Orthodox Church of the Mother of God

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Bells and Russian Orthodox Peals - The Use of the Bells and its Meaning.

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The Use of the Bells and its Meaning.

Bells For All-night Vigil.

  1. Before the beginning of the All-night Vigi l- 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.
  3. 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).
    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 Novaia 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.

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