An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
While everyone else outside were busily preparing themselves for communion, I was trying to keep my clumsiness from destroying the temple. It was a last minute decision because of overall poor timing, that the remaining charcoal in the censer would not be sufficient for the final censing of the remaining Gifts, and so while they were going through their final preparation for the faithful and the young gentlemen were preparing the antidoron and wine, I lit a round of charcoal and was just about to place it in the censer when it fell from the grip of my tongs and rolled across the floor and down underneath the altar servers' table.
Now, you have to visualize how we've put together our temple. Our temporary home being a business park, we have none the less managed a wonderful job (mostly done by our Reader and Priest) in creating a heavenly environment. The floor around our altar and ambo is made of wood and supported by pallets. But the footing of the young gentlemen's table sits on the concrete floor as opposed to the wooden floor above the pallets, and thus leaves a handy little hole where my wayward burning disc of charcoal managed to roll.
As I looked under the table it was nowhere to be found...but I could feel the heat coming from it. Yes, unimaginably, it had managed to roll INTO the inner regions of the pallet directly beneath me. I knew it could not have gone far, but the positioning was such that I could not see it. Unsuccessful in blindly grasping for it, and worrying that I would push it further into the nether regions of our floor, I began to panic a little.
I knew it was resting on wood and was surrounded by wood...nice and DRY wood at that. I had visions of ripping up the flooring and/or running to get the fire extinguisher (would that douse a burning coal???). At what point does one decide that the likelihood of burning the place down outweighs the interruption of such a solemn and sacred moment? Finally the young gentlemen noticed my dilemma and began to lend a hand. They helped hold up the floor length table cloth and move the baptismal font (which rested under the table) such that I was able to bend my head down far enough to see the coal. It glowed a bright orange in the wooden darkness and I could feel the heat on my face. Yikes!
I reached the tongs into the small space, praying that I would grab it and hold onto it as opposed to pushing it deeper into the confines of the floor. Thankfully I got it out and placed it into the censer. But I still worried about the amount of time it spent on the wood and so I dumped some water in the vicinity and informed one of the young gentlemen that while we were distributing the Gifts if they were to see or smell any smoke (wood smoke that is) that they were to come and tell me.
Thankfully that didn't happen. Whew! So, let that be a lesson to me.
Far be it for a Reader-in Training to question a Subdeacon, but why on earth would you light the charcoal before putting it in the censer? I was taught to carefully shove the remaining coal aside, put the new coal in the bottom of the censer, and place the live coal on top of it. Of course this might just be a St. Elizabeth's trdition, as I remember Fr. Christopher having a censing mishap towards the end of the Holy Thursday service a few years ago and almost lighting the carpet on fire in front of the Royal Doors...
This matter is covered in great detail at the SVS Deaconal Late Vocations Practicum. Since you already have experience in the matter, you receive partial credit for the course. Well done. Fr. Vadim described a similar event many years ago at the OCA cathedral in San Francisco, a censer tipping over & the round (lit) charcoal rolling under the bier on which rested a coffin. All this during a funeral. Smoke arising from below....