Festal Ranks

Sorry I’ve been away for a few days! Hope you are all still reading.

I think before I talk about anything else, it’s important to write some information about ranks of feast days. This should provide a reference, and make a lot of other posts much clearer.

So, what does this mean anyway–“ranks” of services? Basically, every day, or commemoration, has a “rank” in the Typikon. There is a special mark for each kind of rank in the Slavic Typikon, and I haven’t managed to find a good link to images of those marks (if you find one, let me know!). I’ll just outline the types of services in words, though, and I hope that should help clear up a lot of issues.

The main ranks are: Vigil, polyeleos, doxology, six stichera, simple service. There are some variations within those categories.

The differences in these types of services are evident less in the Divine Liturgy (though there are some), and more in the other services of the daily cycle, especially Vespers and Matins. The liturgical day begins in the evening, so that Vespers served the night before belongs to the next calendar day. In the Russian tradition, Vespers (evening prayer) and Matins (morning prayer) are both, more often than not, served together the evening before. When a service is a “Vigil” (see below), they are always served together, as one service with no dismissal to Vespers or beginning exclamation for Matins.

Vigil rank

Most people are probably mainly familiar with vigil rank services, since in the Russian tradition, all Sundays are vigil rank, as are Great Feasts, and these are the days when most parishes have services. A Vigil service (composed of Vespers, Matins, and the 1st Hour) begins with the exclamation “Glory to the Holy, Consubstantial, and Life-creating Trinity…”, which, in the service books, comes right before the 6 Psalms at Matins. The use of this exclamation at the beginning of Vigil brings the entire service into one, with one beginning, connecting Vespers and Matins into a seamless whole.

What makes a Vigil different?

If you attend Sunday or festal services, the order of service for a Vigil will probably be most  familiar to you. Vigil consists of Great Vespers (also served at services at which the polielei is appointed) and Matins. (If you attend a Greek parish, most of the order of service is still relevant, just split up–though contemporary Greek practice for Matins is rather different and not something I’m able to address). 

In a normal week, there are two different orders for Vespers, depending on the rank of feast (plus Small Vespers on Saturdays and Vigils, not addressed here, as well as Lenten Vespers). Great Vespers is served on Sundays, Vigils, and feasts at which the polyeleos hymn is sung (with some exceptions) . Daily Vespers is served on other days. The main differences between Daily Vespers and Great Vespers are:

  1.  Blessed is the Man (first Kathisma) is sung (usually abbreviated) at Great Vespers (otherwise, a kathisma according to the weekly cycle comes here, and is read, not sung).
  2. There is an entrance at Great Vespers, but none at Daily Vespers
  3. The Vespers hymn, O gentle/gladsome/joyful light/Свете тихий/Φῶς Ἱλαρόν is sung at Great Vespers instead of read
  4. At Daily Vespers, prayer “Vouchsafe O Lord” (sometimes translated “Grant O Lord”) comes immediately after the prokeimenon, whereas at Great Vespers, a litany comes after the prokeimenon, then “Vouchsafe O Lord”, then the second litany. Basically, the order of the litanies and the Aposticha is different.

There are some variations at Great Vespers, depending on whether the service is a Vigil or Polyeleos rank (see the Polyeleos section below). On Great Feasts, or feasts of Vigil and polyeleos ranked Saints, but not on ordinary Sundays, three Old Testament readings are read after the Vespers prokeimenon. At Vigil ranked feasts (including all Sundays, in theory, though this is not common in practice), the Litiya is served before the Aposticha.

At Matins, the beginning of the service is always the same–the 6 Psalms (at Vigil, the full beginning of Matins, with the reading of Psalms and censing of the church, is not used, and in common Russian practice, it is not used if Vespers as Matins are served together, even on ordinary days), the Great Litany, the singing of “God is the Lord”, and the kathismas (two kathismas are appointed, but in parishes, often only one is read, and this is sometimes abbreviated).

After the Kathisma, there is a Little Litany, and Kathisma hymns. After that, on a Vigil or polyeleos feast, the “Polyeleos” hymn is sung (or on Sundays, sometimes the 17th Kathisma–118th Psalm). By the “Polyeleos” we mean the 134th and 135th Psalms, interspersed with the singing of “Alleluia”. This is usually abbreviated quite a bit.

Following the Polyeleos, the Magnification (a short hymn generally beginning “We magnify thee/you” and address the Lord, the Mother of God, or saint/saints) is sung if it is a Great Feast or the commemoration of a Saint (there is none for Sunday), followed by selected Psalm verses, while the church is censed by the priest (or bishop). On Sunday, the resurrectional troparia, interspersed with “Blessed art Thou O Lord, teach me Thy statutes” (in Greek, these are called the Evlogitaria) are sung at that point. If you look here, you will find the order of Sunday Matins, which may help in understand all of this. Certain elements there will not be present on non-Sunday feasts, and even more will be missing in lower-ranked services.

After that, there is another litany, some more short hymns, and a Gospel reading. After the Gospel, “Having beheld the resurrection of Christ” is sung on Sundays, and then (on any day), the 50th Psalm is read, followed by the singing of short refrains and a hymn. Then there is a prayer read by the deacon (or priest), that begins “Save, O God thy people” and commemorates a list of saints. After the exclamation from the priest, the Canon begins. The Canon is a central element of Matins, and consists of 9 Biblical odes or songs, each with an Irmos, (usually 8, since the 2nd Ode is considered especially sad or penitential, and is used only at certain times, generally during Great Lent). In the Russian tradition, the Irmos is sung, and the troparia of each ode are read, with a refrain between them. Small Litanies are served after the 3rd and 6th odes.

There are different canons (to different people, or about different events), and sometimes more than one is read at a particular service. They are always combined so that one irmos is sung for each ode (from the first canon) and then the troparia for each ode are read, with refrains, for all of the canons appointed. For Sundays and Vigil feasts:

  • On Sundays, 3 canons (generally with 2, 3, or 4 troparia appointed per canon) are read from the Octoechos, one to the Resurrection, one to the Cross and Resurrection, and one to the Mother of God. The canon from the Menaion, to the saint of the day, is also appointed. If there is a feast of the Mother of God, a saint with a higher festal rank,  forefeast or afterfeast, a Sunday of Lent, or in certain other circumstances, one or more of the canons from the Octoechos are omitted to allow for more material to be read from the Menaion or Triodion. During the Paschal season, the Octoechos canons are replaced with the Paschal Canon.
  • On Feasts of the Lord and of the Mother of God, only the festal canon or canons (there can be one or two, depending on the feast) are read.
  • On Feasts of Vigil-ranked Saints, a canon to the Mother of God (sometimes a special one from the Menaion, sometimes the general supplicatory canon, or another specified canon) is used, followed by either one or two canons for the saint, depending on the specific service.

The Magnificat is sung at the beginning of the 9th ode, and the church is censed again. After the canon, there is another Small Litany, and a short hymn about the feast or saint called the Exapostilarion is read or sung. After that comes the singing of the Praises, with stichera in between Psalm verses, and the then the Great Doxology. This is followed by either a special Sunday troparion, or the troparion of the feast/saint, two litanies, and the dismissal. The 1st hour follows the dismissal immediately.

Here are a few distinctions between different “kinds” of vigil:

  • Great Feasts (that is, the 12 Great Feasts), which are either Feasts of the Lord, or Feasts of the Mother of God. A Great Feast of the Lord (Exaltation of the Cross, Nativity, Theophany, Entrance into Jerusalem, Ascension, Pentecost, Transfiguration) is different than a Feast of the Mother of God (Nativity of the Theotokos, Entrance into the Temple, Meeting of the Lord, Annunciation, Dormition) in that it completely replaces the resurrectional elements of the service if it falls on Sunday. A Feast of the Mother of God still contains elements from the Octoechos.
  • Vigil ranked saints. There are some differences in the services for Great Feasts and in “regular” vigil ranked days. One major difference is that on a great Feast, the Magnificat is omitted and the 9th ode of the Canon is sung with special refrains, but on the feast of a saint, the Magnificat is sung as usual. Also, at the feast of a saint, the troparion is sung after God is the Lord and at the Doxology with Glory, Both Now, and a theotokion, whereas on Great Feasts, separate theotokia are not used in either place.

Polyeleos rank

This rank of service is fairly similar to that of the Vigil. When Vespers and Matins are served together (as is common in the Russian tradition), it can be hard to tell the difference. These are the the differences between Vigil and Polyeleos, in that context:

  • Polyeleos services begin with the usual “Blessed is our God”, and “Glory to the Holy, Consubstantial, and Life-creating Trinity” comes before the 6 Psalms
  • At Vigil, the beginning Psalm of Vespers is sung, the Royal Doors are opened, and there is a censing of the church (which actually belongs to the beginning of Matins). At a Polyeleos service, the Psalm is read, the doors remain closed, and there is no censing.
  • There is never Litiya at a Polyeleos service, but there should be at a Vigil.
  • After the “Holy God” at the end of Vespers, at Vigil you sing “O Theotokos Virgin, Rejoice” three times (with no Glory to the Father, etc), or the troparion for Great Feast three times. At a Polyeleos service, you sing the Troparion for the saint, Glory, Both Now, and the resurrectional theotokion appointed.
  • At Vigil, the troparia are followed by “Blessed be the Name of the Lord”, a blessing from the priest, and the 6 Psalms. At a Polyeleos service, it is followed by “Wisdom”, “Father, bless”, a different blessing (“Christ our God…”), and “Establish, O God, the holy Orthodox faith of Orthodox Christians, unto ages of ages”. Then the exclamation “Glory to the Holy, Consubstantial…” which begins Matins, and the 6 Psalms.
  • I think those are all the differences, but I’m afraid I’m forgetting something!

This post has already gotten quite long, so look out tomorrow for a post on the lower ranks of services–which actually “look”, or seem, much more different from a “normal Sunday”.

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Forefeasts and Afterfeasts

There is a lot to say about forefeasts and afterfeasts, (as well as the specifics of leave-taking/apodosis), too much to address in one post. I’ll give a quick introduction to the concept now, and I’m sure the topic will come up again throughout the year. So here’s the quick overview, plus some interesting things I want to share with you about the way this works with Theophany.

First of all, what is a forefeast/afterfeast?

The Twelve Great Feasts are important events in the liturgical year. Unlike most other feasts and saints days, which are celebrated only on one day, they each have a period of preparation, in which the liturgical services contain hymns for the coming feast, and certain elements of the services are different than on a “normal” day. There is generally a tropar sung specifically for the forefeast as well. The period of the feast also extends beyond the day itself. The classic length of an afterfeast is eight days, with the leave-taking occurring on the eighth day. As I type this, I realize how many exceptions there are to this rule, to the point where I am not sure that a majority of feasts actually have eight days, for various reasons (if another feast occurs shortly thereafter, or if it’s during a fast, or… well, let’s look at each feast as it comes up! If I start to talk about it now, I’ll never get anywhere).

So we’ve established that each Great Feast has a forefeast and afterfeast. For mosts feasts, the forefeast is celebrated the day before the feast. For both Nativity and Theophany, it is several days long, and hymns preparing for the feast are sung at each service. During the afterfeast, special festal hymns are sung as well. Usually some of them are from the actual service of the feast (the canon, for example, sometimes stikhery from Lord I have cried, the Troparion and Kontakion, naturally, the Exapostilarion), while some of them are specific to the day (sometimes Lord I have cried, almost always the Aposticha, both at Vespers and Matins) and are found in the Menaion, together with the service for the saint of the day. Usually in a parish, these services are not served unless they fall on a Sunday, in which case the serve incorporates elements of the resurrectional service, and isn’t quite the same.

Differences between regular weekday services and a forefeast/afterfeast

Regular weekday services use material from the liturgical book, the Octoechos. This book contains liturgical text in the 8 Tones (sets of melodies in which church hymns are sung) It is comprised of materials for each day of the week, with a separate section for each Tone. Every week has a tone (the cycle begins after Pascha and Bright Week each year, and repeats throughout the year)

Many people are familiar with the material for Sundays which is sung or read in the tone of the week (Troparion, Kontakion, Stichery, Canon, etc). These texts are combined with services from the Menaion, which contains the services to the saints, and both are inserted into the fixed parts of the various services (such as Vespers and Matins) found in the Horologion.

Normal weekday services work on a similar principle (though there are many differences–I will post about this sometime). However, during a forefeast or afterfeast, the Octoechos is used only on a Sunday, when it is combined with the festal hymns printed in the menaion. On other days of a forefeast or afterfeast, we do not use the Octoechos, but only pre-festal or festal texts and those to the saint. Usually, the some of the material for Lord I have cried, all of the Kathisma Hymns following Kathismas, two of the canons (or one, if two saints), and all of the aposticha, would be taken from the Octoechos. But here, all of that material is replaced with festal texts found in the menaion. A couple of specific differences:

  • During both forefeasts and afterfeasts,  the litany for the departed, usually served at Liturgy on weekdays, is not served. On a similar note, at a simple weekday Liturgy, (look out for a post on different ranks of services–if a saint has a higher “rank” of commemoration, the service isn’t considered a “simple” service), “With the saints give rest”, the Kontakion for the departed, is sung (after Glory to the Father, during the singing of troparia and kontakia before the Epistle), and it is not sung during a forefeast or afterfeast.
  • “It Is Truly Meet” is not sung, at Matins, where it is sung on normal weekdays at the end of the Canon. During the afterfeast, “It is Truly Meet” is not sung at Liturgy either, but is replaced with a specific hymn to the Theotokos for the feast (in Russian, this is called a Zadostoinik, that is, a hymn in place of “It Is Truly Meet”). This hymn comes from the 9th ode of the canon for the feast.

The effect of these differences is to make the services more festal, in honor of the approaching or current feast. Of course, having more festal hymns in the service helps to accomplish this, but also differences such as the omission of “It is Truly Meet” at Matins or of “With the saints give rest” at Liturgy resemble the rubrics for services with higher festal rank.

Nativity and Theophany afterfeasts

Certain feasts, such as Nativity and Theophany, have a special commemoration the day afterward, called a Sobor or Synaxis, commemorating a major participant in the feast. The day after Nativity is the Synaxis of the Mother of God (who gave birth to Christ), and the day after Theophany is the Synaxis of St. John the Baptist (who baptized Him). These feasts repeat large parts of the festal services, while containing special hymns for the person honored.

The services of other saints during the afterfeast are less closely connected to the feast, though I wanted to share with you something about the service to St Theodosius the Great, the founder of cenobitic monasticism, whose day of commemoration was today. This is a special service within the afterfeast of Theophany, as the service is polielei ranked. He lived near the Jordan river, and so has a certain connection to the feast of Theophany, when  Christ was baptized in the Jordan. As a founder of monastic life, he can also be compared to St. John the Baptist, whose life often considered to be a foreshadowing of monasticism, as a desert dweller, and liver of the angelic life. The service to St. Theodosius is one of my favorites. The hymns to him found in the Menaion constantly reference the Jordan, and Christ being baptized, and relate these events to St. Theodosius’ life. I do not believe this material is accessible in English online (if you can read Slavonic, you can find it here). The service is found in the Menaion for January 11, if you have access to a Menaion. Perhaps at some point I will translate it, and if I have time, I’ll try to translate a few hymns from Slavonic and post them, because this really a wonderful feast, and brilliant example of the connections between feasts which are often found in our hymnography.

I had more things to say, but I think I’ve written enough for the moment. Does this make sense to you? Do you find discussion of different ranks and types of service confusing? If there is interest, I hope to write about the different ranks of service in more detail. Many parishes do not have the opportunity to celebrate these services often, but having at least a general knowledge of the concepts involved can deeply enrich our understanding of the liturgical year.

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Ask your liturgical questions here!

I’m working on a new post about forefeasts and afterfeasts, and some interesting details about the current afterfeast of Theophany. There’s a lot of interesting information about this in general, and since we’re currently in the middle of an afterfeast, I thought it would be a good topic to write about. While I’m working on it, I’d love to hear what people want to know. Do you have something you always wondered about? Want to know how a particular service “works”? Let me know (either specifics or in general) what you’d like to read, and I’ll either answer questions now, or try to write posts about topics of interest.

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Why Theophany Was Weird This Year

Finally! Why on earth was Theophany so weird this year? You can see my last post for some basic background on the feast of Theophany, its services, a little about how it relates to other feasts. Now let’s talk about what happened this year. The information in the last post applies to years in which the Eve of Theophany does not fall on a Saturday or Sunday. So if Theophany (or Nativity) falls on a Sunday (Old Calendar this year) or a Monday (New Calendar this year), the order is changed a bit. I’ll discuss how the services are different, and also why.

What are the differences?

According to the Typikon, neither the Royal Hours nor a Vesperal Liturgy can be served on a weekend. This is due to the fact these services are served on strict fast days, and when Saturdays and Sundays are fast days, the fast is never a complete strict fast. In fact, when the Menaion gives instructions for the Eve of Theophany, it says, in several places “if there is a fast,” (meaning a weekday) or “if there is not a fast” (meaning a weekend). We do always fast on the Eve of Theophany, in the sense that we abstain from meat, dairy, and fish (and in the Typikon itself, instructions are given to this effect). However, this instruction from the Menaion demonstrates the different significance of the fast day when it falls on a weekend.

Wine and oil are allowed on every Sunday that falls on a fast day, and on every Saturday except one, Holy Saturday, which is a strict fast. (Wine is allowed on this day, but not oil.) Because of this, and also because of the specific significance of Saturday, the “blessed Sabbath on which Christ has fallen asleep,” Holy Saturday is the exception to the rule, and a Vesperal Liturgy is always served on this day. There is a lot more to be said about Holy Week, but that will have to wait for another time.

To return to the feasts of Nativity and Theophany, the main services of the Eves of Nativity and Theophany (Royal Hours and Vesperal Liturgy) cannot be served if the feast falls on a Saturday or Sunday. Therefore, the Typikon appoints the following order:

The Royal Hours are served on the preceding Friday (and no Liturgy is served that day). Perhaps you were wondering why Royal Hours cannot simply be served before Liturgy on Saturday or Sunday, even if the Liturgy is not Vesperal.  The reason for this is the service of the Royal Hours combines the 1st, 3rd, 6th, and 9th hours in one service, followed by the service of the Typica, which contains certain psalms and hymns from the Divine Liturgy, especially the beginning part. A regular, non-Vesperal Liturgy occurs after the 6th hour, in the daily liturgical schedule (technically, the 3rd Hour corresponds to 9 am, and the 6th to 12 noon, but according to well-established common liturgical practice, these are usually served together before Liturgy, in the morning–I can write more about that in the future). Also, the Typica is not served preceding a non-Vesperal Liturgy. Since the Royal Hours is a composite service, which flows seamlessly from one hour to the next, and is followed by the Typica, it is not possible to serve a non-Vesperal Liturgy in conjunction with it. Since the Royal Hours are an important part of the preparatory services for Christmas and Theophany, there are moved to the preceding Friday, and not skipped or changed, if the Eve of the feast falls on a weekend.

In this situation, a regular, non-vesperal Liturgy is served on the Eve, with regular hours read before it. Vesperal Liturgies are always Liturgies of St. Basil, but this liturgy served on the Eve on a weekend is the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, again emphasizing the different nature of a weekend day. The Liturgy of St. Basil is still served, but is moved to the feast itself.

When the Eve of Theophany falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the Vespers service is served at the conclusion of Liturgy that morning. After the entrance, prokeimenon, and readings, Liturgy would begin, if it were a weekday (and a Vesperal Liturgy was appointed. However, in this instance, after the Old Testament readings, and an Epistle and Gospel, the regular litanies of Vespers are served, and then the service moves immediately into the blessing of water, normally served after Liturgy on both the Eve of Theophany and the Feast itself. The litiya, blessing of bread, and aposticha, which normally comprise the second part of festal Vespers, are served at Compline in the evening, as usual for these feasts.

But why?

Most people know that Sundays always commemorate the Resurrection of Christ. Sunday services always contain resurrectional hymns, and most commemorations and feasts falling on Sunday incorporate at least some of that material. The only exception to this rule is when one of the Great Feasts of the Lord falls on a Sunday (as Theophany did this year), in which case only the festal texts are used.

On the Jewish calendar, the Sabbath, as the day of rest, the final day of creation, is the center of the week. In the Church, Sunday took its place as the main observance, but, at least in the Orthodox Church, Saturday did not lose its significance as the 7th day. On Holy Saturday, Christ descended into hades and conquered death, while “resting” in the tomb, thus mirroring God’s rest on the 7th day of creation. Saturdays, as mentioned above, are never strict fasting days, and the church services have certain special characteristics (perhaps I’ll post about that in the future). During Great Lent this is especially marked, as the Lenten order of services is performed from Monday to Friday, during which time Liturgy cannot be served, and the Divine Liturgy is celebrated on Saturday and Sunday of Lent.

Since both Saturday and Sunday have special significance, and both have a certain inherent festal nature, the services of the church are adjusted to acknowledge this fact. From this we can learn two important things about liturgical structure. Firstly, we see that Nativity and Theophany are uniquely important, which is shown by the fact that they are both commemorated in an unusual way (the Eve is celebrated as a strict fast day, with Royal Hours and Vesperal Liturgy). When we look at the structure of these services (as in my last post), we learn that the services have a lot in common with Holy Friday and Saturday (the “Eve” of Pascha). Secondly, the significance of both Saturday and Sunday in the weekly liturgical cycle is confirmed. These days are treated differently than weekdays due to their theological significance, and the fact that the preparatory order of service for such important feasts as Nativity and Theophany is significantly altered in deference to this makes clear the depth of this significance.

Trivia Question

How well do you know rubrics? Can you answer this question?

How many times is the hymn In Thee Rejoiceth/All of Creation Rejoices in Thee/О Тебе Радуется sung in a typical year (that is, the most possible times it can be sung)? What are the other possibilities? What is the fewest number of times it can be sung? You might need to check a calendar for this one!

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The Feast of Theophany

In my last post, I promised to tell you why Theophany was weird this year, didn’t I? Well, I decided that first it would be a good idea to give a basic overview of Theophany services. So in the next post, I’ll explain what happened on the Theophany this year.

The feasts of Nativity and Theophany are very similar liturgically. Most people are aware of this if they go to services for these feasts. Perhaps you have also noticed that there are a lot of similarities to services in the Holy Week cycle (Holy Friday and Saturday). Both structurally, and in the hymnography, there are a staggering number of similarities between these feasts (see below for some examples).

Why is it specifically these three feasts that such a unique liturgical structure? I believe it is related to the fact that each of these feasts commemorates something essential about Christ, and His work in the world. The Nativity commemorates His becoming Man for our sake, the beginning of His work as Man for our salvation. Theophany marks both the beginning of his active ministry, when he was baptized by John, and also the revelation of the Holy Trinity, and Christ as God and Man. In fact, both Nativity and Theophany used to be celebrated as one feast in the Eastern Church, both dealing with the revelation of God on earth as Man. Holy Friday/Saturday/Pascha of course commemorates Christ’s death for us, descent into hades, and resurrection, the fulfillment of his salvific work. Each of these feasts are so key to our faith, that they are celebrated in a special way, and the services differ significantly from other important feasts.

Basic Structure of Nativity and Theophany Services

In a normal year, (that is when the Eve of Theophany does not fall on a Saturday or Sunday) both Nativity and Theophany services have the same basic structure. Starting on the Eve of the Feast, there are special services only served for these feasts (similar services are also served on Holy Friday/Saturday).

Royal Hours

In the morning of the Eve of the feast, the Royal Hours are read and sung. You can see the text of the Royal Hours here. (note: I’m not endorsing any particular translation, and I’m not sure why this version gives an option for a dismissal after each hours, since in my experience and knowledge of the Typikon, these are to be served together, one following the other). The Royal Hours are quite different from the usual hours read in Church. Each of the four (1st, 3rd, 6th, and 9th) hours contains special psalms, different from the psalms appointed for those hours, as well as hymns, Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel readings, all related to the feast being celebrated.

Vesperal Liturgy

After the Royal Hours, a Vesperal Liturgy is served. Vesperal Liturgies are appointed only four times in the year (not counting the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, which is a bit different), on the Eve of Nativity, the Eve of Theophany, Holy Thursday, and Holy Saturday. They are served, without exception, on strict fast days. Other than Holy Thursday, where the reason is a little different, they are served on the Eve of the three feasts described above. They begin with the beginning of the Vespers service, and contain Old Testament readings related to the feast (more than the standard 3 readings on great feast–8 for Nativity, 13 for Theophany, and 15 on Holy Saturday). These Old Testament readings come after the Entrance of  Vespers, as is usual, but after they are completed, the service continues with the Trisagion hymn of Liturgy, the Epistle, Gospel, and the rest of  Liturgy.


Since Vespers is served as part of the Liturgy on the Eve of the feast, Vigil on Nativity and Theophany is comprised of Great Compline and Matins, instead of Vespers and Matins as in a normal Vigil. Great Compline has the triumphant singing of “God is with us”, particularly appropriate for Nativity and Theophany, when we proclaim God’s revelation of Himself on earth. Great Compline on these feasts also contains the Litiya and blessing of breads, served on all major feasts, and then Matins begins, with a similar structure to other Great Feasts of the Lord.


The hymnography for both Nativity and Theophany echoes the Hymnography of Holy Friday and Saturday. The Holy Saturday Canon, sung on Holy Friday evening during the service of the Lamentations, and also at Nocturnes before the midnight Paschal service (found here: it’s easier to locate in this service–the canon is right after Psalm 50) has a well-known melody and is familiar to many people. Fewer know that similar canons exists for both Nativity and Theophany (with similar irmosi, modified to be relevant to the feast celebrated). I haven’t found these canons online in English, unfortunately (let me know if you find them!), they are similar to the Holy Saturday Canon in beauty. They are not commonly read in parishes, as they are appointed for the evening before the Eve of the feasts–that is, at Small Compline the night before the Royal Hours, Vesperal Liturgy, etc. Usually, if anything, Vespers and Matins are served the night before. Some parishes, in my experience, take this canon from Compline and read it at Matins. (I  believe the text for both canons is available in the Festal Menaion translated by Met. Kallistos Ware and Mother Mary.)

There are so many other examples of similar imagery in the hymnography of these feasts to Holy Week that I can’t even begin to list them. Theophany, for example, uses the imagery of “Thou Who clothest Thyself with light as with a garment hast clothed Thyself in the waters of the Jordan.” (Glory of the Praises at Matins of Theophany). This image (clothing Himself with light as with a garment) is used in Holy Friday hymns in conjunction with Christ being taken down from the cross. On Theophany, similar images are appropriate, as Christ’s baptism and descent into the waters are seen as a type of his descent into hell after his death. The kind of imagery, used on Holy Friday/Saturday, and echoed on Christmas and Theophany, always represents a contrast–Christ, who as Eternal God, created the world, is “clothed with light as with a garment,” “hung the earth upon the waters,” and yet as a man, was born of a Virgin, baptized by John, and hung upon the Cross.


Now we’ve reviewed the services for Theophany, why was it so weird this year? All of the above is true for a year when the Eve of Theophany falls on a weekday. But there are some differences if the Eve falls on a Saturday or Sunday (this year, Saturday on the Old Calendar, Sunday on the New). Look for my next post for the explanation!

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Liturgics Blog: Introduction

A few days ago, I came up with the idea of writing a blog about the liturgical typikon, and more specifically the structure and details of the Eastern Orthodox liturgical cycle and church services (even though it’s in the Typikon, I don’t have immediate plans to write about, say, when monastics cover their heads in church).

The Typikon, you say, isn’t that boring, and full of arcane rules? Not really! There are a lot of detailed rules, which are not always followed faithfully. But when these rules are followed, and when we become familiar with the order of services and the cycle of the liturgical year, we learn important things about the feasts, theology, and way the Church has ordered for us to live. If you become truly familiar with, and observe, the cycle of services throughout the year, you will learn the teaching of the Church, not theoretically or intellectually, but as part of life. “Lex orandi lex credendi” (“What we pray is what we believe”) is a common saying in Orthodox circles.  This is absolutely true; the theology of the church is contained in our services, which are our amazing inheritance and treasure.

Many people will say that it is too complicated, or perhaps would make the services too long, to observe the Typikon. I don’t particularly wish to debate either of those points, but I plan to write about the services as served (with fairly minor abbreviations) in many parishes in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). ROCOR has a rich liturgical tradition, and this is my experience.

I plan to write about:

  • Interesting hymns and connections in the services
  • Rubrical issues and why they are important
  • Basic explanations of service structure (especially if there’s specific interest)

I personally love church services, and find details fascinating. Not everyone wants to know obscure details, and certainly not everyone needs to (though perhaps I’ll meet some more who do!), but everyone can benefit from the many beautiful things contained in the services, and I hope to share some of those things through this blog. Almost every week I notice something of interest, and so I decided to write some of these things down. I might occasionally post things with an “Obscurity ahead” warning, but I hope that most of my posts will be relevant for everyone.

I am on the Old Calendar, which means that most of what I naturally notice or think about corresponds with Old Calendar timing, but I will make an effort to note some things ahead of time for New Calendar readers.

First up: Theophany – Why Was It Weird This Year? Plus, Interesting Facts and Background

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