Order of Divine Services.
By Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy
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:
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 [not really fixed in the cycle]
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 angels which 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, the Theotokos, and 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, and the entire yearly cycle of divine services is constructed around its relationship to Pascha.