundy Thursday inside the Bema! So, for the love of God, let them cease doing this, lest they incur deposition from their holy order. Symeon of Thessalonica, on the other hand, says (ch. 143) that an emperor may commune within the Bema only at the time when he is being anointed as emperor, after from the deacons, and not at the Holy Table, but at a credence table placed beside it and having an antimension laid upon it.
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