It is not permitted to a layman to enter the sanctuary (Holy Altar, Gk.), though, in accordance with a certain ancient tradition, the imperial power and authority is by no means prohibited from this when he wishes to offer his gifts to the Creator.
Ancient Epitome of Canon LXIX.
No layman except the Emperor shall go up to the altar.
That in the Latin Church as well as in the Greek for many centuries it was the constant custom, ratified by various councils, that lay-men are to be excluded from the sanctuary and from the place marked off for the priests who are celebrating the divine mysteries, is so notorious as to need no proof, and the present canon shows that among the Greeks the laity were not admitted to the sacrarium even to make offerings.
The Synod makes but one exception, to wit, the Emperor, who can enter the rails of the holy altar by its permission “when he wishes to offer his gifts to the Creator, according to ancient custom.”
Not without foundation does the Synod claim “ancient custom” for this; for long before, it is evident, it was the case from the words of the Emperor Theodosius the Younger. See also Theodoret (H. E., lib. v., cap. xvij.).
In the Latin Church, not only to emperors, kings, and great princes but also to patrons of churches, to toparchs of places, and even to magistrates, seats have been wont to be assigned honoris causâ within the sanctuary or choir, and it has been contended that these are properly due to such persons.
It is evident from Balsamons note that the later Greeks at least looked upon the Emperor as being (like the kings of England and France) a persona mixta, sharing in some degree the sacerdotal character, as being anointed not merely with oil, but with the sacred chrism. Vide in this connexion J. Wickham Legg, The Sacring of the English Kings, in “The Archæological Journal,” March, 1894.