The Compilation of a Church Service

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By: Archbishop Averky
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The Compilation of a Church Service

On a Given Day.

Each church service consists of a combination of the “unchanging” parts of the service, which are inherent in it daily, with the “changing” parts of the service, the contents of which depend on what day of the week it is and what date of what month of the year. The unchanging parts of the service, which, as it were, constitute its framework, are taken from the Service Book by the clergy, and from the Horologion by the readers and singers. If it is a Sunday or a normal weekday, then to these unchanging prayers are added changing ones from the Ochtoechos, Menaion, and Psalter, or from the Lenten Triodion or the Festal Menaion, with additions from the Menaion or without the Menaion. On days of great and mid-ranking immovable feasts the changing parts of the service are taken only from the Menaion, while on the days of movable feasts, only from the Lenten Triodion or the FestalMenaion. The rule for combining the unchanging portions with the changing, and precisely what to select, are indicated for the most part “in place” in the liturgical books themselves. Everything is indicated and explained in detail in the Typicon. Several explanatory chapters of the Typicon which contain such directions, called Markovy Chapters, are likewise printed in the Menaions and the Triodion “in place,” or collected together at the end. Before every service it is essential to prepare all the necessary books ahead of time and, having opened them, to look over the whole order beforehand, following the directions given in the books.

The text of liturgical books is usually printed in black type, while all directions and explanations are printed in red type (known as “kinovar”).

The Titles of the Unchanging Prayers

The unchanging prayers, which are read and sung daily at every service, are the following:

1) The Opening Prayers. Thus termed are the prayers with which all of our church services usually begin, and which therefore likewise bear the title of “the usual beginning.” Every service begins with the summons by the priest or bishop to give praise to God. Such summonses, or exclamations, are three in number:

  1.  “Blessed is our God, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages” (before the beginning of most services),
  2.  “Glory to the Holy, and consubstantial, and life-creating, and indivisible Trinity, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages” (before the beginning of the All-night Vigil), and
  3.  “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” (before the beginning of the Liturgy).

After the exclamation the reader or the choir, on behalf of all present, by the word “Amen,” meaning “truly,” expresses concurrence with this praise, and immediately commences to praise God: “Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee.” Then, preparing himself and those praying for worthy prayer, the reader, or sometimes the choir, addresses the prayer “O Heavenly King” to the Holy Spirit, Who alone can bestow upon us the gift of true prayer (Rom. 8:26), in order that He might dwell in us, cleanse us of all impurity, and save us. Then the reader addresses the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity with a prayer for cleansing, reading: “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us” thrice; “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit…,” “O Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us…,” “Lord, have mercy” thrice; “Glory… both now…” again, and then finally reading the Lord’s prayer, “Our Father…,” as a sign that this is the greatest model for all prayers. After this prayer the priest makes the exclamation: “For Thine is the kingom, and the power, and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.” The reader affirms, “Amen,” and reads “Lord have mercy” twelve times, “Glory: both now…,” and “O come, let us worship…” thrice, after which the psalm with which the given service begins is usually read. From time to time, and especially often during Great Lent, these prayers of the usual beginning are again repeated in the middle of the service, so as to again turn the attention of those praying to these most ancient prayers for the cleansing of our souls. In several instances the reading of these prayers begins directly with “Holy God,” while if the given service is combined into one with the one preceding it, only “O come, let us worship” is read.

2) The Litanies, or Ektenias. These are lengthy intercessions which the deacon pronounces on the ambon (“ektenia” comes either from the Greek ekteiw – “I sustain,” or from ektenwV – “fervent”). This intercession is divided into several sections, each of which is concluded with the words, “Lord, have mercy,” or, “Grant this, O Lord.” In these litanies all possible good things essential for spiritual and bodily life are requested for those praying. There exist five forms of litany:

  1.  the great litany,
  2.  the augmented litany,
  3.  the litany of intercession,
  4.  the small litany, and
  5.  the litany for the departed.

3) Exclamations. During the time that the deacon on the ambon pronounces the litany aloud, the priest in the altar inwardly reads a private prayer, the end of which he prounounces aloud, timed so that he pronounces these words immediately after the deacon finishes the litany. The ends of these prayers, pronounced aloud by the priest, are called exclamations. In them are usually expressed the basis of why we, praying to the Lord, may hope for the fulfillment of our prayers, and why we have the boldness to turn to God with petitions. Several exclamations simply serve to complete the litany, not being preceded by any private prayer. For the most part they begin with the word “for,” i.e., “because,” or “since.”

4) Every church service finishes with special hymns, after which the priest or bishop pronounces the words of benediction for the departure from the temple, which bear the title of “dismissal.” The order of the complete dismissal is thus: the deacon or, in his absence, the priest himself, says: “Wisdom,” that is to say, let us be attentive to the most wise meaning of the words to be pronounced. Then the priest, addressing himself to the Mother of God, exclaims: “O Most Holy Theotokos, save us.” The choir sings, glorifying the Mother of God, “More honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim…” Giving thanks to the Lord for the service that has been accomplished, the priest further exclaims: “Glory to Thee, O Christ God, our Hope, glory to Thee,” at which the choir sings: “Glory…,” “both now…,” “Lord, have mercy” thrice, and then “Father, bless.” Following this, the priest or the bishop, turning to face the people from the ambon, says: “May Christ our true God…,” and goes on to enumerate the saints whom we have addressed during the past service, that is, the Mother of God, the saint of the day, the saint of the temple, and the Ancestors of God Joachim and Anna, and completes the dismissal by saying that, by the prayers of these saints, the Lord will “have mercy on us and save us, for He is good and the Lover of mankind.” The giving of the dismissal is the sign that the service has finished, and that the faithful may leave the temple.

The Titles of the Changing Prayers.

Depending on this or that feast or day of commemoration of a saint, at the service certain excerpts from the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are read. These readings bear the names of the books from which they were taken. Additionally, for any given feast or saint being glorified certain hymns are sung, which bear the following titles:

1) Troparion (troparion, from the Greek “tropoV” — a moral or model — or from tropaia” — a trophy or sign of victory — or from “trepw” — “I address”). This is a hymn which, in short but expressive terms, depicts the occasion of a feast or the life of a saint. For example: “Thy Nativity, O Christ our God…” or “The truth of things revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith…”

2) Kontakion (from the Greek word “kontakion;” or the diminutive form of kontax — “spear” —; but most likely derived from “kontoV,” the rod upon which a scroll of parchment is wound, or from “kontakia,” furls of parchment inscribed on both sides). This is a short hymn which, like the troparion, portrays the essence of the event being celebrated or the character traits of the saint being glorified. The difference between the troparion and the kontakion lies mainly in the place which they occupy in the service. Troparia are sung at the end of Vespers and at the beginning and the end of Matins, while the kontakion is always in the middle of Matins, immediately after the sixth ode of the canon. In addition, the troparion principally portrays the external side of the occasion of the feast, while the kontakion marks its inner essence and significance. Some of the better-known kontakia: “Today the Virgin gives birth to Him Who is transcendent in essence…” and “To Thee the Champion Leader…”

3) Megalynarion. This is a hymn containing the glorification of a feast or saint, which is sung at the All-night Vigil or festal Matins, first by the clergy in the center of the temple before the icon of the feast or saint, then several times by the singers on both clirosi.

4) Sticheron (from the Greek “stichra” — “many verses”). This is a hymn consisting of many verses written in the same meter of versification (in the Greek, since in the Slavonic translation the meter was, of course, lost), most of which are preceded by verses from the Holy Scriptures, mainly from the psalms. Each sticheron contains one and the same main thought, which is unfolded in diverse ways, very artistically and poetically, in living images and comparisons. Many stichera are sung at every divine service, but they have various titles. If stichera are sung following the verses of the psalm, “Lord, I have Cried,” they are called the “stichera of Lord I have cried;” if stichera are sung after the verses of the psalm, “Let Every Breath Praise the Lord,” they are called the “stichera of the praises.” At the end of Vespers and of weekday matins there are also stichera which are called the “stichera of the aposticha.” In addition there are also the stichera of the Litia, which are sung at the exit of the clergy into the vestibule for the Litia.

5) Theotokion (qeotokion). This is a hymn consecrated to the honor of the Mother of God. Thus called is the final sticheron of each of the aforementioned groups of stichera, which is always sung following “Glory, both now,” and contains a glorification of the Mother of God. However, on days of great feasts the sticheron of the feast is sung at “Glory, both now” instead of the Theotokion. A Theotokion that contains within itself — simultaneously with the glorification of the Mother of God — an exposition of the dogma of the incarnation of the Son of God from Her, or that speaks concerning the union in Jesus Christ of two natures — the Divine and the human, uncommingling and indivisible —, or that tells of something else concerning the God-manhood of Christ, is called a Dogmaticon — in Greek, dogmatikon – and means “enactment,” “teaching,” “dogma.” Such a title is usually applied to the Theotokion which concludes the stichera at “Lord, I have Cried” at Small and Great Resurrectional Vespers, served on Saturday evening. Ven. John of Damascus is considered the author of the “Dogmatica.” There are eight of these in all, according to the number of the eight tones.

The number of stichera may be, depending on the level of solemnity of the feast, ten, eight, six, or four. This is shown in liturgical books by the specific expression, “ten stichera,” “eight stichera,” and so on. The indication of these numbers has an important practical purpose for the correct formation of the service, in that it determines the number of psalm verses which must be sung with the stichera, preceding each sticheron. First the verse of the psalm which corresponds in number is sung, then, after it, the sticheron itself. If there should not be enough stichera they may each be repeated twice or even three times, as is often directly indicated in liturgical books after the stichera by the word “twice” or “thrice.”

6) Akathist (in Greek, akaqistoV – “nesedalion” — a service during which sitting is not permitted). This is especial laudatory singing in honor of the Lord, the Mother of God, or a saint, consisting of twelve kontakia and twelve ikosi. In the liturgical ustav the reading of the Akathist of the Mother of God is called for on the fifth Sunday of Great Lent at Matins of “the Laudation of the Most Holy Theotokos.” (The author of this akathist is considered to be Sergei, Patriarch of Constantinople (610 — 638), but some point to George of Pisidia as the author, while others suggest that it was compiled by Patriarch Photius.) In present times akathists are used for home and cell rules, and are also read by clergy preparing for the performance of the services.

7) Ikos. This comes from the Greek oikoV, which means house, building, compartment, or repository. It is historically believed that kontakia are of Syrian origin, and in Syrian “deth,” or “house,” can also mean “verse,” just as in Italian “stanza” means both “verse” and “room.” The ikos usually comes after the sixth ode of the canon at Matins directly following the kontakion, and presents a more thorough development of the idea expressed in the kontakion, always culminating in the same words as the latter.

8) Sedalion (kaqisma). As its very name indicates, the hymn thus termed is that during which those praying are permitted to sit. This is because immediately following the singing of the sedalion the Ustav calls for the reading of the instructive works of the Holy Fathers, which are listened to while sitting. Sedalia occur at Matins, one after every kathisma; i.e., two or three sedalia in all, since at Matins two or three kathismata are usually read. They likewise appear after the third ode of the canon.

9) Hypakoi (from the Greek upakouein, which means to answer, to echo). This is a hymn that in antiquity was sung by the people, echoing the reader or chanter. It may also come from another Greek word, upakoh, which means obedience or attentiveness, since before the reading of the Gospel, which recounts the Resurrection of Christ, particular attentiveness to themselves was required of the faithful. In present times this is a purely conventional title, which merely indicates the place of this hymn in the divine service. It is usually located at Sunday Matins after the resurrectional troparia — “The Assembly of the Angels” — and the small litany following these troparia. This same hypakoi is also appointed at the Sunday Midnight Office.

10) Antiphons (from the Greek words anti and fwnh – “voice” — “counter-singing,” or singing by turns on two clirosi). Such are the “Antiphons of Matins,” which are sung at Sunday Matins before the reading of the Gospel. Antiphons of different content are sung at the beginning of the Liturgy on weekdays and on feasts of the Lord.

11) Prokeimenon (from prokeimenoV kanna – “lying in advance”). This is a verse which is pronounced by the reader and repeated by the choirs before the reading of lessons, the Apostle, and the Gospel. The prokeimenon serves as a kind of preface to the reading of Holy Scripture, and expresses the essence of the commemorated event or a characteristic of the saint being glorified.

12) Canon (in Greek, kanwn, possibly related to kanna – a staff, specifically a straight stick, used for measuring). For church writers this means the “rule” according to the model or plan of which the canons are compiled. The canon consists of a series of sacred hymns in honor of a feast or saint, which comprise the central part of every Matins. Thus, the canon is a type of church hymn having a most strictly consistent defined literary form. The canon consists of nine parts, called “odes.” Each ode consists of what are called irmosi and troparia. The irmosi are sung, while the troparia are currently usually read. The irmos (in Greek, eirmoV – “connection”) serves to connect the troparia. Every canon has its own definite subject, a single definite theme, which is developed in all of the odes. For example, in one canon the Resurrection of Christ is glorified: this canon is called resurrectional. In another the Resurrection of Christ together with the cross of Christ is glorified; hence this canon is called cruciresurrectional. In a third the Most Holy Theotokos is glorified, and it is hence called Theotokian. Before every troparion of the canon a particular refrain, corresponding to the main subject, is said: “Glory to Thy holy Resurrection, O Lord,” or, “O Most Holy Theotokos, save us.” If the canon is, for example, to Hierarch Nicholas, then “O Hierarch Father Nicholas, pray to God for us,” and so forth. The number of troparia varies, for which reason we speak of a canon of ten, of eight, of six, or of four.

As a pattern for the canon we have the nine songs of the Holy Scriptures, which are printed in the Ordered Psalter and the Irmologion, as well as in the usual small Psalter. These songs, or “odes” — in Greek, wdai -, have from great antiquity been used in worship. The model for the first ode is the song of Moses at the crossing of the Israelites through the Red Sea (Ex. 15:1-19), as a result of which in all canons this event, in one variation or another, is always called to mind. The second ode or song of Moses (Deut. 32:1-43) is used during Great Lent. The third ode is the song of the holy prophetess Anna (1 Kings 2:1-10). The fourth is that of the prophet Avvakum (3:1-19). The fifth ode is that of the prophet Isaiah (26:9-19). The sixth ode is that of the prophet Jonah (2:3-10). For both the seventh ode (Dan. 3:26-56) and the eighth (Dan. 3:67-88) the song of the three youths in the Babylonian furnace serves as a model, and in the irmosi of the seventh and eighth odes, in one way or another, these youths are always remembered, or words from their song incorporated. Between the eighth and ninth odes for nearly the entire year (with the exception of the twelve great feasts) the Song of the Most Holy Theotokos — “More Honorable” (Luke 1:46-55) — is sung: this contains a glorification of the Mother of God. The ninth ode is the song of the holy prophet Zechariah, the father of the holy prophet John the Forerunner; it is cited by the Holy Evangelist Luke (1:68-79). By Ustav the troparia of the canon must be combined with the reading of the verses of these odes; an order for this combination is given for weekdays, feasts, and Great Lent. However, in present times this kind of combination has nearly been abandoned and is used only in churches that observe the Ustav in the strictest fashion, and then only during Great Lent. The above-mentioned refrains for the troparia (which are now used) replaced the Old Testament verses of theses odes.

Following the reading of all the troparia of each ode, the irmos of each ode (though, during the year, for the most part the irmos of the other, i.e., the second or last, canon) is sung by both choirs, descended from the clirosi and united together in the center of the temple: this mutual singing of the final irmosi is called the “katavasia” (from the Greek katabainw – “to descend, to come together”), katabasia, i.e., “the uniting,” at which the two choirs unite in the center of the temple where they sing the “closing,” or conclusive, irmos. Which katavasia are sung during what periods of the year is stated in detail in the Typicon. For the greater part of the year the irmosi of the Theotokian canon, “I shall open my mouth,” serve as the katavasia. The Slavonic and other translations of the canons, unfortunately, do not convey an understanding of the exquisite artistic beauty of the canons, which in their breadth of material and artistry of composition could be called spiritual poems. Sometimes there occur incomplete canons: these consist of two, three, or four odes, and hence are called diodes, triodes, and quatrodes. These are found in especially great numbers in the Lenten Triodion and the Festal Menaion.

Liturgicists believe that the canon, this new form of church poetry, was founded by the hierarch Andrew of Crete (650 — 726), the compiler of the “Great Canon” which is read on Thursday of the fifth week of Great Lent. There is no information concerning the liturgical canons predating the seventh century. The description of the Sinai Matins of that century may be considered the earliest testimony. In it “troparia” are mentioned, sung with the eighth biblical ode. Prof. M. N. Skaballanovich conjectures that the original form of the canon was a uniode, and that later this gradually grew into a diode through the joining of the ninth ode to the eighth. From here troparia began also to be united to the usual ode of the day, and thus appeared the triode. Thus, all of this developed into an entire canon. This new type of church poetry was often quick to find imitators. After Ven. Andrew of Crete in this field began to labor the venerable John of Damascus, Cosmas of Maium, Stephan the Sabbaite, Theodore the Studite, Joseph the Hymnographer, and many others (see Prof. Archim. Kyprian’s “Liturgics”).

13) Exapostilarion, or Photagogicon. Thus termed is the hymn which follows immediately after the canon and the small litany which follows the ninth ode thereof. Photagogica are so called because in them mention is usually made of the illumination of the soul from on high through heavenly grace. Photagogica occur, not in resurrectional, but in simple services. The term “exapostilarion” — in Greek, exaposteilarion, from exapostellw, “I send out” — may be derived from the fact that in resurrectional exapostilaria mention is made of the sending down of the Holy Spirit upon the Holy Apostles and of their embassy of the preaching of the Gospel; or because for the singing of the exapostilaria a chanter (the canonarch, or “psalt”) was “sent out” to the center of the temple, as is done even now in monasteries. For instance, during Holy Week the canonarch sings “I see Thy bridal chamber…” or “The good thief…” Exapostilaria are sung at Sunday Matins on feasts of the Lord.

14) Communion hymn, or koinonikon (koinonikon). This is a verse which is sung at the Liturgy during the communion of the clergy in the altar.

(From Liturgics by  Archbishop Averky (+ 1976) Edited by Archbishop Laurus 2000)