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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7 Responses to Festal Ranks

  1. Hello Liza:
    Great blog! thank you for putting so much work into this.
    You said ” 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”.
    I guess the question here would be the definition of “common Russian practice”. If you refer to common Russian parish practice I can see that that this is true (although I know Russian parishes that will do it). However in monastic practice this is not true. Jordanville I think doesn’t do it (I can be wrong here), Holy Cross in West Virginia does do it. I would take a stab to even say that in monasteries it is more often done than not.

    • typicaliza says:

      Hi Fr. Innokenty,
      Of course you are right–some people do do it, and I meant to say common Russian *parish* practice. I seem to remember that Jordanville doesn’t do it, as you say, and I feel that in Russia I have seen monasteries that don’t, also. But definitely standard parish practice is not to use a dismissal at Vespers.

  2. Dear Liza,
    thank you for this most useful blog from far-off Italy!
    Here is another link to some signs and charts:
    By googling Знаки Типикона or Знаки праздников I was able to find some other sources, but so far I have always found “Azbuka.ru” the most complete one.

  3. Catherine Norman says:

    Are you willing to translate this into Russian?

    • typicaliza says:

      Catherine, yes, I am! I’d eventually like to have a Russian version of the blog too, but I can translate this particular one, and the one coming up (covering the lower ranks of services) sooner if you guys would like to have it.

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