The Church invites all her faithful children to make a journey with her, passing through the millenniums by Divine Providence in order to re-enter into communion with God’s love and, by retracing the long way already trodden, to live again the sacred events of our salvation. Thus, the next service in the Evening Cycle, Vespers, begins with the exclamation, “Blessed is our God…” without the Trinitarian invocation of the All-Night Vigil, “Glory to the holy, consubstantial and life-creating Trinity…, symbolizing that as yet, the name of the Holy Trinity has not been manifested. Vespers will lead through the Old Testament to the New and thus, appropriately, after the exclamation, the beautiful hymn of Creation, Psalm 104, is read.
At the All-Night Vigil, this Psalm is sung while the Priest censes the entire church, signifying that at the Creation, the Spirit of God, the True Light and Incense to the elect, moved over the face of the waters: “And the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Gen. 2). The opened Holy Doors (closed at Daily Vespers) signifies that from the creation of the world, man was appointed to dwell in Paradise. This blessed condition, however, was of short duration, and the closing of the doors at the conclusion of the singing of Psalm 104, symbolizes the expulsion of man from Paradise and the barring of its gates by cherubim and a flaming sword: [God] drove out man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen. 3:24).
During the reading of Psalm 104 at Daily Vespers and at the conclusion of the censing at the All-Night Vigil, the Priest stands before the Holy Doors, reading silently the Prayers of Light, with head uncovered. He symbolizes Adam sorrowing before the closed gates of Paradise in penitence and humility. These prayers originally were called the Lamp-lighting Prayers, since the lamps in the church were lit at the setting of the sun. In these prayers the Lord Who dwells in the Ineffable Light is glorified as the Priest prays for the material light and the illumination of the soul.
This is followed by the Great Litany, which is sometimes called the Litany of Peace, since from the very first petition, “In peace let us pray to the Lord”, this theme is evident. Except for Sunday evenings and the evening after a Great Feast, the Great Litany is followed by a specially-appointed Kathisma (from kathizo I sit), one of the twenty divisions of the Psalter. On Feast Days and Saturday nights, the 1st Kathisma, “Blessed is the man…”, is sung either in part or in its entirety. This Psalm refers to the Savior and in it we sing, “Arise, O Lord, save me, O my God…”, which is addressed to the coming Resurrection.
This is followed by a censing of the whole church and the singing of Psalms 140, 141, 129 and 116, “Lord, I have called upon Thee, hear me…”. This expresses Adam’s repentance for his sins, as well as his request for the Paradise which he had lost; it also is his exhortation to his posterity that they should utterly obey the will of God. The prophetic verses from the Psalm, “Bring my soul out of prison…” symbolizes Old Testament humanity awaiting liberation from the darkness of the Old Covenant. To these verses are joined special Stikhera (hymns) which expand the particular theme of the day (Monday angels, Tuesday St. John the Baptist, etc.). In addition, there are compositions of praise for a particular Saint or Saints venerated on that day. The Stikhera may expand on a particular Feast which may be celebrated on that day, or expound upon the Resurrection Gospel which will be read at Matins (if it be Saturday evening). These Stikhera are taken from the Octoechos and/or the Menaion. (During the time of Triodion and the Pentecostarion, special Stikhera from these books are also sung here.)
The censing, at this point, has particular significance apart from that done at the singing of Psalm 104 of the All-night Vigil. It is the expression of our desire that our prayers, which after the Fall were unable to ascend to heaven without the mediation of Christ the Son of God, now by His intercession, like the smoke soaring upwards from the censer, ascends to the Lord God. It symbolizes that the Holy Spirit, by Whom the censer is blessed, is always present in the church and particularly enlightens us at the time of prayer. It signifies that the angels bear our prayers to God by means of the censer: “And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden cense; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne…” (Rev. 8:3). It is also an imitation of the Old Testament ritual wherein God, through Moses, commanded Aaron to make such a censing in the tabernacle day and night (Ex. 30:7-8). The censing can also be seen as an image of the divine glory which came on the Tabernacle in the time of Moses (Ex. 40:27-35).
The last Stikheron, now sung at Now and ever… on Sundays or Great Feasts is called the Dogmatic, since, in addition to praise of the Most-Holy Theotokos, it contains certain dogmatic teachings concerning the person of Jesus Christ. On ordinary days, a Theotokion, a hymn of praise to the Theotokos, is sung at this point, which reminds us that the Theotokos was the Mediatrix of our salvation.
At the All-Night Vigil and Feast Days, the Holy Doors are opened and an entrance is made by the Priest, preceeded by a Deacon with the censer and a Candle-Bearer. The opened Holy Doors symbolize that with the coming of the Lord the gates of Paradise have been opened. The Deacon preceeds the Priest (who is an Icon of Christ) as if he were St. John the Forerunner, and the candle going before denotes the spiritual life brought to earth by the Savior.
The hymn, “O Jesus Christ, the Joyful Light…” (O Gladsome Light… in some translations), as the first ray of the New Testament light, is now sung. It tells us that the light of the sun, the created, creature light, is not the same as the light uncreated and divine. The golden light of evening is a symbol pointing to another Divine Light, in the same way as the world below is an image and likeness of the primary world above.
From this moment of the prayer, “O Jesus Christ…”, Vespers becomes more and more oriented towards the Savior and salvation. If, up till now, the prayers of Vespers have been basically penitential in character and have expressed the mood of the old nature which belongs to [the] former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts (Eph. 4:22) and has consisted of Psalm-singing and readings, largely from passages written before the birth of Christ, so now the captivity of the soul is coming to an end: the darkness is dispersed by the rising light of the New Testament.
Solemnly and joyously the Church glorifies the humble event of the Incarnate Word. The Old Testament supplications to and hope in the ever-springing fountain of life and truth are answered in the fulfillment of the New Testament, in the entry into the world, into the prayerful foregathering of believers, of the true Light of Life Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The entrance bearing a lantern which symbolizes the invisible rising and presence amongst the worshippers of Christ Himself and the singing of the prayer, “O Jesus Christ, the Joyful Light…”, which teaches the true meaning of this light-symbolism are together the central moment of the Vesper Service.
At last peace reigns in the soul; the world sinks into darkness but the wondrous light in the soul grows and widens; and the Christian can no longer tear away his marveling eyes. Our eyes are lifted up to the Lord our God Who this day has shown great bounty towards us.
At the conclusion of this hymn, the Prokeimenon (Alleluia at certain other times e.g., the Service for the Dead on Memorial Saturdays) is appointed to be sung. These verses from the Psalms normally preceeded Scripture Readings and here is a remnant of the ancient practice of reading Old Testament lessons (preserved only on Great Feasts and the weekdays of Great Lent) at Vespers. There are appointed special Prokeimenon verses for each day of the week, which are connected with the particular theme of that day. For example, on Saturday evening the Prokeimenon, “The Lord is king…” stresses the coming of the Lord Who reigns in supreme beauty and majesty.
The Old Testament Readings (Paramaea Parable) which are read at this point on Great Feasts contain prophecies of the event commemorated on that day, or certain relevant materials pertaining to the Saint whose festival it is. (For certain Apostles, e.g., Sts. John, Peter, James and Jude, selections from their New Testament Epistles are read.)
At Great Vespers (All-Night Vigil) the Litany of Fervent Supplication is now chanted (characterized by the three-fold Lord, have mercy), although at ordinary Vespers it is transferred to the end of the Service. In this Litany we entreat mercy for all Christians.
After the Prokeimenon (Daily Vespers) or the Litany of Fervent Supplication (Great Vespers), the prayer, “Grant, Lord, that we may be kept this evening without sin…” is read. In abbreviated form, it corresponds to the Doxology which is read (Daily) or sung (Festal) at the end of Matins. After Grant, Lord… the Evening Litany (or Litany of Supplication) is chanted, wherein we specify which mercies we desire, and is characterized by the refrain, “Grant it, O Lord!”
After the Litany of Supplication, special hymns are sung in honor and memory of the person or event to which the services of that day are dedicated. These hymns are separated by verses taken from various parts of Holy Scripture which are related to the Saint or Feast and thus are called the Apostikha (or Stikhera (Verses) on Verses).
At Great Vespers (All-Night Vigil) the Apostikha is preceeded by the Litya (Lity a fervent prayer). The Litya, characterized by many repetitions of “Lord, have mercy!” is celebrated in the porch of the church or on the steps, or sometimes in the back of the church itself. In ancient times this was done in order that the Catechumens and Penitents who stood in the porch might participate in the gladness of the festival. The faithful and clergy came out with candles (symbolizing the Light of Christ come to sinners) to signify their humility and brotherly love towards those who had sinned. In our times the Litya serves to remind us that we must take care for our souls so that we may be worthy to enter into the House of God. After the Litya, the clergy return to the center of the church.
When the singing of the Apostikha has ended, the dismissal prayer of St. Simeon, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace…” (Luke 2:29-32) follows. Only now that we have traveled the long, hard road and seen at last the dawn of a new life, has our Christian soul acquired the right to ask leave to depart. The prayer is followed by the Trisagion and Lord’s Prayer, after which are sung the Troparia (hymns) relating to that day of the week or celebration, as well as a hymn of praise (Theotokion) to the Mother of God.
On Feast days, at this point, before a table on which have been placed five loaves of bread and three vessels one with wheat, one with wine, and one with oil the Priest makes the Sign of the Cross over the loaves and prays that the Lord may bless and multiply them. In the early Church, when the All-Night Vigil lasted until the morning, it was customary to distribute the common offerings of bread, wine and oil after the Vespers. Thus the faithful who intended to remain throughout the Service would be strengthened and refreshed. After the Priest had pronounced the final Blessing upon the people, he and the Deacon descended from the Altar, and sitting down with the people, they consumed with them the food which had just been blessed, during this time selections from the Acts of the Apostles, or from the Epistles, were read aloud. The distribution of the blessed bread during Feast-Day Matins to the faithful who have received the blessing by the anointing with the blessed oil, commemorates this in ordinary churches.
Vespers then concludes with the Litany of Fervent Supplication and the usual Dismissal (if Daily Vespers) or the response to the petition, “Blessed be the Name of the Lord”, henceforth and for evermore “The blessing of the Lord be upon you…” (if Great Vespers). The Vesper Service is thus filled with memories of the Creation, the Fall, the Expulsion from Paradise and the anticipation of the Coming of the Savior Who brings light to the world.
In this way the whole of Vespers, beyond which lies a new kind of creation, of spiritual life in God, passes beneath the Sign of the Cross, of repentance, of separation from the old, and ends in expectancy and acceptance of the new, true Light that is Christ. This Light shone steadily and peacefully, drawing to itself those who had formerly wandered in darkness and who had been sunk deep in the night, experiencing what it is to be apart from God, that they might come to a true awareness of their own weakness and learn humility.
The Light of Christ which shone at Vespers now begins to shine at the next service of the Morning Cycle Matins. “It shines faintly, at first, through the Star of Bethlehem, Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will to men!” (chanted at the beginning of the Six Psalms) and then, as Matins proceeds, this Light gradually burns brighter and brighter and then flares up into an all-encompassing divine flame. It renews, communicates itself so that men may become bearers of light. It fills all creatures with love and tenderness; and then all Christians cry out anew to the Lord in gladness, “Glory to Thee, Who hast shown us the Light!” Here in the Great Doxology immediately following this exclamation, is the high point and culmination of the Matins cycle.
Daily Matins begins with the exclamation, “Blessed is our God…”, and then two Royal Psalms (20 and 21) addressed to the rulers, according to the command of St. Paul on prayer for the Emperor and those who are in power (Rom. 13:1-7; cf. 1 Pet. 2:13-14). The Psalms are followed by the Trisagion and the Lord’s Prayer, and then the Troparion and Kontakion of the Cross, followed by a short litany and then the beginning of Matins proper. At the All-Night Vigil, this introductory part is omitted.
Matins proper begins with the Trinitarian exclamation, “Glory to the Holy, Consubstantial and Life-Creating Trinity…” (transferred to the beginning of Vespers at the Ail-Night Vigil) which, in contrast to the Old Testamental character of Vespers, gives to Matins the content of a New Testament prayer. This is especially seen in the opening exclamations of the Reader at this point, “Glory to God in the Highest…” (the Song of the Angels at the Birth of Christ Luke 2:14) and the verse from Psalm 51, “O Lord, open Thou my lips…”. Now follows the Six Psalms, which are penitential in character and refer to the wretched condition of the human race in the Old Testament days, as well as the hope of a Savior from on High. The Six Psalms concludes with a Psalm expressing the firm hope of the righteous in all hostile actions, on God’s help.
The Six Psalms (during which the Priest reads special Morning Prayers) are followed by the Great Litany (just as at the beginning of Vespers) and then “God is the Lord and hast revealed Himself to us. Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!” [During the Great Lent and on Memorial Saturdays, this is replaced by Alleluia.] When the Lord revealed Himself to the people assembled beside the Jordan River, St. John the Baptist greeted Him with joy and reverence. At this point of Matins, the Priest (or Deacon) makes the proclamation beholding the Lord Himself coming to minister to the world. This is followed by Troparia dedicated to the Feast, Sunday or the Saints, depicting the flourishing of the Church after Christ’s Coming to earth and it also constitutes the end of the first part of Matins.
The second part of Matins begins with the reading of the Kathismas, selections from the Psalter, at which the faithful are permitted to sit. This part of Matins, consisting of long, continuous readings of Psalms, interspersed only by brief doxologies in honor of Christ’s coming into the world and in memory of the mercies which He brought by His coming, reminds us of the time when He already lived on earth, but was recognized by almost no one, while men continued waiting for His coming and prayed to God for mercy, listening in doubt and perplexity to the news that the Lord had already appeared on earth. Because of the primarily penitential nature of these Psalms, the Holy Doors are closed during this part of Matins.
At the conclusion of the Kathismas, there are appointed special Kathisma Hymns (Sessional Hymns Sedalens) related to the day or Feast. At the conclusion of the Kathisma readings, at the All-Night Vigil, the Polieley now follows. The Priest, preceeded by a Deacon bearing a lit candle, comes out of the Altar and censes the whole church and the faithful. This reminds us of the time when the holy Myrrh bearing Women, as well as the other Disciples of the Lord, came early to His sepulcher, before the dawn, and there learning of the Savior’s Resurrection, brought to the remaining Disciples the joyous news. The incense typifies the sweet spices which the women brought to the tomb of the Lord and the candle typifies the light and joy of the glad tidings of the Resurrection, and the light of faith therein and in our future life. The procession of the Priest around the inside of the church typifies the return of the Myrrh bearers and the Disciples from the grave of the Savior, bringing the good news to the remaining Disciples.
The Polieley, consisting of Psalms 135 and 136, is so called, from the Greek words poll (much) and elea (oil or mercy), because the word mercy is frequently repeated in these Psalms and because all of the lamps, filled with pure oil, are lit, while the Psalms are being sung. On Feast days the Polieley is followed by a short verse (the Magnification) magnifying the person or event celebrated, and is sung before an icon placed on a stand in the middle of the church. The Magnifications are interspersed with the singing of special selected verses from the Psalms, which illustrate the inner meaning of the Feast.
The Polieley (and Magnifications, if any) are followed by a Little Litany, a short Kathisma Hymn glorifying the Saint or event commemorated, and then the 1st Antiphon of the 4th Tone, From my youth…. This moving hymn reminds us, in the midst of the festal celebrations, of how far we have fallen from the joys of the life with God that rejoices the soul, which we have lost because of our sins. Those who would wage war against God and His Church shall be put to shame by the Lord. And we, who have fallen, will again be enlivened by the Holy Spirit, be exalted and illumined by the bright radiance of the Holy Trinity.
On Sundays, whether a Great Feast or not, the Polieley (and Magnifications, if any) is followed by verses from Psalm 119, “Blessed art Thou, O Lord…” and special verses which speak of the Resurrection of Christ and invite the faithful to worship the Holy Trinity, ending with a hymn in honor of the Mother of God (Theotokion). These are followed by a Little Litany, the Ypakoe (a short hymn) and several Antiphons (sung alternately by two choirs in the ancient practice) according to the Tone of the Week.
On Great Feasts and Sundays, a Gospel Reading is prescribed, preceded by a Prokeimenon (as before all Scripture Readings). On Feast days, the text of the Reading is appropriate to the Feast, and on Sundays it is appropriate to the Resurrection. Our Lord Jesus Christ, after He had arisen from the dead, quickly showed Himself to His Disciples. Thus, the Church, by the reading of the Gospel after the Song of the Myrrh bearers, announces to the people one of the manifestations of the Risen Savior to His Disciples, in the form of eleven Resurrection Gospel Readings prescribed for Sundays.
At the conclusion of the Gospel Reading, on Sundays the Resurrectional Hymn, “Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ…” is sung, followed by Psalm 51 and special supplications to the Apostles and the Mother of God, as well as entreating the Lord to have mercy on us. On Great Feasts a special supplication is made to the Saint (s) commemorated that day and also a special Stikheron dedicated to the Saint (s) or event being commemorated. As at the Litya of Vespers, the Litya prayer, “O God, save Thy people…” is read. The faithful venerate the Gospel Book placed on a stand in the center of the church and if it be a Feast, the Icon of the day, after which, on Feast days, they are anointed with oil and given a piece of the holy bread (anointed with wine) which had been blessed at Vespers. On weekdays, the Polieley, Magnifications, Gospel, etc., are omitted and only Psalm 51 is read. This ends the second part of Matins.
The third part of Matins begins with the singing of the Canons. The Church has appointed to be sung the Nine Songs (or Odes) of the Canon, which contain the Hymns of those godly persons of the Old Covenant, from Moses to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, who magnified the Lord in spiritual songs. Each Song, in the vast number of Canons of the Holy Orthodox Church, is inspired by the Biblical Canticle appointed to precede it. These Canticles, however, are generally omitted, with the exception of the Song of the Theotokos, “My soul magnifies the Lord…”, which precedes Ode Nine. The second Song of Holy Scripture (Deut. 33) is not, properly speaking, so much a hymn as an announcement of God’s judgments upon the Israelites. Therefore it is sung only on the Tuesdays of Great Lent.
In the shortened version of the Canons, as they are actually sung in modern practice, only the Theme Song (based on the Biblical Canticle which precedes it) is sung, here called the Irmos, and at the end of each Ode, the choirs normally came down from the soleas into the center of the church to repeat the Irmos of the Ode (or sometimes a special Irmos) for which reason this repeated Irmos is called the Katavasia (descent).
The singing of the Canon is divided into three parts by Little Litanies after the 3rd, 6th and 9th Odes. After the 3rd, a special Kathisma Hymn is sung (sometimes a Kontakion, too, or an Ypakoe) and after the 6th, the Kontakion of the Saint or event of the Day (on Saturday night the Resurrection Kontakion is usually sung) and the Ikos, if there be one. On Great Feasts, the Song of the Theotokos (the Magnificat) is often replaced by special magnifications.
At the conclusion of the Canon and the following Little Litany, the fourth part of the Matins begins. Here is sung the Hymns of Light, which are also called the Exapostilaria. They are called Hymns of Light because their subject is chiefly the illumination of the soul from on High, and because the singing of them at Matins precedes the daybreak and the Doxology. They are called Exapostilaria because in ancient times a Cantor was sent out into the center of the church to sing them (Greek: Exapostilarion one who is sent forth).
These are followed by the singing of Psalms 148, 149 and 150 the Praises (on weekdays they are read), “Let every breath praise the Lord…”. All God’s creatures are summoned to praise the Lord their Creator. On Feast days and Sundays, the final verses of the Praises are interspersed with special stikhera in honor of the Saint or event of the day and end with a hymn to the Theotokos (Theotokion).
The Exapostilaria had anticipated one more part of Matins which praises the Light, and which now immediately follows the Priest’s (or Deacon’s) exclamation,”Glory to Thee, Who hast shown us the Light!” the Doxology. On Feast days and Sundays, the Doxology is sung the Great Doxology; on ordinary days it is read the Small Doxology. Each begins with the words, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men!” The Great Doxology ends with the Trisagion.
At the All-Night Vigil, the Great Doxology is followed by petitions for all Christians and the asking of special mercies in the words of the Litany of Fervent Supplication and the Morning Litany (just as did the Litany of Fervent Supplication and the Evening Litany at Vespers), after which the Dismissal is made. At Weekday Matins, the Doxology is followed by the Morning Litany, Apostikha, Trisagion, Lord’s Prayer, Troparia and the Litany of Supplication, just as at Daily Vespers. At the All-Night Vigil the 1st Hour follows immediately after the Matins Dismissal and after the Litany of Fervent Supplications at Daily Matins. Thus we have now come into the full Light of Christ, the Dayspring from on High.
The Divine Liturgy has its origins in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, instituted by the Lord Himself: Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will You have us prepare for You to eat the passover? He said, Go into the city to a certain one, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.'” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover. When it was evening, He sat at table with the twelve disciples…. Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body”. And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is My blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins…” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives (Matt. 26:17-20; 26-28, 30). This Eucharistic Supper and the Lord’s commandments concerning it were held sacred by the Apostles; for when they met together, they spent the time in prayer, in the singing of sacred hymns, and the breaking of bread in memory of Christ. That is, they celebrated the Holy Eucharist. This custom became the cornerstone of the new Christian community, and is witnessed to by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians: / “received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, This is My body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of Me. In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me (1 Cor. 11:23-25).
In the course of time the Eucharistic gathering became more developed. Originally the public portion of the Liturgy (the Synaxis, or gathering), consisting of instruction, Scripture readings, etc., primarily for the Catechumens who were about to receive Baptism, and the Eucharist (a private gathering of the faithful only) were celebrated separately; but about the 4th Century they were linked together, and eventually expanded. In time, the Service of Preparation (or Proskomedia) was joined to it.
Customarily three Liturgies are celebrated by the Orthodox, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, and, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. The first two are entitled …of Saint John…, …of St. Basil…, since each contains prayers undoubtedly composed by St. John and St. Basil, respectively. The Presanctified Liturgy (at which no consecration takes place, since the Holy Gifts are presanctified on the previous Sunday) probably contains prayers composed by Pope St. Gregory Dialoges, to whom this Liturgy is attributed. In addition, in a few places, such as at Jerusalem, the Liturgy of St. James the Brother of the Lord is celebrated only on the patronal feast day of St. James (Oct. 23).
The Divine Liturgy can be celebrated only by a Bishop or a Priest, and neither can celebrate more than one Liturgy in one day. This is because they must partake of the Holy Gifts, having, of necessity, prepared themselves beforehand by fasting, prayer, etc. [If the Holy Gifts would be consumed before another Liturgy, the fast would therefore be broken!] The Liturgy can be celebrated only at an Altar (Holy Table) upon which is placed an Antimension consecrated by a Bishop this constitutes his permission to serve the Liturgy although the Liturgy may be served at another place, as long as the Antimension is present. Not more than one Liturgy may be celebrated at one Altar (Holy Table), upon one Antimension, in one day.
Upon entering the church before the Divine Liturgy is to be served, the Priest (and Deacon) stand before the Holy Doors and say the Entrance Prayers. Then, after asking for and receiving in turn forgiveness of the faithful, they enter the Altar; and having made three prostrations before the Holy Table, they kiss the Holy Gospel (Priest) and the Table itself (Priest and Deacon). After this they vest with appropriate prayers and blessings the Deacon in Stikharion, Cuffs and Orarion (Stole), and the Priest in Cassock, Epitrachelion, Belt, Cuffs, Nabedrennik and Palitsa (if so awarded), as well as the Phelonion. Then both wash their hands and prepare to celebrate the Liturgy of Preparation (the Proskomedia).
The first part of the Divine Liturgy (not really part of the Liturgy proper) is the Proskomedia (Greek the bringing of gifts). In ancient times the faithful brought gifts of bread and wine and from these the Priest selected that to be used at the Holy Eucharist. At the present time, the Priest usually prepares five loaves (one loaf in the Greek tradition), in remembrance of the five loaves that fed 5,000 people in the Gospel, called Prosphora (oblations) made of wheat flour, mixed with plain water, and leavened. On the top of each loaf is a Cross with the Greek inscription IC, XC, NI, KA, in the four corners, meaning (in Greek) Jesus Christ conquers. The wine must be made from the juice of red grapes with nothing added.
From the first loaf a cube, the size of the entire seal on top, is cut out. This cube, called the Lamb, signifies Jesus Christ, the Paschal Lamb. This is placed on the center of the Paten. A Cross is incised on the top of the Lamb and with the spear the side is pierced in remembrance of the piercing of the Savior’s side. At the words “…blood and water came out”, wine and water are poured together into the Chalice.
From the second loaf a particle is taken out, signifying the Mother of God, and placed at the Lamb’s right (the left, looking down at the paten). From the third loaf, nine particles are taken out, signifying nine classes of Saints: 1) St. John the Baptist, 2) Prophets, 3) Apostles, 4) Sainted Hierarchs, 5) Martyrs, 6) Holy Monks and Nuns, 7) Holy Unmercenaries and Physicians, 8) the Ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna, the Saint whose church it is, the Saint of the day (one particle for all), and 9) the Saint whose Liturgy it is. These are placed in three rows of three particles each, at the Lamb’s left (the right, looking down).
From the fourth loaf particles are taken out for the living and placed in a row below the Lamb, and from the fifth loaf particles are taken out for the departed and placed in a row below that of the living. Thus all of the particles are arranged on the Paten around the Lamb, depicting the Church Militant and Triumphant, united in the Liturgy as in common divine service.
The Star (or Asterisk) is then placed over the particles to keep them in place, at the same time signifying the Star of Bethlehem which came over the place where the Christ Child lay. Then the Paten and Chalice are covered by veils, respectively, and both covered by a larger veil the Aer signifying that Christ was clothed in glory, that His glory covered the whole world and that He covers us also with His grace. The prepared elements are then censed by the Priest, who prays that the Lord may bless the gifts and accept them in memory of those offering them and on behalf of those for whom they were offered and also that he, the Priest, be worthy to celebrate the Holy Mystery.
The second part of the Divine Liturgy (the Liturgy proper) is called the Liturgy of the Catechumens (or the Liturgy of the Word). In ancient times, not only the faithful, but also the Catechumens (those preparing for Holy Baptism) and Penitents (those excluded from Holy Communion for a time) were present at this portion of the Divine Liturgy, which consists of prayers, hymns in honor of the Holy Trinity, and readings from the Word of God. This, of course, was taken over from the old Synagogue worship with which the earliest Christians were familiar. It begins with the opening of the Holy Doors, signifying the heavens opened at the Baptism of the Lord, and the exclamation of the Priest, “Blessed is the Kingdom…”, which is a glorification of the Kingdom of the Most-Holy Trinity, which Jesus has come to establish on earth.
The Deacon (or Priest if no Deacon; this holds true for most of the Deacon’s parts) begins the Great Litany (often called the Litany of Peace because of the words, “In peace let us pray to the Lord!”) which consists of twelve petitions dealing with man’s most pressing needs peace, seasonable weather, God’s help for travelers, the sick, etc. After the Priest’s exclamation at the end of the Great Litany, “For unto Thee are due all glory, honor and worship…”, ideally two Choirs sing the Antiphons (Greek sounding in answer responsive singing of two Choirs standing opposite each other), which are divided by the Little Litanies into three parts, in honor of the Holy Trinity.
One of three types of Antiphons are sung, depending on the importance of the day. The type most frequently sung are the Typical Antiphons (Ps. 104, 146 and the Beatitudes, Matt. 5:3-12), so-called because they form part of the typical service. These are sung on Sundays and major Feast Days. On Great Feast Days, special Antiphons are sung, consisting of prophetic verses selected from the Psalms, appropriate to the particular Feast being celebrated, to which are joined hymns relating to the Feast. For this reason, these Antiphons are commonly called the Festal Antiphons. On ordinary weekdays, if it not be a major feast, the Daily Antiphons are sung, consisting of Psalm 92, 93 and 95. To the Second Antiphon of the Typical group is joined a hymn glorifying the Incarnation of the Son of God Only-begotten Son and Immortal Word of God….
During the singing of the Third Antiphon, the Holy Doors are opened, signifying the going-out of the Savior to preach to the world. The Priest, preceded by the Deacon holding the Holy Gospels, and a Candle-Bearer, make a solemn entrance (the Little Entrance), going out through the North Deacon’s Door and entering the Altar again through the opened Holy Doors. The Book of the Gospels here represents Christ Our Lord, and the candle going before signifies that Christ, represented by the teachings of the Gospels, is the Light of the World.
In ancient times, during the persecutions, the Gospel Book was borne out from a secret place (where the sacred vessels also were kept). This also marked the first entry of the Celebrant into the Sanctuary (the main body of the Church) and signaled the beginning of the Liturgy. The clergy vested in a separate room, called the Sacristy, where the Gospel and Cross were kept and then proceeded to the Sanctuary. The Catechumens were then commanded to depart and the Celebrants, headed by the Bishop, entered into the Sanctuary itself.
According to ancient rules of the Jerusalem Church of the Resurrection and the Church of St. Sophia in Constantinople, the Liturgy of the Catechumens was held in a separate place from the Liturgy of the Faithful. After the entrance into the Sanctuary, breads, etc., were selected from among those offered by the faithful and the Proskomedia performed. Later the Proskomedia was transferred to the beginning of the Liturgy, although in a room separate from the Altar; the Little Entrance was made from this room, to the Sanctuary and then into the Altar. This ancient practice is preserved somewhat in the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, although the Proskomedia is now usually performed at the side of the Altar itself, the Procession proceeding through the North Deacon’s Door.
After the Little Entrance, which is an expression of entering into the Sanctuary and joining there the Saints, the Church glorifies those Saints or the sacred event of the Feast Day by singing triumphant hymns in their honor Troparia and Kontakia. The Troparia and Kontakia are special short hymns sung in one of the Eight Tones composed in honor of the Feast or Saint (s) commemorated and express the essence of the Feast or the life and spiritual feats of the Saint(s).
The Troparia and Kontakia are similar to each other in length, literary form, etc., but each stresses a different aspect of the essence of the commemoration. While the Troparion provides us with a picture of the external side of the commemorated event, the Kontakion draws attention to the inner aspect, and vice versa. The Kontakia, however, usually reflect more fully the essence of the sacred event. This can be seen, for example, in the following Troparion and Kontakion of the Feast of Holy Pentecost:
Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God, Who hast revealed the fishermen as most wise by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit; through them Thou didst draw the world into Thy net. O Lover of Man, Glory to Thee! (Troparion)
When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, He divided the nations; but when He distributed the tongues of fire, He called all to unity. Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the All-Holy Spirit! (Kontakion)
After the Troparia and Kontakia, the Choir sings the Trisagion Hymn: “Holy God! Holy Mighty! Holy Immortal, have mercy on us!” According to Church Tradition, the origin of the Trisagion is as follows. At the beginning of the 5th Century there was a great earthquake in Constantinople. In connection with this, services were held in all the city churches, followed by a procession around the city. Among the worshippers was a young boy who heard the miraculous singing of the Angels: “Holy God! Holy Mighty! Holy Immortal!” He recounted what he had heard to all those around him, whereupon the Christians began to sing the hymn, adding the words, “Have mercy on us!” and the earthquake stopped. From this time, the prayer was adopted by the Holy Church.
Through the singing of this prayer, the Church arouses believers to a spiritual contemplation of the Lord of glory Whom the heavenly powers extol, to repent of their sins and turn to Him for mercy and grace bestowing aid. During the singing of the hymn, Christians recall the vision of the Prophet Isaiah, who saw the Throne of God surrounded by the holy angels, singing: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” Shaken by this vision, the Prophet cried: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of people of unclean lips!” (Is. 6:3, 5).
At Hierarchical services, the Trisagion is sung seven times, since, in Sacred Tradition, seven is seen to be a symbol of perfection: And on the seventh day God finished His work which He had done (Gen. 2:2). On certain Feast Days (Elevation of the Cross and the 3rd Sunday of Great Lent), the Trisagion is replaced by, “Before Thy Cross, we bow down in worship, O Master…”. On other Feast Days (Nativity of Christ, Theophany, Lazarus Saturday, Holy Saturday, Bright Week, Pentecost), the Trisagion is replaced by, “As many as have been baptized into Christ…”.
Next comes the Epistle and Gospel lessons, which are preceded by special Prokeimena (Greek proceeding), which serve as an introduction to lessons from the Epistle and Gospel (the Prokeimenon before the Gospel being the Alleluia). These are usually taken from the Psalms, serving to prepare our minds to comprehend what is read, indicating in brief the significance and importance of the Scripture Lessons. In ancient times, Old Testament lessons were also read here (preserved at Festal Vespers).
During the reading of the Epistle lesson, the Deacon censes the Altar, Iconostasis, the Celebrant(s), Reader, Singers and Faithful. This is prescribed as a sign of reverence before the reading of the Gospel lesson and indicates that through the preaching of the Gospel, the grace of the Holy Spirit, which has spread to all corners of the world, fills men’s hearts with the taste of life eternal (2 Cor. 2:14).
At the conclusion of the Epistle lesson, the Prokeimenon Before the Gospel is chanted (now called the Alleluia) with the threefold refrain Alleluia! Then the Gospel is brought out and the Gospel lesson is read by the Deacon. Before the Gospel is placed a lit candle as a sign of veneration for the Word of God ‘and as a symbol of the Light of God which emanates from the Gospel, illumining the listeners to the attainment of saving mysteries. The Gospel is read from the Ambo (Greek anabaino I ascend), signifying an elevated spot a boat, or a hill from which the Lord preached to the people.
After the Gospel reading follows the Sermon (sometimes moved to the end of the Liturgy) and then the Litany of Fervent Supplication, since it is meet, that after hearing the Word of God, we should pray to Him with redoubled fervor for the things necessary for soul and body. On certain days this Litany is followed by the Litany for the Dead. Then follows the Litany of the Catechumens, referring to that ancient class of people the Catechumens who were being instructed in the Christian faith and prepared for Baptism. Immediately after this Litany, the Catechumens were dismissed, “Depart, Catechumens! Catechumens, depart!…”. The institution of the Catechumenate has now fallen into disuse, but the Litany still remains, to remind us of the vows made at Baptism and to arouse in the faithful a humble consciousness of sin. With the Dismissal of the Catechumens, who were not considered to be sufficiently prepared by the early Church to behold the Holy Mysteries without understanding them, this second part of the Divine Liturgy the Liturgy of the Catechumens ends.
The third part of the Divine Liturgy is called the Liturgy of the Faithful, since only the Faithful in ancient times were permitted to be present for the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The Liturgy of the Faithful can be divided into four parts: 1) the final preparation of the Holy Gifts and the faithful for the Sacrament of the Eucharist; 2) the Sacrament of the Eucharist (primarily the Eucharistic Canon Anaphora); 3)the preparation for Communion and the partaking of Communion; and 4) the Thanksgiving for Communion and the conclusion of the Liturgy.
After two Little Litanies for the faithful, the Holy Doors are opened and the Cherubic Hymn is sung, so-called because we are preparing to minister at the Throne of God even as the Cherubim minister at the Heavenly Throne. During the singing of this hymn, during which the Deacon censes the Altar, Iconostasis, Clergy and Faithful, the Great Entrance is made, typifying the Lord going to His voluntary Passion and Death. The Angels are with us at Christ’s going-out; for Christ, as King, is upborne invisibly by them.
In this Entrance, the Holy Gifts are borne from the Table of Oblation to the Altar, by passing out through the North Deacon’s Door and then in through the Holy Doors. In the early days of the Church, during this Entrance all those who had brought or sent offerings for the use of the Church were mentioned by name. This is retained, but in expanded form, by the Russian Church. The Greeks retain only the last phrase, “You and all Orthodox Christians, may the Lord God remember…”. The Chalice and Paten are then placed on the Holy Table and covered with the large veil (Aer).
The removal of the Chalice and Paten from the Deacon’s head symbolizes the removal of the Body of Christ from the Cross. We the faithful are present at the placing of the Body in the tomb (the Holy Table) and wrapped in linens (the Aer), which also symbolizes the stone rolled across the door of the tomb for which reason the Holy Doors are closed and the curtain drawn in the Russian tradition. At the same time, the conclusion of the Cherubic Hymn is sung, with the addition of Alleluia, followed by a Litany of Supplication, in which we ask for spiritual mercies.
After the Litany, the Clergy exchange the Kiss of Peace at the summons of the exclamation, “Let us love one another…”. In ancient times the faithful would also observe this Kiss of Peace, now only preserved by the Clergy. In response to the summons, the Choir sings the short confession of the Holy Trinity: “Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, One-in-Essence, and Undivided!” The Deacon then intones, “The Doors, the Doors…”, which, in ancient times, were guarded so that no unworthy persons or pagans might enter the Sanctuary during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. This custom is not adhered to now, but still serves to remind us to guard the doors of our soul against all evil thoughts as we prepare to confess our faith in the words of the Creed, and to give heed to the Holy Mysteries.
The Creed, which was formulated during difficult times in the Church’s history, during the heretical divisions and the struggle for purity in her dogmas, is now sung. The first part of the Creed (which is discussed later in more detail) is our confession of God the Father, and an extensive confession of the Son. This confession of faith is an introduction to the acceptance of our salvation and our participation in eternity.
Having sung the Creed together with the Congregation, the Deacon then turns to the people and intones: “Let us stand aright…”.words are a summons to inner spiritual concentration, to be attentive and reverent towards the Sacrament about to be celebrated. We must bear in mind that the Holy Gifts must be offered to God in spiritual peace, as this Sacrifice is made to God not only for us, but from us; we are assisting at it as participants in the Divine Liturgy. With these words, begins the most sacred part of the Divine Liturgy the Eucharistic Canon (or Anaphora, Greek offer). The Choir responds, “A mercy of peace…”, signifying that the Eucharistic Sacrifice on God’s part is His great mercy towards us and is the result of our reconciliation with God through Our Savior; while on our part it is our praise of God’s Majesty, revealed in the Divine Economy of our salvation (Heb. 13:15; Ps. 50:14).
In keeping with ancient custom, the Priest turns to the people with St. Paul’s words, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Cor. 13:14). By this blessing the Celebrant wishes the worshippers that the highest spiritual gifts grace, love and communion be sent down from the Throne of the Holy Trinity. On behalf of the Congregation, the Choir responds to the Priest’s blessing with the mutual wish for spiritual well-being, “And with your spirit!” that is, they wish his soul the same gifts and blessings from God the Almighty.
In order to focus the feelings of the soul upon the celebration of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the Priest summons all in the church to elevate their hearts from earth heavenwards, to the eternal and heavenly, to Our Lord God: “Let us lift up our hearts!” The human heart is that spiritual organ through which man perceives the spiritual world on high and enters into communion with God. As the Lord Himself says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). The Congregation responds through the Choir: “We lift them up unto the Lord”, which affirms that their hearts and minds are striving after the heavenly, God’s Throne, and God Himself.
Following the example of Christ our Savior, Who thanked God the Father at the Last Supper (Luke 22:17-19), the Priest then summons the Faithful to give thanks to God: “Let us give thanks to the Lord”. The Choir responds: “It is meet and right…”, during the singing of which the Priest reads the First Eucharistic Prayer, “It is meet and right to sing of Thee…”, in which is contained a thanksgiving for the Sacrifice which was offered for us by the Son, and further, for making us ascend to Heaven, concluding with the exclamation, “Singing the triumphant hymn…”. The Choir responds with the Song of the Seraphim, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth…”, taken partly from the Prophet Isaiah and partly from the Apocalypse (Revelation) of St. John.
As the Choir sings, the Priest reads the Second Eucharistic Prayer, in which, mentally among the hosts of Angels present at the celebration of the Eucharist, he praises the Lord for the Economy of Salvation of mankind: “With these blessed powers…”, ending with the exclamation, “Take, eat… and Drink of it, all of you…”, the words of the Savior at the Last Supper, when the Holy Eucharist was instituted. The Choir sings “Amen” after each; and during the second Amen, the Priest reads the Prayer of Commemoration: “Remembering this saving commandment…”. Then as the Deacon raises the Paten and Chalice with crossed arms, the Priest exclaims, “Thine own, of Thine own, we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all!” We note here that what is being offered is not that which belongs to us, but that which belongs to the Savior.
As the Choir sings, “We praise Thee…”, the Priest prays, “Again we offer unto Thee this reasonable and bloodless worship, and ask Thee, and pray Thee, and supplicate Thee: Send down Thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these Gifts here offered”. Thus the Priest and worshippers fervently pray the Heavenly Father to send down the Holy Spirit both upon the worshippers and the Holy Gifts upon the worshippers to cleanse them of all evil and make them worthy to partake of Christ’s Sacrifice; upon the Holy Gifts to consecrate them and make them into the precious Body and Blood of Our Lord.
This invocation of the Holy Spirit is called the Epiclesis (meaning invocation). In it the Church confesses her faith in the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, considering this to be the loftiest moment in the Prayer. In the Russian Church, the Troparion of the Third Hour, “O Lord, Who didst send down Thy Most Holy Spirit upon Thine apostles at the third hour…”, is recited thrice, and although it appears only about the 15th-16th Centuries, it well conveys the tender and penitent feelings with which the celebrants of the Eucharist accomplished the consecration of the Holy Gifts.
The next prayer is that of intercession, “Again we offer unto Thee this reasonable worship…”, in which the Priest commemorates the members of the Church, in whose behalf the Holy Eucharist has been offered, ending with a commemoration of the Most-Holy Theotokos, Especially for our Most-Holy, Most-Pure, Most-Blessed and Glorious Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. The Choir sings, “It is truly meet…” (or some other hymn if it be a Great Feast).
While this is being sung, the Priest continues with the commemoration of St. John the Baptist, the Departed, the Episcopate and the ruling authorities, ending with the exclamation, Among the first, “remember, O Lord…”. This is a prayer for the Church in her earthly activity for the life of men. “And grant that with one mouth and one heart…” is a Trinitarian doxology which concludes the Eucharistic Prayer. The worshippers respond with Amen, symbolizing their participation in the offering of the Sacrifice and in the commemoration of the members of the Church.
Immediately after this part of the Liturgy begins the Preparation of the Faithful for Communion. The Deacon chants the Litany of Supplication which, appropriately, is followed by the Lord’s Prayer, perfectly expressing the Eucharistic sense of the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread”. After the exclamation, “For Thine is the Kingdom…”, the Priest blesses the people: “Peace be unto all!” The curtain is drawn, and as the Lamb is elevated by the Priest, he exclaims: “The Holy Things, for the holy!” a call to the Saints (the Faithful) to communion after which the Choir responds, “One is Holy…” and then the Communion Hymn, which relates to the memories of the day and the Lessons from the Gospel and Epistle.
Communion is preceded by the fraction of the Lamb. The Priest and concelebrating Clergy, if any, communicate from the portion XC and the portions NI and KA are for the Communion of the laity. The portion 1C is placed in the Chalice last. Hot water is poured into the Chalice after the 1C portion, symbolizing the water that poured forth from the Lord’s side, showing that although He was dead, His body was not devoid of divine virtue that is, the warmth and vitality of the Holy Spirit.
After the Communion of the Clergy, the curtain is opened and the Priest comes out with the Chalice, at the exclamation, “In the fear of God and with faith, draw near!” Before the Communion of the Faithful, the Communion Prayer a brief Symbol of Faith in Christ is recited.
I Believe, O Lord and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, Who earnest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first, I Believe also that this is truly Thine own most pure Body, and that this is truly Thine own precious Blood, Therefore, I pray Thee: have mercy upon me and forgive my transgressions, both. voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, of knowledge and of ignorance. And make me worthy to partake wit/tout condemnation of Thy most pure Mysteries; for the remission of my sins, and unto fife everlasting. Amen.
Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant for I will, not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies; neither like Judas wilt I give Thee a kiss; But like the thief wilt I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom. May the communion of Thy holy Mysteries Be neither to my judgment, nor to my condemnation, O Lord, But to the heating of soul and Body.
All the Faithful, adults and infants, alike, are communicated, partaking of the mingled Holy Body and Blood by means of a special spoon. Infants receive Holy Communion by virtue of their having received Holy Chrismation immediately after Baptism, which makes them full members of the Church of Christ. The approaching faithful receive the Holy Gifts with arms crossed on the breast; after receiving, very gently, they kiss the edge of the Chalice, as if it were the side of Christ Himself. As the Priest communes each of the faithful, he says, “The servant (handmaid) of God (name) partakes of the precious and holy Body and Blood of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins and unto life everlasting”. During the Communion the Choir sings, “Receive the Body of Christ…” (or another hymn at certain other times).
After the Communion, the Priest carries the Chalice into the Altar and places it on the Holy Table, after which he turns and blesses the people, “O Lord, save Thy people…”, at which the Choir sings the hymn setting forth what mercies the people have received: “We have seen the True Light…”. Then, taking up the Chalice, the Priest faces the people, saying quietly, “Blessed is our God…”, and then aloud, “Always, now and ever…”, which symbolizes the Lord’s Ascension into Heaven. As the Priest carries the Chalice to the Table of Oblation, the Choir sings the Hymn of Thanksgiving, “Let our mouths be filled with Thy praise, O Lord…. Thus, in the Liturgy the earthly life of Jesus Christ passes before us”.
The Liturgy concludes with a short Litany of Thanksgiving and the Prayer Before the Ambo, “O Lord, Who blessest those who bless Thee…”. The Choir responds with, “Blessed be the Name of the Lord…” (thrice) and (rarely done now), the first eleven verses of (Psalm 34:), “will bless the Lord at all times…”. The final blessings are bestowed, and the Faithful come up to kiss the Handcross held by the Priest. Those who had not communed, then receive a piece of the bread which remained after the Lamb was cut out at the Proskomedia, for which reason it is called Antidoron (in place of the Gifts). The communicants remain after the Dismissal to listen to more prayers of thanksgiving for Communion. The Holy Gifts, if not consumed by a Deacon, are consumed by the Priest. The particles which had been taken out at the Proskomedia, other than the Lamb i.e., for the Theotokos, Saints, living and dead having by now been placed in the Chalice, are likewise consumed.