1. The Concept of Divine Service.
The worship of God or the pleasing of God through good thoughts, words, and deeds, i.e., the fulfillment of God’s will, is called, in general, divine service.
Divine service began on the earth with the very creation of the first human beings in Paradise. The divine services of the first human beings in Paradise consisted of freely glorifying God, His wisdom, goodness, omnipotence, and the other divine perfections which are manifest in the creation of the world and in His providence concerning it.
After their fall into sin mankind had an even greater obligation to pray to God, beseeching Him for salvation. In addition to prayer to the Lord as divine service, mankind established the practice of sacrificial offerings. Sacrifice expresses the thought that all which we possess is not ours but is God’s. The combination of prayer with sacrificial offerings serves to remind humanity that God receives its prayers because of the sacrifice which was later offered for all mankind by the Saviour of the world, the Son of God come to earth.
Originally divine services occurred freely in open places. There were neither holy temples nor ordained priests. People offered sacrifices to God wherever they desired and prayed with words of prayer suggested to them by their own feelings and attitudes.
At the command of God, in the time of the Prophet Moses, the Tabernacle was constructed (the first Old Testament Temple to the One True God). Consecrated persons were selected, the high priest, other priests, and Levites. Specific sacrifices for various situations were instituted, and feasts were ordained such as Passover, Pentecost, the New Year and the Day of Purification.
When the Lord Jesus Christ came to earth, He taught us to worship the Heavenly Father in every place. Nevertheless, He often visited the Old Testament Temple in Jerusalem as a place with the special grace-filled presence of God. He was concerned for the order of the Temple and preached in it. His holy Apostles regarded it in the same way until the time of the open persecutions, which were instigated against Christians on the part of the Jews.
In the Apostolic period, as the Acts of the Apostles describe, there were special places for the gathering of the faithful and for the accomplishment of the Mystery of Communion. These places were called churches and there divine services were celebrated by bishops, priests, and deacons, who were consecrated to this duty by the laying on of hands in the Mystery of Ordination.
The order of Christian divine service was established by the successors of the Apostles under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and following the apostolic command given to them, Let all things be done decently and in order (1 Cor. 14.40). This ordained order of divine services is strictly preserved in our holy Orthodox Church of Christ.
Orthodox ecclesiastical divine service means the office or service to God composed of readings and chanting of prayers, the reading of the Word of God, and the performance of sacred ritual, accomplished according to a definite order, as headed by clergy (a bishop or priest).
Ecclesiastical divine service is distinguished from private prayer in that it is served by clergy, lawfully ordained to this service through the Mystery of Ordination, and is performed primarily in church.
Orthodox public worship has as its purpose the edification of the faithful by setting forth the true doctrines of Christ through readings and chanting, and to dispose them towards prayer and repentance. The services represent the most important events from sacred history accomplished for our salvation both before the birth of Christ and after. They inspire the faithful to give thanks to God for all the benefits received from Him, they intensify the supplications for further mercies upon us from Him, and help us to acquire peace in our souls.
The most important aspect is that through divine services the Orthodox Christian enters into a mystical union with God through the Mysteries celebrated in divine worship, especially the Mystery of Holy Communion, and thus receives from God the powers of Divine Grace with which to live a righteous life.
2. The Church Building and Its Arrangement.
In the Old Testament the Lord Himself gave mankind directions through the Prophet Moses as to how the Temple should be set up for divine worship. New Testament churches were constructed on the basis of the Old Testament Temple.
Just as the Old Testament Temple (initially a tent) was separated into three portions, the Holy of Holies, the Sanctuary and the Courts, so an Orthodox church is distinguished by three sections, the Altar (or Sanctuary), the Nave (Middle Portion) and the Narthex (Vestibule).
As the Holy of Holies signified then, so now the Altar represents the Kingdom of Heaven. No one could enter the Holy of Holies except the High Priest once a year, and only with the blood of a purification sacrifice. The Kingdom of Heaven, after the fall of man into sin, was closed to us. The High Priest was a prototype of Christ, and his action told the people that a time would come when Christ, through the shedding of His blood and suffering on the Cross and Resurrection, would open the Kingdom of Heaven to all. Therefore, when Christ died on the Cross the veil of the temple which closed off the Holy of Holies was torn in two, and from this moment Christ opened the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven to all those who with faith would come unto Him.
The Sanctuary of the Temple corresponds in our Orthodox churches to the Nave or middle part of the building. No one had the right to enter the Old Testament sanctuary except the priest, but all believing Christians may stand within our churches because the Kingdom of God is closed to none.
The Courts of the Old Testament Temple in which all the people could be found have their counterpart in an Orthodox Church in the Narthex which now, however, has no essential significance. Earlier, the catechumens who were preparing to become Christians, but were still not ready for the Mystery of Baptism, stood there. Today those who have sinned grievously or those who have apostatized from the Church are temporarily sent to stand in the narthex for correction.
An Orthodox Church is built with the altar at the eastern end, directed towards the light from whence the sun rises. The Lord Jesus Christ is for us the “Dayspring,” for from Him has dawned upon us the eternal Divine Light. In the Church prayers we call Jesus Christ the “Sun of Righteousness” and “Dayspring from on high.”
Every church consecrated to God bears the name of one or another sacred event or Saint, in memory of that occasion or person. Examples include churches dedicated to the Trinity, the Transfiguration, the Ascension, the Annunciation, the Protection of the Mother of God, the Archangel Michael, St. Nicholas, etc. If there are several altars in the church then each of them is dedicated to the memory of a different event or saint. All altars, save the main one, are called side altars.
A church in its external appearance is distinguished from other buildings. Most are designed in the form of the Cross to signify that it is a place sacred to Him Who was crucified for us and that the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ delivered us from the tyranny of the Devil. A church may be built in the form of an elongated ship to symbolize the image of the ark of Noah that brings us through the sea of life to the calm haven of the Kingdom of Heaven. Sometimes a church is built in the form of a circle to remind us that the Church of Christ is eternal, without beginning or end. A church can even be built in the form of an octagon, like a star, suggesting that the Church is like a guiding star which shines into this world.
A church building is usually capped by a dome which is an image of Heaven. The dome comes to a point upon which is a cross, to the glory of the head of the Church, Jesus Christ. Often a church is topped by several cupolas. Two cupolas symbolize the two natures of Jesus Christ, human and divine; three – the three Persons of the Holy Trinity; five – Jesus Christ and the four Evangelists; seven – the seven Mysteries and the seven Ecumenical Councils; nine – the nine ranks of angels; thirteen – Jesus Christ and the twelve Apostles; and sometimes there are even more cupolas.
Over the entrance of the building, or at times next to it, a bell-tower or belfry is built to hold the bells.
The patterns of ringing the bells are used to call the faithful to prayer, to the divine services, and also to mark the most important moments of the services being conducted in the church. The ringing of one bell is called an “annunciation,” that is, the announcement of the good, joyous news of a divine service; the ringing of all the bells to express Christian joy on the occasion of a solemn feast is called a “festive peal.” The tolling of bells on a grievous occasion is called a “knell.” The sound of bells reminds us of the higher, heavenly world.
The most important part of the church is the Altar or Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is the holiest place in the entire church and is where the Altar Table or “Throne” upon which the Mystery of Holy Communion served by the priest is located. The Sanctuary is built upon a raised portion that is usually higher than the other portions of the church so that all that is done there will be audible and visible during the service. The very word “Altar” means an elevated place of sacrifice.
The Altar Table is the term for the special, sacred, usually cube-shaped table found in the center of the Sanctuary and adorned with two vestments: the lower which is of white linen, and the upper which is of a more expensive material, usually of brocade. The very Lord Himself, as King and Master of the Church, is present there mysteriously and invisibly. Only ordained clergy may touch the Altar Table or venerate it. Upon the Altar Table one finds the Antimins, the Gospel, the Cross, the Tabernacle and the Communion Set.
The Antimins is a silk cloth consecrated by a bishop upon which Jesus Christ is depicted being placed in the tomb. Into the other side a fragment of the relics of a saint must be sewn, since in the first centuries of Christianity the Divine Liturgy was always celebrated upon the graves of the martyrs. One is not allowed to celebrate the Liturgy without an Antimins. The word is from the Greek and means “instead of an altar table.”
In order to protect the Antimins it is folded into another silk cloth called the Iliton. It is to remind us of the cloth which was wrapped around the head of the Saviour in the tomb.
On top of the Antimins rests the sponge for collecting the particles of the Holy Gifts during the liturgy.
The Gospel is the Word of God, the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Cross is the sword of God by which the Lord conquers the Devil and death.
The Tabernacle is the ark in which the Holy Gifts are kept for communing the ill. Usually it is in the form of a model of the church building.
The Communion Set is a small tabernacle which contains the utensils for bringing Holy Communion to those who are ill.
Behind the Altar Table stands the Candelabrum, a stand for seven lamps, and behind it is the Altar Cross.
The place behind the Altar at the very farthest eastern end of the church is called the High Place. Usually it is raised. When in his own cathedral, the bishop sits here during certain portions of the services.
To the left of the Altar Table in the northern part of the sanctuary stands another smaller table similarly vested on all sides like the Altar Table. It is here that the Gifts are prepared before the Liturgy. This table is the Table of Oblation.
Upon the Table of Oblation are kept the sacred vessels and all that pertains to them. They include:
1. The holy Chalice or cup into which, before the Liturgy, wine is poured with water, which is transformed later during the Liturgy into the Blood of Christ.
2. The Diskos which is a small round plate on a stand. The bread is placed upon it for consecration at the Divine Liturgy, for transformation into the Body of Christ. The diskos symbolizes simultaneously the manger and tomb of the Saviour.
3. The Star is composed of two metal arcs fixed about the center so that they can be closed and opened into a cruciform shape. It is placed on the diskos so that the cover will not disturb the cut out portions of prosphora. The star symbolizes the star that appeared at the birth of Christ.
4. The Spear is a blade resembling a miniature spear for cutting out the Lamb and other portions from the prosphora. It symbolizes the spear which wounded Christ upon the Cross.
5. The Spoon is used to administer Holy Communion.
6. The Sponge or cloth is used to clean and wipe the vessels.
The small covers which are used to cover the chalice and the diskos are called the Coverlets, while the large covers which is used to cover both the chalice and the diskos together is called the Aer. The aer symbolizes the expanse of the heavens in which the star appeared, which led the Magi to the manger of the Saviour. It, together with the coverlets, represents the swaddling clothes in which Jesus Christ was wrapped after birth and also His burial shroud.
No one but the bishops, priest, and deacons are allowed to touch these holy things.
Also found on the Table of Oblation is the Cup or ladle which is used in the beginning of Proskomedia to pour the mixture of wine and water into the holy chalice. Before Communion, hot water is added to the contents of the chalice.
Located in the sanctuary is the censer which is used for censing during the divine services. Censing was instituted in the Old Testament Church by God Himself. We offer the incense as an offering to God and use it to sanctify objects.
Censing before the Holy Altar and the icons expresses our respect and reverence for them. When the laity praying in church are censed this expresses the desire that their prayer would be heart-felt and truly reverent and might ascend to Heaven like the smoke of incense and that the Grace of God might envelop them even as the smoke of incense envelops them in the church. While being censed, the faithful should respond with a bow.
The dikiri and trikiri, which are used by a bishop to bless the people, and the altar fans are kept in the sanctuary also.
Dikiri refers to the candlestick that holds two candles, which remind us of the two natures of Christ, the divine and the human.
Trikiri refers to the candlestick that holds three candles, which remind us of our faith in the Holy Trinity.
The altar-fans refer to the metal circles with long, wooden handles on which are represented the Seraphim. The deacons hold the fans over the Holy Gifts during the consecration, and over the Gospel book in procession. Earlier they were made of ostrich feathers and were used to keep insects away from the Holy Gifts. Today the waving of these fans is symbolic and represents the presence of the heavenly hosts during the celebration of the Liturgy.
To the side of the sanctuary area is found the Vestry. The vestments, sacred robes used during the divine services, are kept here, as well as the ecclesiastical vessels and books.
The altar is separated from the middle portion of the church building by a special kind of wall upon which are hung icons and is thus called the Iconostasis.
The iconostasis has three doors or gates. The middle and largest is found in the very center of the screen and is called the Royal Gates because through them passes the very Lord Himself, Jesus Christ, the King of Glory, Who comes in the Holy Gifts invisibly. No one is allowed to pass through the Royal Gates other than the clergy. A curtain is hung across the Royal Gates, on the inside, which is drawn and withdrawn during the course of the divine services. Icons of the Annunciation of the Theotokos and the Four Evangelists, Sts. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are usually on the Royal Gates. An icon of the Mystical Supper is placed above the Royal Gates, since the faithful stand before them when partaking of Communion.
To the right of the Royal Gates there is always an icon of the Saviour, and on the left, one of the Mother of God.
The southern door is located to the right of the icon of the Saviour, while the northern door is to the left of the Theotokos icon. Generally, the Archangels Michael and Gabriel are depicted on these two side doors, though sometimes icons of the first deacons Sts. Philip and Stephen, or the high priest Aaron and the Prophet Moses are placed here. These side doors are also called the “deacon’s doors,” since the deacons pass through them frequently.
On the far ends next to the doors are placed the icons of especially revered saints. The first icon to the right of the Saviour icon is almost always the icon of the church, that is, the representation of the feast or Saint to whom the church building is dedicated.
On the highest point above the iconostasis is placed the Cross with an image upon it of our crucified Lord, Jesus Christ.
If the iconostasis is built with more than one row of icons, then usually on the second row are placed the icons of the twelve Great Feasts; on the third row – the Apostles; on the fourth row – the Prophets; and on the top – the Cross.
Icons are also placed on the walls of the church, either in special large frames or shrines, or on analogions, high, slanted stands, for veneration.
The raised platform, upon which stand the altar and the iconostasis, extends forward for several feet into the middle portion of the church. This elevation in front of the iconostasis is called the solea.
The middle of the solea, directly in front of the Royal Gates is called the ambo or place of ascending. From the ambo the deacon intones the litanies and reads the Gospels. From here, as well, the priest delivers sermons, and the faithful partake of Holy Communion.
At the end of the solea near the side walls of the church are found the cliros, or choirs for the readers and chanters.
Above the cliros are hung the banners, icons made of either cloth embroidery or metalwork fastened to long poles. They are carried in processions as ecclesiastical flags.
Usually on the side of the nave is a small table for the reposed, on which is an image of the Crucifixion, before which are placed candles. A Pannykhida (memorial service) is served at this table.
Candlestands are placed in front of the iconostasis or behind the analogions, upon which the faithful place candles during the service.
A chandelier or polycandelabrum hangs from the central dome in the middle of the church. This large metal chandelier holds either a large number of candles or lights which are lit during the most festive moments of the services.
3. The Clergy and Their Vestments.
Following the example of the Old Testament Church, in which there were a high priest, priests, and Levites, the holy Apostles also instituted in the New Testament Christian Church the priesthood: bishops, priests, and deacons.
They are all called members of the clergy because by means of the Mystery of the priesthood they receive the Grace of the Holy Spirit for sacred service in the Church of Christ: enabling them to celebrate the divine services; teach the laity the Christian faith and holy life; and direct ecclesiastical affairs.
The bishops comprise the highest rank in the Church, and therefore receive the highest degree of Grace. Bishops are also called hierarchs, or leaders of the priests. They may celebrate all the Mysteries and all ecclesiastical services. Bishops have the right not only to serve the usual Liturgy, but they alone may consecrate others into the priesthood, as well as consecrate Holy Chrism and the Antimins.
In their degree of priesthood they are equal, though the senior and most deserving of the bishops are termed archbishops, while the bishops whose sees are centered in major cities are termed metropolitans, after the Greek word for a large city, “metropolis.” The bishops of the ancient major cities of the Roman Empire, Jerusalem, Constantinople, Rome, Alexandria and Antioch, and of the capitals of some Orthodox countries such as Belgrade and Moscow, are called patriarchs.
From 1721 to 1917 the Russian Orthodox Church was governed by the Most Holy Synod. In 1917 an All-Russian Council was summoned and restored the rule of the Church to the “Most Holy Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.”
A bishop sometimes is given another bishop, called a vicar bishop, to assist him in his duties.
Priests comprise the second rank of the sacred ministry under the bishop. Priests may serve, with an episcopal blessing, all the Mysteries and ecclesiastical services, with the exception of the Mystery of Ordination and the sanctification of Holy Chrism or an Antimins.
The congregation of Christians subject to. the supervision of the priest is termed his parish.
The more worthy and distinguished priests are granted the title of archpriest; the first among these priests is called a protopresbyter.
If a priest is also a tonsured monk he is known as a hieromonk. Hieromonks appointed to direct monasteries, or those honored independently of any appointment, are usually given the title of igumen or abbot. Those of a higher rank are called archimandrites, and bishops are chosen from this rank.
Deacons form the third and lowest rank of the sacred ministry; in Greek “deacon” means a “server.”
Deacons assist a bishop or priest during the serving of the Divine Liturgy or other Mysteries and services, but they may not serve alone.
The participation of a deacon in the divine services is not obligatory, and therefore many churches conduct services without them.
Some deacons, particularly in cathedral churches, are deemed worthy of the title of protodeacon. Monks who have received the rank of deacon are called hierodeacons, and the senior of them is called an archdeacon.
The subdeacons are also ordained and help in the altar. They primarily take part in episcopal services. They vest the serving bishop in his sacred vestments, hold the trikiri and dikiri, and hand them to the bishop to bless those present. They also may assist in changing the altar covers.
In addition to the three orders of sacred ministry, other lower orders of service in the Church include the readers or “psaltis” (Greek), and the sacristans or “ecclesiarchs.” They belong to the ranks of church servers who are not ordained to their duties through the Mystery of Ordination, but only by a short series of prayers with an episcopal blessing.
Readers have the duty to read and chant both on the cliros during divine services, and at homes when services are conducted by a priest.
The sacristan is obliged to call the faithful to the divine services with bell-ringing, to light the lamps and candles in the church, to ready and to hand the censer to the serving priest, and to assist the readers in the readings and chantings.
Those who conduct services must be dressed in special, sacred robes or vestments. These are made of brocade or some similarly suitable material and adorned with crosses or other symbolic signs.
The vestments of the diaconate are the sticharion, the orarion and the cuffs.
The sticharion is a long garment, open down the length of the sides for a deacon, but entirely unslitted for servers, in the form of a cross with an opening for one’s head and with wide sleeves. The deacon’s sticharion may also be worn by subdeacons. The right to wear a sticharion may also be granted to readers and servers. The sticharion signifies purity of soul, necessary for a person of ecclesiastical rank.
The orarion is a long, wide band of the same material as the sticharion with fringe on the ends. It is worn over the left shoulder on top of the sticharion. For simple deacons it is worn as shown, for pro-todeacons it is wound once around the body. The orarion signifies the Grace of God which the deacon received in the Mystery of Ordination.
The cuffs or manacles are of the same material as the sticharion, and are worn around the wrists and laced with cords. They remind those conducting the services that they celebrate the Mysteries or partake of the Mysteries of the Christian faith not by their own powers, but by the power and Grace of God. They also remind us of the bonds that tied the hands of the Saviour during His passion.
The vestments of a priest include the under-vestment or sticharion, the epitrachelion (stole), the belt, the cuffs, and the phelonion.
The under-vestment is just a simpler form of sticharion, differing from the sticharion in that the sleeves are narrow with laces at the wrist, and it is usually made of a fine, white material. The white color reminds the priest that he must always be of pure soul and lead a blameless life. It also recalls the tunic which the Lord Jesus Christ wore on earth and in which He accomplished our salvation.
The stole or epitrachelion is similar to the deacon’s orarion, only it is worn around the neck and comes down in front so that the two inner edges are fastened together for convenience. It signifies the double portion of grace bestowed on a priest, in comparison to that of a deacon, for the celebration of the Mysteries. The priest may not conduct any service without his epitrachelion, just as a deacon must have his orarion.
The belt is worn over the epitrachelion and under-vestment and signifies readiness to serve the Lord. It also symbolizes the divine power that strengthens the priest during the course of his serving. The belt also recalls the towel which the Saviour was given for the washing of the disciples’ feet at the Mystical Supper.
The phelonion is worn over the other garments. It is a long and wide cape without sleeves with an opening for the head at the top and cut away in front to give the hands freedom of movement. In its form it resembles the purple mantle which the Lord was given during His passion. The ribbons sewn on it recall the streams of blood which flowed over His garments. In addition to this the phelonion reminds the priests of the garment of righteousness with which they must be vested as servants of Christ.
A priest wears a pectoral cross around his neck, over the phelonion.
For long and dedicated service a priest is given an award called a nabedrennik or thigh shield, which is a stiffened, rectangular cloth hung on the right hip from the shoulder by a strap fastened at two upper corners, and which signifies a spiritual sword. Other awards are the skoufia and kamilavka (head coverings), and another diamond-shaped cloth, similar to the nabedrennik, worn on the right hip, called a palitsa (in which case the former is worn on the left). It also represents the spiritual sword, the Word of God with which the celebrant must battle disbelief and irreverence.
The bishop is vested with all the vestments of a priest, the sticharion, epitrachelion, belt and cuffs, but the phelonion is replaced with the saccos and the nabedrennik with the palitsa. In addition, a bishop wears the omophorion and the miter.
The saccos is the outer vestment of a bishop which resembles a shorter deacon’s sticharion so that the sticharion and epitrachelion are visible underneath. It, like the phelonion, recalls the purple mantle of the Saviour.
The palitsa is hung by a strap from the upper corner over the right hip on top of the sakkos. For exceptional service the right to wear the palitsa is granted by the ruling bishop to worthy archpriests. For archimandrites, as well as for a bishop, the palitsa is an indispensable appurtenance to their vestments.
Around the shoulders, over the saccos, a bishop wears the omophorion. This is a long, wide fabric usually adorned with crosses. It is wrapped around the shoulders of the bishop so that one end falls in front and the other behind. Omophorion is a Greek word meaning “that which goes over the shoulders” and is exclusively an episcopal vestment. As with the priest and his epitrachelion, the bishop may not conduct any service without his omophorion. It reminds the bishop that he must be concerned for the salvation of the fallen like the good shepherd who, when he has found the lost sheep, carries it home on his shoulder.
At all times, as part of his normal attire and for services, the bishop wears a panagia around his neck in addition to a cross. The panagia, which means “all-holy” in Greek, is a small, round icon of the Saviour or the Theotokos, sometimes adorned with precious stones.
When serving, the bishop wears a miter on his head, adorned with small icons and precious stones. According to some, it signifies the crown of thorns which was placed on the head of the Saviour, and to others it represents the Gospel of Christ to which the bishop always remains subject. Archimandrites wear the miter as well, and in exceptional cases a ruling bishop can grant the right to wear one to the more worthy archpriests in place of the kamilavka.
During the divine services the bishops use a staff as a sign of ultimate pastoral authority. A staff is also granted to archimandrites and abbots as heads of monasteries.
During the service an “orlets,” a circular rug with the image of an eagle flying over a city, is put under the bishop’s feet. This symbolizes that the bishop should soar from the earthly to the heavenly like an eagle, and as an eagle can see clearly over distances, so must a bishop oversee all parts of his diocese.
The street clothing of a bishop, priest or deacon includes a black cassock and a riassa. Over the riassa the bishop wears a panagia and a cross, while a priest only wears a cross.
4. The Order of Divine Services.
The order of divine services are divided into three cycles: daily, weekly, and yearly.
The Daily Cycle of Divine Services.
The daily cycle of divine services consists of those which are celebrated by the holy Orthodox Church during the course of one day. There are nine daily services: Vespers, Compline, Midnight Office, Matins, First Hour, Third Hour, Sixth Hour, and Ninth Hour, and the Divine Liturgy.
Following the example of Moses, who in describing the creation of the world by God, began the “day” with evening, the Orthodox Church day begins with the evening service, Vespers.
Vespers is the service celebrated towards the end of the day, in which we express our gratitude to God for the day which has passed.
Compline is the service composed of the reading of a series of prayers, in which we ask the Lord God for the forgiveness of sins and that He grant us, upon retiring, repose of body and soul and preserve us from the wiles of the Devil during our sleep.
The Midnight Office is appointed to be read at midnight in remembrance of the prayer of the Saviour during the night in the Garden of Gethsemane. This service summons the faithful to be ready at all times for the day of the Dread Judgement, which will come unexpectedly like “a bridegroom in the night,” as the parable of the ten virgins reminds us.
Matins is celebrated in the morning prior to the rising of the sun. In this service we give thanks to God for the night which has passed, and we ask of Him mercy for the approaching day.
The First Hour corresponds to the first three hours of our day, 6 to 9 A.M. In Old and New Testament times an “hour” meant a “watch” that lasted for three of our hours, and each service of the daily cycle corresponds to one of these three-hour divisions. This First Hour sanctifies the already breaking day with prayer.
The Third Hour covers the time from 9 A.M. to 12 P.M. and recalls the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles.
The Sixth Hour corresponds to the period from 12 to 3 P.M. and reminds us of the Passion and Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Ninth Hour represents the hours from 3 to 6 P.M. and reminds us of the death on the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Divine Liturgy is the main divine service. During the course of its celebration the entire earthly life of the Saviour is called to mind, and the Mystery of Holy Communion is celebrated as instituted by the Saviour Himself in the Mystical Supper. It must be celebrated in the morning before the midday meal.
In ancient times monastics and hermits conducted all of these services separately, at the time appointed for each. Later, to accommodate the faithful, they were combined into three groups: evening, morning and daytime.
The evening services consist of Ninth Hour, Vespers and Compline.
The morning services consist of Midnight Office, Matins and First Hour.
The daytime services are Third and Sixth Hours, and the Divine Liturgy.
On the eve of major feasts and Sundays a service is conducted in the evening, uniting Vespers, Matins and First Hour. Such a service is termed an All-night Vigil because among early Christians and in some monasteries today the service is continued through the course of the entire night.
A Schematic Outline of the Daily Cycle of Services.
- Ninth Hour – three o’clock in the afternoon
- Vespers – six o’clock in the afternoon
- Compline – nine o’clock in the evening
- Midnight Office – twelve midnight
- Matins – three o’clock in the morning
- First Hour – six o’clock in the morning
- Third Hour – nine o’clock in the morning
- Sixth Hour – twelve noon
- Divine Liturgy
The Weekly Cycle of Divine Services.
The Weekly or Seven-day Cycle of Divine Services is the term for the order of services which extends for the duration of the seven weekdays. Each day of the week is dedicated to one or another important event or an exceptionally revered saint.
On Sunday, the Church remembers and glorifies the Resurrection of Christ.
On Monday, the first day after the Resurrection, the bodiless hosts are celebrated, the angelswhich were created before the human race, and which are the closest servants of God.
On Tuesday, St. John the Baptist is glorified as the greatest of the prophets and righteous of the Old Testament.
On Wednesday, the betrayal of the Lord by Judas is remembered, and in connection with this the services are centered around the Cross of the Lord. This day is a fast day.
On Thursday the Holy Apostles and St. Nicholas the Wonderworker are glorified.
On Friday the Passion and death of the Saviour on the Cross is remembered, and the services honor the Cross of the Lord. This day is kept as a fast day also.
On Saturday, the Sabbath or Day of Rest, the Mother of God is glorified (who is also glorified on every other day), along with the forefathers, prophets, apostles, martyrs, monastics, righteous and all the saints who have attained peace in the Lord. Also, all those who have reposed in the true faith and in the hope of resurrection and life eternal are remembered.
The Annual Cycle of Divine Services.
The Annual Cycle of Divine Services is the term for the order of services conducted during the course of the entire calendar year.
Each day of the year is dedicated to the memory of one or more saints and to special sacred events, either in the form of feast days or fasts.
Of all the feasts of the year the greatest is the feast of the Bright Resurrection of Christ, Pascha, the feast of feasts. Pascha occurs no earlier than the twenty-second of March (the fourth of April, new style) and no later than the twenty-fifth of April (the eighth of May, new style), on the first Sunday after the equinoxal new moon and always after the Jewish celebration of Passover.
In addition, throughout the year twelve great feasts are held in honor of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Theotokos.
Also, there are feasts in honor of the great saints and in honor of the bodiless hosts of heaven, the angels.
Thus the festivals of the year are distinguished, by their content, into those of the Lord, those of the Theotokos, and those of the saints.
With regard to their date, the celebration of the feasts is divided into those which are immovable, those which occur every year on the same calendar date of the months, and those which are movable, those which occur on the same day of the week, but may fall on various dates of a month due to their relationship to the celebration of Pascha.
In the solemnity of their celebration the church services of the feasts are distinguished according to various degrees.
The great feasts are always celebrated with an All-night Vigil, other lesser feasts sometimes have a Vigil, according to custom. The solemnity and joy of other days in the church year is determined by guidelines indicated in the rubrics.
The church year begins on the first of September, according to the Julian (Old Style) calendar, and the entire yearly cycle of divine services is constructed around its relationship to Pascha.
A more detailed account of the feasts and fasts is to be found in the section on “Faith and the Christian Life,” under the explanation of the fourth commandment of the Law of God, and in the sacred history of the New Testament.
5. Divine Service Books.
The first place among the books used in the divine services is occupied by the Gospel, the Epistle and the Psalter. These books are taken from the Sacred Scriptures, the Bible, and therefore are termed the “divine service” books.
After these come the following books: the Clergy Service Books, the Horologion (Book of Hours), the Book of Needs, the Octoechos, the Monthly Menaion, the General Menaion, the Festal Menaion, the Lenten Triodion, the Pentecostarion, the Typicon (or Book of Rubrics), the Irmologion, and the Canonik. These books were composed in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition by the fathers and teachers of the Orthodox Church and are called the church service books.
The Gospel is the Word of God. It consists of the first four books of the New Testament written by the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Gospels contain an account of the earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ: His teaching, miracles, passion and death on the Cross, His glorious Resurrection and His Ascension into Heaven. For the services, the Gospel is specially divided into the usual chapters and verses, but also into special sections. At the end of the volume one finds a series of tables which indicate when the various sections are to be read during the church year.
The Epistle is the term which refers to the book which contains the following books of the New Testament: the Acts of the Apostles, the catholic (general) epistles and the epistles of the Apostle Paul, thus excluding only the book of Revelation. The Epistle, like the Gospel, is divided, in addition to chapters and verses, into sections with tables at the back of the book indicating when and how to read them.
The Psalter is the book of the Prophet and King David. It is so termed because the majority of the psalms in it were written by the holy Prophet David. In these psalms the holy Prophet opens his soul to God with all the grief of repentance for sins committed, and joy and glorification of the infinite perfection of God. He expresses his gratitude for all the mercies of His care and seeks help amid all the obstacles that confront him. For this reason the Psalter is used more than any other service book during the course of the services.
The Psalter is divided, for use during services, into twenty sections called “kathismas” (derived from the Greek word “to sit,” as it is customary to sit while they are being read). Each of these is divided into three portions called “Glories,” since “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit…” is read between each part.
In addition to the simple Psalter there is also a “service” Psalter which contains three additions: a) the Horologion, b) the troparia and kontakia taken from all the other service books, and c) the entire prayer rule which should be said by those intending to partake of the Mystery of Holy Communion.
The Clergy Service Book is for the use of priests and deacons. It contains the order of Vespers, Matins and the Liturgy, with emphasis on the parts said by those serving. At the end of the book are found the dismissals, prokeimena, megalynaria, and a menologion, or list of saints commemorated daily by the Church.
The Pontifical Service Book is distinguished by the fact that it also contains the order of consecrating an Antimins and the services for tonsuring readers, and ordaining subdeacons, deacons and priests.
The Horologion is the book which serves as the basic guide for readers and chanters on cliros. The Horologion contains the unchanging parts of all the daily services, except the Liturgy.
The Book of Needs is the book which includes the order of services for the various Mysteries with the exception of the Mysteries of Holy Communion and Ordination. Other services included are the Order of Burial of the Reposed, the Order of Blessing of Water, the Prayers for the Birth of a Child, the Naming of a Child and his “Churching,” as well as blessings for other occasions.
The Octoechos, or Book of the Eight Tones, contains all the hymns in the form of verses, troparia, kontakia, canons, etc., which are divided into eight groups of melodies, or “tones.” Each tone in turn contains the hymnody for an entire week, so that the complete Octoechos is repeated every eight weeks throughout most of the year. The arrangement of ecclesiastical chanting into tones was entirely the work of the famous hymnographer of the Byzantine Church, St. John of Damascus (eighth century). The text of the Octoechos is ascribed to him, although one should note that many parts of it are the work of St. Metrophanes, bishop of Smyrna, St. Joseph the Hymnographer, and others over the centuries.
The Monthly Menaion contains the prayers and hymns in honor of the saints of each day of the year and the solemn festival services for the feasts of the Lord and the Theotokos which fall on fixed calendar dates. Following the number of twelve months, it is divided into twelve volumes.
The General Menaion contains the hymnography common to an entire category of saints, for example, in honor of prophets, or apostles, or martyrs, or monastics. It is used in cases when a special service to a particular saint is not available.
The Festal Menaion contains all the services for the immovable great feasts, as extracted from the Monthly Menaion.
The Lenten Triodion contains all the special parts of the services for the course of the Great Fast prior to Pascha and the Sunday services in the weeks preceding it, beginning with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. This service book derives its name from the Greek word “triod,” which means tri-hymned, and refers to the fact that for each day of the Fast the canons chanted do not comprise the usual nine odes, based on nine great hymns from the Old and New Testament, but only three.
The Pentecostarion includes the hymnography used from the feast of Holy Pascha through the Sunday of All Saints, the first Sunday after Pentecost.
The Typikon or Book of Rubrics contains a detailed account of which days and times different services ought to be conducted and in which specific order they should be read or chanted, as contained in the Service Book of the Clergy, the Horologion, the Octoechos and the other divine service books.
The Irmologion contains the initial hymns or “irrnosi” from each of the nine odes of the various canons as chanted at Matins since these are not always printed in full in the various service books.
The Ectenias (Litanies).
During the course of the divine services we often hear a series of prayerful supplications which are intoned slowly by either a deacon or the priest in the name of all those praying. After each petition the choir sings, “Lord, have mercy” or “Grant this, O Lord.” These are called ectenias (litanies), which are Greek words meaning “entreaty” or “ardent supplication.”
These are five of the most frequently used litanies:
1. The Great Litany or Litany of Peace which begins with the words “In peace, let us pray to the Lord.” It contains many different petitions for prosperity and salvation of various groups, and after each one the choir chants “Lord, have mercy.”
2. The Small Litany is a shortened form of the Great Litany. It begins with the words “Again and again in peace let us pray to the Lord.” It contains three petitions.
3. The Augmented Litany begins with the words “Have mercy upon us, O God, according to Thy great mercy, we pray Thee, hearken and have mercy.” After each petition the choir responds with “Lord, have mercy” thrice. Therefore the litany is termed “augmented,” since it is an intensified supplication.
4. The Litany of Fervent Supplication begins with the words “Let us complete our morning (or evening) prayer unto the Lord.” After each of the petitions of this litany, except for the first two, the choir responds with “Grant this, O Lord.”
5. The Litany for the Reposed is composed of entreaties to the Lord that He might grant rest in the Heavenly Kingdom, to the souls of the departed by forgiving them all their sins.
Each of these litanies concludes with an exclamation by the priest that glorifies the Most-holy Trinity.
6. Major Services and Their Rubrics.
The All-night Vigil.
The All-night Vigil is the divine service which is served on the evening prior to the days of specially celebrated feasts. It consists of the combination of Vespers, Matins and First Hour, during which both services are conducted with greater solemnity and with more illumination of the church than on other days.
This service is given the name “All-night,” because in ancient times, it began in the later evening and it continued through the entire night until dawn.
Later, in condescension to the weakness of the faithful, this service was begun earlier, and certain contractions were made in the readings and chanting, and therefore it now does not last so long as it did. However, the former term “All-night” is preserved.
Vespers recalls and represents events of the Old Testament: the creation of the world, the fall into sin of the first human beings, their expulsion from Paradise, their repentance and prayer for salvation, the hope of mankind in accordance with the promise of God for a Saviour and finally, the fulfillment of that promise.
The Vespers of an All-night Vigil begins with the opening of the Royal Gates. The priest and deacon silently cense the Altar Table and the entire sanctuary so that clouds of incense fill the depths of the sanctuary. This silent censing represents the beginning of the creation of the world. In the beginning God created heaven and earth. And the earth was without form and void, and the Spirit of God hovered over the original material earth, breathing upon it a life-creating power, but the creating word of God had not yet begun to resound.
Then the priest stands before the Altar and intones the first exclamation to the glory of the Creator and Founder of the world, the Most-holy Trinity, “Glory to the Holy, Consubstantial, Life-creating, and Indivisible Trinity, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.” Then he four times summons the faithful, “O come, let us worship God our King. O come let us worship and fall down before Christ, our King and our God. O come let us worship and fall down before Christ Himself, our King and our God. O come let us worship and fall down before Him.” For All things were made by Him; and without him was not anything made that was made (John 1:3).
In response to this summons, the choir solemnly chants the 103rd Psalm, which describes the creation of the world and glorifies the wisdom of God: Bless the Lord, O my soul. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, O Lord my God, Thou hast been magnified exceedingly… In wisdom hast Thou made them all… Wondrous are Thy works, O Lord… Glory to Thee, O Lord, Who hast made them all.
During the chanting of this psalm the priest goes forth from the sanctuary and completes the censing of the entire church and the faithful therein, while a deacon precedes him bearing a lit candle in his hand.
This sacred action not only reminds those praying of the creation of the world, but primarily of the blessed life in Paradise of the first human beings, when the Lord God Himself walked among them. The open Royal Gates signify that at that time the gates of Paradise were open for all people.
Then man was deceived by the Devil and transgressed against the will of God and fell into sin. Because of their fall, mankind was deprived of blessed life in Paradise. They were driven out of Paradise and the gates were closed to them. To symbolize this expulsion, following the censing of the church and the conclusion of the chanting of the psalm, the Royal Gates are closed.
Then the deacon comes out from the sanctuary and stands before the closed Royal Gates, as Adam did before the sealed entrance into Paradise, and intones the Great Litany:
In peace let us pray to the Lord. Let us pray to the Lord when we have been reconciled with all our neighbors, so that we feel no anger or hostility towards them. For the peace from above, and for the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord. Let us pray that the Lord send down upon us “from on high” the peace of Heaven and that He save our souls.
After the Great Litany and the exclamation of the priest, certain selected verses are usually sung from the first three psalms of the Psalter:
Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, that is, he who has not lived or acted on the advice of those who are irreverent and impious. For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous, and the way of the ungodly shall perish. For the Lord knows the life of the righteous and the life of the impious leads to ruin. The deacon then intones the Little Litany, “Again and again, in peace let us pray to the Lord…” After this litany the choir chants the verses of certain psalms that express the longing of man for salvation and Paradise: Lord, I have cried unto Thee, hearken unto me. Hearken unto me, O Lord… Attend to the voice of my supplication, when I cry unto Thee… Let my prayer be set forth as incense before Thee, the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice. Hearken unto me, O Lord. During the chanting of these verses the deacon censes the church once more.
This entire period of the divine service, beginning with the opening of the Royal Gates, through the petitions of the Great Ectenia and the chanting of the psalms, represents the miserable state of mankind to which it was subjected by the fall of our forefathers into sin. With the fall all the deprivations, pains and sufferings we experience came into our lives. We cry out to God, “Lord, have mercy” and request peace and salvation for our souls. We feel contrition that we heeded the ungodly counsel of the Devil. We ask God for the forgiveness of our sins and deliverance from troubles, and we place all our hope in the mercy of God. The censing by the deacon at this time signifies the sacrifices of the Old Testament and our own prayers as well, which we offer to God.
Alternating with the chanting of the Old Testament verses of these psalms of “Lord, I have cried” are New testament hymns composed in honor of the saint or feast of the day.
The last verse is called the Theotokion, or Dogmatikon, since it is sung in honor of the Mother of God, and in it is set forth the dogma on the incarnation of the Son of God from the Virgin Mary. On the twelve great feasts, instead of the Theotokion a special verse is chanted in honor of the feast.
During the chanting of the Theotokion the Royal Gates are opened, and the Vespers Entry is made; a candle bearer comes through the north door of the Sanctuary, followed by the deacon with the censer and finally the priest. The priest stops on the ambo facing the Royal Gates and after blessing the entry with the sign of the Cross, and the deacon’s intoning of the words “Wisdom, let us attend!” the priest reenters the Altar together with the deacon through the Royal Gates and goes to stand next to the High Place behind the Holy Table.
At this time the choir chants a hymn to the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ: “O Gentle Light of the holy glory of the immortal, heavenly, holy blessed Father, O Jesus Christ: having come to the setting of the sun, having beheld the evening light, we praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: God. Meet it is for Thee at all times to be hymned with reverent voices, O Son of God, Giver of Life. Wherefore, the world doth glorify Thee.”
In this hymn the Son of God is called the Gentle Light that comes from the Heavenly Father, because He came to this earth not in the fullness of divine glory but in the gentle radiance of this glory. This hymn also says that only with reverent voices, and not our sinful mouths, can He be exalted worthily and the necessary glorification be accomplished.
The entry during Vespers reminds the faithful how the Old Testament righteous, in harmony with the promise of God that was manifest in prototypes and prophecies, expected the coming of the Saviour, and how He appeared in the world for the salvation of the human race.
The censer with incense used at the entry signifies that our prayers, by the intercession of our Lord the Saviour, are offered to God like incense. It also signifies the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church.
The blessing with the sign of the Cross shows that by means of the Cross of the Lord the doors into Paradise are opened again for us.
Following the chanting of the hymn “O Gentle Light…” we sing the prokeimenon, short verses taken from the Holy Scriptures. On Saturday evening, for the Vespers for Sunday, we chant, “The Lord is King; He is clothed with majesty.”
After the chanting of the prokeimenon, on the more important feasts there are readings. These are selections from the Scriptures in which there is a prophecy or a prototype which relates to the event being celebrated, or in which edifying teachings are set forth, which relate to the saint commemorated that day.
Following the prokeimenon and readings the deacon intones the Augmented Litany, “Let us all say with our whole soul and with our whole mind, let us say.”
The prayer, “Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this evening without sin…” follows, and at the conclusion of this prayer the deacon reads the Supplicatory Litany, “Let us complete our evening prayer unto the Lord…”
On great feasts after the Augmented and Supplicatory Litanies the Litia, or Blessing of Bread and Wine, is celebrated.
“Litia” is a Greek word meaning “common prayer.” The Litia, a series of verses chanted by the choir followed by an enumeration of many saints whose prayers are besought, is celebrated in the western end of the church, near the main entrance doors, or in the Narthex, if the church is so arranged. This part of the service was intended for those who were standing in the Narthex, the catechumens and penitents, so they might be able to take part in the common service on the occasions of the major festivals.
At the end of the Litia is the blessing and sanctification of five loaves of bread, wheat, wine and oil to recall the ancient custom of providing food for those assembled who had come some distance, in order to give them strength during the long divine services. The five loaves are blessed to recall the feeding of the five thousand with five loaves of bread. Later, during the main part of Matins, the priest anoints the faithful with the sanctified oil, after they have venerated the festal icon.
After the Litia, or if it is not served, after the Supplicatory Litany, the Aposticha (Verses with hymns) are chanted. These are a few verses which are specially written in memory of the occasion.
Vespers ends with the reading of the prayer of St. Simeon the God-Receiver, “Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, O Master, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples; a light of revelation for the gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.” This prayer is followed by the reading of the Trisagion and the Lord’s Prayer, and the singing of the salutation of the Theotokos, “O Theotokos and Virgin, Rejoice!…,” or the troparion of the feast, and finally the thrice-chanted prayer of the Psalmist: “Blessed be the name of the Lord from henceforth and for evermore.” The 33rd Psalm is then read or chanted until the verse, “But they that seek the Lord shall not be deprived o’f any good thing.” Then follows the priestly blessing, “The blessing of the Lord be upon you, through His grace and love for mankind, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.”
The conclusion of Vespers with the prayer of St. Simeon and the angelic salutation of the Theotokos indicates the fulfillment of the divine promise of a Saviour.
Immediately after the conclusion of Vespers during an All-Night Vigil, Matins begins with the reading of the Six Psalms.
The second half of the All-night Vigil, Matins, is meant to remind us of the New Testament period: the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ in the world for our salvation and His glorious Resurrection.
The beginning of Matins immediately reminds us of the Nativity of Christ. It begins with the doxology or glorification of the angels who appeared to the shepherds in Bethlehem: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill among men.
This is followed by the reading of the Six Psalms, selected from those by the Prophet David (3, 37, 62, 87,102 and 142) in which the sinful condition of mankind is depicted with all its weakness and temptations. The ardent expectation of mankind for their only hope, the mercy of God, is expressed here. Those praying in church should be listening with special attentiveness and reverence to these psalms.
After the Six Psalms the deacon proclaims the Great Litany.
The choir follows the Litany with the loud and joyful chant of this hymn with its verses: “God is the Lord and hath appeared unto us; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.” It is affirmed that God is Lord and has manifested Himself unto us, and He Who comes in the glory of the Lord is worthy of glorification.
The troparion or hymn that particularly honors and describes the feast or saint being celebrated follows, and then two kathismas are read, two of the twenty sections into which the Psalter is consecutively divided. The reading of the kathismas, as well as that of the Six Psalms, calls us to ponder our wretched, sinful condition and to place all our hope on the mercy and help of God. At the conclusion of each kathisma the deacon recites the Small Litany.
The Polyeleos, a Greek word meaning “much mercy,” is then celebrated. The Polyeleos is the most festive and solemn part of Matins and the All-night Vigil, expressing the glorification of the mercy of God, which has been manifested to us by the coming to earth of the Son of God and His accomplishing our salvation from the power of the Devil and death.
The Polyeleos begins with the triumphant singing of the verses of praise: Praise ye the name of the Lord; O ye servants, praise the Lord. Alleluia. Blessed is the Lord out of Sion, Who dwelleth in Jerusalem. Alleluia. O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endureth forever. Alleluia. O give thanks unto the God of heaven; for His mercy endureth forever. Alleluia.
With the chanting of these verses all the lamps and candles in the church are lit, the Royal Gates are opened, and the priest, preceded by the deacon holding a lit candle, comes out of the altar and goes around the church censing as a sign of reverence for God and His Saints.
On Sundays, after the chanting of these verses, special Resurrection troparia, joyful hymns in honor of the Resurrection of Christ, are sung. They describe how the angels appeared to the Myrrhbearing women when they came to the tomb of Christ and told them of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
On other great feasts instead of these Resurrection troparia, the Magnification, a short verse of praise in honor of the saint or feast of that day, is sung before its icon.
After the Resurrection troparia or the Magnification, the deacon repeats the Small Litany, which is followed by the singing of the Hymns of Ascent, alternately by two choirs. There are three antiphons for each of the eight tones (the eighth tone has four); one group being used on each Sunday, depending on the tone of the week. Other feast days the first antiphon of the fourth tone is used. The deacon then says the prokeimenon and the priest reads the Gospel.
At a Sunday service the reading from the Gospel concerns the Resurrection of Christ and the appearances of Christ to His disciples, while on other feasts the Gospel reading relates to the events being celebrated or to the saint being glorified.
On Sundays, after the Gospel, the solemn hymn in honor of the risen Christ taken from the Paschal Matins service is sung, “Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the holy Lord Jesus…”
The Gospel is then carried into the center of the church and the faithful proceed forward to venerate it. On other feasts the faithful venerate the festal icon, and the priest anoints them on the forehead with oil and distributes the bread blessed during the Litia.
After the hymn, “Having beheld the Resurrection…,” the 50th Psalm is read as well as other hymns asking for the mercy of the Lord, the Theotokos and the Apostles. The deacon then reads the prayer for the intercession of the Saints, “Save, O God, Thy people…,” and the priest exclaims, “Through the mercy and compassion….” The chanting of the Canon begins.
The canon is the name for a series of hymns which are composed according to a definite order. “Canon” is a Greek word which means “rule.”
A canon is divided into nine parts or odes. The first verse of each ode is called the irmos, which means “connection” or “link” and is chanted. With these irmosi all the rest of the canon is joined into one whole. The rest of the verses for each ode, called troparia, are now usually read, although they were originally chanted to the same melody as the irmos. The second ode of the canons is included only during Great Lent due to its penitential character.
The most noted composers of these canons were Sts. John of Damascus, Cosmas of Maiouma and Andrew of Crete, who wrote the penitential Great Canon used during Great Lent. The hymnography of these composers was inspired by the prayers and actions of some of the great Old Testament saints. Though in common practice they are now chanted only during Great Lent, each ode should be preceded by the Biblical ode upon which each Canon ode is based. The figures commemorated for each Biblical ode, which are found at the end of the Psalter, are the Prophet Moses (first and second odes); the Prophetess Anna, the mother of Samuel (third ode); the Prophet Habbakuk (fourth ode); the Prophet Isaiah (fifth ode); the Prophet Jonah (the sixth ode); the three Hebrew children (seventh and eighth odes); and the Priest Zacharias, the father of St. John the Forerunner (ninth ode).
Prior to the beginning of the ninth ode, the deacon proclaims: “The Theotokos and Mother of the Light, let us magnify in song,” and proceeds to cense around the entire church. The choir then begins the Song of the Theotokos, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God My Saviour.” Each verse of this hymn alternates with the singing of the refrain, “More honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, Who without corruption gavest birth to God the Word, the very Theotokos, Thee do we magnify.” Following this hymn to the Theotokos, the choir continues with the irmos and troparia of the ninth ode of the canon.
Concerning the general content of the canons, the irmosi remind the faithful of the Old Testament period and events from the history of our salvation and gradually lead our thoughts to the Nativity of Christ. The troparia recount New Testament events and the history of the Church, presenting a series of verses or hymns glorifying the Lord and the Mother of God, and also honoring the event being celebrated, or the saint glorified on this day.
On major feasts each ode is concluded by a katavasia, a Greek word meaning “descent,” and the deacon proclaims the Small Litany after the third, sixth and ninth odes.
On Sundays, “Holy is the Lord our God” is then alternated with a few verses, and another special verse for the feast called the Exapostilarion, or “Hymn of Lights,” is chanted.
Then the Lauds or “Praises” (Psalms 148,149,150) are chanted, along with the verses for the “Praises,” in which all of God’s creation is summoned to glorify Him: “Let every breath praise the Lord….” If it is a major feast special hymns in honor of the occasion are inserted between the final verses.
The Great Doxology follows the chanting of the Lauds. The Royal Gates are opened during the singing of the last hymn of the Lauds (the Sunday Theotokion) and the priest exclaims, “Glory to Thee Who has shown us the light.” The doxology begins “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill among men. We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we worship Thee, we glorify Thee, we give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory…” In early Church practice the singing of this hymn just preceded the first light of dawn.
In the Great Doxology we give thanks to God for the light of day and for the bestowal of spiritual Light — the light of Truth, Christ the Saviour, Who has enlightened mankind with His teachings. The Doxology concludes with the chanting of the Trisagion and the singing of the festal troparion. The deacon then intones the Augmented and Supplicatory litanies.
Matins for an All-night Vigil concludes with the Dismissal. The priest turns to the faithful and says, “May Christ our true God (on Sundays, “Who rose from the dead”) through the intercessions of His Most-pure Mother, of the holy, glorious, and all-praised Apostles, of the holy and righteous Ancestors of God Joachim and Anna, and of all the saints, have mercy on us and save us, for He is good and the Lover of mankind.”
The choir responds with a prayer that the Lord preserve the Orthodox episcopate for many years, as well as the ruling hierarch and all Orthodox Christians. The last part of the All-night Vigil, the First Hour, follows.
The service of the First Hour consists of the reading of three psalms and of various prayers, in which we request that God hear our voices in the morning and that He guide our hands during the course of the day. The First Hour concludes with the victorious hymn in honor of the Theotokos, “To Thee the Champion Leader…” The priest reads the Dismissal for the First Hour, and the All-night Vigil comes to an end.
7. The Divine Liturgy.
The Liturgy is the most important divine service, for in it the most holy Mystery of Communion is celebrated, as established by our Lord Jesus Christ on Holy Thursday evening, the eve of His Passion. After He had washed the feet of His disciples, to give them an example of humility, the Lord gave praise to God the Father, took bread, blessed it and broke it, giving it to the Apostles, saying, Take, eat, this is My Body, which is broken for you. Then He took a cup with grape wine and also blessed it and gave it to them with the words, Drink of it all of you: for this is My Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins. And when they had communed of these, the Lord gave them the commandment to always perform this Mystery, Do this in remembrance of Me (Matt. 26:26-28, Lk. 22:19; I Cor. 11:24).
The Apostles celebrated Holy Communion according to the commandment and example of Jesus Christ and taught all Christians to perform this great and saving Mystery. In the earliest times the order and form of celebrating the Liturgy was transmitted orally, and all the prayers and sacred hymns were memorized. Eventually, written explications of the apostolic Liturgy began to appear. As time passed, new prayers, hymns and sacred actions were added in various churches so that the uniformity of its performance was lost. The need arose to unify all the existing orders of the Liturgy and to reintroduce harmony in their celebration. In the fourth century, when the persecutions of the Romans against Christians ended, it was possible to re-establish good order in the Church’s inner life through Ecumenical Councils. St. Basil the Great wrote down and offered for general use one form of the Liturgy, while St. John Chrysostom composed a shorter version of St. Basil’s Liturgy. These liturgies were based on the most ancient Liturgy, ascribed to St. James the Apostle, the first bishop of Jerusalem.
St. Basil the Great, who reposed in 379 A.D, was archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia in Asia Minor. He is called “the Great” because of his great ascetic endeavors and his literary contribution to the Church of numerous prayers and ecclesiastical writings and rules.
St. John Chrysostom was an archbishop of Constantinople. He was called “Chrysostom” (in Greek, “the golden tongued”) for his unique rhetorical gifts with which he proclaimed the Word of God. Though he reposed in 402 A.D. in exile, many volumes of his sermons and letters remain to edify us spiritually.
The liturgy is described by various terms. “Liturgy” itself is a Greek word meaning “common action or service” and signifies that the Mystery of Holy Communion is the reconciling sacrifice of God for the sins of the entire community of faithful, the living and the dead. Since the Mystery of Holy Communion is called “Evharistia” in Greek or “the Thanksgiving Sacrifice,” the Liturgy is also called the “Eucharist.” It is also termed the “Mystical Supper” or the “Lord’s Supper” since it is customarily celebrated around noon, and the Body and Blood of Christ offered in the Mystery of Holy Communion are called such in the Word of God (cf. I Cor. 10:21; 11:20). In apostolic times the Liturgy was referred to as the breaking of bread (Acts 2:46). In the Liturgy the earthly life and teachings of Jesus Christ, from His Nativity to His Ascension into Heaven, are recalled, as well as the benefits which He bestowed upon the earth for our salvation.
The order of the Liturgy is as follows. First, the elements for the Mystery are prepared, then the faithful are prepared for the Mystery, and finally the very Mystery itself is celebrated and the faithful receive Communion. The Liturgy is divided into three parts: 1. the Proskomedia, 2. the Liturgy of the Catechumens and 3. the Liturgy of the Faithful.
“Proskomedia” is a Greek word meaning “offering.” The first part of the Liturgy derives its name from the early Christian custom of the people offering the bread and wine, and all else that was needed for the Liturgy. Therefore the very bread which is used in it is termed “prosphora,” another word meaning “offering.” This bread or prosphora must be leavened, pure and made of wheat flour. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself, for the celebration of the Mystery of Holy Communion, used leavened, not unleavened bread, as is clear from the Greek word used in the New Testament. The prosphora must be round and is formed into two parts, one above the other, as an image of the two natures of Jesus Christ, divine and human. On the flat surface of the upper part a seal of the Cross is impressed, and in the four sections are thus formed the initial Greek letters of the name of “Jesus Christ,” IC XC, and the Greek word NIKA, which mean “Jesus Christ conquers.” The wine used in the Mystery must be red grape wine, as this color reminds one of the color of blood. The wine is mixed with water to remind us of the pierced side of the Saviour from which flowed blood and water on the Cross. Five prosphoras are used in the Proskomedia to recall the five loaves with which Christ miraculously fed the five thousand, an event which gave Jesus Christ the means to teach the people about spiritual nourishment, about the incorrupt, spiritual food which is bestowed in the Mystery of Holy Communion (John 6:22-58). For Communion only one prosphora is used (the Lamb), in accordance with the words of the Apostle: one loaf, and we many are one body; for all have partaken of only one loaf (I Cor. 10:17). Therefore this one prosphora must correspond in size to the number of communicants.
The Celebration of Proskomedia.
In order to prepare, according to the ecclesiastical Typikon, for the celebration of the Liturgy, the priest and deacon read the “entrance prayers” before the closed doors of the Royal Doors and then enter the Sanctuary and vest. Then going to the Altar of Oblation the priest blesses the beginning of Proskomedia, takes the first prosphora, the Lamb, and with the spear makes the sign of the Cross over it three times, saying the words, “In remembrance of our Lord and God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.” These words mean that the Proskomedia is celebrated according to the commandments of Jesus Christ. The priest then cuts a cube out of the center of this prosphora with the spear and pronounces the words of the Prophet Isaiah, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a blameless lamb before his shearer is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth; in His lowliness His Judgement was taken away (Is. 53:7-8). This cubical portion of the prosphora is called the Lamb (John 1:29) and is placed on the diskos. Then the priest cuts cruciformly the lower side of the Lamb while saying the words, “Sacrificed is the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world, for the life and salvation of the world.” He then pierces the right side of the Lamb with the spear, saying the words of the Evangelist, One of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith there came out blood and water. And he that saw it bare witness, and his witness is true (John 19:34). In accordance with these words wine is poured into the chalice mixed with water. From the second prosphora the priest cuts out one portion in honor of the Mother of God and places it on the right side of the Lamb on the diskos. From the third prosphora, which is called “that of the nine ranks,” are taken nine portions in honor of the saints, John the Baptist, the prophets, the apostles, the hierarchs, the martyrs, the monastic saints, the unmercenaries, the parents of God, Joachim and Anna, the saint who is celebrated that day, and finally the saint whose liturgy is being celebrated. These portions are placed on the left side the Lamb on the diskos in three rows of three. From the fourth prosphora portions are removed for the hierarchs, the priesthood and all the living, and are placed below the Lamb. From the fifth prosphora, portions are taken for those Orthodox Christians who have reposed, and these are placed just below those which were removed for the living. Finally, portions are removed from those prosphoras donated by the faithful as the names of the living and the dead are read simultaneously for the health and salvation and the repose of the servants of God. These are placed together with those portions taken from the fourth and fifth prosphoras. The Russian tradition is to use five separate prosphoras at the Proskomedia. Other traditions such as the Greek use one or two large ones from which the portions are taken.
At the end of the Proskomedia the priest blesses the censer and incense, and after censing the Star he places it on the diskos over the Lamb and the portions in order to preserve their arrangement. He covers the diskos and chalice with two small cruciform cloth covers, and over the two of them another larger veil called the “aer” is placed. Then he censes the Holy Gifts and prays that the Lord bless the offered gifts, remember those who have offered them and those for whom they are offered, and make the priest himself worthy for the solemn performance the Divine Mystery.
The sacred instruments used and actions performed in the Proskomedia have a symbolic meaning. The Diskos signifies the cave in Bethlehem and Golgotha; the Star, the star of Bethlehem and the Cross; the Covers and Veils, the swaddling clothes and the winding sheet at the tomb of the Saviour; the Chalice, that cup in which Jesus Christ sanctified the wine; the prepared Lamb, the judgment, passion and death of Jesus Christ; its piercing by the spear, the piercing of Christ’s body by one of the soldiers. The arrangement of all the portions in a certain order on the diskos signifies the entire Kingdom of God whose members consist of the Mother of God, the angels, all the holy men who have been pleasing to God, all the faithful Orthodox Christians, living and dead, and in the center its head, the Lord Himself, our Saviour. The censing signifies the overshadowing by the Holy Spirit, whose Grace is shared in the Mystery of Holy Communion.
The Proskomedia is performed by the priest in a quiet voice at the Table of Oblation when the sanctuary is closed. During its celebration, the Third and Sixth (and sometimes the Ninth) Hours are read according to the Horologion.
The Liturgy of the Catechumens.
The second part of the Liturgy is called the Liturgy of the Catechumens because the catechumens, those preparing to receive Holy Baptism and likewise the penitents who are temporarily excommunicated for serious sins, are allowed to participate in its celebration.
The deacon, upon receiving a blessing from the priest, goes out from the Altar to the Ambo, and loudly pronounces the words, “Bless, Master,” that is, bless that the service begin and for the gathered faithful to partake in prayerful glorification of God. The priest in his first exclamation glorifies the Holy Trinity, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.” The choir responds with “Amen” (“so be it”). The deacon intones the Great Litany in which are enumerated the various needs of Christians and our requests to the Lord, at which time the priest in the Altar privately prays that the Lord look down upon the church and those at prayer in it and fulfil their needs. The Great Litany begins by reminding us that in order to pray to the Lord one needs to be “at peace,” that is, reconciled with all, having no resentment, anger, or hostility towards anyone. According to the teaching of the Saviour we may not offer God any gifts, if we have anything against our neighbor (Matt. 5:23-24). The loftiest good for which one should pray is this peace of soul and the salvation of the soul: “for the peace from above (Heaven) and the salvation of our souls.” This peace is that serenity of conscience and sense of joy which we experience when we have conscientiously been to Confession and worthily partaken of Holy Communion, or that sympathetic concern for the welfare of our fellow men when we have done a good deed. The Saviour bestowed this peace on the Apostles during His farewell conversation at the Mystical Supper (John 14:27). “For the peace of the whole world,” asks that there be no disputes and hostility among nations or races throughout the entire world.
“For the good estate of the holy churches of God,” is a prayer that the Orthodox Churches in every country might firmly and unwaveringly, on the basis of the Word of God and the canons of the Universal Church, confess the Holy Orthodox Faith, and “for the union of all,” asks that all may be drawn into one flock of Christ (cf. John 10:16).
We pray “for this holy temple,” which is the principle sacred object of the parish and should be the object of special care on the part of each parishioner, so that the Lord preserve it from fire, thieves and other misfortunes; and that those who enter it (“for them that enter herein”) do so with sincere faith, reverence, and the fear of God.
We pray for the patriarchs, metropolitans, archbishops and bishops because they are entrusted with the overall supervision of the purity of the Christian faith and morals; “for pious rulers,” who preserve the freedom of the Orthodox Faith and the general lawful order for the peaceful life of all citizens; “For this city (or monastery)” in which we live and work, and “for every city, country and the faithful that dwell therein” we also pray in a spirit of Christian love, and for all the other cities and their environs and all the faithful who live in them.
“For seasonable weather, abundance of the fruits of the earth, and peaceful times”: we pray for good weather so that the earth might yield in abundance her fruits that are necessary for the nourishment of all the inhabitants of these countries, and for peaceful times, so that there be no enmity or conflicts among these citizens that will distract them from peaceful and honorable labors; “for travelers by sea, land and air, for the sick, the suffering, the imprisoned and for their salvation” — all those persons who more than others need divine aid and our prayers.
We pray “that we be delivered from every tribulation, wrath, and necessity.” Then we beseech the Lord that He defend and preserve us not according to our deeds nor our merits, which we lack, but solely according to His mercy: “Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by The grace.”
In the final words of the Litany, “calling to remembrance” the Mother of God and all the saints, we entrust and surrender ourselves and each other to Christ God so that He might guide us according to His wise will. The priest concludes the Great Litany with the exclamation, “For unto Thee is due all glory, honor, and worship, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages,” which contains, according to the example of the Lord’s Prayer, the doxology or glorification of the Lord God.
After the Great Litany, Psalms 102 (“Bless the Lord, O my soul…”) and 145 (“Praise the Lord, O my soul…”) are chanted, separated by the Small Litany, “Again and again in peace let us pray to the Lord.” These psalms describe the blessings for the human race bestowed by God. The heart and soul of the Christian must bless the Lord, Who purifies and heals our mental and physical weaknesses and fills our desires with good things and delivers our life from corruption, and thus one must not forget all His benefits. The Lord is merciful, compassionate and longsuffering. He keeps truth unto the ages, gives Judgement to the wronged and food to the hungry, frees the imprisoned, loves the righteous, receives the orphan and widow and punishes the sinner.
These psalms are called the “Typical Psalms” and are chanted “antiphonally,” with the verses alternating between two choirs. These psalms are not sung on the feasts of the Lord but are replaced by special verses from other psalms which relate to the events being celebrated. After each of these verses the refrain is chanted, “Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Saviour, save us.” The verses of the second festal antiphon are dependent on the feast being celebrated. For the Nativity of Christ we chant “Save us, O Son of God, Who art born of the Virgin,” “Who wast baptized in the Jordan” for the Theophany of the Lord, and “Who art risen from the dead” for Pascha. All are concluded with “save us who sing unto Thee. Alleluia.”
The second antiphon is always followed by the hymn, “O Only-begotten Son and Word of God, Who art immortal, yet didst deign for our salvation to be incarnate of the Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, and without change didst become man, Thou Who art one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit, save us.” This hymn sets forth the Orthodox teaching on the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He is the Only-begotten (one in essence) Son and Word of God, Christ God, Who being immortal, became human without ceasing to be God (“without change” — became incarnate) and accepted a human body from the Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. By His crucifixion, He with His death conquered our death, “trampling down death by death,” as one of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, and is glorified equally with the Father and Holy Spirit.
The Small Litany and the chanting of the Gospel Beatitudes follow (Matt. 5:3-12). The Beatitudes indicate the spiritual qualities necessary for a Christian seeking the mercy of God: humility of spirit (spiritual poverty) and contrition concerning one’s sins, meekness when drawing near the righteousness of God, purity of heart, compassion for one’s neighbor, seeking peace in all situations, patience amid every temptation, and a readiness to endure dishonor, persecution, and death for Christ, trusting that as a confessor for Him, and for such ascetic struggles, one can expect a great reward in Heaven. Instead of the Gospel Beatitudes, on the great feasts of the Lord the festal troparion is sung several times with various verses.
During the chanting of the Gospel Beatitudes the Royal Gates are opened for the Small Entry. As the Beatitudes are ending the priest takes the Holy Gospel from the Altar, gives it to the deacon and comes out with the deacon, who carries the sacred Gospel through the north door onto the ambo. This entrance with the Holy Gospel by the clergy is termed the Small Entry to distinguish it from the Great Entrance which follows, and it reminds the faithful of the first appearance of Jesus Christ to the world, when He came to begin His universal preaching. After receiving a blessing from the priest, the deacon remains standing in the Royal Gates and raising the sacred Gospel aloft, he loudly proclaims, “Wisdom! Aright!” He then enters the Sanctuary and places the Gospel on the Holy Table. The exclamation, “Wisdom! Aright!” reminds the faithful that they must stand upright (in the literal meaning of the Greek word Orthi which is correctly, or straight) and be attentive, keeping their thoughts concentrated. They should look upon the Holy Gospel as upon Jesus Christ Himself Who has come to preach, and faithfully sing, “O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ; save us, O Son of God, Who didst rise from the dead (or, through the intercessions of the Theotokos, or Who art wondrous in Thy saints), who chant unto Thee: Alleluia!” The troparia and kon-takia for Sunday, or the feast, or the saint of the day are then chanted, while the priest privately prays that the Heavenly Father Who is hymned by the Cherubim, and glorified by the Seraphim, receive from us the angelic (trisagion) hymn, forgive us our sins, and sanctify and grant us the power to rightly serve Him. The conclusion of this prayer, “For Holy art Thou, our God…,” is uttered aloud.
The Trisagion Hymn, “Holy God…,” is then chanted, though for the Nativity of Christ, the Baptism of the Lord, Pascha and Bright Week, and the Day of the Holy Trinity, as well as on Holy Saturday and Lazarus Saturday, we chant, “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ: Alleluia.” This hymn is chanted because in the early days of the Church, the catechumens received Holy Baptism on these days. On the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross of the Lord (September 14) and on the third Sunday of Great Lent (when the veneration of the Cross is celebrated) instead of the Trisagion we chant, “before Thy Cross we bow down, O Master, and Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify.”
Following the Trisagion the Epistle for the day is read from either the Book of Acts or the seven catholic epistles of the Apostles or the fourteen epistles of the Apostle Paul, according to a special order. The faithful are prepared for the attentive hearing of the Epistle by the exclamations, “Let us attend,” “Peace to all,” “Wisdom” and the chanting of the prokeimenon, which is a special short verse which changes with the day. During the reading of the Epistle a censing is performed as a symbol of the Grace of the Holy Spirit by which the Apostles proclaimed to the entire world the teachings of Jesus Christ. One should respond both to the censing and to the exclamation of the priest, “peace to all,” with a simple bow, without making any sign of the Cross. “Alleluia” is sung three times with the intoning of special verses, and the Gospel of the day is read, also according to a special set of indications. This is preceded and accompanied by the chanting of a joyous hymn, “Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee,” since for the believing Christian there can be no more joyful words than those of the Gospel concerning the life, teachings, and miracles of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Epistle and Gospel must be listened to with particular attention, with a bowed head. It is good for people to familiarize themselves with the readings beforehand. Before the readings begin one ought to cross oneself and at their conclusion make the sign of the Cross and bow.
The Gospel is followed by the Augmented Litany, when the faithful are invited to pray to the Lord God with a pure heart and all the powers of their soul. “Let us say with our whole soul and with our mind…” In two of the petitions we fervently request the Lord to hear our prayer and to have mercy on us. “O Lord, Almighty, the God of our Fathers, we pray Thee, hearken and have mercy — Have mercy on us, O God…” Then follow the fervent petitions for the patriarchs, the metropolitans, the archbishops, the bishops, the ruling hierarch and “all our brethren in Christ” (all the faithful Christians), for pious rulers, for priests, priest monks and all the serving clergy of the Church of Christ, for the blessed and ever-memorable (always worthy of memory) holy Orthodox patriarchs, and pious kings, and rightbelieving queens, and for the founders of the holy church parish, and all the Orthodox fathers and brethren who have reposed, and are buried in the vicinity and everywhere. It is necessary to pray for the dead in the spirit of Christian love which never fails, all the more since for the reposed there is no more repentance after the grave, but only requital: blessed life or eternal torment. Christian prayer for them, good deeds accomplished in their memory, and especially the offering of the bloodless Sacrifice can evoke the mercy of God, lighten the torment of sinners, and according to Tradition even free them entirely.
We pray too for mercy, that the Lord will be compassionate towards us, for life, peace, health, salvation and the forgiveness of the sins of the brethren of this holy temple (the parishioners). The last petition of the Augmented Litany refers to those who are active and do good deeds in the holy, local church (parish), those who labor for it, those who chant and the people present who await of God great and abundant mercy. Those who are active and do good deeds for the church are those faithful who provide the church with all that is necessary for the divine service (oil, incense, prosphoras, etc). and who contribute to the needs of the church and parish with their monetary and material goods for the beauty and decoration of the church, for the support of those who work for it, the readers, chanters, serving clergy, and those who help poor parishioners and provide help when other common religious and moral needs may arise.
The Augmented Litany is followed by the special Litany for the Departed, in which we pray for all the fathers and brethren who have reposed. We beseech Christ the immortal King and our God to forgive them all their sins, voluntary and involuntary, and to grant them a place of repose and serenity in the dwellings of the righteous, and, admitting that there is no man who has not sinned in his life, we ask the Righteous Judge to grant them the Heavenly Kingdom wherein all the righteous find peace.
The Litany for the Catechumens is then recited, in which we ask the Lord to have mercy on them and establish them in the truths of the Holy Faith (“reveal unto them the Gospel of righteousness”) and make them worthy of Holy Baptism (“unite them to His Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”). During this litany the priest opens the Antimins on the Altar, and the litany ends with the exclamation, “that with us they also may glorify…;” in other words, that they (the catechumens) might together with us (the faithful) glorify the all-honorable and great name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Then the catechumens are requested to depart from the church building: “As many as are catechumens, depart…” Catechumens exist even today as people prepare to become Orthodox all over the world, pagans (in China, Japan, Siberia, Africa), Muslims, and Jews — as well as those coming into the Orthodox Church from the schismatic and heretical traditions of the Western denominations. They are all in need of the mercy of God, and therefore we are obliged to pray for them. These words for the catechumens to depart from the church building should also be a warning to us, even if there are no actual catechumens among us. We, the baptized, sin frequently and often without repentance are present in the church, lacking the requisite preparation and having in our hearts hostility and envy against our fellow men. Therefore, with the solemn and threatening words, “catechumens depart,” we as unworthy ones should examine ourselves closely and ponder our unworthi-ness, asking forgiveness from our personal enemies, often imagined, and ask the Lord God for the forgiveness of our sins with the firm resolve to do better.
With the words, “As many as are of the faithful, again and again, in peace let us pray to the Lord,” the Liturgy of the Faithful begins.
The Liturgy of the Faithful.
This third part of the Liturgy is so called because only the faithful are allowed to be present during its celebration — those already baptized. It can be divided into the following sections: 1) The transferal of the honored Gifts from the Table of Oblation to the Holy Table, 2) the preparation of the faithful for the consecration of the Gifts, 3) the consecration (transformation) of the Gifts, 4) the preparation of the faithful for Communion, 5) Communion, and 6) the thanksgiving for Communion and the Dismissal.
The Transferal of the Honored Gifts.
Following the request for the catechumens to depart from the church two short litanies are proclaimed, and the Cherubic Hymn is chanted: “Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim, and chant the thrice-holy hymn unto the Life-creating Trinity, now lay aside all earthly care, that we may receive the King of all, Who cometh invisibly upborne in triumph by the ranks of angels. Alleluia.”
The words of the original Greek for “upborne in triumph” mean literally, “borne aloft as on spears.” This refers to an ancient practice when a nation, desiring to solemnly glorify its king or war leader, would seat him upon their shields, and raising him aloft would carry him before the army and through the city streets. As the shields were borne aloft on the spears, so it would seem that the triumphant leader was carried by their spears.
The Cherubic Hymn reminds the faithful that they have now left behind every thought for daily life, and offering themselves as a likeness of the Cherubim, are found close to God in Heaven and, together with the angels, sing the thrice-holy hymn in praise of God. Prior to the Cherubic Hymn the Royal Gates are opened and the deacon performs the censing, while the priest in private prayers requests of the Lord that He purify his soul and heart from an evil conscience and by the power of the Holy Spirit make him worthy to offer to God the Gifts which have been presented. Then the priest, with the deacon, three times quietly says the words of the Cherubic Hymn, and both proceed to the Table of Oblation for the transferal of the precious Gifts from the Table of Oblation to the Holy Table. The deacon, with the Aer on his left shoulder, carries the Diskos on his head, while the priest carries the Chalice in his hands.
Leaving the altar by the north door, while the choir chants “Let us lay aside all earthly care…,” they come to a stop on the ambo, facing the people. They commemorate the patriarchs, metropolitians, archbishops, the local ruling bishop, the clergy, monastics, the founders of the church (or monastery) and the Orthodox Christians who are present. They then turn and enter the altar through the Royal Gates, place the precious gifts on the Holy Table, on the opened Antimins, and cover them with the Aer. As the choir finishes the Cherubic Hymn the Royal Gates and curtain are closed. The Great Entry symbolizes the solemn passing of Jesus Christ to His voluntary suffering and death by crucifixion. The faithful should stand during this time with bowed heads and pray that the Lord remember them and all those close to them in His Kingdom. After the priest says the words, “and all of you Orthodox Christians, may the Lord God remember in His kingdom,” one must say softly, “And may the Lord God remember your priesthood in His Kingdom, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.”
The Preparation of the Faithful.
Following the Great Entry is the preparation of the faithful so that they might be worthy to be present during the consecration of the Gifts which have been prepared. This preparation begins with the Intercessory Litany, “Let us complete our prayer unto the Lord” for the “Precious Gifts set forth (offered),” so that they might be pleasing to the Lord. At the same time the priest prays privately that the Lord sanctify them with His Grace. We then pray that the Lord help us to pass the entire day in perfection, that is, holy, peaceful, and without sin, and that He send us a Guardian Angel to be a faithful guide on the path of truth and goodness, keeping our souls and bodies from every evil. We ask that He forgive and forget our accidental sins as well as our frequently repeated transgressions, that He grant us all that is good and beneficial for the soul and not those things which gratify our destructive passions, and that all people might live and work in peace and not in enmity and mutually destructive conflict; that we might spend the remainder of our lives at peace with our neighbors and with our own conscience and in contrition for the sins we have committed; that we be granted a Christian ending to our lives, that is, that we might confess and receive the Holy Mysteries of Christ before our repose. We ask for a peaceful end to our lives which is , with peace of soul and reconciliation with our fellow men. Finally, we ask that the Lord deem us worthy to give a good, fearless account at His Dread Judgement.
In order to be present worthily at the celebration of the Holy Mysteries, the following are absolutely required: peace of soul, mutual love and the true (Orthodox) Faith, which unites all believers. Therefore, after the Litany of Intercession, the priest when blessing the people, says “Peace be unto all.” Those praying express the same desire in their souls with the words, “And to Thy spirit.” Then he exclaims, “Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess…,” and the choir chants, “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, One in essence and indivisible.” This response indicates for us Who should be confessed in unanimity in order to recite the Creed in a worthy manner. Then comes the exclamation, “The doors! the doors! In wisdom, let us attend.” The Symbol of Faith (the Creed) is then sung or read, in which briefly, but exactly, our faith in the Holy Trinity and the other main truths of the Orthodox Church are set forth. At this time the curtain behind the Royal Doors is opened and the celebrant lifts the Aer from the precious Gifts, and gently waves it over them in expectation of the descent of the Holy Spirit. The words “The doors! the doors!” in ancient times reminded the doorkeepers to watch carefully at the doors of the church that none of the catechumens or unbelievers enter. Today these words remind the faithful to close the doors of their souls against the assault of thoughts. The words, “In wisdom, let us attend,” indicate that we should be attentive to the truths of the Orthodox faith as set forth in the Creed.
From this point on, the faithful should not leave the church until the end of the Liturgy. The Fathers condemned the transgression of this requirement, writing in the ninth Apostolic Canon, “all faithful who leave the church… and do not remain at prayer until the end, as being those who introduce disorder into the church, should be separated from the church community.” After the Symbol of the Faith the priest exclaims, “Let us stand aright, let us stand with fear, let us attend, that we may offer the holy oblation in peace,” directing the attention of the faithful to the fact that the time has come to offer the “holy oblation,” or sacrifice. It is time to celebrate the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist, and from this moment one ought to stand with special reverence and atten-tiveness. The choir then responds, “A mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise.” We offer with gratitude for the mercy of heavenly peace granted to us from above the only sacrifice we can, that of praise. The priest blesses the faithful with the words, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” His next words, “Let us lift up our hearts,” summon us to a reverent presenting of ourselves before God. The choir responds with reverence in the name of those praying, “We lift them up unto the Lord,” affirming that our hearts are already striving and aspiring to the Lord.
The Consecration of the Gifts.
The act of the Holy Mystery of Communion comprises the main portion of the Liturgy. It begins with the words of the priest, “Let us give thanks unto the Lord.” The faithful express their gratitude to the Lord for His mercy by bowing to Him, while the choir chants, “It is meet and right to worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in essence and indivisible.” Praying silently, the priest offers the eucharistic prayer (one of thanksgiving), glorifying the infinite perfection of God, giving thanks to the Lord for the creation and redemption of mankind and for His mercy, in forms both known and unknown, and for the fact that He deems us worthy to offer Him this bloodless sacrifice, although the higher beings, the archangels, angels, Cherubim and Seraphim stand before Him “singing the triumphal hymn, shouting, crying aloud, and saying.” These last words of the priest are said aloud as the choir proceeds with the described hymn by singing the angelic hymn, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth, Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.” Then the choir adds to this hymn, which is called the “Seraphic Hymn,” the exclamation with which the people greeted the entry of the Lord into Jerusalem, “Hosanna (a Hebrew expression of good will: save, or help, O God!) in the highest, blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest!” The words, “singing the triumphal hymn,” are taken from the visions of the Prophet Ezekiel (1:4-24) and the Apostle John the Theologian (Rev. 4:6-8). In both their visions they beheld the throne of God surrounded by angels in the form of an eagle (singing), a bull (shouting), a lion (crying out) and a man (saying) who continually were exclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts.”
The priest privately continues the eucharistic prayer which glorifies the benevolence and the infinite love of God, which was manifest in the coming upon the earth of the Son of God. In remembrance of the Mystical Supper, when the Lord established the holy Mystery of Communion, he pronounces aloud the words of the Saviour which He spoke upon instituting the Holy Mystery, “Take, eat; this is My Body, which is broken for you, for the remission of sins” and “Drink of it, all of you: this is My Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins.” The priest then inaudibly recalls the commandment of the Saviour to perform this Mystery, glorifies His passion, death, and resurrection, ascension, and His second coming, and then aloud says, “Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee, in behalf of all and for all,” for all the members of the Orthodox Church and for the mercy of God.
The choir then chants slowly, “We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, and we pray unto Thee, O our God,” while the priest in private prayer asks the Lord to send down the Holy Spirit upon the people present and the Gifts being offered and that He might sanctify them. In a subdued voice he reads the troparion from the Third Hour, “O Lord, Who didst send down Thy Most Holy Spirit upon Thine apostles at the third hour, take Him not from us, O Good One, but renew Him in us who pray unto Thee.” The deacon pronounces the twelfth verse from the Fiftieth Psalm, “Create a clean heart in me, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Then the priest again reads the troparion from the Third Hour, and the deacon pronounces the next verse from the same psalm, “Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy holy spirit from me.” The priest reads the troparion for the third time. Blessing the Lamb on the Diskos, he says, “And make this bread the precious Body of Thy Christ.” Blessing the wine in the Chalice, he says, “And that which is in this cup, the precious Blood of Thy Christ.” After each blessing the deacon says, “Amen.” Finally, blessing the bread and wine together the priest says, “Changing them by Thy Holy Spirit.” Again the deacon says, “Amen, amen, amen.” At this great and sacred moment the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the true Body and true Blood of Christ. The priest then makes a full prostration to the ground before the Holy Gifts as to the Very King and God Himself. This is the most important and solemn moment of the Liturgy.
After the sanctification of the Holy Gifts the priest in private prayer asks the Lord that, for those who partake the Holy Gifts, it might serve “unto sobriety of soul (that is, that they may be strengthened in every good deed), unto the remission of sins, unto the communion of the Holy Spirit, unto the fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven, unto boldness toward Thee; not unto Judgement or condemnation.” He then remembers those for whom the Sacrifice is offered, for the Holy Gifts are offered to the Lord God as a Sacrifice of Thanksgiving for all the saints. Then the priest gives special remembrance of the Most-holy Virgin Mary and says aloud, “Especially for our most holy, most pure, most blessed, glorious Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary,” to which the faithful respond with the laudatory hymn in honor of the Mother of God, “It is truly meet” (During Holy Pascha and all the twelve great feasts, until their giving up, instead of “It is truly meet…” a special hymn is chanted, which is the ninth irmos of the festal canon from Matins with its appropriate refrains). The priest at this time privately prays for the reposed, and in beginning the prayer for the living says aloud, “Among the first, remember, O Lord, the Orthodox episcopate…,” that is, the most holy Eastern Orthodox patriarchs and the ruling hierarchy. The faithful respond, “And each and every one.” The prayer for the living ends with the exclamation of the priest, “And grant unto us that with one mouth and one heart we may glorify and hymn Thy most honorable and majestic name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.” After this he gives his blessing to all those present, “And may the mercy of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, be with you all.”
The Preparation of the Faithful for Communion.
This section begins with the Supplicatory Litany, “Having called to remembrance all the saints, again and again, in peace let us pray to the Lord….For the precious Gifts now offered and sanctified—That our God, the Lover of mankind, Who hath received them upon His holy and most heavenly and noetic altar as an odor of spiritual fragrance, will send down upon us Divine Grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit…” Then come the usual requests of the Supplicatory Litany, which ends with the exclamation of the priest, “And vouchsafe us, O Master, with boldness and without condemnation to dare to call upon Thee, the Heavenly God, as Father, and to say.” The choir chants the “Our Father…,” and in some churches all those present sing this prayer together. Then follows the bestowal of peace and the bowing of one’s head during which the priest prays to the Lord that He sanctify the faithful and enable them to partake without condemnation of the Holy Mysteries. At this time the deacon, while standing on the ambo, takes the orarion from his shoulder and girds himself with it in a cruciform pattern, in order to 1) serve the priest unencumbered during Communion and 2) to express his reverence for the Holy Gifts by representing the Seraphim who, as they surround the Throne of God, cover their faces with their wings (Is. 6:2-3). During the exclamation of the deacon, “Let us attend,” the curtain is closed and the priest lifts the Holy Lamb above the Diskos and loudly proclaims, “Holy things are for the holy.” This means that the Holy Gifts may be given only to the “holy,” that is, the faithful who have sanctified themselves with prayer, fasting and the Mystery of Repentance. In recognition of their unworthiness, the chanters, in the name of the faithful, exclaim, “One is Holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.”
Then follows the communion of the serving clergy in the Sanctuary. The priest divides the Holy Lamb into four parts, and communes himself and then gives the Holy Mysteries to the deacon. After the communion of the clergy, the portions intended for the communion of the laity are put into the Chalice. During the communion of the clergy various verses of the psalms termed “Communion verses” are chanted, followed by various hymns relating to the feast, or the Prayers before Communion are read. The Royal Gates are opened then in preparation of the communion of the faithful laity, and the deacon with the sacred Chalice in his hands calls out, “With the fear of God and faith draw near.” The opened Royal Doors are symbolic of the open tomb of the Saviour, and the bringing forth of the Holy Gifts of the appearance of Jesus Christ after His resurrection. After bowing to the Holy Chalice as before the very risen Saviour Himself, the choir, as representatives of the faithful, chant, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. God is the Lord and hath appeared unto us.” Those of the faithful who are to commune, “with the fear of God and faith,” make a preliminary bow to the Holy Chalice and then listen quietly to the prayer before Communion, “I believe, O Lord and I confess…” in which they confess their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Saviour of sinners, their faith in the Mystery of Communion by which, in the visible form of bread and wine, they receive the true Body and Blood of Christ as a pledge of eternal life and the Mystery of Communion with Him. They beseech Him to deem them worthy of partaking without condemnation of the Sacred Mysteries for the forgiveness of sins, promising not only not to betray Christ, as did Judas, but even amid the sufferings of life to be like the wise thief, and to firmly and boldly confess their faith. After making a full prostration — if it is not a Sunday — the faithful step forward and go up to the ambo. To keep good order and out of reverence one should not leave one’s place, nor is it proper to impede or embarrass others with a desire to be first. Likewise, one should not be overly cautious and fearful, but should step forward with gratitude and serenity of faith. Each should remember that he is the first among sinners, but that the mercy of the Lord is infinite. With one’s hands crossed over one’s chest one should step forward to the Royal Gates for Communion and, without making a sign of the Cross near the Chalice, receive Communion from the spoon in the priest’s hands. After receiving, one kisses the side of the Chalice, again without making any sign of the Cross, so that the Chalice will not be accidentlv hit.
Children are encouraged to take Communion often from their earliest infancy, in the name of the faith of their parents and educators in accordance with the words of the Saviour, “Suffer the little children to come unto Me” and “Drink of it, all of you“. Children under seven or so are allowed to take Communion without confession, as they have not reached the age of responsibility or discernment.
Following Communion, the communicants step away from the Royal Gates to the small table set out specially in the center of the church, upon which are a mixture of water and wine together with some small portions of prosphora, which they drink and eat so that none of the Holy Gifts remain in the mouth but are washed down. After the communion of the laity, the priest puts all the particles taken from the offered prosphora into the Holy Chalice with a prayer that the Lord purify with His Blood the sins of all those commemorated through the prayers of the saints. He blesses the congregation with the words, “Save, O God, Thy people (those who believe in Thee) and bless Thine inheritance,” (those who are Thine own, the Church of Christ). In response the choir chants, “We have seen the true Light, we have received the Heavenly Spirit, we have found the true faith, we worship the indivisible Trinity: for The First Appearance of the Lord The First Appearance of the Holy Gifts after the Resurrection, He hath saved us.” This means that we have seen the true light since, having washed our sins in the Mystery of Baptism, we are called the sons of God by Grace, sons of the Light. We have received the Holy Spirit by means of sacred Chrismation, we confess the true Orthodox Faith and worship the indivisible Trinity, because He has saved us. The deacon takes the Diskos from the priest, who hands it to him from the Holy Table, and raising it before him bears it to the Table of Oblation, while the priest takes the Holy Chalice and blesses the faithful with the exclamation, “Always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages” and then likewise carries it to the Table of Oblation. This last elevating and presentation of the Holy Gifts to the congregation, their removal to the Table of Oblation, and the exclamation, are to remind us of the Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ into heaven and His promise to remain in the Church for all time unto the end of the ages (Matt. 28:20).
Thanksgiving for Communion and the Dismissal.
Bowing to the Holy Gifts for the last time, as to the very Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the faithful express their thanks to the Lord for Communion of the Holy Mysteries. The choir chants the hymn of gratitude, “Let our mouth be filled with Thy praise, O Lord, that we may hymn Thy glory, for Thou hast vouchsafed us to partake of Thy holy, divine, immortal and life-creating Mysteries. Keep us in Thy holiness, that we may meditate on Thy righteousness all the day long. Alleluia.” Having exalted the Lord because He has deemed us worthy of partaking of the Divine and immortal and life-creating Mysteries, we ask Him to preserve us in the holiness which we have received through the Holy Mystery of Communion, that we may contemplate on the righteousness of God throughout the entire day. Following this, the deacon intones the Small Litany, “Aright! Having partaken of the divine, holy, most pure, immortal, heavenly, and life-creating, fearful Mysteries of Christ,” and thus summons us to “worthily give thanks unto the Lord.” Having asked His help in living the whole day in holiness, peace, and sinlessness, he invites us to devote ourselves and our lives to Christ God. The priest, folding up the Antimins and placing it on the Gospel, exclaims, “For Thou art our sanctification, and unto Thee do we send up glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.” And then he adds, “Let us depart in peace.”
This indicates that the Liturgy has concluded and that one should leave the Church at peace with all. The choir in the name of all chants, “In the name of the Lord,” that is, we go forth with the blessing of the Lord. The priest then comes out through the Royal Gates and stands facing the Altar in front of the Ambo and reads the “Prayer before the Ambo,” in which he again requests that the Lord save his people and bless His inheritance, sanctify those who love the splendor of the church building, and not deprive all those who hope on His mercy, grant peace to the world, to the priests, to faithful rulers, and to all mankind. This prayer is a condensed version of all the litanies uttered throughout the Divine Liturgy.
After the conclusion of the prayer before the ambo the faithful devote themselves to the will of God with the prayer of the Psalmist “Blessed be the name of the Lord from henceforth and forevermore.” Often at this point a pastoral sermon, based on the Word of God, is given for the spiritual enlightenment and edification of the people. The priest then offers a final blessing, “The blessing of the Lord be upon you, through His grace and love for mankind, always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages,” and gives thanks unto God, “Glory to Thee, O Christ God, our hope, glory to Thee.”
Turning to the people and signing himself with the sign of the Cross, which the people should also make, the priest utters the Dismissal, “May Christ our True God…” At the Dismissal, after the priest commemorates the prayers for us by the Mother of God, the saint of the church, the saints whose memory is celebrated on that day, the righteous ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna (the parents of the Mother of God), and all the saints, he expresses the hope that Christ the true God, will have mercy and save us since He is good and loves mankind. He steps to the bottom of the ambo and holds the holy Cross for the faithful to venerate and distributes the antidoron, the remainders from the prosphora which are cut into small pieces. In an orderly fashion the faithful proceed forward to kiss the Cross as a witness to their faith in the Saviour, in Whose memory the Divine Liturgy was celebrated. The choir chants a short prayer for the preservation for many years of the most holy Orthodox patriarchs, the ruling bishop, the parishioners and all Orthodox Christians.
The Liturgy of St. Basil The Great.
The Liturgy of St. Basil the Great in its content and order is almost identical with the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. The only differences are the following:
1. The prayers which the priest reads privately in the altar, especially that of the Eucharistic Canon, are significantly longer, and therefore the chanting for this Liturgy is of longer duration.
2. The words of the Saviour by which He instituted the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist are as follows, “He gave it to His holy disciples and apostles, saying: Take, eat; this is My Body, which is broken for you for the remission of sins.” And then, “He gave it to His holy disciples and apostles, saying: Drink of it all of you: this is My blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.”
3. Instead of the hymn, “It is truly meet to bless thee…,” a special hymn in honor of the Mother of God is chanted, “In Thee rejoiceth, O Thou who art full of grace, all creation, the angelic assembly and the race of man…”
In addition to these, when the Liturgy of St. Basil is celebrated on Great and Holy Thursday, the Cherubic Hymn is replaced by “Of Thy mystical supper, O Son of God …” and on Great and Holy Saturday: “Let all human flesh keep silence…”
The Liturgy of St. Basil is celebrated only ten times throughout the year, on the eve of the feasts of the Nativity of Christ and the Theophany (or on the feasts themselves if they fall on Sunday or Monday), the first of January (the day St. Basil is commemorated), on the five Sundays of Great Lent (excluding Palm Sunday), and on Great Thursday and Great Saturday of Passion Week.
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.
The distinguishing characteristic of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is that the Eucharistic Canon is not served during its celebration but rather the faithful are communed with “Presanctified Gifts,” gifts which were consecrated earlier at another Liturgy of either St. Basil the Great or St. John Chrysostom.
The Presanctified Liturgy originated in the first centuries of Christianity. The first Christians took communion frequently, some even on weekdays. However, it was considered improper to serve a full Liturgy on days of strict fasting, as they were days of grief and contrition for sins.
Since the Liturgy is the most magnificent of all the church services, in order to give the faithful the opportunity to receive Holy Communion on fast days in the middle of the week, without destroying the character of the divine services of Great Lent, they were provided with the Gifts consecrated earlier. For this reason the service of the Presanctified Gifts was introduced into the services of Great Lent. The definitive order of this Liturgy was put into written form by St. Gregory the Dialogist, the Pope of Rome in the sixth century.
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is celebrated on Wednesdays and Fridays of the first six weeks of Great Lent, on Thursday of the fifth week, when the Great Canon of St. Andrew is commemorated, on February 24th, the commemoration of First and Second Findings of the Head of St. John the Baptist, sometimes on March 9th, the day commemorating the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, if it falls on a fast day, and not a Saturday or Sunday; and on the first three days of Passion Week (Great Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday).
The Presanctified Liturgy is served following the Lenten Hours and consists of Vespers joined to the Liturgy of the Faithful, with the omission of its central part, the sanctification of the gifts.
One kathisma is added to each of the Lenten Hours so that the Psalter might be read twice during the week rather than the usual once.
After the kathisma the priest leaves the altar and reads the troparion of each hour in front of the Royal Doors with its corresponding verses, and makes appropriate prostrations while the choir chants this troparion three times.
In the troparion of the Third Hour we ask the Lord to not take from us, due to our sins, the Holy Spirit that He sent down upon His disciples.
In the troparion of the Sixth Hour we beseech Christ, Who voluntarily endured crucifixion on the Cross for us sinners, to forgive us our sins.
In the troparion of the Ninth Hour we beseech Christ, Who died for us, to mortify the sinful movements of our flesh.
At the end of each hour we read with prostrations the Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian: “O Lord and Master of my life…”
During the Sixth Hour there is a reading from the book of the Prophet Isaiah.
The Ninth Hour is followed by the Typica, and the Beatitudes are read along with the prayer of the repentant thief on the Cross, “Remember us, O Lord, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” Then various prayers are read, followed by the Prayer of St. Ephraim and the Dismissal.
Immediately after this, Vespers with the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts begins with the exclamation, “Blessed is the kingdom of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.”
Up to the Entry the service proceeds in the usual order. After the Entry and “O Gentle Light” the reader goes to the center of the church and reads two lessons, one from the Book of Genesis relating to the fall of Adam and his unfortunate descendants, the other from the Proverbs of Solomon which exhorts one to seek and love divine wisdom. Between these two readings the Royal Gates are opened and the priest, holding a lit candle and censer, proclaims the words, “Wisdom! Aright!,” blesses the faithful with them and says, “The light of Christ enlighteneth all.”
In response, the faithful, recognizing their unworthiness before Christ, the pre-eternal Light which enlightens and sanctifies mankind, make a prostration to the floor.
Following the second reading, the Royal Gates are again opened, and in the center of the church, choir members slowly chant these Psalm verses:
“Let my prayer be set forth as incense before Thee, the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice.
“Lord, I have cried unto Thee, hearken unto me; attend to the voice of my supplication…”
During the chanting of these verses, the faithful are kneeling prostrate and the priest, standing before the Holy Table, censes.
Vespers concludes at this point with the Prayer of St. Ephraim, “O Lord and Master of my life…,” and the main portion of the Presanctified Liturgy begins.
On the first three days of Passion Week (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday), after this prayer the Gospel is read. On other days the Augmented Litany and the Litanies of the Catechumens and of the Faithful are intoned as in a usual Liturgy.
During the Great Entry, instead of “Let us who represent the Cherubim…” the choir chants, “Now the powers of Heaven invisibly serve with us; for behold, the King of Glory entereth. Behold, the mystical sacrifice that hath been accomplished is escorted.”
During this hymn the Royal Gates are opened and the Altar is censed.
With the conclusion of the first half of this hymn, with the words “is borne in triumph,” the Presanctified Gifts are transferred from the Table of Oblation to the Altar Table. The priest, with the Chalice, preceded by candles and the deacon with the censer, goes out through the north door on to the solea with the Diskos over his head, and silently bears them into the Sanctuary and places them on the Antimins which has been opened earlier on the Altar. Then the choir concludes the interrupted hymn, “With faith and love let us draw nigh that we may become partakers of life everlasting. Alleluia.” Since the Sacred Gifts are already consecrated (transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ) the praying faithful fall prostrate during their transferal to the main altar. The priest then prays “O Lord and Master of my life…” after which the Royal Doors are closed.
Since at this Liturgy the consecration of the Gifts does not occur, all which relates to this sacred action is omitted. Thus, after the Great Entry only the three final portions of the Liturgy of the Faithful are celebrated: a) the preparation of the faithful for Communion, b) the communion of the clergy and the laity, and c) the thanksgiving for Communion with the dismissal. All are celebrated as during a full Liturgy with only minor alterations in accordance with the significance of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.
The Prayer before the Ambo differs in this Liturgy. The priest in the name of the faithful gives thanks to God, Who has deemed them worthy to reach the days of this fast for the purification of the soul and body, and requests that He give His help in accomplishing the good struggle of the fast, preserve them unchanged in the Orthodox Faith, manifest Himself as the conqueror of sin, and grant them uncondemned to worship the holy Resurrection of Christ.
8. Important Actions During the Services and Reflections on their Significance.
For the inner power and significance of the Mysteries see the explanation of the tenth article of the Symbol of Faith.
Baptism and Chrismation.
Before the Mystery of Baptism is celebrated one is given a name in honor of one of the saints of the Orthodox Church. In this rite the priest thrice makes the sign of the Cross over the candidate and prays to the Lord to be merciful to the person and, after joining him through Baptism to the Holy Church, to make him a partaker of eternal blessedness.
When the time arrives for Baptism the priest prays to the Lord to drive away from the person every evil and impure spirit which is concealed and rooted in his heart and to make him a member of the Church and an heir of eternal blessedness. The one being baptized renounces the Devil and gives a promise not to serve him, but rather Christ, and by reading the Creed confirms his faith in Christ, as King and God. In the case of the Baptism of an infant, the renunciation of the Devil and all his works, as well as the Symbol of Faith are said in his name by the sponsors, the godfather and/or the godmother, who thus become the guardians of the faith of the one being baptized and take upon themselves the duty to teach him the faith when he reaches maturity, and the responsibility to see to it that he lives in a Christian manner. Then the priest prays that the Lord sanctify the water in the font, drive out of it the Devil, and make it for the one being baptized a source of a new and holy life. He thrice makes the sign of the Cross in the water, first with his fingers, and then with consecrated oil with which he will likewise anoint the person being baptized, as a sign of the mercy of God towards him. Following this the priest three times immerses him in the water with the words, “The servant of God N. is baptized, in the name of the Father, Amen; And of the Son, Amen; And of the Holy Spirit, Amen.” A white garment is put on the newly baptized, and he is given a cross to wear. The white garment serves as a sign of his purity of soul after Baptism and reminds him to henceforth preserve this purity, and the cross serves as a visible sign of his faith in Jesus Christ.
Immediately after this, the Mystery of Chrismation is performed. The priest anoints the one being baptized on various parts of the body with the words, “the seal (the sign) of the gift of the Holy Spirit.” At that time the newly baptized is invisibly granted the gifts of the Holy Spirit, with the help of which he will grow and be strengthened in the spiritual life. The forehead is anointed with chrism for the sanctification of the mind; the eyes, nostrils, mouth, and ears for the sanctification of the senses; the chest to sanctify the heart; the hands and feet for the sanctification of actions and the entire conduct. Circling around the font three times, the priest with the baptized and his sponsors symbolize the spiritual solemnity and joy of the occasion. The lit candles in their hands serve as a sign of spiritual enlightenment, and the cruciform tonsuring of the baptized symbolizes his dedication to the Lord.
Confession and Communion.
Those approaching these Mysteries after a significant lapse of time should fast for several days in addition to the normal ecclesiastical taste and attend the daily services in the church. For those who commune regularly and frequently and pray daily, additional fasting is not necessary. One should carefully recall one’s sins, consider them with contrition, and pray that the Lord have mercy on one’s soul. At a prearranged time one should come to the priest, who will serve the short service of Confession before an analogion on which are placed a Cross and Gospel, and repent before Christ Himself of one’s sins. The priest, upon noting one’s conscientious repentance, which consists of a full confession and the resolve not to repeat one’s sins, will lay the end of his epitrachelion over the bowed head of the penitent and read the Prayer for the Remission of Sins, in which one’s sins are forgiven in the name of Jesus Christ Himself, and will bless him with the sign of the Cross. Having kissed the Cross, the penitent departs with a peaceful conscience and prays that the Lord grant him to receive Holy Communion. The evening before Communion, one should read at home the Prayers before Communion and whatever rule the priest has given. The Mystery of Holy Communion is celebrated during the Liturgy. All those who have confessed repeat quietly the Prayer before Communion with the priest, and making a bow to the ground (except on Sundays) with reverence, go to the Holy Chalice and commune the Holy Gifts, receiving in the visible form of the bread and wine the true Body and Blood of Christ. After Communion and the Liturgy conclude, in addition to the thanksgiving offered up during the Liturgy, there are special Prayers of Thanksgiving to be read. The ailing and elderly are communed by the priest at home privately after their confessions are heard.
This Mystery is accomplished in the Altar before the Holy Table during the course of a Hierarchical Liturgy. A single bishop ordains one to the diaconate or the priesthood, but the consecration of a bishop is celebrated by a group of bishops, usually three. The ordination of a deacon occurs in the Liturgy following the consecration of the Gifts, to indicate that a deacon does not receive the power to accomplish this Mystery. A priest is ordained during the “Liturgy of the Faithful,” just after the Great Entry, so that he who is consecrated, as one who has received the appropriate Grace, might take part in the sanctification of the Gifts. Bishops are consecrated during the “Liturgy of the Catechumens,” following the Small Entry, which indicates that a bishop is given the right to consecrate others to the various ranks of holy orders. The most important action during an ordination is the hierarchical laying on of hands, together with the calling down upon the one being ordained, of the Grace of the Holy Spirit and therefore consecration is also termed the “Laying on of Hands” (in Greek, “Hierotonia”).
The one to receive Ordination is first led through the Royal Gates into the Altar by either a deacon or priest. The candidate circles the Altar Table three times, stopping each time to kiss the four corners of the Table, and making a prostration before the bishop. He then kneels at the front right hand corner of the Altar, a deacon on one knee, a priest on both knees, and the bishop covers his head with the end of his omophorion, three times making the sign of the Cross over his head, and placing his hand upon him says aloud, “By Divine Grace (N). is raised, through the laying on of hands, to the diaconate (or priesthood); let us pray therefore for him that the Grace of the Holy Spirit may come upon him.” The choir responds “Kyrie eleison” (Greek for “Lord have mercy”) and as the bishop bestows each of the vestments proper to his rank to the newly-ordained he exclaims, “Axios!” (Greek for “Worthy!”). This is then repeated thrice by the clergy and then the choir. Following his vesting the newly-ordained is greeted by all those of his rank as a colleague and he participates in the remainder of the service with them.
The consecration of a bishop is nearly identical, except that the prospective bishop, before the beginning of the Liturgy, stands in the center of the church and pronounces aloud a confession of the Faith and vows to act in accordance with the canons of the Church during his service. After the Little Entry, during the chanting of the Trisagion, he is led into the Altar and remains kneeling before the Altar Table. When the presiding bishop reads the prayer of consecration, all the bishops lay their right hands upon his head and over them hold the open Gospel, with the printed pages downward.
The Mystery of Holy Matrimony is celebrated in the center of the church before an analogion on which are placed a Cross and Gospel. The ceremony begins with the betrothal and is followed by the “crowning,” or actual wedding. The first is performed as follows. The groom stands on the right hand side and the bride on the left. The priest blesses them three times with lit candles and then gives them tp the couple to hold as symbols of conjugal love, blessed by the Lord. After a litany asking God to grant them every good thing and mercy and that He bless their betrothal and unite them and preserve them in peace and unity of soul, the priest blesses and puts on their right hands rings, which earlier were placed on the Altar for sanctification. The groom and bride receive these rings as sacred pledges and as a sign of the indissolubility of the union into which they aspire to enter. The betrothal is followed by the wedding or crowning. Here the priest prays to the Lord to bless the marriage and to send down upon those entering into it His heavenly Grace. As a visible symbol of this Grace, he puts crowns on their heads and blesses them three times together with the words, “O Lord, our God, crown them with glory and honor.” In the epistle from St. Paul which is read, the importance of the Mystery of Marriage and the mutual responsibilities of the husband and wife are discussed, while the Gospel recalls the presence of the Lord Himself at the wedding in Cana. Those united in marriage then drink wine from the same cup as a sign that from this moment they must live as one soul, sharing their joys and sorrows. They then walk behind the priest, circling the analogion three times, as a symbol of spiritual joy and solemnity.
Anointing of the Sick.
This Mystery is also called Unction and is served to aid in healing from weaknesses of soul and body. Ideally it is served by seven priests, but in cases of need it can be served by only one. Into a vessel with wheat is put a smaller vessel with oil as a sign of the mercy of God. Some wine is added to the oil in imitation of the mercy shown by the Good Samaritan to the man attacked by thieves and in memory of the blood of Christ shed on the Cross. Seven lit candles are placed in the wheat and between them seven small sticks wound around one end with cotton which are used to anoint the ailing person seven times. All those present hold lit candles. Following a prayer for the sanctification of the oil and that it might serve the ailing person through the Grace of God unto the healing of soul and body, seven sections from the Epistles and Gospels are read. After each reading the priest anoints the sick person with the sign of the Cross on the forehead, nostrils, cheeks, lips, chest and both sides of the hands while saying a prayer to the Lord that He, as Physician of soul and body might heal His ailing servant from the weaknesses of soul and body. After the seven-fold anointing the priest opens the Gospel and places it with the printed pages downward, as if it were the healing hand of the Saviour Himself, over the head of the sick person and then prays that the Lord forgive Him his sins. Then the sick person kisses the Gospel and Cross and, if possible, makes three prostrations before the priest(s) asking for his blessing and forgiveness. This concludes the Mystery of Unction.
A Moleben is the term for a short service of prayers in which the faithful, according to their individual needs and circumstances, appeal in prayer to the Lord God, the Theotokos, or the saints.
The customary Moleben resembles Matins in its form, but in practice it is significantly shortened and consists of the beginning prayers; the singing of the troparion and refrains, “Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee…,” “Most holy Theotokos, save us…,” “Holy Father, Nicholas, pray unto God for us…” and others; the reading of a passage from the Gospels; the Augmented and Short Litanies; and finally, a prayer to the Lord God, the Theotokos, or the saint petitioned, concerning the subject of the Moleben. Occasionally these Molebens are joined with an akathist or the Lesser Blessing of Water. An akathist is read after the Short Litany before the Gospel reading, while the blessing of waters is served after the Gospel reading.
In addition to the supplicatory Molebens there are also special Molebens which relate to a particular situation: a thanksgiving Moleben for a sign of God’s mercy; a Moleben for the cure of the sick; a Moleben on the occasion of a common trouble: drought, bad weather, flood, war, etc. There are also special Molebens to be served on New Year’s Day, before the school year, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, etc.
The Burial of the Dead.
After his death a Christian’s body is washed and clothed in clean, and if possible, new clothes and placed in a white shroud, preferably that garment in which he was baptized if he was an adult when this occurred, as a sign that the deceased, in his Baptism, gave a promise to lead a life in purity and holiness. He may be dressed in the uniform of his calling as a sign that he departs to the Lord God to give an account for the obligations of his calling in life. Across the forehead is placed a strip of paper representing a crown, imprinted with the images of Christ, the Theotokos, and St. John the Forerunner, with the inscription “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.” It is a sign that the deceased, as a Christian, fought on this earth for the righteousness of God and died in the hope that by the mercy of God, and the intercessions of the Theotokos and St. John the Forerunner, he will receive a crown in Heaven. A cross or an icon is placed in his hands as a sign of the faith of the deceased in Christ, the Theotokos, or one of the saints pleasing to God. The body is placed in a coffin, and is half covered with a church covering as a symbol that the deceased was under the protection of the Orthodox Church. If the body remains in the home then it is put before the domestic icons with the body facing the exit. Candles are placed around the coffin as a sign that the deceased has passed into the realm of light, into the better life beyond the grave. Near the coffin, the Psalter is read, along with prayers for the repose of the deceased, and Pannykhidas are served. Until burial special prayers for the departure of the soul, which are located in the back of the Psalter, are also read. The psalms are read to comfort those grieving for the deceased.
Before the burial the body is transferred to the church for the funeral, and prior to the departure for the church a short service for the repose, the Litia, is chanted and during the actual removal we sing, “Holy God…”
The coffin is placed in the center of the church, with the body facing the Altar. The funeral service consists of hymns in which the entire destiny of a man is depicted. For his transgressions he is returned to the dust from which he was taken, yet despite the multitude of sins a human being does not cease to be “the image of the glory of God,” created in the image and likeness of God. Therefore the holy Church prays to its Master and Lord that by His ineffable mercy He forgive the reposed his sins and deem him worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven. After the readings of the Epistle and Gospel, in which the future resurrection of the dead is described, the priest reads the Prayer of Absolution. With this prayer the deceased is released from any bonds of oaths or curses, and his sins for which he repented, and which despite repentance he might have forgotten, are absolved, and he is released unto the life beyond the grave in peace. The written text of this prayer is then placed in the hand of the reposed. The relatives and friends then give the body a last kiss as a sign of mutual forgiveness, and the body is covered with a white sheet while the priest sprinkles the body with earth in the form of a cross saying, The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and all that dwell therein. The coffin is closed and “Memory eternal” is sung for the reposed.
Following the funeral, the body and coffin are transferred to the cemetery and lowered into the grave with the feet towards the east, so that the person is facing east, and then a short Litia is said for the reposed.
Over the grave of a Christian a cross is placed as a symbol of Christ’s victory over death and hell, like a large fruitful tree under whose shade the Christian finds rest as a traveler after a prolonged journey.
Since She has true faith in the immortality of the human soul, the future resurrection of the dead, the Dread judgement of Christ, and the final reward to be granted to each according to his deeds, the Holy Orthodox Church does not leave Her children who have reposed without prayer, especially during the first few days after death and on days of general remembrance of the dead. She prays for them on the third, ninth and fortieth day after death.
On the third day after death the Holy Church recalls the three day resurrection of Jesus Christ and prays to Him to resurrect the reposed unto a future, blessed life.
On the ninth day the Holy Church prays to the Lord that He might reckon the reposed among the choir of those pleasing to God who are, like the angels, distinguished by nine orders.
On the fortieth day a prayer is said that the Lord Jesus Christ, Who ascended into Heaven, might lift up the deceased into the heavenly dwellings.
Often the remembrance of the reposed, due to the love and faith of the relatives, is celebrated on every one of the forty days with the serving of Liturgy and a Pannykhida.
Finally, on the anniversary of the repose of the deceased, his close relatives and faithful friends pray for him as an expression of their faith that the day of a human death is not the day of annihilation, but a new rebirth unto eternal life. It is the day of the passing of the immortal human soul into different conditions of life, where there is no place for earthly pains, griefs, and woes.
Pannykhidas, or “Memorial Services,” are short services which consist of prayers for the forgiveness of sins and the repose of the deceased in the Kingdom of Heaven. During the serving of a Pannykhida the relatives and friends of the deceased stand with lit candles as a sign that they also believe in the future, radiant life. Towards the end of the Pannykhida, during the reading of the Lord’s Prayer, these candles are extinguished as a sign that our lives, like burning candles, must expire, more often than not without burning through to the expected end.
A Brief Survey of the Particulars of the Divine Services.
After the creation of the world, God consecrated the seventh day for divine worship on earth (Gen. 2:3) and subsequently, through the Law granted to Moses on Sinai, this service was extended to include every day, for He commanded that daily, the morning and evening are to be consecrated by offering sacrifices to God.
Jesus Christ, when He came to earth to fulfill the will of the Heavenly Father, and the Holy Apostles, as the select disciples of the Lord, by their example and teachings, demonstrated to the faithful the utmost importance and necessity of establishing and preserving days of general divine services.
Since apostolic times the Orthodox Church in her daily divine services has united various sacred commemorations unto the glory of God from which have developed the various daily services in the course of the year.
On each day in the Holy Church’s year, in addition to the weekly cycle, the memory of one or several saints is celebrated. Definite days of the year are dedicated to either the commemoration of particular events in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Theotokos, or from the history of the Christian Church, or in honor of various saints. In addition, fasts of either a single day or several consecutive days have been ordained throughout the course of the year, and several days are set aside for the remembrance of the reposed. In accordance with these sacred days of the year special hymns and prayers have been composed and rituals established which are combined with the prayers and hymns of the weekdays. The greatest changes in the divine services occur on the days of great feasts and fasts.
The days of general remembrance of the reposed, which are termed “ancestor (soul) days,” are as follows: the Saturday before Meat-fare Sunday, the Saturdays of the second, third and fourth weeks of Great Lent, the Saturday before the feast of the Holy Trinity (Pentecost) and the Tuesday after Thomas Sunday.
In addition, the Russian Orthodox Church has ordained that Orthodox soldiers killed on the field of battle be remembered on the Saturday before the feast of St. Demetrios of Thessalonica (Oct. 26) and on the day of the Beheading of St. John the Forerunner (Aug. 29).
9. Great Lent.
Great Lent is the most important and most ancient of the fasts which extend over more that one day. It reminds us of the forty-day fast of the Saviour in the wilderness, and prepares us for Passion Week and for the joyous Feast of Feasts, the radiant Resurrection of Christ.
The Holy and Great Fast is a time for special prayer and repentance during which each of us should beseech the Lord for forgiveness of sins through Confession and preparation for Communion, and then worthily partake the Holy Mysteries of Christ in accordance with the commandment of Christ (John 6:53-56).
During the Old Testament period the Lord commanded the sons of Israel to give each year a tithe (one tenth) of all that they possessed, and when they did so they received blessing in all their affairs.
In like manner the Holy Fathers established for our benefit that a tenth of the year, the period of Great Lent, be consecrated to God, so that we might be blessed in all our affairs and each year purify ourselves of our sins which we have committed during the course of the year.
Great Lent then serves as the God-ordained tenth of the year, for it equals approximately thirty-six days, excluding Sundays, during which we separate ourselves for a time from the distractions of life and all its possible enjoyments, and dedicate ourselves primarily to the service of God unto the salvation of our souls.
Great Lent is preceded by three preparatory Sundays. The first preparatory Sunday of Great Lent is termed the “Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee.” This Sunday’s Gospel parable of the Publican and the Pharisee is read in order to demonstrate that only prayer with heartfelt tears and humility, like those of the publican, and not with a recounting of one’s virtues like the pharisee, can call down upon us the mercy of God. Starting with this Sunday and continuing until the fifth Sunday of Great Lent, following the reading of the Gospel, during the All-night Vigil, the contrite prayer is chanted, “The doors of repentance do Thou open to me, O Giver of Life…”
The second preparatory Sunday of Great Lent is termed the “Sunday of the Prodigal Son.” In the touching parable of the Prodigal Son read during Liturgy, the Holy Church teaches us to rely on the mercy of God, provided we have sincerely repented of our sins. On this Sunday and the succeeding two Sundays, during the Polyeleos at the All-night Vigil, Psalm 136 is chanted: By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and we wept when we remembered Sion… This psalm describes the suffering of the Jews during the Babylonian captivity and their longing for their fatherland. The words of this psalm teach us about our spiritual captivity, the captivity to sin, and that we should aspire towards our spiritual fatherland, the Heavenly Kingdom.
The final words of this psalm scandalize many with reference to Blessed shall be he who shall seize and dash thine infants (those of the Babylonians) against the rock! Of course, the literal meaning of these words is brutal and unacceptable for the Christian, for the Lord Himself taught us to love and bless our enemies and to worship God in spirit and truth. These words gain a pure and lofty significance with a Christian and spiritual nature, for they mean, “Blessed is he who has a firm resolve to break, on the rock of faith, the newly forming evil thoughts and desires (as it were in their infant state) before they mature into evil deeds and habits.”
The third preparatory Sunday before Great Lent is called “Meat-fare Sunday,” because after this Sunday, of non-fasting foods, one is allowed to eat cheese, milk, butter, and eggs, but no meat or poultry. This Sunday is also termed the “The Sunday of the Last Judgement,” as the Gospel passage concerning the Dread Judgement is read, describing the final reward or punishment awaiting us, and thereby awakening the sinner to repentance. In the hymns on Cheese-fare Sunday, the fall into sin of Adam and Eve is recalled, which resulted from lack of self-control and fasting, with their salvific fruits.
The last Sunday before Great Lent is termed “Cheese-fare Sunday,” because it is the last day on which one can eat cheese, butter and eggs. During the Liturgy we hear the Gospel reading (Matt. 6:14-21) concerning the forgiveness of our fellow man for his offenses against us, without which we cannot receive the forgiveness of our sins from the Heavenly Father. In accordance with this Gospel reading, Christians have the pious custom on this day of forgiving each other their sins, both known and unknown, and those who have a quarrel with someone undertake every effort to be reconciled. Therefore this Sunday is also termed “Forgiveness Sunday.”
The general characteristics of the divine services during Great Lent consist of prolonged services of a less exultant character. There is less chanting, longer readings from the Psalter and additional prayers, which dispose the soul towards repentance. At every service full prostrations are done during the penitential prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, “O Lord and Master of my life…”
During the morning hours, Matins, the Hours with certain insertions, and Vespers are served. In the evening, Great Compline is served instead of Vespers. On Wednesdays and Fridays the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is celebrated. On Saturdays the Liturgy of St. John of Chrysostom is celebrated and on the first five Sundays the Liturgy the St. Basil the Great, which is also celebrated on Great Thursday and Great Saturday of Passion Week.
During Great Lent each Sunday is dedicated to the commemoration of a special event or person which calls the sinful soul to repentance and hope in the mercy of God.
10. The Sundays of Lent.
The first week of Great Lent is distinguished by its special strictness and its lengthy services. On the first four days (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) the canon of St. Andrew of Crete is read at Great Compline with the refrain between each verse, “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.”
On Friday of the first week, at the Liturgy after the Prayer before the Ambo, the blessing of “koliva” (a mixture of boiled wheat with honey) takes place in memory of the holy Great Martyr St. Theodore Tyro, who granted supernatural help to Christians to help them keep the fast. In 362 A.D., the Byzantine Emperor, Julian the Apostate, ordered that the blood of sacrifices offered to idols be secretly sprinkled on the provisions for the city of Constantinople. The Great Martyr St. Theodore, who was burned alive in 306 for his confession of the Christian faith, appeared in a dream to the bishop of Constantinople, Eudox-ius, and exposed the secret plot of Julian. He ordered him not to buy food for the entire week at the city market, and to instruct his flock to live on koliva.
On the first Sunday of Great Lent the “Triumph of Orthodoxy” is celebrated, which was established by the Empress Theodora in 842 A.D. in memory of the restoration of the veneration of the holy icons. At the conclusion of the Liturgy a Service of Intercession (“Moleben”) is held in the center of the church before icons of the Saviour and the Theotokos, asking that the Lord confirm Orthodox Christians in the faith and bring back to the path of truth all those who have apostatized from the Church. The deacon reads the Creed solemnly and pronounces the anathemas, proclaiming that all those who have presumed to distort the true Orthodox Christian Faith are separated from the Church. He then intones “Eternal Memory” for all the reposed defenders of the Orthodox Faith, and finally, “Many Years,” for all those who are living. This service is customarily done in the presence of a bishop.
On the second Sunday of Great Lent the memory of St. Gregory Palamas is celebrated. A bishop of Thessalonica who lived in the fourteenth century, he continued the battle against Western, Latin distortions of the Christian faith by teaching the importance of the deifying power of the uncreated Grace of God and preserving the true balance between immanence and transcendence with the doctrine of the relationship between the “essence” and “energies” of God. In accordance with the Orthodox Faith he taught that the ascetic endeavor of fasting and prayer, particularly the practice of the Jesus Prayer according to the teachings of the hesychastic Fathers, prepares one to receive the grace-filled light of the Lord, which is like that which shone on Mt. Tabor at the Lord’s Transfiguration. In other words, if God wills, according to one’s striving, one can partake of divine blessedness while still on this sinful earth. Thus the second Sunday of Great Lent has been set aside to commemorate this great Church Father, who made explicit the teaching which reveals the power of prayer and fasting.
On the third Sunday of Great Lent, during the All-night Vigil after the Great Doxology, the Holy Cross is brought forth from the Altar and placed in the center of the church for the veneration of the faithful. During the prostrations made before the Cross (which often contains a portion of the True Cross) the church chants, “Before Thy Cross, we bow down, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify.” This hymn is also chanted at the Liturgy instead of the Trisagion. The Church has placed this event in the middle of Great Lent in order that the recollection of the suffering and death of the Lord might inspire and strengthen those fasting for the remainder of the ascetic struggle of the fast. The Holy Cross remains out for veneration throughout the week until Friday, when, after the hours and before the beginning of the Presanctfied Liturgy, it is returned to the Altar. Thus the third Sunday and fourth week of Great Lent are termed those of the “Adoration of the Holy Cross.”
On the fourth Sunday of Great Lent St. John of the Ladder is commemorated, the author of the classic ascetic text, The Ladder, in which he indicates a ladder, or succession of virtues which lead us up to the Throne of God. On Thursday of the fifth week at Matins, the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is read, along with the reading of the life of St. Mary of Egypt. The commemoration of the life of St. Mary of Egypt, who formerly had been a great sinner, is intended to serve as an example of true repentance for all and convince us of the ineffable compassion of God. On Saturday of the fifth week (Matins on Friday evening) we celebrate the “Laudation of the Theotokos,” which consists of the reading of the Akathist to the Theotokos. This service was initiated in Greece in gratitude to the Theotokos for her numerous deliverances of Constantinople from its enemies. The Akathist is read here for the confirmation of the faithful in their reliance upon the heavenly Mediatress, who, delivering us from visible enemies, is even more an aid to us in our battle with invisible enemies.
On the fifth Sunday of Great Lent we commemorate our holy Mother Mary of Egypt. As mentioned above, the Church finds in her an image of true repentance and a source of encouragement for those engaged in spiritual endeavors, by virtue of the example of the ineffable mercy of God shown towards her a repentant sinner.
The sixth week, which directly precedes Palm Sunday, is dedicated to the preparation of those fasting for a worthy meeting with the Lord and for the commemoration of the Passion of the Lord.
On Saturday of the sixth week the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus Christ is commemorated. This day is termed “Lazarus Saturday.” During Matins the “Troparia on the Blameless” are chanted: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes…” and at the Liturgy instead of “Holy God” we chant “As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia,” for those catechumens who are baptized according to custom on this day.
The sixth Sunday of Great Lent is one of the twelve great feasts, in which we celebrate the solemn Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem for His voluntary Passion. This feast is also termed Palm Sunday. After the reading of the Gospel at the All-night Vigil, we do not chant “Having seen the Resurrection of Chris i,” but the 50th Psalm is read immediately, and after being sanctified with prayer and holy water, bundles of palms, flowers, and (in the Russian Church) pussy willows, are distributed to the faithful, who then remain standing until the end of the service holding these bundles with lit candles as a sign of the victory of life over death.
At Vespers on Palm Sunday the dismissal begins with the words, “May Christ our true God Who for our salvation went to His voluntary Passion,…”
Passion Week is the term for the last week before Pascha. It has this name because it is consecrated to the commemoration of the last days of the earthly life of the Saviour, His suffering, death on the Cross, and burial. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week are dedicated to the commemoration of the last conversations of the Lord Jesus Christ with the people and His disciples.
The specifics of the services of the first three days of Passion Week are as follows: at Matins, after the Six Psalms and the “Alleluia,” we chant the troparion, “Behold the Bridegroom cometh at midnight…,” and after the Canon is read we chant the exapostilarion, “I behold Thy chamber, O my Saviour…” On each of these three days we serve the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts with readings from the Gospels.The Gospel is also read at Matins.
The service of Great Thursday is dedicated to the commemoration of the Mystical Supper, the washing of the feet of the disciples by Jesus Christ, the prayer of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and His betrayal by Judas.
At Matins after the Six Psalms and the “Alleluia” we chant the troparion, “When the glorious disciples were enlightened at the washing of the feet,…”
The Liturgy served is that of St. Basil the Great and is combined with Vespers in commemoration of the fact that the Lord established the Mystery of Communion during the evening. Instead of the Cherubic Hymn and the communion verses, “Let our mouths be filled…,” we chant the hymn, “Receive me today, O Son of God, as a communicant of Thy mystical supper…”
In the Moscow Cathedral of the Dormition and in the Kiev Caves Lavra on this day after the Liturgy, and in the Greek Church during Matins of Great Wednesday, there is performed the Sanctification of Chrism, which is used for the Mystery of Chrismation, and in the consecration of churches and Antiminsia.
The services of Great Friday are dedicated to the commemoration of the sufferings on the Cross of the Saviour, His death and burial. At Matins, which is served on the evening of Great Thursday (as all Matins services of this week are held the night before the actual day), the Reading of the Twelve Gospels takes place, the Gospels being placed in the middle of the church. These are selections from the four Gospels which proclaim the Passion of the Saviour, beginning with His final conversation with the disciples at the Mystical Supper, and ending with His burial in the garden by Joseph of Arimathea and the setting of the military watch over His Tomb. During the readings, the faithful stand with lit candles, which are symbols both of the glory and magnificence which the Lord did not lose during the period of His suffering, and of the ardent love we should have for our Saviour.
On Great Friday the Royal Hours are served, but Liturgy is never served, since on this day the Lord offered Himself as a sacrifice.
Vespers is served at the ninth hour of the day (3 P.M.), which is the hour of the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross. In this service His removal from the Cross and His burial are commemorated.
With the chanting of the troparion, “The Noble Joseph, having taken Thy most pure body down from the Tree…,” the clergy take up the Burial Shroud (an icon) of Christ lying in the tomb (called “Plaschanitsa” in Russian, “Epitaphion” in Greek), from the Holy Table as it were, from Golgotha, and carry it from the Altar, into the center of the church, preceded by candles and incense. It is placed on a specially prepared stand that resembles a tomb, and the priests and all those present prostrate themselves before it and kiss the wounds of the Lord depicted upon it, the pierced side and the imprint of the nails in the hands and feet.
The Burial Shroud is left in the church for three days, from Friday afternoon through Saturday and until the first moments of Sunday, in commemoration of the three day entombment of Christ.
The divine services of Great Saturday are dedicated to the commemoration of the time Jesus Christ remained “in the grave bodily, but in hades with Thy soul as God; in Paradise with the thief and on the throne with the Father and the Spirit wast Thou Who fillest all things O Christ, the Inexpressible,” and finally, the Resurrection of the Saviour from the grave.
At Matins on Great Saturday, after the Great Doxology, the Burial Shroud is borne out of the church by the priests, accompanied by the chanting of “Holy God…,” as at a normal burial service. The people all join in following it while it is carried around the church in commemoration of the descent of Christ into hell and His victory over hell and death. After it is brought back into the church, it is taken through the open Royal Gates into the Altar as a symbol that the Saviour remained inseparable from God the Father, and that with His suffering and death He again opened the gates of Paradise. During this moment the choir chants, “When the noble Joseph…”
When the Burial Shroud is again placed on the tomb in the center of the church, a litany is said and the prophecy of the Prophet Ezekiel is read, concerning the resurrection of the dead. The Epistle instructs the faithful that Jesus Christ is the true Pascha for us all, and the Gospel relates how the high priest with the permission of Pilate placed a watch over the Lord’s tomb and sealed it.
The Divine Liturgy on this day is later than any other day of the year and is combined with Vespers.
After the Vespers Entry and the chanting of “O Gentle Light…” we begin the reading of fifteen lessons from the Old Testament, which contain all the foreshadowings and prophecies of the salvation of mankind through the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
After these readings and the Epistle reading, the forefeast of the Resurrection of Christ begins. The choir begins to chant slowly “Arise, O God, judge the earth, for Thou shalt have an inheritance among all the nations..,” while in the Altar and throughout the church, the black vestments are replaced with white ones. This change is a symbol of the event in which the Myrrhbearers, early in the morning “while it was still dark,” saw before the tomb of Christ the angel in radiant vestments and heard from him the joyful proclamation of the Resurrection of Christ.
The deacon, now clad in bright vestments like an angel, goes out into the center of the church and before the Burial Shroud reads the Gospel which proclaims to mankind the Resurrection of Christ.
The Liturgy of St. Basil the Great then continues in its usual order. Instead of the Cherubic Hymn we chant the following, “Let all mortal flesh keep silence,” and instead of “It is truly meet…” we chant, “Weep not for Me, O Mother, beholding in the tomb Thy Son…” The communion verse chanted is, “The Lord awoke as one that sleepeth and is risen, saving us.”
Following the Liturgy there is a blessing of bread and wine for the nourishment of those praying. A few hours later the reading of the Acts of the Apostles begins in the Church and continues until the beginning of the Midnight Office.
An hour before midnight the Midnight Office is served during which the Canon of Great Saturday is read. At the end of this service the priests silently take the Burial Shroud from the center of the church and into the Altar through the Royal Gates and place it upon the Altar Table, where it remains until the Ascension of the Lord, in commemoration of the forty day abiding of Jesus Christ on the earth after His Resurrection from the dead.
The faithful now reverently await the hour of midnight when the radiant, Paschal joy of the greatest feast, the Resurrection of the Lord our Saviour Jesus Christ begins.
This paschal joy is a sacred rejoicing of which there is no likeness nor equal on earth. It is the endless joy and blessedness of eternal life. It is of this joy that the Lord spoke when He said, Your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you (John 16:22).
11. The Feast of Pascha.
The word Pascha means “passover” or “deliverance” in Hebrew. The Jews, in celebrating the Old Testament passover, commemorated the liberation of their forebears from Egyptian slavery. Christians, on the other hand, in celebrating the New Testament Pascha, celebrate the deliverance through Jesus Christ of the entire human race from slavery to the Devil and His granting to us life and eternal blessedness. Due to the blessings which we have received through the Resurrection of Christ, Pascha is the feast of feasts and the triumph of triumphs, and therefore its divine services are distinguished by magnificence and an exceptionally solemn rejoicing.
Long before midnight the faithful in bright and festal clothing stream into the churches and reverently await the approaching Paschal Festival. The clergy are vested in their brightest garments. Prior to the actual moment of midnight, festive bells peal out the announcement of the coming of the great moment of the light-bearing Feast of the Resurrection of Christ. The entire clergy with crosses, candles and incense come out of the Altar and together with the people, like the Myrrhbear-ers who went very early to the tomb, circle the church and chant, “Thy Resurrection, O Christ Saviour, the angels hymn in the heavens; vouchsafe also us on earth with pure hearts to glorify Thee.” During this procession, from the heights of the bell tower, as if from Heaven, there pours forth the Paschal peal. All those who have come to pray walk with lit candles, thus expressing their joy of soul in the radiant feast.
The procession pauses at the closed western doors of the church, as if at the opening to the Tomb of Christ. Here the highest ranking priest, like the angel who proclaimed the Resurrection of Christ to the Myrrhbearers at the tomb, is the first to proclaim the joyous verse, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life.” This verse is thrice repeated by the clergy and the choir.
Then the presiding clergyman proclaims the verses of the ancient prophecy of the holy King David, “Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered…,” and all respond in answer to each verse of the psalm with, “Christ is risen from the dead….”
The doors are opened, and the congregation, as once did the Myrrhbearers and the Apostles, enters into the church, resplendent with the light of candles and lamps, and chants joyously, “Christ is risen from the dead…!”
The Resurrection Matins consist primarily of the Paschal canon of St. John of Damascus. Each ode of this canon concludes with the victorious hymn, “Christ is risen from the dead.” During the chanting of the canon each of the clergy in turn, holding the cross with candles and preceded by candle-bearers, go around the entire church censing the risen!” The faithful all respond loudly, “Truly He is risen!” The repeated procession of the clergy from the Altar commemorates the appearances of the Lord to His disciples after the Resurrection.
After chanting the hymn “…let us embrace one another. Let us say Brethren, even to them that hate us; let us forgive all things on the Resurrection…,” all the faithful begin to greet each other saying, “Christ is risen!,” and replying, “Truly He is risen!” They seal this greeting with a kiss and exchange Paschal eggs which serve as a meaningful symbol of the resurrection from the grave, the resurrection of life from its very depths through the power of omnipotent God.
Then the homily of St. John Chrysostom is read which begins with the words, “If any be devout and God-loving, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumph…” St. John summons all to joy, “Ye rich and ye poor, with one another exult. Ye sober and ye slothful, honor the day. Ye that have kept the fast and ye that have not, be glad today…
“Let no one weep for his transgressions, for forgiveness hath dawned from the tomb. Let no one fear death, for the death of the Saviour hath set us free…”
And finally he solemnly proclaims the eternal victory of Christ over death and hell, “O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory? Christ is risen and thou art overthrown. Christ is risen and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life flourisheth. Christ is risen, and there is none dead in the tombs (for death is not a permanent end now, but only a temporary condition), for Christ being risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of them that have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
Immediately following Matins, the Hours and Liturgy are celebrated with all the doors to the Altar open. They were opened at the beginning of Matins and will not be closed throughout the entire week as a sign that Jesus Christ has opened the gates to the Heavenly Kingdom forever. At the Liturgy the first section from the Gospel of St. John the Theologian is read, which begins with the words, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…, which is a description of the divinity of our Redeemer. If the Liturgy is concele-brated by many priests, then the Gospel is read in several languages as a sign that the “proclamation” concerning the Lord “went forth” unto all the people on earth.
Before the conclusion of the Liturgy the blessing of the Paschal bread, the Artos, is performed. It is distributed to the faithful on Bright Saturday following Liturgy, as a Paschal blessing.
Immediately after the Paschal Liturgy, and sometimes between Matins and the Liturgy, the Paschal bread, cheese, eggs and meat for the Paschal meals of the faithful are blessed.
After each Liturgy of Bright Week the Cross of Christ, accompanied by the ringing of bells, is carried in triumph around the church. Indeed, all during the week bells are rung as often as possible. It all serves to express the joy of the faithful and to celebrate the victory of Jesus Christ over death and hell. To emphasize this joy the Holy Fathers instituted the rule that kneeling and prostrations are forbidden in church from the first day of Pascha until the Vespers on Pentecost.
The presiding priest celebrates Vespers on the first day of Pascha in his best vestments. After the Vespers entry with the Gospel, the Gospel passage is read which describes the appearance of Jesus Christ to the Apostles on the evening of the first day of His resurrection from the dead (John 29:19-25).
On the first Tuesday after Bright Week, in order to share the joy of the Resurrection of Christ with the reposed and in the hope of the universal resurrection, the Church holds a special remembrance of the dead. After the Liturgy a general Service of Remembrance and Intercession, or Pannykhida, is said, and following a custom of the early Church, the faithful visit the graves of their relatives on this day.
Paschal chanting is used in the church until the feast of the Ascension of the Lord, which is celebrated on the fortieth day after Pascha.
The Feast of Pentecost: The Day of the Holy Trinity.
The Feast of the Holy Trinity is termed Pentecost because the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles occurred on the fiftieth day after the Resurrection of Christ. The feast of the Christian Pentecost includes two celebrations, one in honor of the All-holy Trinity and the other in honor of the All-holy Spirit, which visibly descended upon the Apostles and sealed the new eternal testament of God with mankind.
The first day of Pentecost, always a Sunday, the Church dedicates primarily to the glory of the All-holy Trinity; hence this day is popularly known as Trinity Day. The second day is dedicated to the glory of the All-holy Spirit, and therefore it is known as Spirit Day.
In celebrating the Holy Spirit the Church begins with the usual Vespers service on Trinity Day. During this service three compunction-ate prayers written by St. Basil the Great are read while the entire congregation kneels. In them we confess our sins before the Heavenly Father and, for the sake of the great sacrifice of His Son, we implore mercy. We also ask the Lord Jesus Christ to grant us the Divine Spirit, unto the enlightenment and confirmation of our souls. Finally, we pray for our deceased fathers and brethren, that the Lord might grant them repose in a place of light and refreshment.
It is customary on this feast day to adorn the church building and one’s home with tree branches and flowers and to stand in church holding flowers. This adornment of home and church with living plants is both a confession of the vivifying power of the life-creating Spirit and a dutiful consecration to Him of the first fruits of spring.
Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross of the Lord.
The divine services of this day differ from others in that at the end of the Great Doxology at the All-night Vigil, as the Trisagion is being chanted, the presiding priest takes the Holy Cross, adorned with flowers, from the Altar Table and lifts it over his head. Preceded by candles, he goes out of the Altar through the north door. He stands before the Royal Gates and from there, with the exclamation, “Wisdom, let us attend!” carries the Cross to the center of the church and places it upon an analogion.
The troparion to the Cross, “Save, O Lord, Thy people…,” is chanted while the priest, together with the deacon, completes a threefold censing of the Cross. Then all those serving venerate the Cross with three prostrations while the verse, “Before Thy Cross, we bow down, O Master, and Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify!” is chanted. The faithful then come forward, make prostrations, and kiss the Cross. During this veneration the choir chants verses explaining and honoring the Crucifixion of Christ.
At the Liturgy the Trisagion is replaced with the hymn, “Before Thy Cross…,” and St. Paul’s Epistle concerning the Cross, which for those spiritually perishing is foolishness, but for those being saved is the power of God, is read. The Gospel of the day discusses the Crucifixion of Christ. Due to the commemoration of the sufferings and death of the Lord, this day is appointed to be kept as a strict fast.
This feast commemorates the finding of the Precious and Life-giving Cross of the Lord by the Equal-of-the-Apostles, Empress Helen (326 A.D.). From the seventh century this day was also considered the commemoration of the return of the Life-giving Cross from the Persians by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (629 A.D.). At both the finding and the return of the Cross, the Patriarch of Constantinople, in order to give the faithful gathered to celebrate the event an opportunity to see the hallowed object, raised the Cross aloft and turned it to all four directions, during which the congregation reverently prostrated themselves crying out, “Lord, have mercy.”
Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.
The divine services of this feast are special in that at the end of the Liturgy grapes and fruit, which have been brought to the church by the faithful, are blessed.
This feast is selected for the blessing of fruit because in Jerusalem, from whence our typicon is derived, grapes ripen at this time and thus they are especially set out to be blessed. The church, by blessing the fruit, teaches us that all things in a holy community must be consecrated to God as His creation.
Feast of the Nativity of Christ.
The Christian Church annually celebrates the great event of the Nativity of Christ on the twenty-fifth of December (O.S.). In order to more worthily celebrate, the faithful prepare with a forty-day fast called the Nativity or Philip’s fast, lasting from the fifteenth of November until the twenty-fourth of December. The eve of the feast is kept with an especially strict fast. Special food is set out only at the end of the day, consisting mainly of boiled wheat with honey or other lenten dishes, depending on the custom.
On the eve of the feast, if it does not occur on a Saturday or Sunday, the Royal Hours are served, and around noon the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great with Vespers. On the feast day itself, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is celebrated.
The Hours which are served on the eve of the Nativity of Christ are distinguished by the fact that Old Testament readings are included as well as readings from the Epistle and Gospel. Therefore, to distinguish them from the usual services of the Hours they are termed Royal Hours. This designation also refers to the custom in the Byzantine Empire of the Emperor being present for them.
After the Liturgy a candle is placed in the center of the church behind the icon of the feast, and the clergy chant the troparion of the feast, “Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, hath shined upon the world the light of knowledge; for thereby they that worshipped the stars were taught by a star to worship Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Dayspring from on high. O Lord, glory be to Thee.”Yhis is followed by the kontakion of the feast: “Today the Virgin giveth birth to Him Who is transcendent in essence; and the earth offer-eth a cave to Him Who is unapproachable. Angels with shepherds give glory; with a star the Magi do journey; for our sake a young Child is born, Who is pre-eternal God.”
If the eve falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the Royal Hours are read on Friday. On the eve itself the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is served, followed by Vespers. The glorification of Christ occurs after Vespers. The fast, which is required by the Typicon, is waived in this instance so that after the Liturgy, before the evening, one is permitted to eat a small amount of bread.
The All-night Vigil begins with Great Compline in which the triumphant hymn of Isaiah is chanted, “God is with us, understand, O ye nations and submit yourselves, for God is with us!” The frequent repetition of “God is with us!” expresses the spiritual joy of the faithful who recognize the presence of God-Emmanuel among them. The content of the remainder of the service can be expressed by the initial irmos from the Matins Canon, “Christ is born, give ye glory; Christ from Heaven, meet ye Him; Christ is on the earth be ye exalted. Sing unto the Lord all the earth, and in gladness sing praises, O people, for He is glorified.”
Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
This feast is also called Theophany because on this day the Most-holy Trinity, and in particular the divinity of the Saviour, Who now solemnly begins His saving service, is manifest.
The feast of the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated in much the same manner as the feast of the Nativity of Christ. On the eve of the feast the Royal Hours, the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, and an All-night Vigil, beginning with Great Compline are served. The distinguishing feature of this feast is the blessing of water which is performed twice, and termed the Great Blessing of Water, to distinguish it from the Lesser Blessing, which may be performed at any time in the Church year.
The first blessing occurs on the eve of the feast in the church, and the second, on the day of the feast, in the open air near a river, lake or well. In ancient times the first blessing was celebrated for the baptism of catechumens and only later was joined with the commemoration of the Baptism of the Lord. The second probably originated from the ancient practice of Jerusalem Christians who, on the day of the Theo-phany, would go to the Jordan River and there commemorate the Baptism of the Saviour. Therefore, we still term the procession with the Cross on Theophany the “Procession to the Jordan.”
12. Concerning Monasticism and Monasteries.
In the first period of the Christian Church almost all the faithful led pure and holy lives as the Gospel requires. We find that many of the faithful aspired to the most lofty ascetic endeavors. Some would voluntarily renounce their possessions and distribute them among the poor. Others, such as the Mother of God, St. John the Forerunner, the Apostles Paul, John, and James took vows of virginity and devoted their time to continual prayer, fasting, abstinence and labor. They did not separate themselves from the world though, and lived with the rest of mankind. Such people came to be called ascetics, or those who undertook a special discipline (in Greek, askesis) in order to “train” for the Kingdom of Heaven.
From the third century when as a consequence of the swift expansion of Christianity the strictness of life among Christians began to weaken, ascetics began to withdraw to live in deserts and mountains. There, far from the world and its temptations, they led a severe life of spiritual asceticism. These ascetics who left the world were called anchorites or hermits. Thus the foundations were laid for monasticism, far from the temptations of the world.
Monastic life is a way of life which is only for a few, select persons, who have a calling, an irrepressible inner desire for the monastic life, by which they consecrate themselves entirely to the service of God. As the Lord Himself stated, He that is able to accept it, let him accept it (Matt. 19:12).
St. Athanasius says, “There are two forms and states of life. One is the usual life for mankind, married life; the other is the angelic and apostolic life of which there is no higher, virginity or the monastic state.” The Venerable Nilus of Sora says, “The monk is an angel, and his business is mercy, peace and the sacrifice of praise.”
Those entering the monastic path of life must have a resolute will “to renounce the world” and to deny themselves all earthly interests so as to develop within themselves the powers of spiritual life. In all things they must fulfill the will of their spiritual guide, renounce all possessions and even give up their old name. The monk takes upon himself a voluntary martyrdom — a life of self-renunciation, far from the world, and filled with labor and deprivation.
Monasticism in and of itself is not the goal, but it is the most effective means of attaining the highest spiritual life. The aim of monasti-cism is the attainment of moral and spiritual strength in order to save the soul. The monastic life is the greatest ascetic endeavor in the spiritual service for the world. The monk upholds the world, prays for the world and spiritually nourishes it and represents it; that is, he performs the ascetic feat of prayerful intercession for the world.
The birthplace of monasticism is Egypt, and the father and founder was St. Anthony the Great. St. Anthony established eremeti-cal monasticism, a discipline in which each monk lived separately from the others in a hut or cave, giving himself over to fasting, prayer, and labor to support himself and the poor by plaiting baskets and rope. All were placed under one leader or elder, called an abba or father, for guidance.
During St. Anthony’s lifetime another form of monastic life also began to develop. The ascetics gathered into one community where each would work according to his strength and talents for the general welfare, and all were subject to one rule. Such communities were called coenobia or monasteries. The abbots of monasteries began to be called abbots or archimandrites. The founder of communal monasticism is considered to be Pachomius the Great.
From Egypt monasticism quickly spread into Asia, Palestine, Syria and finally to Europe. In Russia monasticism came almost simultaneously with the acceptance of Christianity. The founders of monasticism in Russia were Sts. Anthony and Theodosius of the Kiev-Caves monastery.
Large monasteries with many hundreds of monastics came to be called lavras. Each monastery had its order of life, its rule or monastic typikon. Every monk was obliged to fulfill various tasks which, according to the typikon, were called obediences. Monastics can be either male or female, both having exactly the same rules. Women’s monasteries (convents) have existed from ancient times.
Those who desire to enter the monastic life must first undergo a trial period to test their strength before they give irrevocable vows. Those undergoing this preparatory testing are called novices. If after a long testing period they prove capable of becoming monastics, then they are partially garbed in the robes of a monastic with the initial service of profession. At this stage they are called rassophore monks having the right to wear the rasa and kamilavka, so that they might still be more confirmed upon their chosen path to become full monks or nuns.
The full monastic profession comprises two degrees, the lesser and greater form, little schema and great schema. Upon entering monasti-cism itself, the rite of the profession to the lesser schema is performed in which the monk or nun gives the initial vows and is given a new name. When the moment arrives for the tonsure, thrice the monk gives the abbot the scissors as a sign of his firm decision. When the abbot the abbot the scissors as a sign of his firm decision. When the abbot receives the scissors for the third time from the hand of the person to be tonsured, he then with thanksgiving to God cuts a piece of hair of the person, in the name of the Most-holy Trinity, consecrating him utterly to the service of God.
The person receiving the lesser schema is dressed with the para-man, a small, square cloth with a depiction of the Cross of the Lord and the instruments of His Passion, the cassock and belt, and the mantia, a long pleated cloak, without sleeves. Upon his head is placed the klobuk or kamilavka, with a long veil. Into his hands a prayer rope is entrusted (chotki, in Russian; komvoskini, in Greek), which is a black string of knots for counting prayers and prostrations. All of these garments have a symbolic significance and remind the monastic of his promises. At the conclusion of the ceremony the newly tonsured monk is given a cross and a candle, which he holds throughout the Liturgy until Communion.
The monks who take on the Great Schema give even stricter vows. Again one’s name is changed. There are also changes in the garments. Instead of the paraman the person is dressed in the analav, a special cloth like a scapular with crosses and inscriptions, and instead of the klobuk the person receives the koukoulion, a rounded helmet with a veil that covers the shoulders.
Among the Russians, it is customary to call “schemniks” only those monks who have attained the Great Schema.
If a monk is elevated to the rank of abbot, then he is granted a staff as a symbol of his authority over the brethren, a symbol of his lawful position as a director over monks. When an igumen is elevated to the rank of archimandrite, he is vested with a mantia having “tablets” or pectorals. The tablets are rectangular sections from red or green cloth which are sewn onto the front of the mantia, two at the top and two at the bottom. They symbolize the fact that the archimandrite will guide the brethren according to the commandments of God. In addition the archimandrite receives the palitsa and miter. Usually bishops are chosen from the ranks of the archimandrites.
Many monastics have been true angels in the flesh who have shone forth as lights for the Church of Christ. Despite the fact that monks have separated themselves from the world in order to attain moral perfection, they exert a great and beneficial effect upon those living in the world. In addition to helping in the spiritual needs of their neighbors, monks do not hesitate to serve the temporal needs of those around them when the opportunities arise. In obtaining their own sustenance they divide their food with others. Among the monasteries there are those hospices which take in, feed, and provide rest for travellers. Often monasteries distribute alms for other locations, those in prisons, those suffering from famine and other misfortunes. But the primary service the monks provide for society is their perpetual prayer for the Church, their country, the living, and the dead.
St. Theophan the Recluse says, “Monasticism is a sacrifice to God from society; it devotes itself to God and comprises its defense. The monasteries are especially noted for church services which are orderly, complete, and lengthy. The Church is manifest there vested in all Her beauty.” Truly monasteries are inexhaustible sources of edification for the laity.
In the middle ages monasteries provided a great service by being centers of learning and science and disseminators of Christian enlightenment.
Monasteries are the best expression in a nation of the strength and power of the religious and moral spirit of a people.
In Russia, Greece, and other Orthodox countries the people loved monasteries. When a new monastery was founded, the people would begin to settle next to it, forming a village. Sometimes these villages would grow into great cities.
The love for monasteries and the holy places evoked among Orthodox people the custom of pilgrimage. In times when Orthodox countries flourished, many people, both men and women, old and young, with packs on their backs, a staff in hand, and a prayer on their lips walked patiently in all seasons of the year from one monastery to another. They often brought their troubles there and within the walls of a monastery found help, comfort and consolation. Many undertook pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Palestine and other distant places.
Our forefathers in the spirit were aware that monasteries were the seed-bed of faith and spiritual enlightenment, and were the bulwark of Orthodoxy, without which the Orthodox empires of old could not even have existed.
Orthodoxy, in the form of the Church, was the basis of Russian unity, which was a fruit of the religious unity. Orthodoxy established Russian literature, historical studies, and the religious and ethical law. Without Orthodoxy there would have been no Russian civilization.
Foolishness For The Sake of Christ.
We have yet to consider one form of the ascetic Christian life, the so-called foolishness for the sake of Christ.
The fool-for-Christ set for himself the task of battling within himself the root of all sin, pride. In order to accomplish this he took on an unusual style of life, appearing as someone bereft of his mental faculties, thus bringing upon himself the ridicule of others. In addition he exposed the evil in the world through metaphorical and symbolic words and actions. He took this ascetic endeavor upon himself in order to humble himself and to also more effectively influence others, since most people respond to the usual ordinary sermon with indifference. The spiritual feat of foolishness for Christ was especially widespread in Russia.
The Lord blessed Orthodox lands by sending unto them many ascetics, righteous men and women who instructed the people in struggle, patience, and submission to the will of God. The Russian Orthodox peoples endured their hardships with patience and hope in the mercy of God. Thus the long-suffering and humble soul of the Russian Orthodox nation was cultivated and given the strength for the most difficult, heroic labors in the name of righteousness and love of God.
13. Bells and Russian Orthodox Peals.
Bells are one of the most essential elements of an Orthodox Church. In the “Order of the Blessing of Bells” we read, “So let all that hear them ring, either during the day or at night, be inspired to the glorification of Thy saints.” Church-bell ringing is used to:
- Summon the faithful to the divine services.
- Express the triumphal joy of the Church and Her divine services.
- Announce to those not present in the church the times of especially important moments in the services.
In addition, in some cites in Old Russia, bells summoned the people to gatherings. Also, bells were used to guide those lost in bad weather, and announced various dangers or misfortunes such as fires or floods. In days of peril to the nation they called the people to her defense. Bells proclaimed military victories and greeted those returning from the field of battle. Thus bells played a great part in the life of the Russian people. Bells were usually hung in special belltowers constructed over the Entry to a church or beside it.
Bells did not come into use immediately after the appearance of Christianity. In the Old Testament Church, in the Temple in Jerusalem, the faithful were summoned to services not with bells, but with trumpets. In the first centuries of Christianity, when the Church was persecuted by the pagans, Christians had no opportunity to openly call the faithful to services. At that time, they were secretly summoned either by one of the deacons or special messengers, or sometimes the bishop himself at the end of a service would reveal the time and place of the next one.
Following the cessation of persecutions in the fourth century, various means came into use to summon the faithful. More specific means were found in the sixth century when the sound of boards or iron hoops, beaten with hammers, summoned the faithful. Eventually the most perfect means of calling the faithful to the services was devised, pealing bells.
The first bells, as is well known, appeared in Western Europe. There is a tradition by which the invention of bells is ascribed to St. Paulinus the Bishop of Nola (411) at the end of the fourth or the beginning of the fifth century. Several versions of this tradition exist. In one, St. Paulinus saw some field flowers in a dream, daffodils, which gave forth a pleasant sound. When he awoke the bishop ordered bells cast, which had the form of these flowers. But, evidently, St. Paulinus did not introduce bells into the practice of the Church, since neither in his works nor in the works of his contemporaries are bells mentioned. Only in the beginning of the seventh century did the Pope of Rome, Sabinian, successor to St. Gregory the Dialogist, succeed in giving bells a Christian significance. From this period, bells began gradually to be used by Christians, and in the course of the eighth and ninth centuries in Western Europe, bells properly became part of Christian liturgical practice.
In the East, in the Greek Church, bells came into use in the second half of the ninth century, when in 865, the Doge of Venice, Ursus, gave the Emperor Michael a gift of twelve large bells. These bells were hung in a tower near Hagia Sophia Cathedral. But bells did not come into general use among the Byzantines.
In Russia, bells appeared almost simultaneously with the reception of Christianity by St. Vladimir (988 A.D.). Wooden boards and metal hoops beaten with hammers were also used and still are in some monasteries. But strangely enough, Russia took bells not from Greece from whence she received Orthodoxy, but from Western Europe. The very word kolokol comes from the German word “glocke.” The Slavonic word is kampan which comes from the Roman province of Campania where the first bells, made of bronze, were cast. Initially the bells were small, and each church had only two or three.
In the fifteenth century special factories for bell casting appeared, where bells of huge proportions were made. In the bell tower of Ivan the Great in Moscow, for example, are the “Everyday” bell weighing 36,626 pounds; the bell “reyute” weighing 72,000 pounds; and the largest bell, called “Dormition,” which weighs around 144,000 pounds.
The largest bell in the world at present is the “Tsar Bell.” It stands on a stone pedestal at the base of the bell tower of Ivan the Great. There is no equal to it in the world, not only in dimension and weight, but in the fine art of casting. The “Tsar Bell” was poured by Russian masters Ivan and Mikail Matorin, father and son, in 1733-1735. Material for the “Tsar Bell” was taken from its predecessor, a gigantic bell which had been damaged in a fire. This bell weighed 288,000 pounds and was cast by the master craftsman, Alexander Grigoriev, in 1654. To the 288,000 pounds of base metal was added more than 80,000 pounds of alloy. In all, the total weight of the Tsar Bell is 218 American tons. The diameter of the bell is 6 meters, 60 centimeters, or 21 feet, 8 inches.
This amazing product of casting was never successfully hung for it was severely damaged in a terrible and devastating fire in 1737. Still in its casting form on a wooden scaffolding, it is not known whether or not it was ever hung from this scaffolding. When the wooden scaffolding caught fire, they started to throw water on it. The red hot bell developed many large and small cracks due to the extreme change in temperature, and a large piece, weighing 11,000 kilograms (11.5 tons), fell from the bell.
After the fire, the “Tsar Bell” lay in its casting form for a whole century. In 1836, the bell was lifted out and placed on a stone pedestal, the project of the architect A. Montferrand, the builder of St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the Alexander Column in Petersburg. It stands on this pedestal now with the fallen piece of the bell leaning at the foot of the pedestal. Such is the fate of the largest bell in the world, the “Tsar Bell,” which was never rung.
The largest working bell is the “Dormition” bell, located in Moscow, at the bell tower of Ivan the Great. Its pealing gave the signal to begin the festive ringing of the bells of all the Moscow churches on Pascha night. Thus, the Russian Orthodox people loved the ringing of the church bells and enriched the craft with their innovation and art.
The distinguishing quality of Russian bells is their sonority and melodiousness. This is attained by various techniques:
- An exact proportion of bronze and tin, often with silver added, the proper alloy.
- The height of the bell and its width, the right proportions.
- The thickness of the walls of the bell.
- The correct hanging of the bell.
- The correct composition of the tongue and its manner of being hung in the bell.
Russians call the clapper, the tongue. The Russian bell is distinguished from the Western European bell in that it is fixed in position, and the clapper moves and strikes the sides of the bell, which produces the sound. It is characteristic that the Russian people call the movable part of the bell the “tongue,” enabling the bell to have a living voice and trumpet. Truly, with what other name, if not a talking one, can one call the bell?
On the days of great feasts the sound of the bell reminds us of the blessedness of Heaven. On the days of great saints, it reminds us of the eternal repose of the dwellers of Heaven. During the days of Holy Week, it reminds us of our reconciliation with God through Christ the Saviour. On the days of Bright Week, it proclaims the victory of life over death and the eternal, endless joy of the future life in the Kingdom of Christ.
Is it not a mouth that speaks when the bell tells us of each passing hour, and reminds us of the passage of time and of eternity when there should be time no longer (Rev. 10:6).
Announcing the glory of the name of Christ, day and night, from the heights of a church of God, the sound of bells reminds us of the words of the Lord, the Pantocrator, spoken through the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah, / have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night (Is. 62:6). It is not by chance that pagans, when they heard the sound of bells, often said, “that is the voice of the Christian God.”
The sound of one church bell is something exalted and solemn, and if there are several bells in harmony with each other, then a more magnificent sonority is sounded. A moving peal of bells acts upon our inner feelings and awakens our souls from spiritual slumber. What grieved, despondent, and often irritating tones are evoked by church bells in the soul of an evil and impious apostate. The feelings of discomfort and weariness of soul are evoked by the sound of the bell in the soul of a perpetual sinner. But in the soul of the faithful, who seek peace with God the Lord, the church bell awakens a bright, joyous, and serene disposition. Thus a person can define the state of his soul by means of the sound of bells.
One can bring forth examples from life, when a man, exhausted from fighting life’s bitterness, and fallen into despair and despondency, decides to take his own life. Then he hears the church bell. Preparing to commit suicide, he trembles, becomes afraid, and involuntarily guards himself with the sign of the Cross. It recalls the Heavenly Father, and new, good feelings arise in his soul, and the one who was perishing forever returns to life. Thus, in the strokes of a church bell there is hidden a wonderful power, which penetrates deeply into the soul of mankind.
Having loved the sound of the church bell, Orthodox people associate it with all their festive and sorrowful events. Therefore, the sound of the Orthodox belltower serves not only to indicate the time of divine services, but also to express joy, grief and festivity. Various forms of bell ringing, each with their own name and meaning, developed to express this range of feelings.
The Forms of Bell Ringing and Their Names.
The manner of church bell ringing is divided into two basic forms: 1. the measured ringing of the bell to announce church services, and 2. ringing of all the bells.
Ringing to Announce Church Services.
By the “announcement of church services” is meant the measured strokes of one large bell. By this sound, the faithful are called together to the temple of God for divine services. In Russian it is known as the “Good news bell” because it announces the blessed, good news of the beginning of divine services.
The “good news peal” is accomplished thus. First there are produced three widely spaced, slow, prolonged strokes, so as to sustain the sound of the bell, followed by measured strokes. If the bell is very heavy or of great dimensions, the measured strokes are produced by the swinging of the clapper from side to side of the bell. If the bell is of medium size, then its clapper is drawn sufficiently close to the rim by a rope. The rope is attached to a wooden foot pedal, and with pressure from the bell-ringer’s feet, the sound is produced.
The “good news peal” is subdivided in turn into two types:
1. The usual or hourly peal, produced with the largest bell.
2. The lenten or occasional peal, produced on the next largest bell on weekdays of the Great Fast.
If the church has several large bells, as is usually the case in cathedrals or large monasteries, then the size of the bells corresponds to their significance: 1) the holiday bell, 2) the Sunday bell, 3) the polyeleos bell, 4) the daily bell, and 5) the fifth, or small bell. Usually in parishes there are no more that two or three large bells.
The ringing of all the bells is subdivided as follows:
1. Trezvon (Peal) — thrice-sounded, multiple bell ringing. This is the simultaneous ringing of all the bells, then a brief pause, a second ringing of all the bells, again a brief pause, and a third ringing of all the bells, i.e., a simultaneous ringing of all the bells three times, or a ringing in three refrains.
2. Dvuzvon — twice rung. This is the simultaneous ringing of all the bells twice, in two refrains.
3. Perezvon (Chain Ringing) — this is the ringing of each bell in turn, with either one or several strokes of each bell, beginning with the largest to the very smallest, and then repeating several times.
4. Perebor (Toll) — This is the slow, single peal of each bell in turn, beginning with the smallest to the largest, and after the stroke on the largest bell all the bells are immediately struck together; then this is repeated several times.
The Use of the Bells and its Meaning.
Bells For All-night Vigil.
1. Before the beginning of the All-night Vigil — the “good news peal,” which concludes with the simultaneous ringing of all the bells, or the trezvon.
2. At the beginning of the reading of the Six Psalms comes the twice-rung, simultaneous peal, the dvuzvon. The dvuzvon announces the beginning of the second part of the All-night Vigil — Matins. It expresses the joy of the Resurrection of Christ, the incarnation of the Second person of the Holy Trinity, our Lord, Jesus Christ. The beginning of Matins, as we know, recalls the Birth of Christ, and begins with the doxology of the angels in their revelation to the shepherds of Bethlehem, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men.
In popular usage, the twice-rung bell at the All-night Vigil is called the second-bell (the second bell peal after the beginning of the All-night Vigil).
3. At the time of the singing of the polyeleos, before the reading of the Gospel, the trezvon, the thrice performed, simultaneous ringing of all the bells, is rung, expressing joy in celebrating the event.
At the Sunday All-night Vigil, this ringing expresses the joy and festivity of the Resurrection of Christ. In some localities it is performed at the time of the chanting, “In that we have beheld the Resurrection of Christ…” Customarily in guide books, this peal is called the “bells before the Gospel.”
In popular usage, the trezvon in the All-night Vigil (the bells before the Gospel) is called the “third ringing.”
4. At the beginning of the Song of the Most-holy Theotokos, “My soul doth magnify the Lord…,” occurs a short good news peal, composed of nine strokes of the large bell (customary in Kiev and in all of Little Russia).
5. On Great Feasts, at the conclusion of the Vigil, the trezvon occurs.
6. At Pontifical services, after every All-night Vigil, the trezvon is rung, accompanying the bishop as he leaves the church.
The Bells for the Liturgy.
Before the beginning of the reading of the Third Hour, the good news peal for the Liturgy is rung, and at the end of the Sixth Hour, before the beginning of the Liturgy, the trezvon.
If two Liturgies are served (an early one and a later one), then the good news peal for the early Liturgy is simpler and slower than the one for the later Liturgy, and it is customarily done not using the large bell.
At Pontifical divine services, the good news peal for the Liturgy begins at the indicated time. As the bishop approaches the church, the trezvon is rung. When the bishop enters the church, the trezvon ceases and the good news peal resumes and continues throughout the vesting of the bishop. At the end of the Sixth Hour, the trezvon is rung again. Then, during the Liturgy, the good news peal is rung at the beginning of the Eucharistic Canon, the most important part of the Liturgy, to announce the time of the sanctification and the transformation of the Holy Gifts.
According to T.K. Nikolsky, in the book Ustav Bogosluzhenia, it is said that the good news peal before “It is Meet …,” begins with the words, “It is meet and right to worship the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit …,” and continues until the chanting of “It is truly meet to bless Thee, the Theotokos….” It is also the instruction in the Book No-vaia Skrizhal by Archbishop Benjamin (published in S.P.B., 1908, p. 213.). In practice, the good news peal for “It is meet…” is shorter, composed of twelve strokes. In southern Russia the good news peal for “It is meet…” is performed customarily before the beginning of the Eucharistic Canon, at the time of the chanting of the Creed (12 strokes, 1 stroke for each clause of the Creed). The good news peal before “It is meet…,” according to the custom of Russian churches was introduced during the time of Patriarch Joachim of Moscow (1690 A.D.), similar to the custom of the West, where they ring during the words “Take, eat…”
At the conclusion of the Liturgy on all Great Feasts the trezvon is rung. Also, after every Liturgy served by a bishop the trezvon is rung to accompany the bishop as he leaves the church.
On the feast of the Nativity, the trezvon is rung all the day of the feast, from Liturgy until Vespers. Also, on the feast of the Resurrection of Christ — Pascha.
The good news peal before Bright Matins begins before the All-night Vigil and continues until the Procession of the Cross, and the festive trezvon is rung from the beginning of the Procession of the Cross to its end and even longer.
Before the Paschal Liturgy, the good news peal and the trezvon are rung. During the Paschal Liturgy itself, at the time of the Gospel reading, the perezvon is rung, with seven strokes on each bell (the number seven expresses the fullness of the glory of God). This festive ringing of bells signals the homily on the Gospel of Christ in all languages. Upon completion of the reading of the Gospel, the perezvon concludes with the joyful, victorious trezvon.
During all of Bright Week, the trezvon occurs every day, from the end of the Liturgy until Vespers. On all Sundays from Pascha until Ascension, after the Liturgy the trezvon is rung.
On the feast day of a church, at the conclusion of the Liturgy before the beginning of the Moleben, the short good news peal and the trezvon are rung, and at the conclusion of the Moleben, the trezvon.
Whenever there is a procession around the church, the trezvon is rung.
Before the Royal Hours, the good news peal is usually rung on the large bell, and before the Great Holy Week Hours, the Lenten good news peal in rung on the small bell. As at the Royal Hours, so also at the Great Holy Week Hours before each Hour the bell is rung. Before the Third Hour the bell is struck three times, before the Sixth Hour, six times and before the Ninth Hour, nine times. Before the Typica and Great Compline, twelve times. If during the fast a feast day is celebrated, then for the Hours they do not strike separately for each Hour.
On Matins of Good Friday, when the Twelve Gospel Readings of the Lord’s Passion are read, besides the usual good news peal and trezvon at the beginning of matins, there is a good news peal before each Gospel reading: before the first Gospel reading — one stroke on the large bell, before the second gospel reading — two strokes, before the third Gospel reading — three strokes, etc.
Upon conclusion of Matins, as the faithful carry the “Holy Thursday fire” to their homes, the trezvon is rung.
Use of the Perezvon and its Meaning.
At Vespers on Great Friday, before the elevation of the Burial Shroud, at the time of the singing of the last sticheron of the aposticha, a slow perezvon, one stroke on each bell, from the largest to the the smallest, is performed. Upon the placement of the Shroud in the center of the church, the trezvon is rung.
At Matins for Great Saturday, beginning with the chanting of the “Great Doxology” and continuing through the procession with the Shroud around the church, the perezvon is rung the same for the carrying back of the Shroud, a slow perezvon, one stroke on each bell from the largest to the smallest. When they pick up the Shroud in the middle of the church and go with it to the Royal Gates, then the trezvon is rung.
The slow perezvon with one stroke on each bell, beginning with the largest, most powerful sound, and ascending by degrees to the most delicate and highest pitched tone of the small bell, symbolizes the “outpouring (in terms of humility)” of our Lord Jesus Christ for our salvation, as we sing, for example, in the fourth irmos of the Fifth Tone: “Foreseeing Thy divine self-emptying upon the Cross…”
As established by centuries of practice by the Russian Orthodox Church, in the central part of Russia such a perezvon could be performed only twice a year, on Good Friday and Great Saturday, the day of the Crucifixion of the Lord and His burial. Experienced bell-ringers usually follow this custom strictly and do not permit otherwise, so that the sorrowful sound pertaining to the Lord, our Saviour, would be reserved and distinct from the funeral bells of simple, mortal and sinful people.
At Matins on the day of the Elevation of the Cross of the Lord, during the week of the Veneration of the Cross, and on the first of August, before carrying Cross out of the Altar at the time of the chanting of the “Great Doxology,” the perezvon occurs, during which they slowly strike three times (in some places, one time) on each bell from the largest to the smallest. When the Cross is carried to the middle of the church and placed on the analogion, the trezvon is rung.
Similarly to the perezvon, but faster and in quick succession, seven or three times on each bell, the bell is rung before the little blessing of water. At the time of the immersion of the Cross in the water, the trezvon is rung.
As before the blessing of water, the perezvon occurs before the ordination of a bishop. In general, the perezvon is quick, but sometimes on each bell there is a festive peal. In several places, such a perezvon is performed before the beginning of the Liturgy on the feast day of the church, or in other instances, for example, as we indicated above, during the reading of the Paschal Gospel.
The Use of the Perebor and its Meaning.
The perebor, otherwise known as the funeral bell, expresses grief over the dead. It is used, as we explained above, in the reverse order of the perezvon. That is, slowly they stroke one time on each bell from the smallest to the largest, and after that they strike all the bells simultaneously. This mournful, funeral perebor must conclude with a short trezvon, expressing the joyous Christian faith in the resurrection of the dead.
In view of the fact that in several guides on bell ringing, one is instructed not to play a trezvon at the funeral service of the dead, and as this directive does not correspond to church practice, we will take this opportunity to give some explanation.
The slow perebor ring of the bells, from the smallest to the largest, symbolizes a man’s growing up on earth, from small stature to maturity and strength, and the single, simultaneous strike on all the bells signifies that the earthly life of man is stopped by death, because of which all that is acquired by man in this life is left behind. As this is expressed in the hymns of the funeral service, “All mortal things are vanity and exist not after death. Riches endure not, neither does glory accompany on the way; for when death comes, all these things vanish utterly” (or as in another hymn, “yet one moment only, and death shall supplant them all”). Therefore, to the immortal Christ we cry, “Give rest to the one who has passed away, in the abode of those who rejoice.” The second part of the hymn directly speaks of the joy of the future life with Christ. This joy is also expressed with the trezvon after the sorrowful perebor.
In the journal Pravoslavnaia Rus’ (Orthodox Russia), Archbishop Averky, according to the custom of the occasion at funerals and Pannykhidas for the deceased, gave the soundly based explanation which, without doubt pertains to the bells as well. “According to our Orthodox custom, to perform Pannykhidas and funerals, bright clothing is put on. The custom of celebrating these orders of worship in black clothing came to us from the West, and is absolutely uncharacteristic of the spirit of Orthodoxy. Nevertheless, it is widespread among us. So much so, that now it is not easy to eradicate. For true Christians, death is a passage to better life, joy and not sorrow, as is beautifully expressed in the moving third kneeling prayer read at Vespers on the day of Pentecost, “Because there is no death, O Lord, for Thy servants when we depart from the body and come to Thee, our God, but a change from things very sorrowful unto things most beneficial and most sweet, and unto repose and gladness.”
The trezvon, reminiscent of the Resurrection, gracefully acts in the soul of the Christian believer, grieving over the separation from the deceased, and gives it internal consolation. To deprive the Christian of such comfort has no basis, the more so since this trezvon has fundamentally entered into the life of the Russian Orthodox people and has become an expression of their faith. In this way, as the body of the deceased is brought to the funeral in the church, there is the mournful perebor, and as it is being carried into the church, the trezvon. After the funeral, upon carrying the deceased out of the church, there again occurs the perebor, concluding also with the trezvon.
During the funerals and burials of priests, hieromonks, archimandrites and bishops, a slightly different perebor is performed. First they strike the large bell twelve times, then follows the perebor; again the twelve strokes on the large bell, and again the perebor, etc. As the body is brought into the church, the trezvon is rung; also during the reading of the prayer of absolution — the trezvon. During the removal of the body, again the perebor is indicated, and upon the placing of the body in the grave, the trezvon occurs. In other places, the bells are rung according to the usual custom for funerals.
In the Chinovnei Knige, it is said that during the removal of Patriarch Joachim, there was a good news peal, alternately on all the bells (Vrem. Mask. Obshch. 1st. i drevi. 1852, vol. 15, p.22).
Not long ago we had occasion to learn that there exists still one other form of perebor. It is one stroke on each bell, but beginning with the largest to the smallest, and then a simultaneous striking of all the bells. This was put on a record, Rostovskie Zvoni (Rostov Bells), recorded in Rostov on 1963. In practice we have not heard such ringing, and there are no directions about them. Therefore we are unable to indicate where and when this pattern is used.
There also exists the so-called “beautiful ringing” on all the bells. The “beautiful ringing” exists at cathedral gatherings, monasteries, wherever they have a large collection of bells. The “beautiful ringing” is composed of several bellringers in a company of five or more people. The beautiful ringing occurs on the great feast days, at festive and joyful events of the Church, and also for greeting the bishop of the diocese.
It is also necessary to mention the “alarm bell,” which serves a social purpose. By “alarm bell” is meant the uninterrupted, frequent strokes on the large bell. The “alarm bell” is used to alert people in the case of fire, flood, mutiny, invasion by an enemy, or some other form of social calamity.
The “vetchevnie” bell was used to call all the inhabitants of ancient Novgorod and Pskov to the vetche, or popular assembly.
Victories over the enemy and regiments returning from the fields of battle were announced with the joyous, festive trezvon on all the bells.
In conclusion, we note that Russian bellringers attained high mastery of bell ringing and were famous throughout the world. Many tourists came from Europe, England and America to the feast of Pascha in Moscow, to hear the Paschal bells.
On the “Feast of Feasts” in Moscow, the bells of all its churches, numbering more than 5,000, were rung. Thus, whoever heard the Paschal bells of Moscow would never forget it. It was “a unique symphony,” as writer I. Shmelov expressed it. This powerful, festive sound permeated to Heaven a victorious hymn to the Resurrection of Christ.
(The basic description of the order of bell ringing is laid down for the most part in Practice of the Russian Church in Central Russia. The description of practice was compiled and confirmed by the many events and daily practices of the Russian Orthodox people, by the very life of the Orthodox Church.).
In our own time of weak faith the dark powers of evil approach, battling against the righteousness of God. We, the faithful, must remember especially that none other than the monastics, by prayer and fasting, appear as the vanguard of the battle against the powers of evil. For the Lord Himself said, This kind (satanic spirit) goeth not out but by prayer and fasting (Matt. 17:21). We must love these zealots of Christ, and we must help them by all means, begging their spiritual help.
We ourselves, knowing the great power of prayer and fasting, must pray every day and fast to the best of our abilities, in order to maintain fervor, to fortify our hearts toward good and holy resolutions, and to generate in ourselves spiritual strength, so that with God’s help we may withstand the intrigues of the Devil.
In the words of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, “Let us not be deceived by the attractive appearance which ordinary, worldly honor possesses; let us not be enemies of the faith, behave scandalously, but let us do good deeds, and turn away from injurious overindulgence. In short, to fulfill only the most necessary ostensible obligations of a man and a member of society is to mearly whiten our sepulchers, which in the meantime, are within full of dead men’s boms (Matt. 23:27).
“How many so-called, wise men of this world suffered and tortured themselves and others by striving to follow the good life?” says the same hierarch. “And who did they make blessed? Of course, their works are not for the understanding and activity of children, because their own understanding never completely escapes their struggle with doubts; their personal deeds do not correspond to their teaching (i.e., they themselves do not practice what they preach). Here we see man’s insignificant importance. In contrast to this, there is the great simplicity of God. God does not say much. In His simple commandments are set forth the teaching of life, which for the wise are profoundly significant, and for children are easily understood. God’s simplicity enlightens the ignorant and guides the educators; it purifies the souls of men and preserves civilization; it organizes temporal life and recreates it for eternity.”
In all this one must not forget that the commandments of God will be active and redeeming for us only when Christian love towards God and neighbor reigns in our hearts. The Lord Himself said, On these two commandments, love for God and neighbor, hang all the law and the prophets (Matt. 22:40), that is, genuine and true life.
For, “It is possible to know true faith with only the mind and the memory,” says Archbishop Innocent, “but poor, lifeless and fruitless is this knowledge. It is possible to know the true faith only by directing it by the principle of life, but this knowledge, although much higher than the first, and a necessity for perfection, is cold and dry; instead of delight, it often produces the spirit of bondage to fear (Romans 8:15). Only the participation of a grace-filled heart makes the yoke of self-renunciation easy and the burden of the commandments light (Matt. 11:30). Only the lively sensation in the soul of the heavenly and the divine links a man to Heaven and gives him a taste of the powers of the world to come (Heb. 6:5). Only holy love produces real unity of man with God and Christ, and therefore, a living faith and living hope.”
Such living faith and hope, true life, we will find if we are in the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Orthodox Church of Christ and live the life of the Church, which is a unity of love; and in which invariably, by the promise of God, dwells the Holy Spirit, sending down His Heavenly gifts in the Mysteries of the Church, to strengthen us on the path of salvation.
Having such a priceless treasure, the Orthodox Church, we with full consciousness of that great joy, join our voices to the voice of our ever-memorable St. John of Kronstadt, whose many miracles witness to the truth of his words, both during his lifetime and after his death. He writes, “O Church of God, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic! You are so great, wise, true and redeeming!… Glory to the Orthodox Church! Glory to Christ God, its Most-holy Head, the only Head of the Church of God on earth.” Amen.