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1. The Church Building and its Layout 2. The Cross, Icons and Candles 3. The Clergy, Vestments and the Sacred Vessels 
1. The Services and Cycles of Services 2. Vespers at the Vigil Service 3. Matins at the Vigil Service 
1. The Origins of the Liturgy and the Preparation of the Gifts 2. The Liturgy of the Catechumens 3. The Liturgy of the Faithful 
1. Fasting and Feasting 2. The Fixed Feasts 3. The Movable Feasts 
1. The Great Fast 2. Great and Holy Week 3. Easter (Pascha) to All Saints Sunday  
1. The First Sacraments 2. Other Sacraments 3. Other Services
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Those who wish to live Orthodox Christian theology, in other words, those who wish to live an Orthodox Christian life, have to attend Orthodox Church services. There is no need to search elsewhere, for all the teachings of the Church are contained in Her services. With all the liturgical books of the Orthodox Church translated and services held in English, it is precisely for those who wish to live and gain some understanding of the Church Year that we present the work below. 
The following is not original, it is simply a compilation from already existing noncopyright sources. It is meant as an aid to those who wish to follow Orthodox worship and the Orthodox liturgical year. As such, it is based on the practices of by far the largest of the family of Orthodox Churches, the multinational and worldwide Orthodox Church of Russia, though we should remember that other Local Orthodox Churches have some variant customs. 
All dates mentioned refer to the Orthodox Church calendar (also called the Julian, or old calendar), as kept in Jerusalem. The civil calendar (also called the Gregorian, revised Julian, Catholic, or new calendar), introduced only from the sixteenth century on, now runs thirteen days ahead of the Church calendar. It is true that some NonRussian Orthodox still use the civil calendar for fixed feasts, but they are a small minority within the Orthodox Church as a whole.  
This usage also partly explains the frequent differences between the date of Orthodox Easter and Non-Orthodox Easter. Orthodox Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, dated according to the Church calendar, provided that this is after the Jewish Passover. If this date does not fall after the Jewish Passover, then Orthodox Easter is the following Sunday. 
Throughout this Guide, we use the Orthodox Psalm numbering of the most ancient text of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint. This is used in preference to the Jewish or Massoretic Psalter, written down over a thousand years later and used by the Non-Orthodox world. Generally speaking, most Psalms in the Jewish numbering are one ahead of the Orthodox numbering. Thus, for example, the Orthodox Psalm 50 is Psalm 51 in the Jewish numbering. 
We hope that this compilation will be of help and benefit to all those who use it and we humbly ask your prayers. 
Fr Andrew, Felixstowe,  England. 
Sunday of St Mary of Egypt, 4/17 April 2005 
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1. The Church Building and its Layout 
a) The Church Building 
In the Gospels, Christ said that He would build His Church and that the gates of hell would not prevail against Her (Matthew 16,18). By ‘Church’ is meant all those who believe in Christ as the Son of God become man, all who are baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, united in the Orthodox Christian Faith, as taught by Christ and His Apostles. All Orthodox Christians down all the ages and of all nationalities, form the Church, the Body of Christ, a great multitude of both the living and the departed. Those who believe in Christ do not die, but live with Him as members of His Church in heaven and pray for and with us, who are still on earth.  
The English word ‘Church’, coming from the Greek ‘Kyriakon’, meaning ‘House of the Lord’. This also means the building or spiritual centre, where people come to receive grace, through the sacraments, repentance, prayer, and to give thanks to God. We shall see that many of the other words we use in the Church are Greek in origin. This is because the earliest Scriptures that we have were written in Greek and most of the first Orthodox were Greek. Even today, nearly all Greeks are Orthodox. 
After the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost, the Apostles and the other Orthodox, had no special buildings for worship, but gathered in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 24,53), and then private rooms (Acts 1,13 and 5,42). This was because at any time a special building might be attacked by Jews (John 20,19) or heathen, who did not believe in Christ. For nearly 300 years after Christ, Orthodox mainly held services in secret places, ‘catacombs’, sometimes in caves and at night, because the pagan Romans did not allow the Christian Faith. Often Orthodox were terribly persecuted. They were tortured, thrown to wild beasts in circuses and martyred for their Faith in Christ. At last, 313 years after Christ, the Roman Emperor Constantine allowed Orthodox Christians to worship openly and build churches to the glory of God. The penitent Emperor was himself baptized on the eve of his death in 337. 
Orthodox Christians had very few books at the beginning and, in any case, few people knew how to read and write. It was also dangerous to write them, for the books might fall into the hands of heathen and Orthodox would be punished. So people listened to the stories of the Saviour, the Tradition. Eventually, some of this Tradition was written down by the four Evangelists in their Gospels. To help people to understand and remember, there were also holy images, called icons, like those of the Mother of God, painted by the Apostle Luke. Symbols, pictures with meanings, were also used. The walls of the caves in which the first Orthodox buried their departed and gathered for prayer are covered with such images.  
Thus, we see the Lamb, and at once we think of the Lamb of God slain for our sins (Jesus Christ); or a vine, the symbol of Christ, the true Vine; or the loaves and fishes, reminding us of His miracle; or a loaf, Christ, the Bread of Life; and many others. Later, when persecution of Orthodoxy stopped, people began openly painting more and more holy images, or icons, of Christ, His Mother and the saints. So everything in
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churches, from vestments to the services, has a meaning and makes Christ and His teachings present amongst us. 
The earliest churches often had the shape of a ship or ark of salvation. This reminds us that life on earth is like a sea, where we meet with many dangers in our fight against evil, and the Church is the ark which brings us to the heavenly harbour. Another is the circle or octagon, the symbol of eternity, without beginning or end, meaning that the Church, which is the Body of Christ, lives for ever. A favourite shape is a cross, for we are saved by the Cross of Christ.  
The main part of any church, the altar or sanctuary, should be oriented, in another words, it should face east. It is from the east that we receive the light, the symbol of Christ, ‘the Light of the world’ (St John 1), ‘the Sun of Righteousness’, as is written in the last verses of the Old Testament (Malachi 4,2), and as we sing in our hymns. Larger Orthodox churches may have one or several domes, or cupolas, representing the vault of heaven, with a cross in the middle or above the sanctuary, and a belltower at the west end. They tell us that the church is like heaven on earth, for the church is where Christ, God come down from heaven to become man, is present. All Orthodox churches have a cross on the roof, commemorating our salvation by the Cross, for the church is built to the glory of Christ Crucified and Risen. 
b) Layout 
The inside of an Orthodox church is divided into three parts.  
The first part, near the entrance, is called the porch or narthex. This has another door into the church itself. Here stand catechumens, those preparing for baptism and those who are not baptized.  
The second and largest part is in the middle of the church, called the nave, is where people pray. There are no pews in Orthodox churches, but there are usually a few chairs at the back or benches around the walls for the elderly or the weak. Orthodox Christians stand in church out of reverence to the Risen Christ, Who is present among us (‘Where two or three are gathered together in My name). In all their visions of Heaven the prophets and the Evangelist John the Theologian saw the saints standing in worship on either side of Christ the King, seated on His throne. So, when we worship in the House of God, surrounded by the angels and the saints, we also stand in His presence. Sitting is allowed only at certain parts of the services, or to those too weak to stand. It is the custom in monastic churches for women to stand on the left and men on the right. Both sexes should be modestly dressed, men in long-sleeved shirts and trousers, women in modest skirts or dresses and with covered heads, in obedience to the Apostle Paul (I Corinthians 11). 
In the centre of the nave there may be a stand with the icon of the day on it. To the left or the right of the nave can be found a memorial table where memorial services are sung. Behind it stands a tall crucifix. At the front of the nave, and sometimes in the middle, there are icon stands where icons can be venerated. Beside them are candle stands, where the faithful can light candles in prayer. At the front of the nave, to left or right, there is another stand for confessions. The choir stands in the ‘choir’, that is, to the left or right of the front of the nave, usually behind small screens with large
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icons and church banners (gonfalons), or else in a choir-loft or gallery, high up at the back of the church. No musical instruments are used in Orthodox worship. 
A raised platform, usually two or more steps above the nave, runs across the eastern end of the church. This is called the solea. It generally juts out in the centre in a semicircular area. This is called the ambon. The priest and deacon come out to read the Gospel and the litanies on the ambon. The solea extends back a little way, as far as the icon-screen, or iconostasis, which physically separates this third part of the church from the nave.  
The third part of the church is called the altar, or sanctuary. The word altar means the ‘high place’, in other words it is a raised area, because it is the most important part of the church.  
c) The Sanctuary and the Iconostasis 
In Orthodox churches the sanctuary, which represents heaven, is separated from the rest of the church, which represents earth, by an icon screen. This is usually made of wood and called an iconostasis, because it is covered with icons. The iconostasis has three doors. The large middle double doors are called the holy doors, sometimes incorrectly ‘the royal doors’. This is because Christ, the Holy King, Who is present in the Divine Liturgy, enters the nave through them. Only bishops, priests and deacons may go through the holy doors during the services. The side doors are called the north and south doors, or deacons’ doors, and are used more often to go in and out of the sanctuary. 
The icons in the iconostasis are in a special order. To the right of the holy doors there is always an icon of the Saviour. To the left of the holy doors there is always an icon of the Mother of God. The other icons are of special saints, including the patron-saint the church is dedicated to. On the holy doors themselves are smaller icons of the Annunciation to the Mother of God as ‘the beginning of our salvation’, and of the four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Above the holy doors there is usually an icon of the Last Supper to remind us of the Divine Liturgy, or Eucharist, that is, holy communion, given by Our Lord before His death and resurrection. This is celebrated in the sanctuary during the Liturgy and offered to us from within the holy doors. The deacons’ doors have icons of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, or sometimes the deacons St. Stephen and St. Philip. 
The iconostasis may have several rows of icons one above the other, each with its special icons. In the second row above the main icons there are icons of the Twelve Great Feasts in honour of Our Lord and His Holy Mother. In big churches there may be rows above this. In the third row there are the Twelve Apostles with Jesus Christ in the middle and the Mother of God and the Forerunner John the Baptist on either side of Him; in the fourth row, there are the Prophets of the Old Testament, and in their midst the Mother of God holding the Infant Christ, Whose coming they foretold. The whole iconostasis is crowned with a cross. So here we see the founders of the Church in the Old and New Testaments in one great picture, witnesses to the first and second coming and eternal reign of Christ Our Saviour. It also shows us those with whom we are united in one Church of Christ, and who pray for us, who still struggle on earth. 
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The most important feature inside the sanctuary is a square or rectangular table which stands in the middle. This is the altar itself, called the holy table or the holy throne, because God Himself is present here. The holy table may be made of stone, marble, wood or even metal, but in most churches it is made of wood. It is draped first in a white cloth of pure linen and then in another covering cloth. This may be changed to different colours on special feast days, when the other coverings in the nave are also changed. On the holy table are 1aid a cross, the Gospels and the corporal, known as the antimension. There is also the tabernacle, a casket with the Body and Blood of Christ for the communion of the sick. Underneath the holy table there is often a casket with the relic of a saint, because the first Orthodox Christians celebrated the liturgy on the tombs of the martyrs. Behind the holy table there is a processional cross, a sevenbranch candlestick and an icon of the Mother of God. At the back of the sanctuary is the high place, where the bishop sits when he comes to the church. Beside it, to left and right, are seats for the priests.  
To the left of the holy table, at the back, there is another table, called the ‘table of preparation’. This is the table, on which the gifts of bread and wine are prepared for the liturgy and on which are put the little loaves of offertory bread, or prosphora, brought by the people. 
The Cross, Icons and Candles 
The Cross 
The cross, the image of Christ Crucified and Risen, is the most sacred emblem of the Orthodox Church, because it was made holy by the blood of Christ, Who died on the cross to save us from sin and so raise us from the dead. That is why we venerate the cross, kiss it, place it in our churches and homes and wear it round our necks, where it was put at our baptism, so that we should never forget Christ’s love for us.  
We make the sign of the cross very frequently when we pray. We make it three times when we enter the church building. To make it, we join the tips of our thumb and two first fingers of our right hand, in memory of the Holy Trinity, and bend the third and little fingers to the palm, in order to express our faith that Jesus Christ was true God and true man. Then, with our right hand, we touch our foreheads to make holy our minds; our chests to make our hearts pure; our shoulders, that our bodies through our arms and hands may do good works. By this ancient sign of the cross, we give our mind, heart and body to the service of God. This is in obedience to the commandment: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind’ (Matthew 22,37). 
Icons are images of Jesus Christ in His human form, as was described by a very ancient tradition, of the Mother Of God, of the angels as they appeared to men, and of the saints. When we pray before the icons, cense them, kiss them, light candles before them, we venerate and do this, not to the paint and wood, but to those who are represented upon them. The icons are there as holy presences, windows or doors to heaven, and make the saints portrayed, present, rather as pictures make the people we love, present. Before use, icons are blessed and sprinkled with holy water, and so
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become holy. They must be treated reverently and kept apart, not like ordinary pictures. Every Orthodox home should have an icon corner, with icons of the Saviour, the Mother of God, our patron-saints and an icon-lamp, and every room at least a small icon. 
An ancient story tells us about the first icon of Jesus Christ, called ‘Not Made by Hands’. When our Lord was on earth, there lived a prince called Abgar. He was a heathen, but had heard of Christ in Palestine. Abgar fell ill and nobody could cure him. In a dream he saw Christ and dreamed that he was healed by Him. So when he woke up, Abgar began to think how he could reach Him. His country was too far from Palestine and he was too ill to travel. He called his court artist and ordered him to go to Palestine, find the great Prophet and bring back a likeness of Him. Abgar felt sure that only by looking at His picture he would be healed.  
The artist went and found Christ among a great crowd who had gathered round Him to heal their sick and hear Him preach. The artist started on his work, but try as he would he could not draw that wonderful Face, which was unlike any he had ever seen. Christ, of course, knew all the time what the man was trying to do and why, but He let him try. At last He sent a disciple to call the artist to Himself and asked what he wanted. The man fell at Christ’s feet and told Him about Abgar. Then Our Lord took a white linen cloth, pressed it to His Face and gave it to the messenger. And there, on the cloth, was imprinted the image of Christ’s Face. The artist hastened home with the precious cloth. When Abgar saw the human likeness of the Son of God, he fell on his knees before it and was healed. Later he was baptized. 
Many candles burn in Orthodox churches. They are lit in the sanctuary during services, burn before the icons, and are carried in front of the book of Gospels and the cross or when the priest censes the church. On feast-days the church is brightly lit up, and sometimes the clergy and people stand with lighted candles. The services are made more beautiful and solemn by light. This tradition is very old. We know that a seven-branched candlestick burned in the tabernacle in the Old Testament. The lights remind us of Christ’s words: ‘I am the Light of the world’, and those who believe in Him are the children of light (I Thessalonians 5,5). We no longer offer sacrifices of blood, as in the Old Testament, but the candle we light before an icon is a symbol of our prayer and faith, just as David compared his with incense: ‘Let my prayer be set forth before Thee as incense’ (Psalms 140,2). It is also a sign that we want our soul to be pure as light and our heart to burn with the flame of love to God, His Holy Mother and His Saints. St Seraphim of Sarov said: ‘Let our heart glow with love and our life shine with light before Our Lord like the flame of a taper before His icon’. 
3. The Clergy, Vestments and the Sacred Vessels 
a) The Clergy 
Our Lord Jesus Christ came to earth, as He Himself said, ‘to seek and to save that which was lost’ (Matthew 18,11). He chose His disciples and founded His Church. He taught men how to pray and established the sacrament of His Most Holy Body and Most Precious Blood. Before His Ascension, Our Lord handed over the task of
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leading men to salvation to the Apostles and to those who came after them. ‘Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28,19-20). 
Christ sent His Apostles the gift of the Holy Spirit, Who gave them grace and power to build and govern the Church of Christ. The Apostles were also given the power to pass on the grace of the Holy Spirit by the laying-on of hands to those whom they and the faithful found worthy to take their place. These, in their turn, passed it on to those who followed them. This is called ‘Apostolic Succession’. As the Church grew, the Apostles appointed helpers, chosen by the faithful after prayers for guidance by the Holy Spirit, to choose men worthy to take up such holy service.  
Three sorts of clergy were established in the Church: bishops, priests and deacons. Every Orthodox deacon, priest and bishop, looking back to the days of the Apostles, will find the line of the laying-on of hands, or ordination, unbroken, stretching back to the Apostles and Christ. This is why all Orthodox clergy are bearded, for they represent Christ, Who was of course also bearded. Monastic clergy, as well as many married clergy, also wear long hair, again in imitation of the Saviour. 
Firstly, there are bishops. Bishops have full authority to teach and govern, to celebrate all the sacraments, to consecrate other bishops together, ordain priests and deacons, and to consecrate churches. The head of a large Local Orthodox Church is called a ‘Patriarch’ and other senior bishops are called ‘Metropolitans’ or ‘Archbishops’. 
Secondly, there are priests. They are ordained by a bishop. They may celebrate all the sacraments, except for the laying-on of hands (ordination), and all the church services, except for the consecration of a church. An Orthodox community, united with a priest, is called a parish. Senior married priests have different titles, such as Protopresbyter or Archpriest. A senior monastic priest is called an Archimandrite. 
Thirdly, there are deacons. The word is Greek and means ‘servant’. The first seven deacons were chosen by the wish of the apostles from among those ‘of honest report’, very soon after Christ’s Ascension (Acts 6,3). They were chosen to relieve the Apostles from some of their duties and to assist them in the services. Deacons help the bishops and priests at the celebration of the sacraments, but do not celebrate them themselves. At the services they read the Gospel and the litanies, and cense the church. They look after the sacred vessels and vestments and help clean the altar. Senior married deacons are called Protodeacons. Senior monastic deacons are called Archdeacons. 
Bishops, priests and deacons are ordained by bishops through the laying-on of hands, and receive the grace of the Holy Spirit according to their service. They wear an under-cassock and a cassock (riasa), which has wide sleeves. These clothes represent the tunics worn by the Saviour. Married clergy may wear any colour under-cassock, although black, the colour of repentance and sobriety, is the most common. Cassocks themselves are always black. 
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Others who assist in the church are subdeacons, readers, singers and servers (acolytes). Subdeacons and readers are ordained by bishops. Singers and servers must have the blessing of a priest. 
b) Vestments 
The robes the clergy wear for church services are called vestments. They put these on over their under-cassock at the liturgy, and over their under-cassock and cassock at other services. They are: 
For the Deacon: 
1)Tunic (sticharion) (2) Deacon’s stole (orarion) (3) Cuffs.  
For the Priest: 
1) Alb (2) Stole (epitrachelion) (3) Belt (4) Cuffs (5) Chasuble (phelonion).  
For the Bishop: 
(1) Alb (2) Stole (epitrachelion) (3) Belt (4) Cuffs (5) Dalmatic (sakkos) (6) Pall (omophorion) (7) Mitre. 
The deacon’s tunic is an upper robe of coloured material with wide sleeves. The stole is a long, narrow strip of the same material, which the deacon wears hanging over his left shoulder. He holds one end in his right hand, and by raising it gives a sign to the choir and people to sing and pray. The cuffs are worn by the deacon and priest to fasten the sleeves of their under-cassocks. They also remind them of the bonds with which Our Lord’s wrists were bound when He was led before Pilate. 
The priest’s alb is white (the word ‘alb’ means white), as a symbol of the purity of heart a priest should have. The stole is like a deacon’s stole, but sewn together. It is made to be put over the head and hangs down the front. Without it the priest cannot celebrate any service. The cuffs are the same as a deacon’s. The belt is worn round the waist and reminds us of the divine strength which sustains the priest in his service. The chasuble is a long, wide rounded, sleeveless robe slipped over the head. It is made of coloured materials like the stole. It signifies ‘the robe of truth’ in which Christ’s servants should be clothed. 
Besides the alb, stole, girdle and cuffs the bishop wears a dalmatic. It is a robe with wide sleeves, vein like that worn by the high priest in the Old Testament. Its symbolic meaning is the same as that of a chasuble. He also wears round his shoulders a pall, like a long scarf. It used to be made of white, fleecy wool as symbol of the lost sheep carried by the Good Shepherd. Without it the bishop cannot celebrate any service. The mitre, which the bishop wears on his head, is the sign of his authority. (Some elderly priests may also wears a mitre as a special distinction; other senior priests have other headware.)  
The bishop also wears a long, wide, flowing mantle, usually of purple silk but not when he is in full vestments. Crosses, called pectoral crosses are always worn by
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bishops and priests round their necks above their cassocks or vestments to remind them of Christ Crucified and Risen. Bishops also wear round their necks a panagia - a round image of the Mother of God. A bishop carries a staff as a sign of his duty to lead his flock in the right path. When a bishop celebrates a service, a small round carpet, called an ‘the eagle’, is placed under his feet. It has on it the picture of an eagle soaring above a city. It means that the bishop in his life and thoughts must soar above the earth like an eagle and point the way upwards to his flock. 
c) The Sacred Vessels 
The sacred vessels used for the Divine Liturgy are: 
The chalice - the cup into which are poured the wine and water for the Liturgy. It has an icon of Our Saviour on the outside. 
The paten - a small, round plate on a low stand. On the plate is an icon of the Birth of Christ. The loaf, or prosphora, which is used for the Liturgy and called the Lamb, is prepared, broken and consecrated on this plate, which represents, at different stages in the service, the manger or the tomb of Christ. 
The star - two bent strips of metal crossed over each other and put on the paten to keep the little pieces of loaves in place when they are covered with a veil. It is called the star after the star of Bethlehem. 
The lance - a spear-shaped knife with which the part of the prosphora called the Lamb is cut; it represents the lance which pierced Christ’s side. 
The spoon - with which the Body and Blood of Christ is given to the people. 
Once these vessels are blessed and used, no one but bishops, priests and deacons may touch them. 
Apart from the sacred vessels there is also the corporal, or antimension. This is a rectangular silk cloth with the icon of Our Lord’s burial and a relic of a saint sewn into it. It has to be blessed by a bishop. It is spread on the holy table and the paten and chalice stand on it during the Liturgy. The Liturgy cannot be celebrated without it. After the service it is folded up and wrapped in another piece of red silk. Where there is no church, it can be used instead of a holy table to celebrate the Liturgy. When Orthodox are persecuted, we cannot have proper holy tables, which might be smashed or defiled. So instead we use these antimensia, blessed by a bishop, because they can easily be carried and hidden. If a priest has an antimension and bread and wine, he can celebrate the Liturgy anywhere - on a stone in the desert, in the forest on a tree trunk, on board ship or in a private room. In wars, army priests or chaplains always carry one and celebrate the Liturgy and give soldiers communion. There are also two small veils to cover the paten and the chalice and a large one, which is laid over both, and is called the large veil or aer. 
There is also the censer. This is used to cense the holy gifts, the church the icons and the people, indicating holiness. The double and triple candles, called the ‘dikiri’ and ‘trikiri’, are used by the bishop to bless the people. The first reminds us of the two
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natures in Jesus Christ, God and Man. The second points to the Holy Trinity. The fans are round metal discs with an images of cherubim and are held by subdeacons over the holy gifts during consecration when a bishop is celebrating. Originally, they were made of feathers and were used to drive away insects from the holy gifts.
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1. The Services and the Cycles of Services 
Origins and the Daily Cycle 
Our Lord Jesus Christ gave His disciples the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6). In it He taught them how to pray and what to pray for. He also said: ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ (Matthew 18,20). By this He showed that He wished people to gather together as brothers and sisters in Christ for worship and sacraments. After His Ascension His disciples followed His commandment. The Apostles, inspired, by the Holy Spirit and by the authority granted to them by the Lord Jesus Christ, taught people the true faith. Such prayer in common when all are united in love for our Saviour and all share in the sacrament of holy communion. Already the Apostles laid down the first order of worship, especially that of the Divine Liturgy, when the holy mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ is celebrated. The services we have were outlined in the days of the Apostles and their order laid down by the Church after them. The services of the Orthodox Church, apart from details, have remained the same for over 1,500 years. 
There are several cycles or orders of Church services. Some services belong to the different parts of the day. Their order is complete each day and is repeated again on the next: this is the daily cycle. Other services, prayers and hymns are attached to each of the seven days of the week and form a complete weekly cycle, repeated each week. Other services, again, belong to fixed dates in the year (for instance, Christmas, Theophany, the Annunciation) and form the yearly cycle. There are also movable feasts, so called because their dates change each year. These are: Easter and all feasts connected with Easter, like Palm Sunday, Ascension Day, Pentecost etc. 
Even if Orthodox cannot come to worship, they make each part of the day holy by prayer. The beginning of the day is counted not from the morning, but from the evening before. This is because, in the story of the Creation, the Scriptures say: ‘And the evening and the morning were the first day’ (Genesis 1,5). That is why the Church’s daily cycle of prayer begins with the evening service, called Vespers. There are nine daily services, which are contained in a special book called the ‘Book of Hours’ or the ‘Horologion’. These are: Vespers, Compline, the Midnight Service, Matins, the First Hour, the Third Hour, the Sixth Hour, the Divine Liturgy, and the Ninth Hour. It would be too difficult for people to come to church so often, so the Church has arranged the services into three groups: (1) evening (2) early morning (3) late morning. 
The evening service consists of the Ninth Hour, Vespers and Compline.  
The early morning service consists of Nocturns, Matins and the First Hour. 
The late morning service consists of the Third Hour, the Sixth Hour and the Divine Liturgy.
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Vespers is a service held in the evening to thank God for His mercy during the day and to ask His blessing for the coming night. It begins with Psalm 103, which describes the glories of creation. Then there are prayers for the whole world and for the Church, hymns in praise of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Mother of God and the Saints. Vespers end with the prayer of St. Simeon: ‘Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace...’ and ‘Rejoice, O Virgin Birthgiver of God, Mary full of grace...’ 
Compline consists of Psalms 50, 69 and 142, in which we ask God to forgive us our sins and guard us during the night. The Great Doxology is read, the Creed and a prayer to the Most Holy Virgin Mary asking her to protect us in life and at our death. 
The Midnight Service, also called Nocturns, should be said at midnight to remind us of Christ’s vigil in the garden of Gethsemane before His Passion, and of the parable of the ten virgins watching at midnight for the coming of the Bridegroom. Monks and nuns rise for a midnight vigil of repentance and prayer so that the coming of the Lord will not find them unready. The Midnight Service consist of Psalm 50, ‘Have mercy upon me, O God, and Psalm 118, which describes the happiness of the righteous; the Creed and the hymn, ‘Behold, at midnight the Bridegroom cometh’, and prayers for the departed. It is a service of repentance to remind us to watch for Christ’s Coming. 
Matins should be celebrated at dawn. We thank God for keeping us safe in our sleep and for granting us a new day. We also remember Christ’s resurrection. Matins begin with a prayer for the country and its rulers. Then Six Psalms are read, there is a litany, more psalms, hymns in honour of God and His Saints, the Great Doxology and a litany or petition. 
The Hours are short services read at the First, Third, Sixth and Ninth Hours of the day as they were counted in the Roman Empire. This was at 6.00 am, 9.00 am, 12.00 am and 3.00 pm. They consist of psalms, prayers and a special hymn on the meaning of the hour.  
In the First Hour (also called Prime), we thank God for giving us the light of day and beseech Him to hear our voice as we call upon Him when we rise from sleep. It is also made holy by the memory that Jesus Christ was brought before Pilate at this hour.  
In the Third Hour (also called Terce) we remember how the Apostles received the gift of the Holy Spirit at the third hour of day, and pray that we too may receive that grace.  
The Sixth Hour (also called Sext) is the hour of Christ’s crucifixion (Luke 23,44). We pray that our sins may be washed away by His precious Blood.  
In the Ninth Hour (also called None) we remember Christ’s death on the Cross (Luke 23,44). We pray that as He died for us so may we die to all evil things and lead good lives. 
The greatest daily service is the Divine Liturgy, or Eucharist, that is the communion service.
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The Weekly Cycle 
Every day of the week has its own commemoration and special hymns and prayers. The services for each day, in a varied cycle over eight weeks, are contained in a special book called ‘The Book of the Eight Tones’ or the ‘Octoechos’: 
The first day, Sunday, celebrates Our Lord’s resurrection and in Orthodox countries is called ‘the Day of the Resurrection’ or ‘the Day of the Lord’. So the Sunday service, beginning with Vespers on Saturday evening, has special hymns glorifying the Risen Christ. The Gospel reading at Sunday Matins is always about the Resurrection.  
On Monday we remember the Archangel Michael and all angels. They proclaim God’s glory in heaven and are His messengers on earth. We ask them to keep guard over us and protect us in the shadow of their wings.  
On Tuesday we honour St. John the Baptist and the prophets who preached Christ’s coming to earth.  
Wednesday is the day on which Judas betrayed Lord Jesus, a day of sad memories and therefore a fast day. The hymn glorifies the Cross.  
On Thursday we remember St. Nicholas, the great Archbishop, and all the Fathers of the Church, who, after the Apostles, guide Orthodox Christians. We ask his blessing and prayers for the Church.  
Friday is another fast day, in remembrance of our Lord’s Passion and death upon the Cross.  
On Saturday, the last day of the week, we remember the most Holy Mother of God, the martyrs, healers, all the saints, and ask them to pray for us. We also pray for the departed, for their rest and peace in Christ, and that we too may join the communion of the saints in everlasting life.  
And so, after remembering all God’s Church in Heaven, we come again to Sunday, the first day, but also the eighth day, - Resurrection Day - with its glad message of everlasting life and joy to all who believe in Christ. 
c) The Yearly Cycle  
Every date of every month and every day of the year has some special memory attached to it - some event in the life of Christ, or His Holy Mother, or the Saints. There are also long fasts and days for remembering the departed. So special prayers, hymns and ceremonies are added to the usual daily services and alter them from day to day during the year. This is called the yearly cycle. The services for this cycle are contained in twelve books called the ‘Menaia’, with one ‘Menaion’ for each month. 
The Church has special feasts (high days and holidays - holy days). On such days there are changes in the ordinary daily services, more lights and more ceremonies. Some feasts are in honour of Our Lord Jesus Christ, others of the Mother of God,
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others of the great saints. Some always fall on the same date of the year and are called fixed feasts, others change dates from year to year and are called movable feasts. The greatest of these is Easter. The others are Palm Sunday, Ascension Day, and Pentecost. or Trinity Day. There are Twelve Great Feasts in the Orthodox Church, not counting Easter. Easter stands by itself, because it is the holiest of holy days, the feast of feasts. 
Here are the Twelve Great Feasts: eight in honour of Our Lord and four in honour of the Most Holy Mother of God. 
Beginning from the start of the Church Year in September, we have the Lord’s Feasts: 
The Exaltation of the Holy Cross - 14 September (27 September on the civil calendar). 
The Nativity or Birth of Christ – Christmas - 25 December (7 January civil calendar). 
The Baptism of Our Lord - Theophany - 6 January (19 January civil calendar). 
The Presentation of Christ in the Temple by His Mother - The Meeting of Christ - 2 February (15 February civil calendar). 
The Entry of Our Lord into Jerusalem - Palm Sunday - a week before Easter.  
The Ascension of Christ - forty days after Easter. 
Trinity Day - Pentecost or Whitsun - fifty days after Easter. 
The Transfiguration of Christ - 6 August (19 August civil calendar). 
The Feasts of the Most Holy Mother of God are: 
The Nativity or Birth of the Mother of God - 8 September (21 September civil calendar). 
The Presentation of the Mother of God in the Temple - 21 November (4 December civil calendar). 
The Annunciation to the Mother of God - Lady Day - 25 March (7 April civil calendar). 
The Dormition of the Mother of God – 15 August (28 August civil calendar). 
2. Vespers at the Vigil Service  
On Saturday evenings and the eve of great feasts, Vespers, Matins and the First Hour are joined together in a special service called the ‘All-Night Vigil Service’, or more simply the ‘Vigil Service’ or ‘Vigil’. It is much more solemn than weekday Vespers.
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The church is lit up, there is more singing and ceremonial, especially in those parts of the service in honour of Sunday or the feast-day. This service is properly called the ‘All-Night Vigil’ because in early times, and still today in some monasteries Orthodox spend the whole night in prayer till sunrise. 
As in all Orthodox services, the Vigil Service shows in symbols, rite, readings, prayers and hymns, God’s plan for the world’s salvation from the beginning of creation. God created the world beautiful and man sinless and good, but He gave him a will free to choose between obeying His commandments or following his own desires and disobeying God. Man chose evil. God knew this would happen, and in His mercy sent His Only Son Jesus Christ to earth, to save and redeem mankind by His death and resurrection. 
The First Part of Vespers at a Vigil  
i) The Beginning of the Service and the Great Litany  
This represents God’s plan in the Old Testament. The priest and deacon put on their vestments. The deacon opens the holy doors. The priest takes the censer and, with the deacon walking in front of him, censes the holy table and the sanctuary. The deacon then comes out of the sanctuary and stands before the holy doors. The priest remains in front of the holy table. 
The deacon says: ‘Let us give attend, give the blessing’. The priest replies: ‘Glory to the Holy, Consubstantial, Life-Giving and Indivisible Trinity, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages’, and then calls the people to worship Christ our King and God. The choir sings verses of Psalm 103: ‘Praise the Lord, O my soul: Thou art become exceeding glorious; Thou art clothed with majesty and honour.... O Lord, how manifold are Thy works: in wisdom hast Thou made them all....’. 
During this singing, the priest with the censer, and the deacon with the candle, walk round the church censing the icons and the people. The words of the Psalm describe the beautiful world God made for us. They make us think of the first man and woman, who were then innocent, and together with the angels praised their Maker. The open doors of the sanctuary, the lights and incense, remind us that man had not yet shut himself away from God by sin, but walked in His light and in the grace of the Holy Spirit. 
After the Psalm the holy doors are closed. This reminds us how the gates of Paradise were closed on Adam and Eve after their sin (Genesis 3,24). The deacon, or priest alone if there is no deacon, stands in front of them and recites the Great Litany, or petition. It is called ‘Great’ because it has many petitions. Sometimes it is called the ‘Litany of Peace’, because the word ‘peace’ is used at its beginning and throughout it. We cannot pray without peace. We pray the Lord to give peace from above which we have lost through sin, and to fill our hearts with repentance and save our souls. We pray for the peace of the world; for the whole Orthodox Church, for the unity of all Orthodox, for our own and all countries. We ask Him to spare us from famine, war, sorrow, need and wrath, to help the sick, the sorrowing and those in captivity, and to protect and save us all by His grace. To each petition the choir replies: ‘Lord, have mercy’. The deacon then bids us remember our Most Holy, Most Pure and Glorious
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Lady, the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary, with all the Saints, and commend ourselves, one another and all our lives unto Christ our God. The priest ends the litany by praising the Holy Trinity, to Whom are due glory, honour and worship. The Great Litany, read before the closed holy doors, shows us all the needs and troubles that came to man through his disobedience and fall. 
ii) ‘Blessed is the man’ and ‘Lord, I have cried’ 
After the Great Litany the choir sings verses from the first three psalms: ‘Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsels of the ungodly. Arise, Lord, and save me, O God...Alleluia’. They express the longing for the happiness lost through sin and the hope of salvation. Then follows the Little Litany, which the deacon reads still standing before the closed holy doors. Again and again let us pray to the Lord to help us, save us, have mercy upon us and keep us and the praise of the Holy Trinity. The Little Litany serves to divide the different parts of the service and is often said.  
Now comes the singing of the verses of Psalm 140, ‘Lord, I have cried unto Thee, hear me’ hear me, O Lord, when I cry unto Thee. Let my prayer be as incense before Thee: let the lifting of my hands be an evening sacrifice. Bring my soul out of prison that I may confess Thy name...’, with hymns called ‘stichira’, ending with the Hymn to the Mother of God, called the ‘Theotokion’. These verses from the Old Testament point to the lament and repentance of sinful man and his prayer for God’s help. While the stichira are being sung, the deacon censes the holy table, the sanctuary, the iconostasis and the people: this represents the Old Testament sacrifices which kept alive in people’s minds the thought of the coming Saviour. 
iii) The Little Entrance, the Prokimenon and the Readings 
At the last stichira the holy doors are opened and the lights go on. The deacon with a censer and the priest come out of the sanctuary by the north door and walk to the holy doors. A server with a lighted candle walks in front. Standing before the holy doors, the deacon exclaims: ‘Wisdom. Stand Aright’. The priest makes the sign of blessing and they both pass silently through the holy doors into the sanctuary. This entrance represents the vision of the coming Christ, the Wisdom of God, dimly shown to the people of the Old Testament in symbols and images. We are told to ‘stand aright’ in worship with a steadfast mind and to thank God for His mercies. The choir sings the beautiful evening hymn to Christ of the early Orthodox, ‘O Gladsome Light of the holy glory of the Immortal Father, the Holy, Blessed Jesus Christ. Having come to the setting of the sun and beheld the light of evening, we praise God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit....O Son of God, Giver of life, therefore the world doth glorify Thee’. 
After this hymn the Prokimenon is sung. This is a short verse from the psalms before the readings. It points to the subject of the reading or the meaning of the feast. The holy doors are then closed. On the eve of feasts, readings, usually from the Old Testament, are read. They are called paremias or parables, because they refer in prophecies relating to the feast. On ordinary Saturday evenings, there are now no readings. 
c) The Second Part of Vespers at a Vigil 
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i) The Augmented Litany, ‘Vouchsafe’, and the Litany of Supplication 
After praising Christ, we again tell Him of our needs in two litanies. The first is called the Augmented Litany, because the choir sings ‘Lord, have mercy’ three times after each petition. In it, with our whole soul and mind, ‘we beseech the Lord Almighty, the God of our fathers’, to have mercy on the bishops and clergy and all our brotherhood in Christ, on our mother country, on all the faithful departed, all them that labour for the Church and the people present, awaiting God’s bountiful mercies. After this the reader reads a prayer, ‘Vouchsafe, O Lord’, asking for the Lord’s blessing on the rest of the evening. 
In the Litany of Supplication, we ask for blessings, for the constant protection of our guardian angel, forgiveness of our sins, all things good for our souls and the peace of the world, that we may spend the rest of our lives in godliness and repentance, reach a peaceful Christian end and render a good account of ourselves on Christ’s day of judgement. To each petition the choir replies, ‘Grant this, O Lord’. This is why it is called the Litany of Supplication. At the end of every litany we always commemorate the Holy Mother of God and all the saints. This is to remind us that the Church in heaven and earth is one, and that the saints of God, and, especially the loving Mother of God, are always ready to help us with their prayers, just as we pray for each other on earth. The priest always finishes the litanies with an exclamation of praise to the Holy Trinity. After the litanies, hymns, or stichira, are sung in honour of the day. 
ii) The Festal Litany or Litia 
However, after the Litany of Supplication at Vespers at the Vigil Service of big feasts, the priest and deacon with a lighted candle walk to the end of the church in the narthex or porch. Only then are special stichira sung and a special litany read. This is a custom from the early Orthodox Church, when penitents and unbaptized catechumens stood in the porch and could not enter the church. In this way they could for a short time at least take part in public worship. The litany consists of prayers for all Christians, bishops and clergy, rulers, ‘for every Christian soul afflicted and suffering and seeking God’s mercy’, the peace of the world, deliverance from wars, invasions and all calamities. We beseech the prayers of our Most Holy Lady and the saints. 
The priest and deacon then move to the middle of the church to a small table. On it are placed five small loaves and little glasses with wheat, wine and oil. At the end of Vespers (see below) he priest will bless all these, asking that they may be multiplied throughout the world, will then walk up to the ambo and give the blessing. This reminds us of the blessed bread and wine and oil which in the early Orthodox Church were distributed among the people to sustain them during the All-Night Vigil. Nowadays they are still distributed and the people anointed with the blessed oil when they come to kiss the festal icon at Matins, as the Canon begins (See below at Matins). 
iii) The End of Vespers at a Vigil 
And so Vespers show us the promise of the coming Christ in the Old Testament. It ends with the promise fulfilled: After the stichira of the day, the prayer of St. Simeon
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is read, when he saw the Infant Jesus in the Temple. (This prayer is sung once a year on the feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple). Also the prayers of introduction with ‘Our Father’ are read. Vespers ends with the glad tidings of Christ’s coming birth and the Archangel’s greeting: ‘Rejoice, O Birthgiver of God and Virgin, Mary full of grace, the Lord is with Thee; blessed art Thou among women and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, for Thou hast borne the Saviour of our souls’. The priest then gives the blessing. (On the eve of a festival the Troparion, or hymn of the day, is sung instead). 
Matins at the Vigil Service 
The First Part of Matins 
i) The Six Psalms, the Great Litany, ‘God is the Lord’, the Troparion and the Psalm Readings 
Matins begins at once after the blessing. It takes up the symbolic story where it was left off at Vespers. All the candles are blown out and the lights off. For it is now night and the reader stands before the closed holy doors and repeats three times the Angel’s song on the night of the Birth of Christ: ‘Glory to God in the Highest, and peace on earth, goodwill among men’. He then reads ‘The Six Psalms’ (3, 37, 62, 87, 102 and 142) in which man pours out his soul to God and seeks His forgiveness and guidance and puts his trust in Him. While the last three psalms are being read, the priest comes out of the sanctuary and finishes reading in silence twelve morning prayers for God’s grace on his flock and all the world.  
After the Six Psalms, the deacon or priest again prays for our needs in the Great Litany. This is followed by a hymn of praise to the Lord, Who came to earth for our salvation. ‘God is the Lord and hath appeared unto us, blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord’. The Troparion, or hymn of the day, is also sung. On the eve of Sunday (Saturday evening) it is always a resurrection hymn, on feasts, one about the special event. They all point to the mercy granted us by Christ’s coming on earth. Then some psalms are read. This is called a kathisma. It is a Greek word which means ‘sitting’, because people are allowed to sit during these Old Testament readings. Sometimes, in parish churches, these readings are shortened or even omitted, and there is only a Little Litany. As we have said, the first part of the Matins is said in a dimly lit church and with closed holy doors. It reminds us of Christ’s early years on earth. People scarcely knew Him then, but longed for Him and groped ‘in darkness’ for His light to be revealed to them. 
ii) The Polyeleion 
The next part of Matins on the eve of Sunday glorifies Christ’s resurrection, or the particular festival or saint whose day it is. It is the most solemn, joyful and brightest part of the service. Polyeleion is a Greek word. It means much mercy and also much oil, because we praise God’s mercies and because all the lamps are lit in sign of joy. 
After the Little Litany the holy doors are opened, the church brightly lit up. If there is a deacon, he comes out of the sanctuary with a lighted candle. The priest follows with the censer. The choir sings the glad verses of Psalms 134 and 135: ‘Praise ye the
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Lord, all ye servants of the Lord. Alleluia (3 times)....O give thanks unto the Lord of heaven, for His mercy endureth for ever...’. During the singing the priest, with the deacon if there is one, censes the sanctuary and iconostasis, then walks round the church censing all the icons and the people. 
On the eve of Sunday, hymns of the resurrection are sung. They describe how the weeping women came to Christ’s tomb at dawn, the glad tidings announced by the Angel: ‘Why seek ye the living among the dead? For Christ is risen from the tomb...’. They end with a call to worship the Holy Trinity and praise the Mother of God. 
On the eve of great feasts the icon of the feast or of the saint is placed in the middle of the church on a stand. The priest or deacon censes it and sing a magnification (megalynarion) in honour of the feast or saint. The choir repeats it. There is a Little Litany and sometimes more verses are sung. 
iii) The Gospel 
After the Little Litany comes the reading of the Gospel for the day. The deacon invites the people to attend. The Prokimenon of the day is sung. The deacon prays that we may be worthy to hear the holy Gospel and attend to the Wisdom of God (the words of Christ) and stand aright. The priest then names the Evangelist, the choir sings: ‘Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee’. The priest then reads the Gospel on the the holy table, which now signifies the tomb of Christ. At Sunday Matins the Gospel is always about the resurrection and Christ’s appearance to His disciples. There are eleven such Sunday Gospel readings which are read in turn all the year round. On the eve of feasts the Gospel is adapted to the particular holy day. 
At Sunday Matins the Gospels, which represent the Risen Christ, is carried from the sanctuary to the middle of the church for the people to kiss. Meanwhile the choir sings a hymn of praise: ‘Having beheld the resurrection of Christ, let us adore the Lord Jesus Who alone is without sin....Come, all ye faithful, let us adore Christ’s holy resurrection. For, behold, through the Cross joy came into all the world...’. 
On feasts (not Sundays) the Gospels are not brought out of the sanctuary. Instead the people come and kiss the icon of the feast which has been put in the middle of the church. The priest stands beside it and makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of the worshippers with holy oil ‘in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit’.  
A petition is then sung, that by the prayers of the Holy Mother of God and the Apostles our All-Merciful Lord may cleanse our many sins. Verses of Psalm 50 are also sung. The deacon reads a prayer for the Church, the people and the whole world, asking for the prayers of all the saints who are venerated in the church, to which the choir replies, ‘Lord, have mercy’ twelve times. When all the people have kissed it, the Gospels, which represent the Risen Christ, are carried back into the sanctuary, the holy doors are closed, and the Polyeleion ends. 
The Second Part of Matins 
i) The Canon
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Next comes the singing and reading of the canon. This is a Greek word and it means a pattern, an example and also a rule. In church services this name is given to a number of sacred odes or songs in honour of Christ, His Holy Mother and His Saints. Each ode has several verses. The first verse of each ode is called an irmos, another Greek word which means a link, because it links up all the other verses which are composed on the same pattern. There are nine odes in the canon, but the second ode is not read, except in Lent. The subjects of the odes and the first irmos are taken from the Old Testament and the next verses are adapted to the event which the odes celebrate. 
ii) The Odes 
Although the odes are only read and sung in full during Lent, nevertheless, their subjects are still alluded to in the irmos. The subject of the first ode is taken from the song of Miriam after Israel’s escape from Egypt. Each verse ends with the triumphant refrain, ‘For He hath triumphed’. The Church glorifies Israel’s deliverance from the power of Pharaoh as a symbol of our deliverance from the power of Satan. The second ode contains Moses’ stern rebuke to the Israelites for their iniquities and is therefore only sung in Lent. The third ode is taken from the thanksgiving hymn of Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel. She was childless and God gave her the joy of a son. The Church, too, at first was barren and now rejoices over her many children. The fourth ode sings of the Prophet Habbakuk’s vision of the coming to earth of Christ, the Lord of all the world. In the fifth ode the Church in the words of the Prophet Isaiah prays for Divine Light to the faithful. The sixth refers to the Prophet Jonah who called upon the Lord from the deep. And we, like him, pray that we may be delivered from life’s tempests and the pit. The seventh and eighth odes contain the song of praise of the three youths in the furnace of Babylon with the refrains, ‘Blessed is the God of our fathers’ and ‘Hymn and exalt the Lord and His deeds for ever’. The Little Litany is said after the third and sixth odes.  
iii) The Magnificat and the Ninth Ode 
The ninth ode is always in praise of the Mother of God. At the end of the eighth ode the deacon or priest comes out of the sanctuary with the censer, censes and then stands before the icon of the Holy Virgin and exclaims: ‘In hymns let us magnify the Birthgiver of God and Mother of the Light’. He censes the icon, the iconostasis and the people. The choir sings the Magnificat (‘My soul magnifieth the Lord...’) with a refrain after each verse from another hymn to our Lady. In this she is called ‘more glorious than the seraphim and beyond compare more honourable than the cherubim’, for without defilement she has given birth to God the Word. Therefore we magnify her. The Little Litany follows. 
c) The Third Part of Matins 
The Praises 
The third part of Matins consists of songs of praise to God and prayers for blessings. Verses of Psalms 148, 149 and 150 are sung: ‘Praise the Lord of heaven; praise Him in the height...Let every breath praise the Lord... All ye angels of the Lord, praise ye
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the Lord...’. Hymns or stichira on the subject of the day are sung inbetween. The last hymn of praise is, as always, in honour of the Mother of God.  
ii) The Great Doxology  
The Great Doxology or Glorification is very ancient. It was sung already when Orthodox had to gather in secret to pray in the night. At daybreak, before they dispersed to their homes or often to be seized and tortured for their faith, all united in the singing of the glory of our Redeemer, and feared nothing. 
Here the holy doors are opened again. The priest, standing before the holy table, exclaims: ‘Glory to Thee Who hast shown us the Light’. Still today in some monasteries, when Orthodox kept a truly All-Night Vigil, these words are uttered when the light of the rising sun breaks out in the east. The people reply with the Angel’s song at the Birth of Christ: ‘Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and goodwill among men’, and sing the Great Doxology to the Holy Trinity, with appeals for God’s mercy to all men. 
iii) The End of Matins and the First Hour 
The Augmented Litany and the Litany of Supplication are said again. The priest gives the blessing. The First Hour is read immediately after. It ends with a prayer to Our Saviour to shed His Light upon us and guide our ways; and with a hymn to the Mother of God.
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1. The Origins of the Liturgy and the Preparation of the Gifts 
The greatest and holiest of all the church services is the Divine Liturgy, when the holy communion is celebrated. The Greek word ‘Liturgy’ means the work of the people, or common prayer. The service is so called because all Orthodox ought to attend it. It is also called the Eucharist, which in Greek means thanksgiving, because the holy gifts of bread and wine are offered in thanksgiving for God’s love and sacrifice for the world. The whole service represents in symbols the whole of Christ’s life on earth, culminating in His Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Spirit. 
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself established the sacrament of His Most Holy Body and Most Precious Blood. As we can read in the Gospels, long before His Passion, He used to tell His disciples and people: ‘I am the Bread of Life...if any man eateth of it, he shall live for ever...The bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world...Whoso eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day’. And so He prepared them for the great mystery of the Eucharist. In that ‘upper room’ at the Last Supper before He gave Himself up to be crucified for us all, He took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave to His disciples, saying: ‘Take, eat, this is My Body, which is given for you: do this in remembrance of Me’. Then He blessed the wine cup and said: ‘Drink ye all of this; for this is My Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins’ (Matthew 26). Our Lord established this sacrament to unite us all with Himself for ever through communion of His Holy Body and Blood. 
After Christ’s Ascension the Apostles and other Orthodox used to meet every day for the Eucharist. They prayed, sang psalms and hymns and broke the bread ‘in remembrance’ of Christ, according to His commandment. The order of the service was first laid down by the Apostles themselves, passed on to those who came after them, and learnt by heart. This was done to guard the Christian worship against the mockery and blasphemy of the heathen. The oldest order of the Liturgy to be written down and still kept is the Liturgy of the Apostle James, the first Bishop of Jerusalem. At last, more than 300 years after Christ, Christianity became the accepted Faith of the Roman Empire. Then the order of the Apostles’ Liturgy was written down and arranged, first by St Basil, the Great, Archbishop of Ceasarea, and then by St John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople. These two forms have been celebrated ever since and very few hymns and prayers have been added to them.  
The two are very alike, only that of St Basil is slightly longer. The only difference with that of St John is that the secret prayers at the consecration of the holy gifts are longer, so the singing is slower. Before Christ’s words of the Last Supper, the priest says aloud: ‘He gave it to His holy disciples and Apostles, saying...’. Instead of the hymn to our Lady, ‘It is meet indeed to bless Thee..’, another is sung which begins,
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‘All creatures rejoice in Thee...’. The Liturgy of St Basil is celebrated ten times a year: on Christmas Eve or Day, Theophany Eve or Day (the Baptism of Christ), on St Basil’s Day (1 January or 14 January in the civil calendar), five Sundays in Great Lent, Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday in Passion Week. 
Only a bishop or priest may celebrate the Liturgy. The Liturgy may be celebrated every morning of the year, except on most weekdays in Lent, at the beginning of the Nativity Fast, on Great Friday. However, in strict accordance with the ancient Tradition, it may not be celebrated more than once a day by the same priest, or on the same altar and antimension. In the days of the Apostles and early Church the Liturgy, like the Last Supper, was celebrated in the evening and the vigil lasted well into the night. When all late meetings were forbidden by the Romans, it took place at dawn. Now it can be celebrated at any time between dawn and midday. 
b) The Three Parts of the Liturgy 
The Liturgy consists of three parts: the Preparation (Proskomidia) of the bread and wine for consecration; the Liturgy of the Catechumens (those who are preparing to be received into the Church); the Liturgy of the Faithful. 
The Preparation 
The Preparation, or Proskomidia, is so called because the gifts of bread and wine for the Liturgy are brought as gifts to God in thanks or in prayer for themselves or others, living and departed. With them are handed in the names of those whom people want the priests to pray for, living or departed. We bring in the special little loaves, called ‘prosphora’, or offertory bread, with names on slips of paper for the priest to read before the consecration of the gifts. In this way all those we specially want to be prayed for, both living and departed, are united with us in the Eucharist. 
The gifts needed for the liturgy are bread and wine. The bread is of pure white flour mixed with water and leavened. As we have said, these loaves are called prosphora. They are made of two parts, one on top of the other, to remind us of the two natures of Christ, Who was both God and man. The top part is stamped with a seal in the shape of a cross with the letters IC XP NI KA (‘Jesus Christ conquers’). Five prosphora are used for communion in memory of the five loaves with which Christ fed the people in the wilderness. The wine must be red, pure and sweet. 
The Eucharist is such a holy mystery that the bishops, priests and deacons who celebrate it must prepare themselves especially. The evening before, they read special prayers and keep fast (neither eat nor drink) until after the Liturgy. On coming to church in the morning, the priest prays before the holy doors that God will bless and strengthen him and send him grace for their service. He kisses the icons of Our Saviour and His Holy Mother, then bows, asking forgiveness for his sins. This is done because no one can take communion if he is not at peace. He then enters the sanctuary and puts on his vestments. With each item he puts on, he reads verses from the psalms which point to their special meaning. He then washes his hands as a sign of purity. 
The priest comes up to the table of preparation. He takes one of the five prosphora and marks it with the sign of the cross, saying: ‘In memory of our Lord and God and
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Saviour Jesus Christ’, and then with the spear cuts out a cubic particle and lifts it out of the bread. While doing this he reads the words of the Prophet Isaiah about Christ: ‘As a sheep to the slaughter He was led to the slaughter...And as a spotless lamb dumb before his shearer, so He openeth not His mouth. . . .’. This particle is called the Lamb, because it represents the suffering Saviour, Whose emblem in the Old Testament was the Paschal Lamb. The Lamb is laid to the top of the middle of the paten and cut crosswise from underneath, the priest saying: ‘The Lamb of God is sacrificed, who taketh away the sins of the world, for the life and salvation of the world’. After this he thrusts the spear into its right side, repeating the words of the Gospel: ‘One of the soldiers with a lance pierced his side; and blood and water came out forthwith’. At this moment wine, mixed with a little water, are poured into the chalice. The Lamb is the only bread which is consecrated for communion.  
The priest then takes the second prosphora and cuts out a small particle ‘in honour and memory’ of the Mother of God, ‘through whose prayers’ he asks God to accept this holy sacrifice. He puts it on the paten on the left of the Lamb, saying: ‘The queen stood at thy right hand’. 
From the third prosphora the priest cuts nine particles in honour of the nine ranks of saints: angels and archangels, prophets, apostles, fathers of the Church (bishops), martyrs, holy monks and nuns, unmercenary healers, the saint of the church with the saints of the day and Sts Joachim and Anna (the parents of the Mother of God), and St. John Chrysostom or St. Basil the Great, according to whose Liturgy is celebrated. These nine particles are set on the paten in three rows on the right of the Lamb.  
From the fourth prosphora the priest takes particles with prayers for the living members of the Church, the bishops, the rulers of the land and all the living; these he sets below the Lamb.  
From the fifth prosphora particles are taken in memory of the departed and put below the living.  
Then particles from prosphora sent in with names by the people are placed in the centre of the paten. So in this symbolic way the whole Church in heaven and earth is represented gathered round the Lamb, ‘the Bread of Life’, Her King and Redeemer. When all the particles are on the paten, the priest puts the star over them to keep them in place, saying, ‘And the star came and stood over where the Child was’, remembering the star of Bethlehem. He then covers the paten and chalice with the small veils and the large veil (the aer) as a symbol that the glory of God covers and makes the world beautiful, and prays that God should cover us with His grace.  
Then, in memory of the wise men who brought gifts to the newborn Saviour, the priest censes the gifts three times. He thanks God for granting us the Eucharist, asks Him to receive our gifts at His heavenly altar to ‘remember those Who offer it and those for whom they offer’. This means the priest and people who present the gifts and those who are to be prayed for. This is the end of the Preparation. It is said in a low voice inside the sanctuary behind closed holy doors and curtain. Meanwhile, a reader in the choir begins reading the Third and Sixth Hours, to prepare people’s minds for the Divine Liturgy. 
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The Preparation reminds us of Christ’s secret birth. As soon as He came on earth, Our Lord became the Lamb ready to sacrifice Himself for our sins. He was also the King Who gathered all believers around Himself as His servants. That is why at different parts of the service the veils represent Christ’s swaddling clothes or His winding sheet; the preparation table - the cave of Bethlehem and Golgotha; the paten - the manger and the tomb. The closed doors show that in the early years on earth, while He prepared to sacrifice Himself for our sins, Jesus lived hidden and unknown to the world which He had come to save. 
2. The Liturgy Of The Catechumens 
The Beginning of the Liturgy of the Catechumens and the Antiphons 
The next part of the Liturgy is called the Liturgy of the Catechumens. This is because penitents and those who are preparing for baptism are allowed to be present at it. This part consists of prayers, hymns and readings from the holy Scriptures. Now we relive Christ’s life on earth before the Passion. 
If there is a deacon, he stands before the closed holy doors and says: ‘Master, give the blessing’. And the priest from the sanctuary replies: ‘Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. The choir sings ‘Amen’. The deacon or priest then reads the Great Litany, asking God to give us peace from on high which we need to enter His Kingdom and to lead peaceful lives among ourselves. As usual, all litanies end with the mention of the Mother of God and the Saints and an exclamation in praise of the Holy Trinity. 
After praying for our needs, we sing to God antiphons, or anthems, of praise and thanksgiving, for His mercy. The greatest is the coming of Christ on earth to save us from death. The antiphons are divided into three parts in honour of the Holy Trinity, with the little litany between them. On ordinary Sundays the antiphons are verses from Psalm 102: ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul...and forget not all His benefits...Who saveth thy life from destruction; and crowneth thee with mercy and loving-kindness. Then comes Psalm 145: ‘Praise the Lord, O my soul. While 1 live will I praise the Lord: I will sing praises unto my God...’. The second antiphon ends with a hymn in praise of Christ and His All-Holy and Ever-Virgin Mother. For the third antiphon we sing the Beatitudes: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted...’ to the end, to remind us of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, when for the first time He proclaimed to the people His new teaching of love. On feast-days, verses from other psalms are sung with prophecies pointing to the event. 
b) The Little Entrance, the Hymns, the Thrice-Holy Hymn, the Epistle and the Gospel 
The psalms and prophecies prepared us for the coming of Christ. Now we see His first coming before the people. The holy doors are opened. The priest takes up the Gospels and hands them to the deacon, who raises it and carries it out through the north door, the priest following. A server with a lighted candle walks in front. They stand before the holy doors and the priest prays secretly, while the deacon says: ‘Wisdom. Stand aright’. The priest says in a low voice: ‘Blessed is the entrance of Thy saints always,
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now and for ever’. The deacon makes the sign of the cross with the Gospels and they enter the sanctuary. This represents Christ’s first coming among the people. The candle-bearer or deacon reminds us of the Holy Forerunner John the Baptist, who spoke of Him Who would follow him. On ordinary Sundays, the choir, as if seeing Christ Himself coming towards them, bows down and sings: ‘Come, let us adore and bow down before Christ: save us, Son of God...who sing unto Thee: Alleluia’.  
Then the hymns of the day, Troparia and Kontakia, (with resurrection ones on Sundays) are sung. The priest now gives praise to God: ‘For Thou art holy, O our God, and unto Thee do we give glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. The choir replies ‘Amen’ and sings the Thrice-Holy Hymn: ‘Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us’, three times. The priest now stands behind the holy table facing the people.  
A reader with the Epistles comes out to the middle of the church. The deacon calls: ‘Let us attend’, and the reader reads out the Prokimenon of the day, which the choir repeats. To show that one cannot otherwise listen to the Holy Word, the priest says, ‘Peace be with you all’, and the choir replies: ‘And with thy spirit’. The deacon again commands attention; the reader names the Epistle to be read and reads the lesson of the day. While the Epistle is being read the priest sits in his seat at the back of the sanctuary as one who has the same right to teach as the Apostles. Meanwhile the deacon censes the sanctuary, the icons and the people. This is a symbol of the grace spread throughout the world by the teaching of the Apostles and the coming of Christ through the Gospel which will be read next. The reading ends with the singing of ‘Alleluia’, for God the Word Incarnate is now coming.  
The deacon then brings out the Gospels from the sanctuary. A lighted candle is carried before them to remind us of the light of Christ’s teaching and of Himself as  ‘the Light of the World’. The deacon lays the book on a lectern placed in front of the open holy doors. The priest stands within the doors and bids the people: ‘Wisdom. Let us attend. Let us hear the holy Gospel. Peace be unto you all’. The deacon names the Evangelist, the choir sings, ‘Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee’, and the deacon reads the Gospel of the day. At the end we again give thanks to God: ‘Glory to Thee’. During the reading the people stand with bowed head as if Christ Himself were speaking. The Gospels are then carried back into the sanctuary and the holy doors closed. 
c) The Litanies 
After the Gospel, the Augmented Litany is said for all members of the Church. If there are any offerings for the dead, a special litany for them is said, that their sins may be forgiven and they be granted rest in the kingdom of heaven. The reading of the Gospel ends the part of the Liturgy representing our Lord’s life as a Teacher. It now passes on to recall His Passion and to the offering of the bloodless sacrifice, the mystery of the Eucharist. Only the ‘faithful’, the baptized, are allowed to be present. But before that there is the Litany for the Catechumens.  
These were people preparing for baptism, and special prayers are said for them that God will enlighten them with His truth and make them worthy to enter His Church. After this litany the catechumens are told to leave the church: ‘All catechumens depart. Thee faithful, again and again let us pray to the Lord’. Here ends the Liturgy
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of the Catechumens. Now most Orthodox are baptized as infants and there are often only a few catechumens. But the litanies remind us of our great privilege and make us humbly feel how unworthy we are of it and how we must still pray for the still unbaptized world around us. 
3. The Liturgy of the Faithful 
The Beginning of the Liturgy of the Faithful 
The Liturgy of the Faithful represents in symbols the Passion of Christ, His Crucifixion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension into heaven. 
Now the faithful alone remain in the church. The deacon says three short litanies asking for heavenly peace and grace. Meanwhile the priest unfolds the antimension, which will represent Christ’s tomb, and spreads it on the holy table. He prays to himself that the Lord may accept and bless the gifts and make him and the people worthy to take part in His mystical communion. 
After the litanies, the deacon says ‘Wisdom’, for Christ is present amongst us. The holy doors are opened. The choir sings the first part of the Cherubic Hymn: ‘We who mystically represent the Cherubim, who sing to the Life-Giving Trinity the ThriceHoly Hymn, let us now lay aside all earthly cares’. This means that we, the faithful, together with the invisible angels, will assist at the Eucharist. We must lay aside all our petty cares and try humbly and lovingly to think only of Christ, Who was crucified for us. While this is sung the priest prays silently before the holy table and the deacon censes the sanctuary, the icons and the people. Then the priest and deacon move to the table of preparation. The choir pauses. The priest hands the paten with the Lamb to the deacon, who raises it above his head. He himself takes up the chalice. They walk slowly in procession out of the north door and pass to the top of the steps outside the iconostasis. Lighted candles are carried before them. The holy gifts borne to the altar of sacrifice represent our Lord going forth to His Passion. We stand with bowed heads in awe and reverence.  
The priest and deacon pause before the open holy doors and face the people and say aloud: ‘May the Lord God remember in His Kingdom the bishops (by name), the rulers of the land, and ‘all Orthodox Christians always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages’. They enter the sanctuary and the choir finishes the Cherubic Hymn: ‘That we may receive the King of all who comes escorted by unseen armies of angels. Alleluia’. This is called the Great Entrance. In the sanctuary, the paten and chalice are placed on the spread antimension and covered with the large veil. The deacon recites verses on the Passion. The holy doors are closed and the curtain drawn. The priest continues to pray silently. The deacon comes out to say the Litany of Supplication, for the precious gifts that are set forth and for mercy.  
After the Litany we are again reminded of what each of us should offer to God to make the sacrifice perfect: peace, love for one another, unity in faith. The priest says, ‘Peace be unto you all’, and the deacon adds: ‘Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess...the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity Consubstantial and Undivided’, replies the choir, for us all. We stand as one family before God, we confess our common faith in Him, the Father of us all. No unbaptized
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may share with us the great mystery of His sacrifice. So formerly subdeacons and servers stood at the church doors to see that no stranger entered when the deacon proclaimed, ‘The doors, the doors. In wisdom let us attend’, and all the doors were closed. Now this is said to remind us to ‘close’ the doors of our soul and mind to all worldly thoughts. 
b) The Confession of Faith and the Consecration of the Gifts 
Here the curtain is drawn from the holy doors as a sign that faith alone lifts the veil from God’s mysteries. The choir or all the people sing the Creed: ‘I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth...’. The priest meanwhile raises the veil from the paten and chalice and waves it gently over the holy gifts. Before the Creed the priest and deacon give each other the kiss of peace, saying: ‘Christ is in our midst, is now and shall be’. It means that only if we love one another we may confess together our common faith and take part in the holy mystery.  
We have confessed our faith. The moment of the sacrifice is at hand. Once again the deacon reminds us: ‘Let us stand aright, let us stand with fear. Let us attend to offer the holy sacrifice in peace with pure and humble hearts. And the choir replies for us that we will offer to God ‘the mercy of peace, the sacrifice of praise’. Here the priest turns and faces the people from the sanctuary and blesses our resolve: ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all’. The people bow their heads. ‘And with thy spirit’, replies the choir. Again the priest bids us leave all earthly thoughts and says, ‘Let us lift up our hearts’, and we reply, ‘We lift them up unto the Lord’. 
The great mystery of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is about to begin. As Jesus Christ at the Last Supper first offered thanks to God before breaking the bread, so the priest says first of all: ‘Let us give thanks to the Lord’. We bow in reverent thanksgiving, and the choir sings: ‘It is meet and right to worship the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity Consubstantial and Undivided’. Meanwhile the priest reads silently a prayer of thanks to God for all His great mercies, ‘which we know and know not, manifest and concealed’, for granting us the holy sacrament of His Most Pure Body and Most Precious Blood. He beseeches God to accept our gifts, though hosts of Cherubim and Seraphim are ever around his throne in glory, who, ‘borne aloft on their wings’. Now he says aloud: ‘Singing, crying, proclaiming the hymn of victory, saying’ (the choir takes it up and sings): ‘Holy, holy holy, Lord God of Sabaoth. Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest’. The star is now lifted from the paten.  
The priest continues his secret prayer. He says: ‘In company with these blessed hosts (the angels) we glorify Thee, Thine Only-begotten Son and Holy Spirit’. He recalls God’s love for the world, that He gave His only Son that those who believed in Him might have everlasting life. He recalls how ‘in the night in which He was betrayed, or rather surrendered Himself for the life of the world’, He took the bread into His holy, pure hands, broke, blessed and gave it to His Apostles, saying: ‘Take, eat, this is My Body broken for you for the remission of sins...’. These words the priest says aloud, while the deacon points to the paten and the choir reply ‘Amen’. The priest then says to himself. ‘Likewise, He took the chalice after He had supped, saying (aloud): Drink
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ye all of this, for this is my Blood of the New Testament, shed for you and for many for the remission of sins’. The deacon points to the chalice. The choir sings, ‘Amen’.  
The deacon now with bowed head crosses his hands and raises or elevates the paten with the Holy Lamb and the chalice, while the priest recalls Christ’s commandment to ‘do this in remembrance’ of Him, prays secretly, and remembering all Christ’s mercy and all He has done for us - His Passion, the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection, the Ascension and the Second Glorious Coming - he says aloud: ‘Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee on behalf of all and for all’. This means that all we have comes from God, and that we, His servants, can but offer Him from His own gifts on behalf of all people. And the faithful reply: ‘We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we thank Thee, O Lord, and we pray to Thee, O our God’. This is the most solemn moment of the holy mystery.  
The choir sings this hymn slowly, while the priest prays in a low voice that God may send His Holy Spirit upon the offered Gifts and change them into the True Body and Blood of Christ. ‘O gracious Lord, take not away from us Thy most Holy Spirit, Whom at the third hour Thou didst send down upon Thine Apostles, but renew us who pray unto Thee’. Then the deacon, bowing his head, points to the Bread, saying, ‘Master, bless the holy Bread’. The priest makes the sign of the cross over the bread and says: ‘And make this Bread precious Body of Thy Christ’. The deacon replies: ‘Amen. Bless, Master, the holy chalice’. The priest blesses the wine, saying: ‘And that which is in this chalice precious Blood of Thy Christ’. The deacon replies: ‘Amen. Master, bless both holy gifts’. The priest makes a large sign of the cross over the paten and the chalice, saying in awe and trembling: ‘Changing them by Thy Holy Spirit. Amen, Amen, Amen’. At this solemn moment, by God’s will and power of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The priest and deacon bow to the ground in adoration.  
The people all this time stand, or on weekdays kneel, with bowed heads in reverence and awe before this mystery of God’s love for us. It is as if we were present at the Last Supper of our Lord Jesus, His Crucifixion and Death for our sins. All this He has done for us, asking for nothing in return but our love, and that we should ‘do this’ - the sacrament of holy communion in remembrance of Him, to win everlasting life with Him. The priest continues to pray for those who are about to take communion that they may be cleansed by the Holy Spirit and have their sins forgiven.  
He also remembers all the saints throughout the ages, that all who partake of the Body and Blood of Christ may be united together with our forefathers and all those departed in faith and hope of resurrection - Prophets, Patriarchs, Apostles, Martyrs and ‘all righteous spirits made perfect’, and out loud: ‘Especially, our Most Holy, Most Pure, Most Blessed and Glorious Lady, the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary’. The choir sings the hymn of the Mother of God: ‘It is meet indeed to bless Thee Birthgiver of God, ever blessed and most pure and Mother of our God. More honourable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, who without defilement didst bear God the Word, thee, true Birthgiver of God, we magnify’. The priest meanwhile prays for all the living, mentioning aloud the bishops, that he may rightly and in peace teach the word of God’s truth in the Church. The choir replies: ‘And all mankind’. 
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The mystic sacrifice is offered, all the members of Church living and departed are united together. The priest prays that all may ‘with one mouth and one heart glorify and praise Thy most honourable and majestic Name, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages...’. ‘Amen’, replies the choir, a sign that we have all taken part in the offering of the sacrifice. The priest ends this most solemn part of the Liturgy as he began it - with a blessing: ‘And may the mercies of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ be with you all’. ‘And with thy spirit’, replies the choir. 
c) Preparation for Communion and the End of the Liturgy 
After the consecration of the holy gifts those who are going to take communion prepare themselves to receive it. Not to be quite unworthy of this, we must keep minds and hearts on spiritual things. So the deacon comes out of the sanctuary and says the Litany of Supplication. It begins with a petition that God will accept the consecrated Gifts upon His heavenly altar and send us His grace and gifts of the Holy Spirit. We then pray for an angel of peace, the forgiveness of sins, and right through to the end of the Litany. The priest meanwhile prays that God may count us worthy to receive His holy mysteries, ‘not unto judgement’, but in ‘communion of the Holy Spirit...and confidence towards Thee’. He then says aloud: ‘Vouchsafe, O Lord, that with boldness and without condemnation we may dare to call on Thee, the heavenly God as Father, and to say...’. The choir now sings the Lord’s Prayer. For now, after Christ’s sacrifice for us, we may come to Him as His children and have the right to call Him ‘Our Father’.  
Once more the priest calls ‘Peace be unto you all’ and bids us bow our heads while he prays secretly that God may look down mercifully upon His people and send them His divine help. The curtain is again drawn across the holy doors, as the stone that sealed the tomb. The deacon exhorts: ‘Let us attend’, and goes into the sanctuary. The priest takes up the holy Lamb and lifts it above the paten and says: ‘The Holy things unto the holy’. This means that only those who are holy can receive the sacrament. The choir reply: ‘One is holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father. Amen’. Meaning that we are all unworthy in ourselves, because no one is holy of himself unless made holy through Jesus Christ. We are saved only through His mercy, for we are always unworthy. 
Then, to represent Christ’s sufferings on the Cross, the priest takes up the Lamb with great reverence and care and breaks it into four parts, saying: ‘Broken and distributed is the Lamb of God, Who is broken but not divided, ever eaten and never consumed, and Who hallows those who partake’. He places the four parts on the paten in the shape of a cross: IC at the top, XC at the bottom, NI to the left and KA to the right. He then takes the upper portion with the letters IC, makes the sign of the cross, puts it into the chalice, and the deacon pours boiling hot water into it. The priest and deacon now take communion. The priest takes another particle of the Lamb and breaks it. They once more pray God to forgive them their sins, ask forgiveness of one another and read the prayers before communion. Then the priest, bowing low over the holy table with fear and reverence, takes a particle, saying, ‘The most holy Body of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ is given to me, Priest (name), for the remission of sins and life everlasting’, and consumes it.  
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Then the deacon approaches and asks the priest to give him a particle. The priest gives it him, saying: ‘The most holy Body of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ is given to thee, Deacon (name)...’. The priest then takes up the holy chalice, saying: ‘Moreover, the most precious Blood of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ is given me...’. using the same words as before, and drinks three times. He then gives communion to the deacon as he did before. After communion they both say a prayer of thanksgiving. The priest then cuts up the two other portions of the Lamb, places them in the chalice. During this time the choir sings a communion hymn. On Sundays it is ‘Praise the Lord from heaven, praise Him in the highest. Alleluia’, and other hymns. Or the reader may read the prayers before communion or read from the Canon of the feast.  
The curtain is opened, for Christ is risen, the tomb is unsealed and the holy doors are opened. The deacon holding the chalice - Christ risen from the tomb - appears and calls the faithful: ‘With fear of God and faith, draw near’. Draw near to the risen Lord Who is present, be joined to Him in the great mystery of communion. We bow to the ground as before Jesus Himself. The choir sings, ‘Blessed is He Who cometh in the Name of the Lord. God is the Lord and hath appeared unto us’. Those who are to receive communion repeat after the priest the communion prayer which every Orthodox Christian should know by heart: 
 ‘I believe and I confess, O Lord, that Thou art in truth the Christ, the Son of the living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. Moreover, I believe that this is indeed Thy most pure Body, and that this is indeed Thy most precious Blood. Therefore I pray unto Thee: Have mercy upon me, forgive me mine transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, knowingly or unknowingly: and deem me worthy to partake without condemnation of Thy most pure Mysteries, unto remission of sins and life everlasting. Amen. Make me this day a partaker of Thy mystical Supper, O Son of God. For I will not reveal Thy mysteries to Thine enemies, nor will I give Thee a kiss as did Judas, but, like the thief I will remember Thee: Remember me, O Lord, in Thy kingdom. Not unto judgement, nor unto condemnation be the partaking of Thy mysteries unto me, O Lord, but unto the healing of soul and body’.  
Then one by one, with hands folded on the breast, left over right, we come up in fear, love and humility and receive communion from the priest, who says: ‘The servant of God (Christian name) partaketh of the most holy Body and most precious Blood of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, unto remission of sins and life everlasting’. (With small children the words are: ‘unto health of soul and body and life everlasting.’) During communion the choir sings: ‘Receive the Body of Christ, taste ye of the source of immortality’. Each then, without making the sign of the cross, gently kisses the chalice, makes a reverence and moves quietly away. They each go and take a small piece of prosphora and drink some wine from the nearby table, to make sure that they have consumed the Body and Blood. We should not kneel after communion; we have received Christ and our souls and bodies are glorified by His Holy Spirit. 
After communion, the priest places the chalice on the holy table and adds into it all the particles from the paten, remembering our Lady, the Saints, the living and the departed - a symbol that all the members of the Church redeemed by His precious Blood are united with Christ. The priest then appears within the holy doors and
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blesses the people: ‘O God, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance.’ The choir points out what mercies we have received in the hymn, ‘We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, we have found the true faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity, for He hath saved us’. The deacon and priest meanwhile stand by the holy table. The priest censes the paten and chalice, saying secretly: ‘Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and Thy glory throughout all the earth’ three times.  
He then takes up the paten, places it on the deacon’s head, who bears it silently past the holy doors and puts it down on the table of preparation. The priest bows before the chalice, takes it up, saying in a low voice, ‘Blessed is God’, then turns to the people, raise it and says:  ‘Always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages’. This represents the Ascension of Christ. The people bow, or on weekdays, kneel. The choir replies ‘Amen’ and sings the hymn of Pentecost: ‘Let our mouths be filled with Thy praises, O Lord, that we may sing of Thy glory. For Thou hast counted us worthy to partake of Thy holy, divine, immortal and life-giving mysteries. Preserve us in Thy holiness, that we may learn of Thy righteousness all the day long. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. This represents Christ’s last blessing and promise to His disciples: All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth, and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen’ (Matthew 28). 
Here the deacon says a short litany of thanks for communion. The priest meantime folds up the antimension, makes the sign of the cross over it with the Gospels, lays it on the holy table and places the book upon it, saying: ‘For Thou art our hallowing and unto Thee do we send up the glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever...’. He then invites the people, ‘Let us depart in peace’, and the choir replies, ‘In the name of the Lord’, that is, with God’s blessing. The priest now comes down the steps among the people to read the last prayer just below the centre, or ambo, of the raised platform, that is, beneath the steps in front of the iconostasis. He asks God to hallow those who love His house, to give peace to the Church, the whole world and all His people, to bless and guard His inheritance.  
The choir sings, ‘Blessed is the name of the Lord, now and ever’, three times. The priest comes out of the holy doors and gives the sermon. After this he gives a blessing. He then says the dismissal: ‘Glory to Thee, Christ, O God our hope, glory to Thee’. The choir sings: ‘Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit... The priest comes out with the cross and turns to the people, saying: ‘May Christ, our true God, by the prayers of His most Holy Mother and the saints (by name), have mercy upon us and save us, for He is good and loves mankind’. The people come up to kiss the cross and receive small pieces of prosphora. These are particles from the five prosphora which were cut at the Preparation. It is done in memory of the lovesuppers of the early Church in which all took part. It was and is given to those of us who did not have communion, so that we too might in a way join those who had. 
After the prayers of thanksgiving are read, the priest and deacon read their last prayers and consume what is left of the holy gifts with proper reverence. They then take off their vestments, kiss the holy table, venerate the icons and leave the church.
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1. Fasting and Feasting 
For about half the year the Church bids us fast and pray particularly intensely. This means that we do not eat meat, fish, eggs, cheese, butter and milk - all the animal products. On very strict fast days we are not allowed wine or oil either. (Fasting is relaxed for the sick, small children and pregnant and breast-feeding mothers).  Devout married couples, but only by mutual agreement, also abstain from marital relations, in accordance with the recommendation of the Apostle Paul (I Corinthians 7,5). We give up our animal, carnal natures, for we are called to re-enter Paradise, for Adam and Eve, and all men until Noah, did not eat meat. And Adam and Eve did not have marital relations in Paradise. Fasting means not only abstaining from food, but above all abstaining from the passions and bad thoughts, being unselfish and repenting of our sins and faults, by deepening our prayer. It means training our bodies and souls to subdue their desires and learn not to care for material things, so that we may be fit to receive spiritual grace. And the money that we save from eating more modestly and less, we give as alms. Almsgiving is a great help to our souls. 
In the Old Testament, kings and prophets and all the people fasted and prayed before setting out to do great deeds. St. John the Baptist fasted all his life in the desert, where he fed on locusts and wild honey, to prepare himself to preach Christ’s coming. Christ Himself fasted for forty days in the wilderness to set us an example, and told His disciples that the evil spirits of passions and sins could only be driven out by prayer and fasting. 
So the Church follows Our Lord’s teaching and sets apart special days and times for self-denial and repentance, called fasts. Usually these times are before great feasts, to prepare ourselves for the holy event we celebrate, and in honour of them. Some fasts last only one day, others several weeks. Wednesday and Friday of nearly every week are fast days in remembrance of Christ’s betrayal by Judas and of His Passion and Death. (However, there are a few fast-free weeks in the year, like those after Easter or Christmas). Other one-day fasts are on the eve of our Lord’s Baptism; the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross; the feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, in memory of his life of fasting and martyr’s death. 
There are also four fasts, each lasting some weeks. The fast to prepare for the great festival of the Birth of Christ is called the Christmas or Nativity Fast. It is also known as ‘Advent’ or St Philip’s Fast, since it begins on the feast-day of the Holy Apostle Philip, and lasts for forty days, from 15 November to 24 December inclusive (28 November to 6 January on the civil calendar). The fast in honour of the Mother of God lasts a fortnight, from 1 to 14 August (14 to 27 August inclusive in the civil calendar) – the feast of her Dormition or Falling Asleep. A fast in honour of the Holy Apostles Peter and St. Paul and their martyrdom begins the week after Trinity Day and lasts until 29 June (12 July on the civil calendar). This is St. Peter and St. Paul’s Day. The longest fast is Lent, known as the Great Fast, which begins seven weeks
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before Easter, so that we may all prepare in prayer and repentance for our Lord’s Passion, and with clean hearts share the joy of His Resurrection. 
Besides Easter and the Twelve Great Feasts, nine of which are fixed, three of which are, with Easter, movable (Palm Sunday, the Ascension and Pentecost), there are others in honour of Our Lord, Our Lady and great saints. The main ones are: the Protecting Veil of the Most Holy Mother of God on 1 October (14 October on the civil calendar); the Holy Archangel Michael and all Angels on 8 November (21 November in the civil calendar); St. Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, on 6 December (19 December in the civil calendar) and 9 May (21 May in the civil calendar); the Circumcision of Christ on 1 January (14 January in the civil calendar); the Three Great Hierarchs on 30 January (12 February in the civil calendar); the Nativity of St John the Baptist on 24 June (7 July in the civil calendar); the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul on 29 June (12 July in the civil calendar) (in honour of the Apostles there is a fast which begins a week after Trinity Day and lasts until 28 June); the Beheading of St. John the Baptist on 29 August (11 September in the civil calendar) (a day of fasting); also the church’s patronal feast, if it is not one of the above, and the feast days of local saints or icons. 
2. The Fixed Feasts 
September to November  
i) The Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God - 8 September (21 September in the civil calendar) 
Her parents, Sts. Joachim and Anna, had no children for many years. They prayed long that God should send them a child, and promised that if they had one they would give it to serve God. He heard their prayer and a daughter was born to them, who afterwards became the Mother of God. Here is the Troparion of the feast: 
‘Thy Nativity, O Mother of God and Virgin, hath proclaimed joy to all the universe; for from thee rose the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, Who destroyed the curse, gave the blessing and abolished death, bestowing on us eternal life’. 
ii) The Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross - 14 September (27 September in the civil calendar) 
This feast is in honour of the Holy Cross, which was found by the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great (according to one tradition she came from Britain). Church history tells how Helena always longed to find the Cross on which Christ was crucified. She went to Jerusalem to look for it over three hundred years after the Crucifixion. She went to Golgotha and ordered men to dig where tradition said it had stood. A Cross was found, but how could they be sure it was the true one? There is a tradition that a funeral was passing by. It was stopped and the dead man was laid upon the Cross. He came to life. Then the Archbishop and the priests raised the Cross above the crowds who had flocked to the spot. The Empress and the great mass of people fell on their knees, bowing to the ground and crying: ‘Lord, have mercy on us’. 
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The Holy Cross remained in Jerusalem in the Temple of the Resurrection on Golgotha for nearly three hundred years. In the year 614, the Persians plundered Jerusalem, burnt the Temple and carried away the Cross with other treasures. When peace was made, the Cross was given back to the Greeks. The Emperor Heraclius, barefoot and in sackcloth, with a great mass of people following, bore the Cross to Golgotha, where it was set up and adored. Since then the day has been a feast. It is also a day of strict fasting in honour of Our Lord’s Passion, and to remind us that all Orthodox must follow Christ, each bearing his own cross of trials or sorrow. 
At the Vigil on the eve of the feast, at the end of the great hymn of glory, the priest takes up the cross, which is decorated with flowers, from the holy table, places it on his head and carries it out of the sanctuary to the middle of the church. The deacon carries a lighted candle and censer. The cross is laid on a stand and censed. Then the priests and people bow to the ground three times, while the choir sings: ‘Before Thy cross, we bow down, O Master, and we glorify Thy holy resurrection’. After that the people come up to kiss the cross. It remains exposed for a week. This is the Troparion of the Cross: 
‘O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance, granting victory to Orthodox Christians over our enemies, and by Thy Cross preserving Thy habitation’. 
iii) The Presentation in the Temple of the Most Holy Mother of God – 21 November (4 December in the civil calendar) 
Joachim and Anna had promised to give up their child to the service of God. So when she was three years old the Holy Virgin Mary was brought to Jerusalem to the Temple. She came with her father and mother. At the foot of the steps she was met by other girls, all carrying lighted lamps and singing psalms. The holy child mounted the steps to the sanctuary alone. There the high priest himself met her. Inspired by the Spirit, he actually led her into the Holy of Holies, where he himself entered only once a year. It was a sign that she herself one day would become the ‘Temple of the Most High’ - the Mother of God. After the Presentation, says the tradition, she returned home with her parents. At seven years old she returned and lived with other maidens near the Temple. Troparion: 
‘Today is prefigured the goodwill of God and the preaching of the salvation of mankind: the Virgin plainly appeareth in the temple of God, and already proclaimeth Christ to all. To her let us too cry out with loud voice: Rejoice, O fulfilment of the providence of the Creator’. 
December to February 
i) The Nativity of Christ (Christmas) 25 December (7 January in the civil calendar) 
We know the story of Christ’s birth on earth: how the Holy Virgin Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem; how no room was found for them anywhere in the little town; and how they sheltered in a cave. There the Son of God was born and laid in a manger. We hear of the shepherds tending their flocks by night; how suddenly a great light shone upon them and an angel of God told them the glad news that the Saviour
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of the world had come to earth. Hosts of angels sang ‘Glory in the highest’. And later the wise men of the East followed the Star and came to worship the Christ-Child. 
Of all the fixed feasts, the Christmas services are perhaps the most joyful and bright. To be worthy to greet it, the Church calls us to prepare for Christmas with a forty day fast, called ‘Advent’ (which means the coming), which begins on the 15 November (28 November in the civil calendar). Already from the 21 November (4 December in the civil calendar) the Nativity Canon is sung at Matins at the Vigil Service. This is the irmos of the first ode: ‘Christ is born - glorify Him! Christ comes from heaven greet Him! Christ is on earth, be exalted! Sing unto the Lord, all the earth, and sing joyfully, all ye peoples, for He hath triumphed in glory’. 
On the last two Sundays before Christmas the Church honours the Old Testament faithful who believed in the coming Redeemer. The first of these Sundays is called the ‘Sunday of the Holy Forefathers’. This is in remembrance of all the Righteous of the Old Testament, the Old Testament Patriarchs, from Adam to Joseph, the Virgin Mary’s betrothed, and of all the Prophets, from Samuel to the Forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist. The second is called the ‘Sunday of the Holy Fathers’, and is in remembrance of Christ’s earthly ancestors through the Virgin Mary. 
The day before Christmas is a day of strict fasting. Many people have nothing to eat or drink till dusk: they watch for the first star in memory of the Star of Bethlehem. If the day before Christmas falls on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, the services begin with the ‘Royal Hours’. They are different from the ordinary Hours because special psalms are read, which point to the feast. Then, after the hymns, at each hour there are special Old Testament readings, an Epistle and a Gospel about the birth of Christ, are read. All four Hours are joined together. They are called Royal because Emperors and Kings used to go in procession to this service. They are held only before the main events of our Lord’s life on earth: the Nativity, Baptism, and Great Friday. After the Hours comes Vespers joined to the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. If the day before Christmas falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the Royal Hours are read on the Friday before. At the end of the Liturgy of St Basil, the icon of the Nativity and a lighted candle are placed in the middle of the church and the Troparion and the Kontakion of the feast are sung.  
In the evening, that is Christmas Eve, comes the Vigil Service. The Vigil Service for the Nativity begins not with Vespers, but with Great Compline (longer than ordinary Compline), when the Prophecy of Isaiah is sung: ‘God is with us! Take heed, O ye peoples, and submit, for God is with us! For unto us a Child is born...And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace’, with the oft repeated refrain of Great Compline, ‘for God is with us!’ to tell of the joy of the faithful that God Emmanuel is come to live in their midst. At Matins the church is full of light and the priest wears shining vestments. All the hymns and the Canon sing of the glory of the Infant Christ. Christmas is a special holy day for children. That is why children are brought to communion to receive the grace of the Christ-Child and to draw nearer to Him. On Christmas Day itself the Liturgy is celebrated.  
Here is the Troparion: 
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‘Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, hath shone forth to the world the light of wisdom: for in it those who served the stars, were taught by a star to adore Thee, the Sun of righteousness, and to know Thee, the Dayspring from on High. O Lord, glory to Thee’. 
And the Kontakion:  
‘Today the Virgin giveth birth to Him Who is above all creation; and the earth offereth the cave to Him whom none can approach. Angels with shepherds give glory, and wise men journey with the star, since for our sakes hath been born the young Child, the God from before eternity’. 
ii) The Baptism of our Lord (Theophany) – 6 January (19 January in the civil calendar) 
We know from the Gospel story how Christ came to St. John on the bank of the river Jordan and told him to baptize Him ‘to fulfil all righteousness’. So John baptized Him. And as Jesus came out of the water, the voice of God the Father was heard from heaven calling Him His ‘beloved Son’. And the Holy Spirit in the form of a Dove came down from the Father, from Whom He proceeds (John 15,26) onto the Son. This festival is also called Theophany, a Greek word which means the Revelation of God, because the great mystery of the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is now revealed. 
The Theophany services are like those of Christmas. On the day before Theophany, a strict fast day, first there are the Royal Hours as at Christmas. Later, after Vespers and the Liturgy of St Basil the Great, there is the great blessing of the waters. A large vessel full of water stands in the middle of the church, with candles around. In front of it the Cross and the Gospel are laid on a small table. After the Liturgy the priest and the deacon, the servers with lighted candles and censer, come out of the sanctuary, while the choir sings the stichira: ‘Lo, the voice of the Lord is heard upon the waters: come, all ye, and receive the spirit of wisdom, the spirit of truth, the spirit of the fear of God from Christ revealed’. Readings from the Old Testament are read about the symbol of ‘the  living waters’ which will make the wilderness blossom again; the Epistle is about baptism ‘by the cloud and the sea’, and the Gospel about our Lord’s baptism. A litany is said. We pray God to send His Holy Spirit and consecrate the water; to heal and make pure all those who drink of it.  
Then the priest reads a prayer, which glorifies God Who created the world by His mighty word: ‘The sun praises Thee, the moon glorifies Thee, the stars wait upon Thee, the waters work for Thee, the Lord of all, Who so loved the world that he came down to earth to save it’. The priest prays that God ‘in His loving-kindness will send His Holy Spirit and make holy this water’. He also prays for the rulers and bishops of the country, the people, and all the world. Then the priest raises the cross and plunges it three times in the water, while the choir sings the Troparion of the Baptism: ‘When Thou wast baptized in the Jordan, O Lord, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest: for the Voice of the Father bore witness unto Thee, calling Thee His beloved Son; and the spirit in the form of a dove confirmed His word. O Christ our God, Who hast appeared and enlightened the world, glory to Thee’.  
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At the end of the service the people drink the holy water and their foreheads are sprinkled with it as they kiss the cross. They also take some to their homes. This ceremony is in commemoration of Christ’s Baptism, and originally many catechumens were baptized on this day. On the evening of the day before Theophany, Theophany Eve, Great Compline and Matins are celebrated at the Vigil, just as on Christmas Eve. 
On the day of the Baptism of Christ itself there is the Liturgy, of St. John Chrysostom or of St. Basil the Great, - it depends on the day of the week. Instead of the ThriceHoly Hymn is sung: ‘All ye that have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ, Alleluia’. Where possible, after the Liturgy there are processions to the seashore, to rivers, lakes or open wells, and the waters are blessed by plunging the cross into them. This is in memory of the ancient custom in Jerusalem, when the Patriarch and people went to the River Jordan to hold this service. Therefore this is called ‘the procession to the Jordan’. 
iii) The Presentation of Christ In The Temple (‘The Meeting Of The Lord’) – 2 February (15 February in the civil calendar). 
This feast takes place exactly forty days after Christmas. It was a law of the Old Testament that forty days after his birth an eldest son should be dedicated to God and presented at the Temple of Jerusalem. So the Infant Christ was also brought there by His Mother and Joseph. There lived at the time in Jerusalem a holy old man called Simeon. He had long been waiting for the coming of Christ the Saviour, and had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen Him.  
On the day Jesus that was brought to the Temple, Simeon was moved by the Holy Spirit to come there too. When he saw the Infant, he took Him in his arms, blessed God, and said: ‘Lord now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation’. He called Jesus the Saviour of the world, the Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of the people, Israel. He also foretold to the Mother of God that a sword would pierce her soul, meaning Her Son’s death on the Cross. An old prophetess, Anna, who lived near the Temple, also came there and spoke of Him to all who were awaiting the Messiah in Jerusalem.  
Here is the Troparion:  
‘Rejoice, O Birthgiver of God, Virgin full of grace; for from thee hath risen the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, enlightening those in darkness: make glad also, O righteous elder, who receiveth in thine arms Him who setteth free our souls, bestowing on us resurrection.  
March to August 
i) The Annunciation to the Most Holy Mother of God (Lady Day) - 25 March (7 April in the civil calendar) 
When she had finished her preparation in the Temple, the Holy Virgin Mary lived in Nazareth. Her parents had passed away and she was betrothed to an old man called Joseph, who was her guardian. There she kept house and spun, but spent much time in
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prayer and reading the Scriptures. Church Tradition says that one day she was reading the Prophecy of Isaiah that Christ would be born on earth of a virgin, and said to herself. ‘Who will this wonderful maiden be? How happy I should be if I were allowed to serve her’. And suddenly, as the Apostle Luke tells us, the Archangel Gabriel appeared before her, with the greeting, ‘Rejoice, thou that art full of grace! The Lord is with Thee, blessed art Thou among women’.  
The gentle and meek Holy Virgin was awed by the sight of the Archangel and wondered what he meant. The Archangel then said that she had found grace with God, and by the power of the Holy Spirit would give birth to a Son, Who would be called the Son of God. St. Mary, always humble and obedient to the will of God, replied: ‘I am the Lord’s handmaiden; so be it unto me according to thy word’. The feast of the Annunciation is one of the greatest holy days. The Church calls it ‘the beginning of our salvation’ - of Christ’s coming to earth.  
It nearly always falls in Lent, sometimes during Great Week. But the radiant joy of the service is not dimmed even when it happens on Great Friday. Even on this day of sadness and mourning there is a Liturgy. The priest wears pale blue vestments (as for all feasts of the heavenly Mother of God), and the hymns tell of the gladness of our coming salvation. It is sometimes called ‘a second Easter’, because it marks the beginning, while Easter itself is the crown. There was a legend that on Lady Day even birds did not build their nests, but praised the Lord in song. This is the Troparion: 
‘Today is the beginning of our salvation and the revelation of the mystery from eternity: the Son of God becometh the Son of the Virgin, and Gabriel proclaimeth good tidings of grace. Let us, therefore, cry out with him to the Birthgiver of God, Rejoice, thou that art full of grace, the Lord is with thee!’ 
ii) The Transfiguration of Christ - 6 August (19 August in the civil calendar) 
Not long before His Passion, our Lord took His disciples Peter, James and John up to Mount Tabor to pray. While Jesus prayed, a wonderful change came over Him: both in His divine and human natures, He was transfigured by the Holy Spirit. His face shone with a radiant light, and His clothes became white as snow. Moses and Elijah appeared on each side of Him and spoke with Him. The disciples gazed in wonder. And suddenly a voice was heard from Heaven saying.. ‘This is My beloved Son: hear Him’.  
The disciples fell on their faces in fear. But Jesus touched them, and when they looked up the light had faded and our Lord looked just as usual. Jesus Christ showed himself in glory to His disciples to strengthen their faith before His approaching crucifixion and death. He knew that they would be frightened and bewildered to see Him seized and tortured like an ordinary man, and that they might doubt. So in His lovingkindness He did this to give them courage. The link with the Passion is still maintained, for this feast falls exactly forty days before the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross in September. This is the Troparion: 
‘O Thou who wast transfigured upon the mountain, Christ our God, showing to Thy disciples Thy glory, as they were able to bear it: may Thy everlasting light shine forth
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even on us sinners, by the prayers of the Birthgiver of God, O Giver of Light, glory to Thee’. 
After the service it is a custom to bless the fruits of the earth, which are brought to church. In Palestine it was the season of the grape harvest, and the first-fruits were blessed in token that ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof’. In England it is the custom to bring apples or other fruit to church for blessing on this day. 
iii) The Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God – 15 August (28 August in the civil calendar) 
We know how when the Lord was nailed to the Cross, His Mother kept watch beside it with the John the Apostle, and how Jesus said to him: ‘This is thy mother’. From that time on St John took the Mother of God to his home and cared as a son for her, till she passed away in Jerusalem. Church Tradition tells us that the time of her repose was announced to her by the Archangel Gabriel. She wished to bid farewell to the Apostles, and, inspired by the Holy Spirit, they all came in time from the places where they were preaching.  
All, that is, but Thomas; he arrived three days after her body had been buried in Gethsemane. He wished to see her body, but when the tomb was opened it was empty. The same night, tradition tells us, when all the Apostles were together for the breaking of the Bread, she appeared to them, surrounded by angels, in heavenly glory. The Church believes that Christ has raised his Mother from the dead before the general resurrection. A fortnight’s fast in honour of Our Lady, the Queen of Heaven, is kept to prepare us for the day of her passing from earth. The Troparion is:  
‘In giving birth thou didst keep thy virginity: in falling asleep thou didst not forsake the world, O Birthgiver of God. Thou art passed over into Life, thou who art the Mother of Life, and by thy prayers thou dost deliver our souls from death’. 
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1. Lent  
Lent and the Weeks before Lent 
i) Introduction 
All the movable feasts depend on Easter, which is the feast of feasts, the centre of the Church Year. All the services are adapted to it. Some are to prepare us to greet it in the right spirit, others continue its celebration afterwards and show us the blessings it has given us. A long fast called Lent, or the Great Fast, prepares us for the holy day of Christ’s resurrection. It lasts seven weeks: forty days in memory of Our Lord’s fasting in the desert, and Passion Week, also called Great and Holy Week, in honour of His Passion. Palm Sunday and the Sundays which come inbetween are part of it too. A special book contains all the services of Lent, it is called the ‘Lenten Triodion’. Three weeks before Lent the Church prepares us with special prayers, hymns and readings. 
ii) Zacchaeus Sunday and the First, Second and Third Sundays before Lent 
The first sign of the approach of Lent is the Sunday when we read the Gospel of Zacchaeus the publican or tax-collector (Luke 19,1-10). This is a Gospel of repentance and tells us that this is what we will need in order to meet Lent. 
The next Sunday, the First Sunday before Lent, is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. The Sunday Gospel tells us this story to show us how conceit and pride in virtues do not count in God’s eyes. A sinner, if he is humble and confesses his faults and repents, is nearer God’s love than the man who prides himself on his outward good works and despises his fellow-men. The hymns and Canon of the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee speak to us of humility. To move our hearts to repentance, special hymns to Christ and His Most Holy Mother are sung at the Matins of the Vigil from this Sunday until the Fifth Sunday in Lent: ‘Open the gates of repentance to me, O Giver of Life, for my soul longeth for Thy holy temple, though its own bodily temple is wholly defiled. But Thou, in Thy bounty, cleanse it according to Thy lovingkindness’. ‘O Mother of God, lead me into the path of salvation, for I have hardened my soul by shameful sins, and have spent all my life in sloth. Save me, then, by Thy prayers from all impurity’. 
On the week following this Sunday there is no fasting, not even on Wednesday and Friday. This is to remind us not to fall into the formalistic and ritualistic sin of the Pharisee, who sinned because he kept only the letter of the law, but failed to keep the spirit also. 
The Second Sunday is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, because the Sunday Gospel tells that parable. It shows us what happens to those who forsake the Father’s house and follow their own will and passions. But it also teaches us never to doubt our heavenly Father’s love and forgiveness if we come back to Him. To remind us that we have lost our heavenly home through our sins, the song of the captive Jews (Psalm
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136) is sung at Matins after the Polyeleion: ‘By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion’. 
On the Saturday before the Third Sunday, the Sunday of the Last Judgement, there is a special memorial service for the departed. They can no longer do acts of repentance, so it is for us to ask for God’s mercy upon them.  
The Gospel for this Third Sunday is of Our Lord’s prophecy about the end of the world, His Second Coming, and the Last Judgement. This is to remind us that though we trust in God’s loving mercy, He is also the just judge of all we have done on earth. He will not look on our cleverness, riches, fame and success; all our Lord will ask of us is whether we have done the simplest things that can be done by any one, however poor or small - just to be kind and helpful to other people, simply and humbly, without being proud of our goodness. For the Pharisee, too, was  good, he gave alms and made a great show, but he loved only himself and despised poor and humble people. 
From the Monday after this Sunday of the Last Judgement we give up eating meat, but can still have fish, eggs, cheese, butter and milk, with pancakes for example, before giving them up as well, for Lent. This is why some people also call this Sunday ‘Cheesefare Sunday’ and the week ‘Cheesefare Week’. This week is the door to Lent. To accustom the faithful to Lenten services there is no Liturgy on Wednesday and Friday. Instead, the service of the Lenten Hours is held. The Prayer of Ephraim the Syrian is said at each hour, everyone kneeling and bowing to the ground three times: ‘O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust for power and idle talk. But revive rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother, for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen’. In all the prayers and hymns of this week we are urged to watch over ourselves and fight our greed and self-indulgence.  
iii) Forgiveness Sunday 
On the Saturday before the final Sunday before Lent, Forgiveness Sunday, we commemorate all the saints who achieved holiness through fasting and the ascetic life. 
On this last Sunday before Lent, Forgiveness Sunday, the Gospel relates Christ’s words about true fasting: how we must never boast or show off that we are fasting, but give up things we like cheerfully and without talking about it, do kind deeds secretly, forgive all who have offended us. There is special Forgiveness Vespers on this Sunday, when hymns of repentance and verses of the psalms are sung to call us to repent of our sins. At the end of the service the priest reads a special prayer asking God to grant us true repentance. He then faces the people, asks them to forgive him if he has offended them in any way, and bows to the ground. The people do the same. It is the custom that family members ask each other’s forgiveness on this day, so as to start Lent at peace with everybody. 
Services during Lent  
i) General Characteristics
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Services during Lent are very different from the usual ones, because Lent is a time of repentance and sadness. So all the services are arranged to touch our hearts and minds to repent of our sins, to make us remember how far we have strayed from Lord Jesus, how little we deserve His love. The services are much longer, lights are dim, there is little ceremony or singing, the holy doors are mostly closed, the clergy wear dark vestments. Most of the services consist in reading of psalms and the Old Testament, prayers for the forgiveness of sins, kneeling and bowing to the ground. The prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, ‘O Lord and Master of my Life...’, is repeated at each service. 
As the Liturgy is a joyful service, it is not celebrated except on Saturdays and Sundays - on Saturdays, that of St. John Chrysostom; on Sundays, that of St. Basil the Great. Instead, a Liturgy called the Liturgy of the Presanctified is celebrated every Wednesday and Friday. 
ii) Weekday Services in Lent and the Lenten Hours 
Weekday services in the Great Lent are arranged in three parts: evening -Compline; morning – the Midnight Service and the First Hour; midday – the Third, Sixth, Ninth Hours and Vespers. On Wednesdays and Fridays the Liturgy of the Preanctified is joined to Vespers. 
The Lenten Hours are different from the ordinary Hours. They are longer; besides the usual psalms, there is a cathisma, or reading from the Psalter; then the Troparion of each hour is sung three times - everyone kneels and bows to the ground. At the end of each Hour, the priest comes out of the sanctuary and says the prayer of St Ephraim. After each petition he and the people kneel and bow to the ground. He then says ‘Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner’, twelve times; then he again repeats the Prayer of St Ephraim, and all the people bow to the ground at the end. At the Sixth Hour there is a reading from the Prophet Isaiah. At the Ninth Hour the Beatitudes (from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount) are sung, with the refrain, after each, of the prayer of the thief who repented: ‘Remember me, Lord, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom’. Here are the Troparia of the Lenten Hours: 
First Hour: ‘At daybreak hearken unto my voice, O Lord and King’. 
Third Hour: ‘Lord, Who didst send down Thy most holy Spirit at the third hour upon Thine Apostles, take Him not from us, O Blessed One, but renew Him in us who pray unto Thee’. 
Sixth Hour: ‘Thou, that on the sixth day and hour didst nail to the Cross the sin Adam. dared in Paradise, tear asunder also the scroll of our offences, O Christ our God, and save us’. 
Ninth Hour: ‘Thou that at the ninth hour didst taste death in Thy flesh for our sake, mortify the lusts of our flesh, O Christ our God, and save us’. 
iii) The Liturgy of the Presanctified 
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This ‘Liturgy’, which is not really a Liturgy at all, is celebrated on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent and on the first three days of Passion (Great and Holy) Week. In the sad days of repentance the joyful ceremonial service of the full Liturgy is not suitable. Yet in such days we also need to be strengthened and comforted by our union with Our Lord through communion. The word ‘Presanctified’ means ‘consecrated before’. That is to say, there is no consecration of bread and wine. The Lamb which is given for communion had been consecrated at a Liturgy of St Basil on the Sunday before and kept in the tabernacle on the holy table. The Liturgy of the Presanctified was celebrated from early times, but was later written down by Pope (Patriarch of Rome) St Gregory the Great (the Dialogist) and others, some five hundred years after Christ.  
After the Lenten Hours, Vespers begin as usual. The opening psalm is read, the Great Litany, the cathisma. While the choir sings the verses, ‘Lord, I have cried to Thee’, the priest takes out of the tabernacle the consecrated Lamb, places it on the paten, censes it, and carries it from the holy table to the table of preparation. He then pours wine and some water into the chalice, covers the vessels with the veils and censes them. After the evening entrance and the hymn ‘O Gladsome Light’, the holy doors are closed and there are two Old Testament readings, one from Genesis and the other from the parables of Solomon. Between them the holy doors are opened. The priest appears in the doors with a lighted candle and censer, saying, ‘Wisdom, let us attend’. The people kneel. The priest then raises the candle and censer above them, and says in a loud voice: ‘The light of Christ enlighteneth all’. This is to show that the people of the Old Testament were saved by their faith in Him Who was coming, just as we are saved by our faith in Him Who is to come. All the people bow to the ground before Christ - the Light of the world. The holy doors are then closed and the second reading is made.  
After this the holy doors are again opened and three members of the choir stand before them. To awaken in us the spirit of sorrow for our sins, they sing to a special melody the verses: ‘Let my prayer be set forth before Thee as incense and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. Lord, I cry unto Thee. Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips. Incline not my heart to any wicked thing’. That is to say, we ask God to hear us when we call on Him in trouble; to make our prayer pure and holy; to help us never to tell lies or say unkind things, or make excuses for our faults, All listen, kneeling, while the priest stands before the holy table, while censing. At the end he, and the singers too, kneel down and repeat the first verse. He then says the prayer of St Ephraim, ‘O Lord and Master of my life’, and we bow to the ground three times.  
Here Vespers ends and the Liturgy is taken up at the Augmented Litany. There is no Epistle or Gospel. Then come the usual litanies for the catechumens and the short one of the faithful. Originally, catechumens were allowed to hear Vespers. But although at this Liturgy there was no consecration, they could not be present when the sacrament was on the holy table. After the litanies comes the Great Entrance. The holy gifts, already consecrated, are carried from the table of preparation to the holy table. So we do not sing the Cherubic Hymn. Instead, another one is sung, which reminds us that it is Our Lord Himself Who is borne so, escorted by His angels: ‘Now the heavenly Powers invisibly minister with us; for behold, the King of Glory is borne in. Behold the mystic sacrifice, made perfect, is borne aloft by angels. Let us draw near with faith
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and love that we may become partakers of life eternal. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.’ All the people bow to the ground in reverence as the priest carries the holy gifts into the sanctuary through the holy doors in silence. He does not pause to remember the bishops and rulers of the land and the people as he does at the usual Liturgy, because the Lamb has already been offered. The holy doors are closed.  
The priest repeats the prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian. All the prayers, the hymns and the act of consecration are omitted. So after the Great Entrance comes the Litany of Supplication. Our Father is sung, and the service continues as in the complete Liturgy, for the communion of the priest and people. Only the very last prayer beneath the ambo is different: in it the priest prays that we may keep the fast as good penitents and be worthy to worship Our Lord’s glorious resurrection. The Liturgy ends with the usual blessing. 
c) Sundays in Lent 
i) The First and Second Sundays 
During the first week fasting should be very strict. The services, too, are long. On the first four days, at Compline, the Canon of Repentance of St Andrew of Crete, is read. It has nine odes. They show us all the chief figures of the Old Testament, their good and bad deeds, warnings and examples for us to beware of or follow. Each verse has a refrain, ‘Have mercy upon me, Lord, have mercy’, sung like a sad dirge. The irmos, too, are mournful and urge us to repentance. The first four Saturdays in Lent are also days when we remember especially all the departed.  
The first Sunday (and the following week) in Lent celebrates ‘the Triumph of Orthodoxy’, when the veneration of the icons was restored after they had been desecrated by heretics. 
The Second Sunday and the week after it are dedicated to St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki in Greece in the fourteenth century, in memory of his fasting and holy life. He explained how we acquire the Holy Spirit sent to us by God. 
ii) The Third And Fourth Sundays  
The Third Sunday in Lent is called Holy Cross Sunday or the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross. The long, mournful services, fasting and constant thinking of our sins might so cast us down that we lose sight of the far off glad Easter Day. So to cheer us in our efforts, to strengthen our faith that after sorrow gladness will come, the Church has dedicated the middle of Lent, this Sunday and the week following it, to the veneration of the Cross of Christ and His coming Resurrection. 
After the Great Doxology at Matins of the Vigil of the Third Sunday in Lent, the priest takes the cross, decorated with flowers, from the holy table, raises it on his head and carries it out by the north door into the middle of the church. The deacon carries a lighted candle. The choir meanwhile sings, ‘Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us’. The cross is placed on a stand in the middle of the church and censed. The priest and people bow to the ground before it, singing, ‘Before thy cross we bow down, O Master, and we glorify Thy holy Resurrection’. (See the feast of the
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Exaltation of the Cross in September). The cross remains in the middle of the church until Friday after the Liturgy and the special hymn is sung every day. 
On the Fourth Sunday, and the week after, we remember St John of the Ladder, who wrote a book called ‘The Spiritual Ladder’, showing how we learn to practise Christian virtues and, as it were, step by step and so mount up to heaven. 
iii) The Fifth Sunday  
The Fifth Sunday, and the week following, are dedicated to St Mary of Egypt. She was a great sinner, but repented, giving up all her riches and going into the desert. There she lived all alone, fasting and praying for forgiveness, and became a great saint. The Church sets her as an example that no one should despair of their sins, because God in His mercy receives every sinner who truly repents. At Thursday Matins of this week the whole Canon of St Andrew of Crete is read right through, with a Canon to St Mary. This long service is called the Vigil of St Mary of Egypt. On Friday evening, the Matins of Saturday are sung and a special akathist hymn is read and sung to the Mother of God. This was first done in thanksgiving for Our Lady’s help in times of trouble. It is now held to help us keep our trust in Her, our heavenly Protectress, the Mother of God. She prays for us to Her Son to defend us not only from our earthly enemies, but in our struggle with unseen spiritual foes. The service is called ‘The Praises of Our Lady the Mother of God’. 
On Friday of this Sixth Week, the forty-day fast ends, and a special hymn is read: ‘Having now ended the soul-healing forty days, grant us, Thou Who lovest mankind, to witness the holy week of Thy Passion’. 
2. Great and Holy Week 
i) General Characteristics of Great Week 
We have now reached the great and solemn days of Passion Week, Great and Holy Week, when we remember how Christ was betrayed, seized, tortured and crucified, died and was buried.  
The services of Passion Week, beginning with Lazarus Saturday, show us in symbols, readings and hymns the story of Our Saviour’s love and sacrifice unto death for our sakes. Today we remember the resurrection of Lazarus, giving us a foretaste of Our Lord’s own resurrection. 
On the eve of Palm Sunday we shall stand with green branches in our hands and listen to the ‘Hosannas’ as one of the crowds in Jerusalem welcoming ‘Him Who cometh in the name of the Lord’, or the children waving palms and shouting for joy. In the Gospels of the first three days of Passion Week we shall hear Christ’s last talks to His disciples and the people; His stern rebukes to the proud, cruel Pharisees and scribes; Flis prophecy of His second coming. We shall see the sinful woman creep into the house of Simon the leper, where Jesus was having a meal, to anoint His head in love
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and repentance, and we shall compare her with Judas, the disciple whose greed pushed him to betray his Master for a paltry sum of money.  
Then we shall follow Jesus to that ‘upper chamber’ where He and His disciples celebrated His Last Supper, but our first Eucharist of His Most Holy Body and Blood. And then to the Garden of Gethsemane. There the Son of Man prayed in anguish to be spared the suffering He Himself, as Son of God, had willed to endure for our sake. In that prayer He taught us all in all our trials to bow before God and say, ‘Not my will, but Thine be done’. Together with His grieving Mother and John, the disciple He loved best, and with the other women, we shall watch by His Cross. We shall follow his bier to the grave in the garden, and there leave His Body to rest till the Resurrection’s glorious moment. 
Yet through all Passion Week’s sad services, there runs the strain of bright hope of pardon, of triumph over sin and death, of Our Saviour’s victory over darkness, which we shall share with Him. 
ii) Lazarus Saturday  
On Saturday we remember how Christ raised His friend Lazarus from the dead. He knew Lazarus was ill, but He waited till he died before He answered Martha and Mary’s call for Him. Jesus knew that His own cruel death on the Cross was near. He knew how terrified and bewildered His disciples would be, how they might doubt that He was indeed the Christ. So He waited till Lazarus had been dead four days to bring him back to life, so that His disciples and people should see that He had power over life and death and was indeed ‘the Resurrection and the Life’. 
It was this miracle that prepared Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem and gave us the certain assurance of the resurrection of all the dead. The Troparion is: 
‘O Christ our God, before Thy very Passion Thou didst confirm the truth of the general resurrection, by raising Lazarus from the dead. Wherefore we also, like the children bearing the symbols of triumph, cry unto Thee, Thou vanquisher of death: Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord’. 
iii) Palm Sunday 
Palm Sunday is one of the Twelve Great Feasts. It celebrates Christ’s entry, riding on an ass, into Jerusalem. When the people heard of His coming, great crowds rushed to the city gates to meet Him. They spread their cloaks on the road and strewed palm leaves in His path. Children waved green boughs and all sang, ‘Hosanna (Praise) to the Son of David! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’ At the Matins of the Vigil of Palm Sunday, after the Gospel about the entry into Jerusalem, the priest blesses palm leaves, or green pussy-willow or box branches. The people hold them with lighted candles during the canon, in which the refrain ‘Hosanna in the highest’ is repeated again and again.  
Beginning with Great Monday there are solemn days of mourning. Icon-stands and lecterns are draped in violet, the priests wear dark vestments with silver crosses. The
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services are long with many solemn melodies, because we are to spend as much time as we can in prayer and remembrance of how Our Lord Jesus suffered for us. 
Great Monday, Great Tuesday, Great Wednesday and Great Thursday 
i) General Characteristics 
The first three days of Great Week recall Christ’s last conversations with His disciples and people. These talks inspire the readings and hymns. On the first three days the services consist of Great Compline, Matins, the Hours, and the Liturgy of the Presanctified with Vespers. Long Gospels are read at the Matins of each day (which take place on the evenings before) and the Liturgy. Also the whole (up to the Passion) of the four Gospels is read during the Hours in the first three days of Passion Week, and all the Psalms: the Psalms remind us how the coming and sufferings of Christ were awaited and foretold in the Old Testament. The Gospels tell of His life in the world; His teaching and miracles prove that He was indeed the Son of God the Saviour, Who of His own free will, and guiltless, suffered for our sakes. At Matins after the Great Litany we do not hear the usual glad verses, ‘God the Lord has appeared unto us’. Instead, a mournful ‘Alleluia’ is sung.  
And to urge us to watch and pray in these solemn days, this Troparion is sung: 
‘Behold at midnight the bridegroom cometh, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching. But unworthy is he whom He shall find slothful. Beware, therefore, O my soul, be not overcome with sleep, lest thou be given over unto death and shut outside the kingdom. But arise and cry: ‘Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God, through the Birthgiver of God, have mercy upon us’.  
After the Canon, which speaks of Christ’s coming Passion, another special hymn is sung. It is like a cry of our soul as if it saw from afar Christ’s radiant mansions and felt how unworthy it was to enter them. It is: 
‘Lo, I behold Thy radiant dwelling place, O my Saviour, and have no raiment that I may enter in. Lighten Thou the raiment of my soul, O Giver of Light, and save me’. 
ii) Great Monday, Great Tuesday and Great Wednesday 
On Great Monday the Church tells us the story of the barren fig tree. It is the symbol of those who think only of outward goodness which does not come from the heart. The Gospel also tells of Christ’s prophecies about the fall of Jerusalem, wars and tribulations and the end of our world. 
On Great Tuesday we listen to Christ’s replies to the wily questions of the scribes and pharisees, who tried to trap Him; to His stern rebukes of their cruelty and deceit. The parables of the ten virgins and of the talents remind us how we should always keep watch on our conscience and use in God’s service any gift or talent we have received from Him. The Gospel then tells of Christ’s prophecy of His Second Coming and Last Judgement. It ends with the awful warning: ‘Ye know that after two days is the feast of the Passover, and the Son of Man is betrayed to be crucified’. 
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On Great Wednesday the Church remembers the act of love of the sinful woman who poured precious ointment on Christ’s head, and, though she did not know it, ‘prepared Him for burial’. And, in contrast, we hear of the dark act of Judas, whose greed led him to betray his Master. All the readings and hymns of the day warn us to beware of greed and love of money, which could tempt even a disciple of Christ. We too can betray Him, if we let greed and selfishness get hold of us, while every deed of humility and love at once brings us near to Him. 
iii) Great Thursday 
The Gospels of Great Thursday tell how Christ and His disciples came to Jerusalem to celebrate His last feast of the Passover; how He washed their feet. They tell the story of that Last Supper when Our Lord ordained the sacrament of His Most Holy Body and Blood ‘for the remission of sins’ of us all; His last talk with the Apostles, and how He told them they would all fail and forsake Him that night; Peter’s rash promise that he would always remain faithful; Christ’s vigil in the garden; how He was seized and led away to the high-priest’s court; the scene in the courtyard; Peter’s denial and grief; the high-priest’s mocking, cruel questions; and how Jesus, wearing the crown of thorns, beaten and insulted by the soldiers, was led before Pilate. 
The readings and hymns of the Matins of Great Thursday (on Wednesday evening) dwell much on Judas’ betrayal, on ‘the dark night’ which settled in his soul. We pray that we may keep ourselves from greed and deceit, and be made pure by taking part in the holy Mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood. The Troparion after the ‘Alleluia’ at Matins speaks of this. 
On Thursday morning the Liturgy of St. Basil is joined with Vespers. Before the Great Entrance, instead of the Cherubic Hymn, there is a special hymn of Great Thursday: ‘Make me this day a sharer of Thy mystic Supper, O Son of God. For I will not reveal Thy mysteries to Thine enemies, nor will I give Thee a kiss like Judas, but like the thief I say to Thee, ‘Remember me, O Lord, in Thy kingdom’. This is also sung before and during communion. 
After the Liturgy, on Thursday afternoon, the ceremony of ‘the washing of the feet’ is kept in cathedrals. The Gospels are carried to the middle of the cathedral. Then the bishop in full vestments comes out of the sanctuary and takes his seat on a raised platform, the ‘cathedra’. He is followed by twelve priests who sit six at each side of him. They represent the twelve Apostles. Two deacons bring out a basin, a jug of water and a towel. After some prayers, the main deacon reads the Gospel story of how Christ at the Last Supper rose, took off His upper garment, tied a towel round His waist and washed the disciples’ feet.  
While this is read the bishop rises, takes off his vestments, keeping only belt and stole, ties the towel round his waist, takes up the basin and washes the feet of each priest. He goes down one row and up the other till he comes to the senior priest, who represents the Apostle Peter. Here the deacon stops reading. The priest rises and repeats Peter’s words: ‘Lord, dost Thou wash my feet?’ The bishop answers in Christ’s words and they repeat the scene till the bishop washes ‘Peter’s’  feet. Then the bishop puts on his vestments and himself reads Christ’s words why He, their Lord and Master, had done this humble service to His disciples: ‘For I have given you an
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example, that ye should do as I have done to you’. This ceremony is a very ancient custom and is acted to remind us more clearly of the lesson given us by Christ: that no service is too low for those who would truly follow in His steps.  
c) Great Friday (‘Good Friday’, meaning in Old English, Holy Friday) and Great Saturday 
i) Great Friday 
Great Friday is the most solemn day of Passion Week and of the whole Christian year. In awe and trembling we stand before the Cross on which our Saviour died for us and see the image of Him dead, lying in our midst. 
The whole story of Our Lord’s Passion is given at Great Friday Matins, which takes place on Thursday evening, and is called  ‘The Vigil of the Holy and Saving Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ’ or more usually, ‘The Service of the Twelve Gospels’, because twelve Gospel extracts are read. The tall Crucifix, usually standing behind the memorial service table, now stands in the middle of the church with many candles lighted round it and a lectern draped in violet in front. After the Six Psalms and the Great Litany, the choir sing ‘Alleluia’ and the Troparion of Great Thursday. The priest and deacon come out of the Sanctuary carrying the Gospels. They are laid on the lectern and the priest begins the reading. Everybody stands with lighted candles as a symbol that Christ, even when persecuted and humiliated, is always the Light of the world.  
The whole story of the Passion is read from the four Evangelists and is divided into twelve parts. It begins with Christ’s farewell talk and prayer at the Last Supper, in St John’s Gospel, and goes right through the four Gospels to the burial of Christ by Joseph of Arimathea. Before and after each reading the choir sings, ‘Glory to Thy long suffering, O Lord’. Between the readings special verses are sung. They speak of Judas’s betrayal; of the cruelty of the Jews; of Christ’s infinite patience and gentleness; of the awe of all creation when the Lord of all was nailed to the Cross between two thieves. The Canon has only three odes. All tell of the Passion and foretell the glory of the Resurrection. Matins ends after the Twelfth Gospel. 
This is a long service and lasts two to three hours. After each Gospel the great bell tolls, giving the number, in strokes, of the Gospel read, so that those who cannot go to church can follow the service. 
There is no Liturgy on Great Friday morning: we venerate the sacrifice offered this day by Christ. It is a day of mourning and strict fasting. Instead of the Liturgy there is the service of the ‘Royal Hours’ - the First, Third, Sixth and Ninth. At each, besides the psalms and the prophecies from the Old Testament, an Epistle and Gospel are read about Great Friday. 
The solemn vespers of Great Friday is celebrated in the afternoon at the time of Christ’s death. Again all the readings remind us of the suffering Christ and His glory. After the entrance, there are Old Testament readings in which the Prophet Isaiah speaks of ‘the Lamb led to the slaughter’, an epistle of the Apostle Paul on the power and wisdom of the Cross; again a Gospel on Our Lord’s trial before Pilate, His
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Crucifixion and burial. After the Litany of Supplication the choir sings a solemn hymn, ‘O Thou that art clothed in light as in a raiment...’. 
All the people light candles. The holy doors are opened. On the holy table lies the Shroud or Winding Sheet - an image of the dead human body of Christ. The priest raises it on his head, the deacon walks in front with candle and censer, and they come slowly down the steps from the altar, while the choir softly sing the hymn, ‘The Noble Joseph, taking Thy most pure Body down from the tree, wrapped it in fine linen, and with spices covered, laid it in a new tomb’. All kneel with head bowed low before the image of our Saviour. A bier stands in the middle of the church, with candles lit round it. On it the Winding Sheet is laid reverently and censed all round by the priest. More burial hymns are sung while the people come up to kiss it. Then the priest gives the blessing, and the last hymn is sung: ‘Thou hast redeemed us from the curse of the law by Thy precious blood. Having been nailed on the Cross and pierced with the spear, Thou hast shed immortality on men, O our Saviour, glory to Thee’. 
ii) Vespers and Matins of Great Saturday 
Great Saturday is a reverent vigil at the tomb of the Son of God, slain for our sins. The Saturday Matins service is held on Friday evening. It is commonly called  the Burial of Christ, because almost all of it is a solemn lamentation sung and read over the bier on which the Winding Sheet is lying.  
After the Six Psalms and the Great Litany, the people light their candles. The holy doors are opened; the priest and deacon come out with candles and censer. The choir sing ‘God the Lord has appeared unto us’, and the Troparia, ‘The noble Joseph’, and ‘When Thou didst condescend unto death, O Life Immortal, then didst Thou slay hell with the radiance of Thy Divinity; and when Thou didst raise the dead from the lowermost pit, all the heavenly powers cried: O Christ, Giver of Life, our God, glory to Thee’. Meantime, the priest and deacon cense the Winding Sheet, then stand in front of it. The choir intone the ‘burial anthem’ with the first verse of Psalm 118:  ‘Blessed are they who are undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord’. Each verse of the Psalm is followed by a verse of the ‘lament’, read by the priest and deacon with hymns inbetween.  
It is like a long poem picturing the angels in heaven and all creatures on earth overwhelmed by the death of their Creator, and their thankfulness at being freed from death’s doom by Christ. ‘Thou, O Christ, that art the Life, art laid in a grave. And angel hosts awestricken glorify Thy condescension...Of Thy free will, O Saviour, Thou didst go under the earth to save dead mortals and bring them back to Thy Father’s glory...Thy burial, O my Christ, all nations hymn...Make Thy servants worthy, O Virgin, to see the resurrection of Thy Son’. After this hymn, the Sunday eve resurrection hymns are sung. There follow the usual litanies. Then the Canon, where the note of joy sounds more and more clearly.  
At the end of the Great Doxology the priest raises above his head the Winding Sheet, supported by four pall-bearers, the deacon walks in front, the people follow, all carrying candles. The solemn procession walks out of, and, anti-clockwise round the church, with the bells tolling and the choir singing, ‘Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us’. This represents the burial of Christ. After the Winding
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Sheet has been laid back on the bier, the Prokimenon is sung, and to a special melody the glorious prophecy of Ezekiel is read about the dry bones of Israel, out of which arose ‘an exceeding great army’ quickened to life by the breath of God. Then follows the Epistle of the Apostle Paul about Christ our Passover and the Gospel about the sealing of Christ’s tomb. Matins ends as usual.  
iii) The Liturgy Of Great Saturday 
The Liturgy of Great Saturday is that of St. Basil the Great, and is the longest in the year. It begins on the Saturday morning with Vespers. After the ‘entrance’, the evening hymn ‘Gladsome Light  is sung as usual. Then fifteen long Old Testament readings are made. They tell of the most striking symbolic events and prophecies of the salvation of mankind by the death of the Son of God. The first is the story of Israel’s crossing the Red Sea and Moses’ song of victory over Pharaoh, with its refrain, ‘for He hath triumphed gloriously’. The last reading is about the three youths in the fiery furnace of Babylon, and their song of praise with its repeated refrain: ‘Sing unto the Lord and exalt Him unto the ages of ages’.  
The Epistle which follows speaks of how through the death of Christ we too shall rise to new life. After the Epistle, three singers stand before the bier and sing verses, like a call to the sleeping Christ: ‘Arise, O Lord, and judge the earth, for Thou inheritest amongst all nations...’. While this is being sung, the violet covers are taken off the holy table, the priests change their violet vestments for white ones. The deacon carries out the Gospels and reads the first message of the resurrection from St. Matthew. Because the Vespers part of the service belongs to the next day (Sunday) the burial hymns of Saturday are mingled with the resurrection ones, so that this service already is full of the coming Easter joy. 
After the Gospel the Liturgy continues as usual. Instead of the Cherubic Hymn, a special one is sung: ‘Let all human flesh be silent, and in awe and trembling stand, and think of nothing earthly to itself, for behold the King of kings, the Lord of Lords, goeth forth to be slain and giveth Himself as food for the faithful. Him do precede the angelic hosts, with all their Principalities and Powers, the many-eyed Cherubim and six-winged Seraphim, covering their faces and singing the song, Alleluia’. 
After the Liturgy there follows the blessing of bread, wine and dates. Originally, Orthodox used to spend the rest of the day and evening in church, watching and waiting, so food was given to strengthen them. Now the bread is blessed to remind us of this. They also spent their Vigil reading aloud the Acts of the Apostles. This custom is still kept up; the Acts lie open in front of the bier, and anyone may come in and read aloud. Towards midnight there is a short midnight service, when the canon of Great Saturday is sung. Then the priest and deacon carry the Winding Sheet into the sanctuary and lay it on the holy table. It will he there until Ascension Eve, as a symbol that Christ still appeared among His disciples for forty days after His Resurrection.  
And so we wait for midnight and the beginning of a new period in the story of the Church. From this point on the book called the ‘Lenten Triodion’ is closed and now we open the book called the ‘Pentecostarion’, called the ‘Blossom Triodion’. 
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3. Easter (Pascha) to All Saints Sunday  
a) Easter Night 
All the doors of the sanctuary are closed. The church is in darkness. All lamps, candles and candelabra are ready to be lit. Below the altar steps stand the bearers of the icons, crosses and banners, the Gospels, the icon of the Resurrection, for the procession. The church is thronged with people, all in their best clothes, and each holding a candle. All stand in solemn, joyful waiting for the stroke of midnight. 
The holy doors open and the priests in shining vestments come out, singing, ‘Thy resurrection, O Christ our Saviour, the angels sing in heaven; grant us on earth to glorify Thee with a pure heart’. The procession, followed by the people, passes out the church and moves anti-clockwise around the church still singing, stopping before the closed west door. We represent the faithful women who went to seek Christ in His tomb in the early dawn. The priest carries a cross and a triple candlestick with flowers. He raises the cross and proclaims in a loud voice: ‘Glory to the Holy, Consubstantial, Life-Giving and Indivisible Trinity, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages’. The choir replies, ‘Amen’. The priest sings the Easter hymn, ‘Christ is risen from the dead’, and then intones Psalm 67: ‘Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered’. And the choir replies, triumphant: ‘Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and on those in the tombs bestowing life’. The priest repeats the first, second and third verses of Psalm 67, and to each one the choir replies: ‘Christ is risen from the dead...’. 
The doors of the church are flung open, for the tomb is no longer sealed. The procession enters the church and all the lights go on. The priest raises the cross to right and left and greets the people: ‘Christ is risen’. And all reply: ‘He is risen indeed’. The whole of Easter Matins is one song of praise and glory to our Risen Lord. A song of joy to ‘the day of resurrection, the Passover of joy, the Passover of God, for Christ our Lord hath brought us from death to life, from earth to heaven singing the song of victory’. After each ode the priest comes out of the sanctuary (all the doors are wide open), censes all round the church and gives the Easter greeting: ‘Christ is risen’. This reminds us of Christ’s appearances to the women and to the Apostles. At the end of Matins, after the cross has been kissed, the people greet and kiss each other three times, saying, ‘Christ is risen’. 
The Easter, or Paschal, Hours consist only of Easter hymns. The Liturgy is particularly solemn and joyful, because all the sanctuary doors remain open all the time, so we can see the consecration of the holy gifts. The mystery is revealed. The doors are not closed the whole of Bright Week (Easter Week) as a symbol that, by His death and Resurrection, Christ has opened the doors of His Kingdom to all believers. Nobody kneels during Bright Week and after until Pentecost, because there is no need for penitence: all sins are forgiven. At the Liturgy many Easter anthems and hymns are sung. The Gospel of the Easter Liturgy is not about the Resurrection, but is the first chapter of St John, ‘In the beginning was the Word...and the Word was God’. This is to show that Christ eternally was God and has revealed Himself to the world as God by rising from the dead. The Gospel is read in several languages as a token that Christ’s teaching has spread to the ends of the earth. 
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b) Easter Vespers and Bright Week 
On Easter Sunday afternoon there is special Vespers with resurrection hymns which are sung quickly. The Gospel of St John is read, how ‘the same day in the evening ...when the doors were shut’, Christ appeared in the midst of His disciples. 
The whole of Bright Week (Easter Week) is kept as one glorious holiday. The services are the same as on Sunday, with processions round the church after the Liturgy. It is the custom to ring the church bells during the day. People give each other red-coloured eggs: the symbol of life hidden in the tomb and quickened by the Blood of Christ. On Bright Monday and Tuesday especially small children are brought to communion. 
A special large loaf called the Artos, or Thomas Bread, is blessed at Easter and distributed at the end of the week. It is the symbol of Jesus Christ, ‘the Bread of Eternal Life’. It also reminds us of the custom the Apostles had to set aside a loaf at their supper in memory of the Risen Lord. The Easter hymns are sung for forty days until the Ascension. 
From Easter (Pascha) to the Sunday of All Saints 
From Bright Week to Ascension Day 
The weeks after Easter remind us either of events connected with Easter or of special deeds of mercy of Jesus Christ.  
The first Sunday after Easter is called Thomas Sunday. The Gospel tells how Thomas did not believe Christ had risen until he had seen Him himself, and how ‘after eight days’ Christ appeared to the disciples and rebuked Thomas for his doubt. And here Christ said words that should make us all very happy, for he said,  ‘Blessed are they that have not seen and yet believed’, like ourselves.  
On Tuesday of the week after Thomas Sunday we remember the departed. It is the custom to go to the graves of relations and friends after the liturgy and sing the Easter hymns as a symbol that in Christ all are alive. 
The Second Sunday is named after the holy Myrrhbearing Women who followed and served the Lord to the end.  
The Third Sunday recalls the Paralytic healed at Bethesda. 
The Fourth Sunday is named after the Samaritan Woman, whom He told Who He was.  
The Fifth Sunday commemorates the healing of the man born blind.  
On the Wednesday of the week following (the Sixth Week) the full Easter Matins and Liturgy are celebrated for the last time because it is the eve of the Ascension and the hymn ‘Christ is risen’ will not be sung any more until the following Easter. 
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ii) Ascension Day to Pentecost 
On the Thursday, forty days after Easter, we celebrate Christ’s Ascension into heaven. The Ascension of Our Lord is one of the Twelve Great Feasts. Our Lord gathered His disciples and spoke to them for the last time. He bade them remain in Jerusalem till He sent His Holy Spirit upon them, then to go into the world, preach the Gospel and baptize all peoples in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He lifted His hands to bless them and then rose above the earth and disappeared in a glorious shining cloud: His task on earth was done. The chapter in the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of the day tell of this. Here is the Troparion: 
‘Thou hast ascended in glory, O Christ our God, Thou hast given joy to the disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit, assuring them through this blessing that Thou art the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world’. 
The Sixth Sunday after Easter honours the holy fathers of the first Universal, or Oecumenical, Council held in Nicea, just outside Constantinople, the New Christian Rome, in the year 325. Clergy and laymen chosen from all the Churches in every land came together to affirm the Orthodox Faith against false teachings. They drew up the Creed, or Confession of Faith, which begins with the words, I believe in One God, the Father Almighty...’. As a result this is called the Nicene Creed and is read and sung in the Orthodox Church to this day. Every Orthodox Christian should know it by heart. 
iii) Trinity Day, called Pentecost or Whitsun, and the Sunday of All Saints 
On the Saturday before Trinity there are memorial services for all the departed. 
Fifty days after Easter, we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. It was the day of the Jewish ‘Pentecost’ feast (Pentecost means fifty in Greek), which they held in memory of how God gave Moses the Law on Mount Sinai. 
Mary the Mother of God and all the Apostles were together at prayer in an upper room. Suddenly a mighty wind arose. The house rocked and the room was filled with its rush. There appeared tongues of flame which came down on each of the Apostles. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and at once began to glorify God and to speak of Him in many tongues which they had never known before. So was Christ’s promise to them fulfilled to send the gift of the Holy Spirit from God the Father. This feast lasts three days. On Sunday we glorify the Holy Trinity, and so it is called ‘Trinity’ or ‘Trinity Day’. It is one of the Twelve Great Feasts. On Monday we honour the Holy Spirit, and it is called ‘Holy Spirit Day’. And Tuesday is called the third day of the feast. 
On Sunday after the Liturgy there are ‘Kneeling Vespers’. Hymns to the Holy Spirit we sung. Then three long prayers are read, the priests and people all kneeling. In these prayers we confess our sins before our heavenly Father and ask forgiveness for His beloved Son’s sake. We ask Christ to send His Spirit to enlighten and strengthen our souls. We pray for all our departed forefathers, relations and all people, that God may grant them rest and joy in His eternal light. There is a custom of decorating the churches and houses with green branches and flowers for Trinity. People also carry bunches of flowers in church. This is a symbol that we offer to God the blossoms of
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life made new by His Holy Spirit, and that nature, like our own souls, receives new life from Him. This is the Troparion: 
‘Blessed art thou, O Christ our God, Who didst show the fishermen to be most wise by sending them the Holy Spirit, and through them drawing the whole world into Thy net. O Lover of mankind, glory to Thee’. 
Hymn to the Holy Spirit: 
‘O heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of good things and giver of life, come and abide in us and cleanse us from all impurity and save our souls, O Good One’. 
The Sunday after Trinity is the Sunday of All Saints - all those who by their love of God and their fellow-men have become holy already here on earth and left us examples of Christian lives. This day crowns the joyful celebrations of Eastertide and ends the eight weeks of the services contained in the special book of services, the Pentecostarion or the Blossom Triodion. 
On the Sunday after All Saints Sunday, it has more recently become the custom in many parts of the Orthodox world to celebrate All Local Saints. Thus, in Russia, this is the Sunday of All the Saints who shone forth in the Russian Land, and in other countries similar local commemorations also now exist. 
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1. The First Sacraments  
The Church is our mother. We are all her children. Good or bad, sad or happy, we can always come to her. She is always there, ready to love, forgive and help us. As soon as we are born she takes us to herself, leads us through life, blesses our last journey, and after our death prays for our soul. We cannot be true Orthodox or be saved without God’s grace and mercy; and these we can receive in the Church through the sacraments. 
The words sacrament or mystery mean something that is holy or mysterious. A sacrament is a holy act, ordained by Lord Jesus Christ, by which God gives our souls the grace of His Holy Spirit. Every sacrament has two sides: the outward form - the rites and prayers used in giving the sacrament - which we see, and the unseen, the grace which we receive. How the grace of the Holy Spirit enters our souls we cannot see or understand. God’s ways are hidden from our earthly minds. We know it only by faith. It is a holy mystery. That is why in the Orthodox Church the sacraments are called holy mysteries. 
There are a great many sacraments. Every action which makes holy is a sacrament. The Church Herself is a sacrament, because she makes holy those parts of the world which accept Her. However, there are seven specific sacraments: Baptism, Chrismation, Communion, Confession, Marriage, Unction and Ordination. Every Orthodox Christian receives the first four, but not always the last three. 
a) Baptism 
i) Introduction 
Baptism is the first sacrament, because through it we can enter the Church and be called Orthodox. A person who has not been baptized cannot receive any other sacrament. Baptism is a sacrament which cleanses us from ancestral sin, the sin of Adam, and makes us Orthodox Christians. The outward sign of this is immersion (plunging) in holy water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The sin with which we come into the world dies, and we are born to a new life in Christ. He Himself told this to Nicodemus, and said that without this new birth no one could enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus Himself ordered this sacrament when He commanded John to baptize Him in the Jordan and when He told His disciples: ‘Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’. 
We are usually baptized forty days after birth, as babies, but any grown-up person who wants to become a Orthodox may be baptized after being prepared. Everyone, child or grown-up, should have a godfather and godmother. When a child is baptized the godparents make the responses and promises in its name. And it is their duty to teach the child the Orthodox faith. A grown-up person makes the promises himself and the godparents are only witnesses. 
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ii) The Naming Of The Child  
As soon as a child is born in an Orthodox family and before it is baptized, the Church takes it under Her care. Usually on the eighth day, the priest comes to the home to bless and pray for the mother and new-born baby, and to give it a name. He makes the sign of the cross over the infant and prays: ‘May the light of Thy countenance be upon this Thy servant (he names the baby), and he (or she) be signed with the cross of Thine only-begotten Son in his (or her) heart’. Then the priest holds up the baby before the icon of Our Lady, makes the sign of the cross, and says: ‘Rejoice, Birthgiver of God, for from Thee Christ, our God, the Sun of Righteousness, hath shone, enlightening them that are in darkness’. 
The child must be named after a saint as sign that he has now joined the communion of saints and must try and follow his or her example. The saint also becomes the child’s special patron. That is why among Orthodox a namesday or saint’s day means more than a birthday. In olden times the child use to be brought to the church door on the eighth day to be named, in memory of the ancient Jewish law. Now this is usually done at home. 
iii) The Service Of Baptism 
Before a child or adult can be baptized, they must first be prepared by exorcizing the devil, (protecting the person from de4monic influence and temptation), renouncing him and uniting oneself to Christ. 
The child is brought to church by the godmother or godfather. The godparents with the child stand before the font facing east - from where comes the light. The child is naked (merely wrapped up) to show that it has lost its garment of innocence through sin and will now put on a new man by the light of Christ. The priest breathes three times on its face, blesses it and lays his hand on its head. This reminds us of the breath of life God breathed into the first man, and of the new life given in the mystery of baptism. The blessing in the name of Christ means that the child is separated from the unfaithful. The priest’s hand laid on its head shows that it is placed under the cover of the Church. The priest prays that the babe may be joined to Christ’s flock. 
Then comes the exorcism of the devil, the wish to be joined to Christ, confession of faith and worship of the Holy Trinity. 
The priest reads prayers in which ‘in the name of Almighty God’ he forbids the devil ‘to approach this creature sealed by the name of Lord Jesus Christ’. He prays that God may make the child a member of His Holy Church by driving away every evil spirit. Here he breathes on its mouth, forehead and breast, saying, ‘Drive from him (or her) every evil unclean spirit lurking in his (or her) heart’. After this the godparents with the child turn to the west - the place of darkness. And three times (or sometimes this is read only once) the priest asks them: ‘Dost thou renounce Satan, and all his works and all his angels?’ The godparents reply for the child: ‘I renounce him’. Again the priest asks: ‘Hast thou renounced Satan?’ And the reply: ‘I have renounced him’. They then turn to the east again (towards light), and the priest asks: ‘Dost thou join thyself to Christ?’ They reply: ‘I join myself’. ‘Hast thou joined Christ?’ ‘I have joined him’.
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‘And dost thou believe in Him?’ They reply: ‘I believe in Him as King and God’. And the godfather for a boy, or the godmother for a girl, recites the Creed. After the confession of faith the priest tells the new member of Christ’s Kingdom to ‘bow to Him’. The godparents reply: ‘I bow down before the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity One in essence and undivided’.  
The priest puts on white or light vestments to show the joy of the Church over her new member. Candles are lit on the font and given to the godparents. The font is censed all round. The candles remind us of the spiritual sight which is received in Baptism, and the incense of the breath of the Holy Spirit. The service begins with the words, ‘Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages’. This is to show that through Baptism we become members of that Kingdom. Then come prayers to bless the water in the font ‘by Thy holy Spirit’. The priest makes the sign of the cross in the water three times with his hand. After this he dips a small brush in holy oil and three times makes the sign of the cross with it in the water, singing, ‘Alleluia’. Here the water is the symbol of purification or cleansing and the oil of joy. The baby, too, is anointed with ‘the oil of gladness’ by a cross on the forehead: ‘In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’; breast: ‘for healing of soul and body’; ears: ‘for the hearing of faith’; hands: ‘Thy hands have made me’; feet: ‘that he (or she) may walk in the path of Thy commandments’. 
Now comes the most solemn moment. The priest takes the child and plunges it three times in the holy water, saying: ‘The servant of God. (name) is baptized in the name of the Father, Amen; and of the Son, Amen; and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen’. As the newly baptized is brought out of the font, Psalm 31 (‘Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered’) is sung. Meanwhile the priest puts on the child a white robe in sign of purity, saying: ‘The servant of God (name) is clothed with the robe of righteousness in the name of the Father, and of Son and of Holy Spirit, Amen’. A cross is also put around the neck to remind the new Orthodox that he is a soldier of Christ. During this a hymn is sung: ‘Give unto me a robe of light...Christ our Lord, abounding in mercy’. 
It should be noted that the order of Baptism for a grown-up person is the same; only he wears a long shirt, and when he enters the water the priest lays his hand on his head. Also, only a priest can celebrate the mystery of Baptism in full. But if a child is very weak and may die, anyone of the Orthodox faith may and should baptize it at once. Water should be sprinkled on its head with the words, ‘The servant of God (name) is baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen’. 
i) Introduction 
Chrismation is a sacrament which follows immediately after Baptism, as in the Church of the first centuries. In it, the newly baptized Orthodox is consecrated or dedicated to the service of God in the Church by a special gift of the grace of the Holy Spirit. For to keep pure to be a good soldier of Christ, he will need to be consecrated to the service of God and receive this special gift of grace of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The outward form of Chrismation is the sign of the cross made with myrrh
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(special holy oil) on parts of the body, with the words, ‘the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit’. 
The holy myrrh or chrism used for Chrismation after Baptism is not the same oil with which people are anointed at festivals or at the unction of the sick. Myrrh was already known in the Old Testament. Moses poured myrrh on the head of his brother Aaron when he was ordained high-priest of Israel. The prophet Samuel anointed David when he was made king. Priests and kings were always anointed with myrrh as a token of the grace of the Holy Spirit. 
In the New Testament we read how the sinful women brought precious myrrh to anoint Jesus’ feet, and when His body was buried, Mary Magdalene and other women took some to His grave to anoint His Body. In the Christian Church anointing with myrrh always meant the consecration or dedication of a person to the service of God. It was the symbol of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Kings and emperors were anointed at their coronation to receive special grace to govern justly according to God’s law. 
Myrrh, or chrism, is specially prepared and brewed out of olive oil, white wine, many scented herbs, oils and spices.  
ii) The Service Of Chrismation 
Chrismation begins when the priest reads a prayer in which he asks God to grant the child the seal of the Holy Spirit. He then marks with holy myrrh the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead, eyes, ears, nostrils, breast, hands and feet, saying each time, ‘The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit, Amen’. Then the priest and godparents with the babe walk three times round the font to the joyful singing: ‘All those that have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ’. This is a symbol that the new Orthodox is united to Christ forever. The service ends with a lesson from the  Epistle of the Apostle Paul about the meaning of Baptism, and the Gospel from St. Matthew, ‘Go ye and baptize all the peoples...’. 
Originally, the newly baptized wore their baptismal robes for seven days. On the eighth day the robe was taken off in church and the marks of the chrism washed off. Now this is generally done at once. The priest reads a prayer for the child, then wipes its face and parts of the body with a sponge, saying: ‘Thou art baptized, thou art hallowed, thou art washed... In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...Amen’. He then cuts off crosswise a little of the child's hair, saying: ‘The servant of God (name) is tonsured in the name of the Father, and of Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen’. This is to show that the child has become God’s servant and belongs to Him. The service ends with the blessing. 
The order of Baptism for a grown-up person is the same; only he wears a long shirt, and when he enters the water the priest lays his hand on his head. 
Only a priest can celebrate the mystery of Baptism in full. But if a child is very weak and may die, anyone of Christian faith may and should baptize it at once. Holy water should be sprinkled on its head with the words, ‘The servant of God (name) is baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen’. 
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iii) The Churching 
Churching  is a ceremony when a new-born infant is brought to church by its mother for the first time after baptism. It is usually done on the fortieth day after birth, in memory of how Christ was presented at the Temple of Jerusalem by His Most Holy Mother. The priest meets the Mother and child at the west door and reads prayers for them both. He then takes the baby, makes with it the sign of the crow, and says: ‘The servant of God (name) is received into the Church in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen’. He carries the child. forward with the words: ‘He (or she) entereth into Thy house to worship towards Thy Holy Temple’. In the middle of the church the priest repeats the words of reception, and adds: ‘In the middle of the church he sings praises unto Thee’.  
Finally, the priest raises the baby before the holy doors of the sanctuary and again repeats the words of reception. Then if the child is a boy he carries him by the south door into the sanctuary, round the holy table and out by the north door. He holds him against the closed holy doors and hands him back to his mother with the prayer of St. Simeon: ‘Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace...’. A girl is not carried into the sanctuary, but only held against the holy doors and given back to her mother with the same prayer. The ceremony ends with the blessing. 
Confession and Communion   
i) Introduction 
Although Confession and Communion are two separate sacraments, often Confession precedes Communion. That is, although we can have confession by itself, we always go to confession before communion. However, the Church also of course gives communion to little children. Since they are not responsible for what they do, this is ‘for the healing of soul and body’, that they may receive the grace of the Mystery of the most holy Body and Blood of Christ and come closer to Him. For He said, ‘Forbid not little children to come unto Me’. A small child needs no preparation for communion, but adults and children over about the age of seven must first confess their sins and faults to God in the presence a priest, and be forgiven. 
ii) Confession 
Christ gave His Apostles the power to absolve, forgive, people from their sins. This was passed on to bishops and priests. In the sacrament of Confession Orthodox who confess and repent their sins before a priest receives visibly forgiveness from him by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and invisibly from our Lord Himself. When we wish to go to Confession we should first prepare ourselves: go often to church (usually a week), fast, read holy books, and try to remember all the wrong we have done.  
The priest in his stole stands beside a stand at the front of the church, on which lie a cross and the Gospels. We come in separately one after the other and bow down to the ground as before Christ Himself. The confessor may read Psalm 50 and prayers asking God to grant repentance and forgiveness. He then turns to the penitent and reminds him that ‘Christ Himself invisibly stands here to receive thy confession...that thou may receive forgiveness from Our Lord Jesus Christ. Behold, His image is
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before us, and I am merely a witness...The penitent confesses all his sins and faults, hiding nothing and answering all questions truthfully. When he has finished, the confessor usually gives him some advice.  
The penitent bows his head and kneels. The priest covers the penitent’s head with his stole, lays his hand on it and prays that God grant him true repentance. He then gives the absolution: ‘Our Lord and God, by the grace and compassion of His love for mankind, forgive thee, my child (name) all thine iniquities. And I, an unworthy priest, by the power that is given me, forgive thee and absolve thee from all thy sins (here he makes the sign of the cross on the penitent’s head), in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen’. The penitent rises from his knees forgiven and made clean again by the grace received through the laying-on of the priest’s hand. He may now receive communion. He kisses the cross and book of Gospels and is blessed by his confessor. 
iii) Communion 
This is the greatest of all the sacraments, or mysteries. Under the appearance of bread and wine the faithful receive the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins and unto everlasting life. He Himself said: ‘Who eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood hath eternal life’. This sacrament was ordained by Christ Himself at the Last Supper before His Passion. It can only be celebrated at the Divine Liturgy. 
2. The Other Sacraments 
i) Introduction 
This is a sacrament in which the bridegroom and bride give a solemn promise before the Church and a priest to love and to be true to one another. Their union is then blessed in the image of Christ’s union with His Church, and they receive the grace of the Holy Spirit to found and bring up an Orthodox family. 
The marriage service is in two parts: the Betrothal and the Crowning. These are usually, but not always, celebrated at the same time. A man and woman may only be joined together of their own free will and consent. Their consent and promise of loyalty are given before God and the Church, and in token of this they exchange rings. This is the Betrothal. 
The Crowning is the outward form of the sacrament. Their union is crowned and blessed by prayers, that they may receive the grace of the Holy Spirit, that theirs may be a true union in the image of Christ’s union with His Church. 
The marriage service is full of symbols. It is celebrated in church in front of witnesses. The bride and bridegroom arrive separately. Before starting, they are blessed each in their own home by their parents or those who take their place. The icons (that of the Saviour for the bridegroom and of Our Lady for the bride) are brought with them to church and afterwards taken to the new home. 
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ii) The Betrothal 
On their arrival in church the bride and bridegroom stand by the west door, the groom on the right and the bride on the left. A stand is placed in the middle of the church. The priest in bright vestments comes out of the holy doors with the cross and the Gospels, which he lays on the stand. He then blesses the bride and bridegroom with lighted candles in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He leads them up to the middle of the church at a little distance from the stand. 
He begins the service: ‘Blessed is our God, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages...’. There is the Great Litany and several prayers to grant the betrothed perfect and peaceful love, salvation, to bless them with children. The rings are brought out of the sanctuary, where they had been lying on the holy table, to be blessed. The priest takes the groom’s ring, makes the sign of the cross over him with it three times, saying: ‘The servant of God (name) is betrothed to the handmaid of God (name), in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen’. He puts the ring on the groom’s right hand. He does the same with the bride’s ring, saying: ‘The handmaid of God (name) is betrothed to the servant of God (name), in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen’. They then exchange rings three times in token that each gives his own in keeping to the other for life. The betrothal ends with a prayer that the Lord might confirm (make strong) their betrothal in faith, truth and love, and make them of one mind; that He would ‘grant them His heavenly blessing and send His angel to go before them all the days of their life’. 
iii) The Crowning 
After the Betrothal, the bride and groom, holding lighted candles, come up to the stand in the middle of the church. The priest walks in front with the censer. The choir sings verses from Psalm 127 with the refrain ‘Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee’. Meanwhile, the priest asks each in turn in a low voice if they have ‘the firm and free resolve’ to marry one another and if they have not promised to marry someone else. After their reply the priest begins the celebration of the marriage. He says, ‘Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages’, in token that they together may become its members. A litany is said with petitions for the two being joined together. Then three long prayers are read, asking God to grant them a long and peaceful life, mutual love and help, happiness in their children, worldly goods that they may help the needy, unfading crowns of glory in heaven; to bless their parents, ‘for the prayers of the parents make firm the foundation of the homes of the children’. 
After these prayers the priest takes up a crown, makes with it the sign of the cross and places it on the groom’s head, saying: ‘The servant of God (name) is crowned to the handmaid of God, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen’. He does the same to the bride. He then raises his hands in blessing and exclaims three times in a loud voice: ‘O Lord, our God, crown them with glory and honour’. The crowns are held over the heads of the couple by young male friends, called groomsmen. The crowns are a symbol that the newly married couple receive the grace of the Holy Spirit to be the founders of a new generation and are crowned with virtue and holiness to serve all their lives to the glory of God. 
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After this, the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians is read on the mystery and holiness of the Christian marriage; and the Gospel of St John on Christ’s miracle at the marriage in Cana in Galilee, to show that Christ blesses marriage. After the augmented litany and the litany of supplication, the Lord’s Prayer is sung. A cup of wine is brought. The priest gives this in turn to drink to the husband and wife three times - the common cup in token that they must share everything in life together. The priest then joins their right hands on his stole and leads them three times round the stand in procession. The groomsmen follow, holding the crowns above their beads. The choir sings the same verses as at an ordination, only in a different order: ‘Rejoice, O Isaiah...’. ‘Holy Martyrs...’. ‘Glory to Thee, Christ our God...’. This triumphant procession in a circle is a symbol that a marriage union cannot be broken. The priest then takes off the crowns with special words of blessing to husband and wife, and gives them the Cross to kiss. 
In some places, the crowns are made of myrtle and olive blossom and leaves and worn on the head. In others, they are of silver or gold, inlaid with small icons of Christ and His Holy Mother. 
i) Introduction 
This is a sacrament of the anointing of the sick with holy oil, with a prayer that they may be healed by the grace of the Holy Spirit from all ills of body and soul. Like all the sacraments, it is founded on Christ’s words to His disciples after His Resurrection: ‘...lay hands on the sick, and they shall be healed’. The Acts of the Apostles tell us that they anointed many sick and healed them. St. James advised his flock when anyone was ill ‘to call for the elders (priests) of the church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord...’ (James 5, 14-15). This sacrament is given to very sick people. In principle, it has to be celebrated by seven priests for seven epistles and seven Gospel lessons were read. However, often there may only be three priests present and in some circumstances only one priest. 
ii) Preparation 
A small table is brought into the sick-room. On it stands a bowl of wheat with a cup of oil and wine in the middle. Seven candles are placed round it. A cross and the Gospels are also laid on the table. The grain of wheat is for resurrection and rebirth, the oil and wine of healing by the mercy of God granted us through the Blood of Christ shed for our sakes. The seven candles are a token of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  
iii) The Service 
The priest and the sick person also hold lighted candles. It is a service of intercession. The canon for the healing of the sick is sung with the refrain ‘All merciful Lord, heal Thy suffering servant’. There is a litany and prayers for the blessing of the oil: also for the grace of the Holy Spirit to heal the anointed from every passion and ills of soul and body.  
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Then seven Epistles and seven Gospel lessons are read, seven litanies and seven prayers. After each, the priest anoints the patient with the mixed oil and wine on the forehead, nostrils, cheeks, lips, breasts, hand and feet, and pronounces the words of the Sacrament: ‘Holy Father ... physician of souls and bodies . . . do Thou heal Thy servant (name) from the bodily and spiritual infirmity that presses upon him, and quicken him by the grace of Thy Christ...’. After this, the priest lays the open Gospels, which represents the ‘strong and mighty’ hand of Christ Himself, on the sick person’s head. The priest reads over him the prayer of absolution or forgiveness of sins, he is given the Gospel to kiss and receives the priest’s blessing. 
In some churches this service is celebrated just before, or even during, Great Week. After the prayers, the blessing of the oil and wine, the Epistle and Gospel lessons, the priest anoints on the forehead all those who wished to receive the sacrament. 
Ordination and Consecration 
i) Introduction 
This is a sacrament by which bishops are consecrated and priests and deacons are ordained, all of them receiving a special grace of the Holy Spirit. The outward form is the laying-on of the bishop’s hands and the prayer of consecration. This is the only sacrament which a priest cannot perform, because a bishop alone has the right to ordain or consecrate. 
This mystery was ordained to His disciples by Our Lord. After His resurrection He breathed into them His Holy Spirit and gave them the power ‘to bind and to remit’ sins. It is often mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, and the Apostle Paul speaks of it in his letters to Timothy. Since then ordinations have gone on unbroken in the Church. Every rightly ordained bishop, priest or deacon can trace back his ordination in an unbroken chain to the times of the Apostles. 
There are three types of ordination/consecration for the deacon, the priest and the bishop. Each requires a separate laying-on of hands and receives special gifts of the Holy Spirit according to the service to which he is called. The sacrament is always celebrated during the liturgy, but at different parts of it. 
A deacon cannot celebrate sacraments, but only helps at their administration. He is therefore ordained after the consecration of the Holy Gifts. A priest himself celebrates the sacraments, and he is ordained after the Great Entrance, so as to be able to take part in the consecration. A bishop who holds the highest rank and will himself have the power to lay on hands is consecrated at the beginning of the liturgy before the Epistle is read. The ceremony is almost the same for all three. It is the most solemn and impressive for a bishop. 
Before the ceremony the person to be ordained is brought by a deacon to stand below the chancel steps in view of the whole congregation. The deacon then proclaims in a loud voice ‘Command’, and the word is repeated by other deacons inside the sanctuary. In principle, the choice of the future deacon, priest or bishop has to be approved by the people and their consent is needed for ordination. So before the ceremony the deacon asks the whole Church, as it were, to ‘command’ that their elect
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should be ordained. The clergy and people then signify their consent with the Greek word ‘Axios’ (Worthy), and only then is the elect led into the sanctuary for the sacrament. 
ii) The Ordination of a Deacon or a Priest 
After the command has been proclaimed, the subdeacon to be ordained is led by two deacons from the church into the sanctuary and brought before the bishop, who sits at the left corner of the holy table. He bows to the ground before the bishop and receives his blessing. He is then led three times round the holy table by a deacon, as a sign that he pledges himself to God’s service for ever. He kisses each corner of the holy table in veneration and the bishop’s hand in token of submission.  
During this, three verses are sung: ‘Holy martyrs, who have fought the good fight and have received your crowns, pray ye the Lord for mercy on our souls’. ‘Glory to Thee, Christ our God, the Apostles’ praises, the martyrs’ joy, whose preaching was the Consubstantial Trinity’. ‘Rejoice, O Isaiah, the Virgin is with Child and brings forth a Son, Emmanuel, both God and Man: ‘Orient’ is His name; Whom magnifying, we call the Virgin blessed’. The first verse reminds the newly ordained that he must follow in the steps of the holy martyrs and serve God valiantly unto death. The second points out that he is joining God’s chosen ones and pledges himself to follow their example. The third reminds him always to bear in mind our Lord’s Incarnation, His life and teaching. 
After the third time the candidate kneels on one knee before the holy table, to show that he will not be invested with the full priesthood; he crosses his hands on the edge of the holy table and lays his head upon them to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Here the bishop rises, covers the subdeacon’s head with his pall, lays his hand upon it and reads the prayer of consecration: ‘The divine grace, which ever remedies that which is infirm, and completes that which is wanting, elevates, through the laying-on of hands, the most pious subdeacon (name) to be a deacon. Let us therefore pray for him that the grace of the Holy Spirit may come upon Him’. The clergy in the sanctuary and the choir sing ‘Lord, have mercy’, many times. The bishop meanwhile makes the sign of the cross three times over the head of the ordained, and prays secretly that he may be granted those gifts which are needed for his office. After this the new deacon is clothed in his vestments. Each part is blessed and handed to him by the bishop with the word ‘Axios’. This is repeated by the choir. The new deacon then assists at the ending of the liturgy. 
A priest is ordained in almost the same way. Obviously, he must already be a deacon. He is led round the holy table by a priest. The same verses are sung. He kneels before the holy table on both knees as a sign that he takes up a higher and heavier burden of service. The laying-on of the bishop’s hand and the prayer of consecration are the same; only the following words are different: ‘the most pious deacon to be a priest’. In his secret prayer the bishop asks for the special gifts of priesthood. The new priest is clothed in his vestments and joins in the consecration of the holy gifts. After the consecration the bishop gives him a portion of the ‘Holy Lamb’ as a token ‘to hold and to keep until death, and answer for at the awful second coming of Our Lord and Saviour’. This is to remind the priest to guard the holiness of the mysteries and administer them only to the worthy.
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iii) The Consecration of a Bishop 
Most solemn of all is the consecration of a bishop. A bishop of the Church must be unmarried, a widower or a monk. Because his duties are the heaviest and greatest he will be called upon to answer before God for all his flock. A bishop is ordained by several bishops, usually not less than three. The ceremony is at the beginning of the liturgy before the Epistle; but before he is ordained the chosen bishop must confess his faith before all the people and make solemn vows. 
Before the liturgy all the bishops are seated in the middle of the church (usually a cathedral) on a raised platform, the ‘cathedra’. In front of it is spread a large carpet with the design of an eagle above a city. A senior priest and archdeacon lead in the chosen bishop. He stands on the edge of the eagle carpet. The senior bishop asks him. ‘How believest thou?’ and the bishop-to-be recites the Creed. He is then led to the middle of the eagle’s body and reads the teachings of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation of the Son of God. He vows to keep the rules of the Apostles and Church Councils and the traditions of the Orthodox Church. He is then led to stand on the head of the eagle and promises to obey the senior bishop, to serve according to his conscience and in the fear of God. He is then blessed by the senior bishop and kisses the hands of the bishops who will ordain him. 
The liturgy then begins. After the little entrance the senior priest and deacon lead him up to the holy doors, where he is received by all the bishops. He kneels on both knees before the Holy Table, crosses his hands on its edge and bows his head. All the bishops rise, lay their right hand on his head and also hold above it the open Gospels, as the hand of Our Lord Himself. The senior bishop reads the prayer of consecration with the words: ‘(Name) the most pious Archimandrite to be Bishop...’. The priests sing ‘Lord, have mercy’. After this the new bishop is vested in full vestments and takes his place at the holy table. 
3. Special Services 
Services of Intercession 
The Church takes part in every event in our life, so there are many special services of intercession. The latter the priest will hold in church or in our own homes. In some we thank God for His mercies; in others we ask His blessing or help: to heal the sick; to bless a new house (holy water is then sprinkled in all the rooms); for a safe journey; for a child starting school; on our saints’ days. Some of the services are to Our Lord, others to the Mother of God, others to particular saints. 
This kind of service of intercession always begins with the prayer to the Holy Spirit, ‘O heavenly King, the Comforter, Spirit of Truth . .’, a hymn to Our Lord, or to His Holy Mother, or a saint. There is a litany of thanksgiving or special petitions. A Gospel (and sometimes an Epistle) is read, then the litany of supplication and a special prayer, when everybody usually kneels. Between these refrains are sung, for instance, ‘Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee’; ‘Sweetest Jesus, have mercy on us’; Most Holy Mother of God, save us’; ‘Holy Father Nicholas (or other saint by
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name), pray to God for us’. Long canons of praise, called akathists, to God, the Holy Virgin Mary and the saints are sometimes added to the services of intercession. 
There are also many other special services of intercession: On the foundation and consecration of churches; on days of a church’s patronal feast; New Year’s Day; the blessing of waters; public thanksgiving; in time of war or invasion and national trouble; blessing of the fields and first-fruits; prayers for rain; memorial services for the departed, and so on.  
b) Prayers for the Dying and the Departed 
The Church does not forsake her children at the hour of repose. She blesses them on their last journey and prays for their departed souls. A special prayer, called the departing prayer, is read when possible at the bedside of a dying Orthodox Christian. We ask that their sins may be forgiven and their soul received in peace by our Heavenly Father. 
When an Orthodox Christian reposes, his body is washed and clothed, either in his usual clothes or else in a white shroud (a reminder of the ‘robe of righteousness’ given him at Baptism). The body is laid out or put in a coffin, an icon or cross placed on the folded hands in token of his Orthodox faith. A white band, called a crown, with images of the Saviour and the Mother of God and the words of the Thrice-Holy Hymn, is laid around his forehead. It is an emblem of the heavenly crown which awaits the faithful. The coffin usualIy stands in the corner of the room beneath the icons, and candles are placed round it. 
According to Tradition, as soon as an Orthodox Christian passes away, his relations or readers in turn begin to read the psalms beside the body. This vigil lasts day and night till the funeral. After every three psalms a short prayer is said for the soul of the departed. This reading is partly meant for the comfort of the mourners in the words of the psalms, and a loving, prayerful tribute to the departed. Special memorial services (panikhidas) are also sung every day. The hymn ‘Give rest with the saints, O Christ, to the soul of Thy servant, where there is neither pain, nor grief, nor sighing, but life everlasting’, is sung. The service ends with the prayer ‘In the sleep of the blessed, grant, O Lord, eternal repose, to the soul of Thy servant (name), and give him/her eternal memory’. This does not mean eternal memory on earth among men, for that is impossible, but in the land of the living, in the Kingdom of God. 
c) The Burial Service and Memorial Services 
Where possible, on the third day the body of the departed Orthodox is brought to the church. Before it is borne out of the house there is a short service. Everyone holds lighted candies and the coffin is carried out to the singing of the Thrice-Holy Hymn. This shows the hope that the departed is passing into the kingdom of eternal light where spirits glorify the Holy Trinity. In church the open coffin is placed in the middle of the church facing the sanctuary, with four candlesticks round it. Sometimes, the funeral service begins with a Liturgy for the departed. It is the usual Liturgy, the name of the departed is mentioned at the Preparation and Consecration. There is a special litany and hymns, and the Epistle and Gospel speak of the resurrection. 
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If there is a Liturgy first, then it will be followed by the Burial Service. Again all the people stand with lighted candles. The service begins with the customary ‘Blessed is God, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages...’. Then comes the singing of verses from Psalms 90 and 118, which speak of the joys of those who trust in the Lord. Between the verses the refrains ‘Alleluia’ and ‘Have mercy on Thy servant, O Lord’, are sung. There are also short litanies for the repose of the departed soul. Hymns follow, each one beginning with the verse ‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes’. These hymns portray human life. God created man out of nothing in His own image. For disobeying His commandments he was condemned to return to earth. But in spite of his sins he still remains the image of God’s ineffable glory, and implores God’s mercy to return to his forsaken fatherland. Then more verses are sung. They are the departed’s warning to the living that earthly life is short and that each of us will have to stand before God and answer for what he has made of it. 
The Epistle of the Apostle Paul and the Gospel of St John are then read on Christ’s glorious message of the resurrection. There is the Litany of Supplication. After this the priest reads the prayer of absolution and absolves the departed from all sins he ever committed in his earthly life. The service ends with a hymn, during which the  farewell kiss is given to the departed. ‘Eternal Memory’ is sung and the coffin closed. 
The burial takes place in a cemetery or churchyard. Cremation is not allowed in the Orthodox Church. If possible, the grave faces east. There is a short service and then the priest scatters some earth crosswise over the coffin, saying, ‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and all they that dwell therein’, and the grave is filled in. A cross is put over the grave in token of victory over death. 
The burial service for babies and small children who have not yet been to confession is quite different. Such a child is guiltless of sins and the Church only prays to Christ to receive ‘the blessed infant (name) into His Kingdom according to His undeceiving promise’. The whole service is one of sweet gladness over a pure angel’s return to his Father’s house. 
When a priest reposes, his body is anointed with oil by a member of the clergy and clothed in full vestments, his face covered with the chalice veil and the Gospels laid on his breast The service is much longer. Five Epistles and five Gospels are read. Special hymns are sung as well as the Great Doxology. 
If an Orthodox passes away during Bright Week, the service again is different. It begins with the triumphant hymn ‘Christ is risen from the dead...’. After the Litany for the Departed, the Easter Canon is sung: ‘The day of resurrection...the Passover of gladness, the Passover of God...’ and other Easter hymns. Most of the sad hymns are left out, only the hymn ‘Give rest with the saints, Christ, to the soul of Thy servant’ is sung. The lessons are from the Acts of the Apostles and the First Sunday Gospel of St. Matthew. There are more Easter hymns, the Litany for the Departed, the absolution and  farewell. The priest gives the Easter blessing and greeting, ‘Christ is risen’. The body is borne to the grave to the singing of ‘Christ is risen from the dead...’. 
The Church does not forget her departed children. She prays for them always at the Liturgy and on special days. Memorial services (panikhidas), besides being sung on the first three days after the repose, are also sung on the ninth and fortieth days and on
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The Transfiguration of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ August 19. (Aug. 6).

At one point in His earthly ministry, Our Lord asked His disciples, Who do men say that the Son of man is (Matt. 16:13)? The disciples gave various answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. Then He said to them, But who do you say that I am (Matt. 16:15)? Simon Peter replied, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16). Shortly after this confession of faith, Jesus went up a high mountain (according to Church Tradition, Mt. Tabor) to pray, taking with Him Peter, James and John. And as He was praying, the appearance of His countenance was altered, and His raiment became dazzling white. And behold, two men talked with Him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His departure, which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with Him were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. And as the men were parting from Him, Peter said to Jesus, Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah not knowing what he said. As he said this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is My Son, My Beloved; listen to Him! And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silence and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen (Luke 9:29-36).

In the Old Testament, the presence of light and cloud often signified the Divine Presence: Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel (Ex. 24:15-17). Likewise, on Mt. Tabor the cloud signified the Divine Presence the God-Man Jesus Christ and the Theophany here was accompanied by a bright radiance.

Both Moses and Elijah had beheld the presence of God, as the Readings at the Vespers of the Feast point out, and thus were appropriate witnesses on Mt. Tabor to Christ's divinity. In addition, as Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, how appropriate it was for those who par excellence represented the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) to be present.

The Lord took His three closest disciples (Peter, James and John) with Him on the mountain for, although God sometimes reveals Himself to sinners in quite unexpected ways, it is usually those who have followed Him long and faithfully who are privileged to enter into the joy of the Transfiguration of the Master.

The bright radiance and shining of the face is also a characteristic of those closest to God. Such was the case of Moses, who spoke to God face to face: When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tables of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. And when Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them.... And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he took the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone; and Moses would put the veil upon his face again, until he went in to speak with Him (Ex. 34:29-35). In more recent times this phenomenon was especially noted in the case of St. Seraphim of Sarov whose face shone like the brightest sun according to contemporary reports [Conversation with Motovilov].

In like manner, we all have the opportunity to be transfigured in our lives and to acquire a close relationship with God. So, too, we all have the opportunity to manifest the visible signs of those closest to God. In any case, as St. Paul tells us, when we die our bodies will be transformed (transfigured, as it were) and we will take on spiritual, radiant bodies. This aspect is clearly seen in the Transfiguration of Our Lord.

Troparion (Tone 7).

Thou wast transfigured on the Mount, O Christ God, revealing Thy glory to Thy disciples as far as they could bear it. Let Thine everlasting light shine upon us sinner! Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Giver of Light, glory to Thee!

Kontakion (Tone 7).

On the mountain wast Thou transfigured, O Christ God, and Thy disciples beheld Thy glory as far as they could see it; so that when they would behold Thee crucified, they would understand that Thy suffering was voluntary, and would proclaim to the world that Thou art truly the Radiance of the Father!

The Dormition of the Most-Holy Theotokos August 28. (Aug. 15).

Liturgically, the most important Feast of the Theotokos is that of her Dormition or Falling-Asleep. Prior to this Feast there is a strict two-week fast, beginning on August 1, which is broken only by the Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6. This Feast possesses two distinct aspects inseparably linked in the mind of the believer. On the one hand, there is death and burial and, on the other, resurrection and the assumption of the Mother of God. As part of the Inner Tradition of the Church, this event was mystery that was not designed for the ears of the outside world, but which was revealed to the faithful within the Church.

True believers know that insofar as the son of God assumed human nature in the womb of the Virgin, She who was the means of His Incarnation was resurrected and taken up into Heaven in the Divine Glory of Her Son. Arise, O Lord, and go to Thy resting place, Thou and the ark of Thy might (Ps. 132:8). The Son transported His Mother to the eternity of the life to come, for being the Mother of Life, she was translated to life by the One Who dwelt in her virginal womb (from the Kontakion of the Feast).

Thus, if every year we commemorate the anniversaries of the deaths of the Saints the Martyrs, Apostles, Venerable Mothers and Fathers, Sainted Hierarchs, etc. so much the more we commemorate the death of the Most-Holy Theotokos who did not see the corruption of the grave common to all humanity. And not only did her soul ascend to heaven, but her body also. As she was a perfect example of that obedience which all Christians are called upon to exercise, and as she alone was the Mother of God, her body did not see the natural corruption which follows death, but was raised from the dead and carried to the glory of the King of All in the heavenly mansions.

According to the Inner Tradition of the Church, the Dormition of the Most-Holy Theotokos took place in the following manner: Having reached an advanced age, the Most-Pure One wished to leave the body and go to God as soon as possible, since the one unceasing desire of her soul had always been to see the sweet face of her son sitting at the right hand of the Father in Heaven. Many tears she shed as she prayed to the Lord to take her from this present vale of sorrows.

The All-Chaste One lived in the house of St. John the Divine on Zion and often she went to the Mount of Olives, which was nearby, offering there in solitude her fervent prayer to her Son. Once, as she was praying alone on the Mount, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her and announced that soon (after three days) she would depart and be with Christ. The Archangel told her that she should not be troubled, but should receive his words with joy as she was being called to immortal life and to the eternal King of Glory.

As a sign of the triumph of the Mother of God over death that bodily death would not have power over her, just as spiritual death had not had dominion over her, and that she would merely fall asleep for a short time and then, as if waking from sleep, she would rise and shake off death like sleep from the eyes and would see in the light of the Lord's face the immortal life and glory to which she would go with shouts of joy and spiritual happiness the Archangel handed the Most-Holy Virgin a branch from Paradise. The Most-Blessed Mother of God was filled with unspeakable joy and, falling down on her knees, she fervently thanked her Creator.

Before her departure from this life, the Most-Pure Lady wanted to see the Holy Apostles who were already scattered all over the world for the preaching of the Gospel. On her knees she prayed that this might be possible and that at the hour of her death she might not see the Prince of Darkness and his terrible servants, but that her son and God Himself would fulfill His promise and come and receive her soul into His holy hands. As she knelt, the olive trees growing on the Mountain bent, as if they were animate, and when the Pure Theotokos rose, they straightened themselves out again, honoring her as the Mother of God.

Returning home, the Most-Blessed Lady showed the branch from Paradise to St. John and told him to carry it before her bed. Then she began to make preparations for her burial. St. John sent word to St. James, first Bishop of Jerusalem and the brother of the Lord, and also to all other relatives and neighbors, informing them of the imminent decease of the Mother of God. In turn St. James informed all the Christians living in Jerusalem and the surrounding towns. With weeping they came to the home of the Pure Virgin to await her death.

As the multitude was gathered at the home of the Theotokos, suddenly there was heard a loud noise, like thunder, and a cloud encircled the house of St. John the Divine. At the command of God, angels seized the Apostles who were scattered to the ends of the earth and, bringing them on clouds to Jerusalem, placed them on Zion before the door of the house. St. John greeted them and told them of the speedy departure of the Most-Holy Mother of God. Later the Apostle Paul, accompanied by his close disciples, Dionysius the Areopagite, Hierotheus and Timothy, as well as the Seventy Apostles arrived at the home.

On the fifteenth day of the month of August, as all were awaiting the final hour, there suddenly shone in the room an ineffable light of Divine Glory which dimmed the lamps that had been lit in the house. The inhabitants saw the roof of the room opened and the glory of the Lord descending from Heaven Christ the King of Glory Himself with the hosts of angels and archangels, with all the heavenly powers, with the holy Fathers and Prophets who of old had prophesied about the Holy Virgin, and all the righteous souls, approached His Immaculate Mother.

After greeting Her Son, the Virgin surrendered her pure soul into His hands. She felt no pain whatever, for the end was as if she had fallen into a sweet sleep. At once there began angelic singing and with triumphant songs the heavenly hosts accompanied the soul of the Mother of God as she went in the arms of the Lord to the dwellings on High.

After her demise, the Holy Apostles bore the Most-Pure Body of the Mother of God to the Garden of Gethsemane, where she was placed in a tomb. The Holy Apostles stayed by the tomb of the Most-Pure One without leaving the Garden for three full days, singing psalms day and night. In addition, for all this time there was heard in the air the wonderful singing of the heavenly hosts praising God and blessing His Immaculate Mother.

By God's special arrangement, one of the Apostles, St. Thomas, was not present at the glorious burial of the body of the Immaculate Mother and he only arrived at Gethsemane on the third day. Grieving that he had not been granted the last greeting and blessing of the Most-Pure One, Thomas wept bitterly. Taking pity on him, the Apostles decided to open the tomb so that he might at least see the dead body of the Blessed Mother. But when the tomb was opened, the body of the Mother of God was not there, but only the burial clothes, giving off a wonderful fragrance!

With weeping and reverence the Holy Apostles kissed the burial clothes, praying that the Lord would reveal to them where the body of the All-Pure One had disappeared to. Later, after having eaten a meal in the Garden, the Apostles suddenly heard angelic singing. Looking up, they saw standing in the air the Immaculate Mother of God surrounded by a multitude of angels. She was enveloped in an ineffable light and she said to them: Rejoice, for I am with you always! Filled with joy, instead of the usual Lord Jesus Christ, help us! the Apostles cried: Most Holy Mother of God, help us! From that time they taught the Holy Church to believe that the Immaculate Mother of God on the third day after her burial was raised by her Son and taken with her body to Heaven.

Thus, the Lord, by His special Providence, delayed the arrival of St. Thomas until the day of the Falling-asleep of the Mother of God so that the tomb might be opened for him, so that the Church, in this way, might believe in the resurrection of the Mother of God, just as previously through the same Apostle's unbelief the Church had come to believe in the resurrection of Christ. Thus were accomplished the Falling-asleep of our Most-Blessed Lady the Mother of God, the burial of her undefiled body, her glorious resurrection and the triumphant assurance regarding her ascension to heaven in the flesh.

Troparion of the Feast (Tone 1).

In giving birth, you preserved your virginity! In falling asleep you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos! You were translated to life, O Mother of Life, and by your prayers you deliver our souls from death!

Kontakion of the Feast (Tone 2).

Neither the tomb, nor death, could hold the Theotokos, who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions. For being the Mother of Life, she was translated to life by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb!

The Beheading of St. John the Baptist. September 11.  (Aug. 29).

During His earthly ministry, the Lord bore witness to the stature of His Baptizer. Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in kings' houses. Why then did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, 'Behold, I send My messenger before Thy face, who shall prepare Thy way before Thee.' Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he (Matt. 11:7-11).

John was the greatest of the prophets; however, as the Resurrection had not yet occurred, no man had ascended to the glory of the Kingdom of God. Even so great a prophet as John had not been redeemed. Like all men, John had to die a bodily death and it is entirely appropriate that this occurred as the result of his high moral integrity and courageous words such as would come from a great prophet.

The Holy Evangelist Mark tells the story: Herod had sent and seized John, and bound hint in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife; because he had married her. For John said to Herod, It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife. And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. When he heard him he was much perplexed; and yet he heard him gladly.

But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias' daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will grant it. And he vowed to her, Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom. And she went out, and said to her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the baptizer. And she came in immediately with haste to the king, and asked, saying, I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.

And the king was exceedingly sorry; but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard and gave orders to bring his head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb (Mark 6:17-29). Thus the Baptizer of Christ met a tragic end. In commemoration of this event, on the Day of his Beheading, the Holy Church has decreed a day of strict fasting.

The Nativity of the Most-Holy Theotokos. September 21. (Sept. 8)

The first Great Feast to fall in the Church Year is the Nativity of the Most-Holy Theotokos. It is entirely fitting that at the beginning of the new religious year all Orthodox Christians should come before the highest example of human holiness that the Orthodox Church holds precious and venerates that of Mary, the Theotokos and Mother of God. This day is seen as one of universal joy; for on this day the boundary of the Old and New Covenants was born the Most-Blessed Virgin, pre-arranged from the ages by Divine Providence to serve the mystical Incarnation of God the Word.

The first Old Testament Reading of Vespers (Gen. 28:10-17) speaks of the dream of Jacob, one of the Old Testament Patriarchs, when he fled the wrath of his brother Esau. He saw a ladder extending from earth to heaven, with angels ascending and descending. When he awoke, Jacob blessed with oil the stone on which he had slept and called it Bethel, meaning house of God. The Most-Pure Mother of God is seen here as that ladder between heaven and earth, uniting earth with heaven in her womb. She who carried God in her womb is truly Bethel, none other than the house of God...and the gate of heaven (Gen. 28:17).

The birth of the Most-Holy Theotokos took place in the following manner: Her father, the Righteous Joachim, was a descendant of King David, to whom God had promised that from the seed of his descendants would be born the Savior of the world. Her mother, the Righteous Anna, was the daughter of Matthan, and through her father was of the tribe of Aaron and through her mother was of the tribe of Judah. The spouses lived in Nazareth of Galilee.

Joachim and Anna had no children, and all their life they grieved about this, especially since they were now in old age. Scorn and mockery was their lot, for at that time childlessness was reckoned as a shame. But they never murmured and only the more fervently beseeched God, humbly trusting in His Will.

Once, during the time of a great Feast, the offering which Joachim took to Jerusalem to offer to God in the Temple, was not received by the priest, who reckoned that a childless man was not worthy to bring a sacrifice to God. This greatly grieved the old man and he, counting himself only a sinner among men, decided not to return home, but to flee to a place of solitude in a deserted place.

Anna, having heard how her husband had been humiliated by the priest, began to fast, and in prayer sadly beseeched God to grant her a child. In the wilderness, secluded and fasting, Joachim also prayed to God about this.

The prayers of the Holy Spouses were heard. The angel Gabriel came to them and announced that a daughter would be born to them, whom the whole human race would call blessed. At the command of the Heavenly Messenger, Joachim and Anna returned to Jerusalem where, according to the promise of God, a daughter was born to them, whom they named Mary.

This child, the Most-Holy Virgin Mary, pure and virtuous, surpassed not only all men, but even the angels, being manifested as the Living Temple, the Heavenly Gate, ushering in Christ to the Universe as the Salvation of our souls. The Nativity of the Mother of God pre-announced the approaching time when the great and comforting promise of God concerning the salvation of the human race from the slavery of the devil was to be accomplished. The Mother of the First-Born of all Creation was revealed to all of us as a merciful Intercessor to whom we perpetually run for help in all things.

Troparion of the Feast (Tone 4).

Your Nativity, O Virgin, has proclaimed joy to the whole universe! The Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, has shone from you, O Theotokos! By annulling the curse, He bestowed a blessing. By destroying death, He has granted us eternal life.

Kontakion of the Feast (Tone 4)

By your Nativity, O Most-Pure Virgin, Joachim and Anna are freed from barrenness; Adam and Eve, from the corruption of death. And we, your people, freed from the guilt of sin, celebrate and sing to you: The barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos, the Nourisher of our Life.

The Universal Exaltation of the Life-Creating Cross. September 27. (Sept. 14)

Not long after the Nativity of the Most-Holy Theotokos, the Church celebrates the Exaltation of the Most-Precious Cross of the Lord. The Savior Himself had spoken of His death on the Cross, saying: As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:14-16). This was accomplished on Holy Friday when the Lord was crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried, as the Creed proclaims. And just before He died He proclaimed It is finished (John 19:30)!

Truly, the Nativity of the Theotokos was seen as the beginning of our salvation, and the Cross is seen as the culmination of our salvation. By Christ's death on It, our salvation was accomplished. Mary is also closely associated with the Cross, for she was the mystical paradise in whom the Tree of Life sprouted; this Tree of Life, Christ our Savior, then planted on earth the life-creating Tree of the Cross (from the Feast). And as He suffered and died on the Life-giving Tree of the Cross, so too we are called upon to take up our own crosses on our shoulders and to die daily for the sake of Him Who died for us.

The Feast itself came about because of certain historical events. After the voluntary suffering and death on the Cross of the Lord, the sacred place of His suffering was scorned by the pagans. When the Roman Emperor Titus, in 70 A.D. conquered Jerusalem, he destroyed the city and leveled the Temple on Mt. Moriah, not leaving even a stone upon a stone, as had been foretold by the Savior in a dialogue with His disciples (Mark 13:1-2).

The Emperor Hadrian (117-138), a backward, zealous pagan, constructed in place of the Jerusalem destroyed by Titus a new city, which he named Helio-Hadrianopolis. Further, it was forbidden for this city to be called by its previous name of Jerusalem. He commanded that the Holy Grave of the Lord be covered with earth and stones, raising on it an idol. On Golgotha, where the Savior was crucified, in 119 he erected a temple dedicated to the goddess Venus. Sacrifices were offered before the statue and pagan rites were celebrated, accompanied by prostitution. In Bethlehem, in the place where the Savior had been born of the Most-Pure Virgin, the impious monarch erected an idol to Adonis. All of this he did intending that the people completely forget about Christ the Savior and nevermore recollect the place where He lived, taught, suffered and arose with glory.

When Constantine the Great, Equal-to-the-Apostles (306-337) ascended the throne (being the first of the Roman Emperors to recognize Christianity) , he, together with his pious mother, Queen Helena, decided to restore the city of Jerusalem, and in the place of the suffering and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ to erect a new church, to cleanse all of the places connected with the memory of Jesus from the pagan cult, and again to consecrate all of them. The Orthodox Queen Helena left for Jerusalem with a great quantity of gold, and the Emperor sent a letter to Patriarch Macarius I (313-323) in which he asked every kind of aid in the holy task of restoring the Christian holy places.

Having arrived in Jerusalem, the pious Queen destroyed all the idols and cleansed the city of pagan cult objects, consecrating the defiled places. She burned with the desire to raise up the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ; and so she commanded that digging proceed at the place where the Temple of Venus had stood. There the covered Grave of the Lord was discovered, as well as the place of execution, not far from which were found three crosses and four nails, as well as the sign board which had been nailed over His head.

In order to determine which of the three crosses belonged to the Savior, Patriarch Macarius ordered that the crosses, in turn, be placed on a dead person who was being brought to a place of burial. When the Cross of Christ touched the dead one, he immediately came to life. With great joy, the Orthodox Queen and the Patriarch together lifted up the Life-Creating Cross and showed it to all the people standing by. Later the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was constructed on the site, enclosing within its walls the place of the crucifixion of the Savior, as well as His tomb, and a Feast was instituted for September 14, commemorating the glorious Exaltation of the Cross.

Troparion of the Feast (Tone 1).

O Lord, save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance. Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries; and by virtue of Thy Cross, preserve Thy habitation.

Kontakion of the Feast (Tone 4).

As Thou wast voluntarily crucified for our sake, grant mercy to those who are called by Thy Name; make all Orthodox Christians glad by Thy power, granting them victories over their adversaries, by bestowing on them the invincible trophy, Thy weapon of peace.

Preparation to Confession: St. John of Kronstadt

Preparation for Confession

St. John of Kronstadt

A meditation for those preparing to stand before the Creator and Church community in the awesome Mystery of Holy Confession, thereby being given the renewal of a second baptism.

I, a sinful soul, confess to our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, all of my evil acts which I have done, said or thought from baptism even unto this present day.

I have not kept the vows of my baptism, but have made myself unwanted before the face of God.

I have sinned before the Lord by lack of faith and by doubts concerning the Orthodox Faith and the Holy Church; by ungratefulness for all of God's great and unceasing gifts; His long-suffering and His providence for me, a sinner; by lack of love for the Lord, as well as fear, through not fulfilling the Holy Commandments of God and the canons and rules of the Church.

I have not preserved a love for God and for my neither neighbor nor have I made enough efforts, because of laziness and lack of care, to learn the Commandments of God and the precepts of the Holy Fathers. I have sinned: by not praying in the morning and in the evening and in the course of the day; by not attending the services or by coming to Church only halfheartedly.

I have sinned by judging members of the clergy. I have sinned by not respecting the Feasts, breaking the Fasts, and by immoderation in food and drink.

I have sinned by self-importance, disobedience, willfulness, self-righteousness, and the seeking of approval and praise.

I have sinned by unbelief, lack of faith, doubts, despair, despondency, abusive thoughts, blasphemy and swearing.

I have sinned by pride, a high opinion of my self, narcissism, vanity, conceit, envy, love of praise; love of honors, and by putting on airs.

I have sinned: by judging, malicious gossip, anger, remembering of offenses done to me, hatred and returning evil for evil; by slander, reproaches, lies, slyness, deception and hypocrisy; by prejudices, arguments, stubbornness, and an unwillingness to give way to my neighbor; by gloating, spitefulness, taunting, insults and mocking; by gossip, by speaking too much and by empty speech.

I have sinned by unnecessary and excessive laughter, by reviling and dwelling upon my previous sins, by arrogant behavior, insolence and lack of respect.

I have sinned by not keeping my physical and spiritual passions in check, by my enjoyment of impure thoughts, licentiousness and unchastely in thoughts, words and deeds.

I have sinned by lack of endurance towards my illnesses and sorrows, a devotion to the comforts of life and by being too attached to my parents, children, relatives and friends.

I have sinned by hardening my heart, having a weak will and by not forcing myself to do good.

I have sinned by miserliness, a love of money, the acquisition of unnecessary things and immoderate attachment to things.

I have sinned by self-justification, a disregard for the admonitions of my conscience and failing to confess my sins through negligence or false pride.

I have sinned many times by my Confession: belittling, justifying and keeping silent about sins.

I have sinned against the Most-holy and Life-creating Mysteries of the Body and Blood of our Lord by coming to Holy Communion without humility or the fear of God.

I have sinned in deed, word and thought, knowingly and unknowingly, willingly and unwillingly, thoughtfully and thoughtlessly, and it is impossible to enumerate all of my sins because of their multitude. But I truly repent of these and all others not mentioned by me because of my forgetfulness and I ask that they be forgiven through the abundance of the Mercy of God.

Guide to Confession: St. John of Kronstadt

A Guide to Confession

Genuine Repentance & Confession heals and makes the immortal soul holy. This is the correct way to prepare for Holy Communion.

So that we can better examine the depths of our conscience, it would be ideal to first read several books on the Sacrament of Confession.[1] Also, discuss any uncertainties that you may have with your wise Spiritual Father-Confessor.[2] The greatest science or knowledge is to get to know ourselves. Also we must not deny ourselves the greatest thing that every human soul thirsts for: a peaceful conscience and eternity with God.

This joy is only granted by the God-Man, our Lord Jesus Christ. He himself instituted the single path to salvation for the repentant sinner within his Church, the holy Sacrament of Repentance and Confession. This is why, friend, you must overcome any obstacle whatsoever that blocks the road to Holy Confession. Here awaits you with genuine Christian love the good Confessor, the representative of Christ, who as a fellow human being can understand and have compassion on his brethren who are also sinful.

Cast far away, brethren, any thought of embarrassment or fright. Why be seared or frightened when your soul frets and pains from the deadly consequences of multi-faceted sin. If sickness tortured your body, would you avoid the hospital or doctor because of embarrassment? But at the same time, do not be led astray by certain people who wish to have read on them a “blessing only,” without having previously confessed. Whenever this happens from ignorance or neglect, it is a terrible sin and an insult to God. With faith, then, and honesty, proceed to Holy Confession.

Be certain also that the infinite love of the crucified and resurrected Lord will welcome you and transform you, removing the weight that burdens you! He himself said, “Come to Me all ye that are heavy laden and I will grant you rest.”

You and God

  1. Do you believe in God, the Holy Trinity, and in the divinity of Christ? Do you respect the Holy Virgin Mary, the Saints, and the Angels? Do you believe in the Church and its Mysteries (Sacraments)? Do you believe that Heaven and Hell exist?
  2. Do you trust yourself always, and especially during the difficult times of your life, to the care and Providence of God? Or do you despair and show a lack of faith?
  3. Perhaps in the problems, afflictions, sicknesses, and trials of your life you moan and complain against God and lose your faith and confidence?
  4. Do you believe in mediums, fortune-telling, tarot card reading, or coffee-cup reading? Do you tell other people to believe in such things and go to such people?
  5. Do you believe in superstition?
  6. Do you believe in luck?
  7. Do you pray morning and evening and before and after each meal? Are you embarrassed to make the sign of the cross in the presence of others, for example, in a restaurant or outside a holy church when you are passing by? Do you not make your cross properly?
  8. Do you read the Holy Bible as well as other Orthodox spiritual books daily?
  9. Do you go to church on Sundays and on the major Feast Days?[3]
  10. Do you follow the Divine Liturgy carefully and reverently from the start until the end, or do you go late and leave before the end? Do you let your mind wander in church?
  11. Do you go to church dressed in a proper and dignified way? Are you careful not to laugh, or talk even if it is a Wedding or Baptismal service?
  12. Do you perhaps prevent or restrict your spouse or children from going to church? Or do you tell your acquaintances not to go to church?
  13. Do you commune regularly or only once a year, and then without Holy Confession?
  14. Do you give oaths without need or, if so, lie as well? Did you perhaps not fulfill your oath, vow, or promise? The Bible forbids oaths completely, saying that our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no” (St Matthew 5:7).
  15. Do you blaspheme the Name of God, the Virgin Mary, and our Saints by speaking irreverently of them?
  16. Do you fast (unless you have a serious health problem) on Wednesdays and Fridays and during the appointed periods of the year?[4]
  17. Do you throw religious books or periodicals in unclean places?

You and Others

  1. Do you have hatred and ill-feelings towards someone who did you wrong or insulted you in their anger?
  2. Are you suspicious and do you without reason suspect that everyone supposedly talks about you, that they don't want you, and that they don't love or like you?
  3. Are you jealous and upset over the progress, fortune, possessions and beauty of others?
  4. Are you unmoved by the misfortune and needs of your fellow men?
  5. In your transactions with your business partners, co-workers, and clients, are you honest and forthright?
  6. Have you criticized or slandered your fellow man, wrongly accusing them?
  7. Are you sarcastic and patronizing towards believers, or towards those who fast and endeavor to live a Christian life, or towards those who have physical/mental problems and/or disabilities?
  8. If you heard some information or criticism against someone, did you pass it on to others and harm (even unwillingly) their reputation and respect?
  9. Did you criticize the conduct, actions, faults, and mistakes of another person when they were not present, even if what you said was the truth? Have you ever criticized the clergy? Do you gossip about and criticize the personal lives of others? Did you listen to someone blaspheming God or a holy person, and not protest?
  10. Do you curse those who have harmed you, or curse yourself in difficult moments of your life, or curse the day and hour in which you were born?
  11. Do you send others “to the devil” or give them rude hand gestures?
  12. Do you respect your parents? Do you look after them? Do you put up with their elderly weaknesses? Do you help them with their bodily and spiritual needs? Are you mindful of their spiritual needs by making sure they go to church and partake worthily of Holy Communion? Have you abandoned them?
  13. Have you misguided your parents to leave to you in their will more of their estate than is proper, thus causing injustice to your brothers and sisters?
  14. Perhaps in your anger did you hit anyone with your hands or injure them with your words?
  15. Do you perform your job or occupation properly and with a good conscience? Or are you unfair to others?
  16. Do you steal? Perhaps you have encouraged or helped another person to steal? Have you agreed to cover up a theft? Have you bought or accepted goods known to be stolen?
  17. Are you ungrateful towards God and generally towards your helpers and beneficiaries? Do you grumble and murmur against them?
  18. Do you keep company with bad and sinful people or associates? With your words or example, have you ever pushed anyone to sin?
  19. Have you ever committed forgery? Have you ever embezzled or defrauded the public? Have you borrowed money and/or other possessions and without returning or repaying them?
  20. Have you ever committed murder, in any way?
  21. Do you entangle yourself in the lives of others or in their work or their families and become the cause of strife, quarrels and disturbances?
  22. Do you have mercy and compassion on the poor, on orphans, on the elderly, on families with many children struggling to make ends meet?
  23. Have you lied or added or subtracted from the truth? Do you flatter others in order to get your own way?
  24. Did you craftily ask for a dowry when you declared your intentions to marry?
  25. Have you ever sent an anonymous or cruel letter to anyone?


  1. Are you a slave to materialism and worldly goods?
  2. Are you greedy or a lover of money?
  3. Are you stingy?
  4. Are you wasteful? Do you live by the Gospel command that whatever you have leftover and above your needs belongs to the poor? Do you have too much love towards pets and waste money on them while people are dying of starvation?
  5. Are you conceited and arrogant? Do you talk hack to your elders and superiors?
  6. Do you like to show off with your clothing, wealth, fortunes, and the academic achievements of your children or of yourself?
  7. Do you seek attention and glory from people? Do you wear perfume, make-up, and change the appearance that your Creator gave to you?
  8. Do you accept compliments and praise from others gladly and like to be told that no one else exists who is as good as you?
  9. Do you get upset when others reveal your faults and do you get offended when others examine you and when your seniors make comments about you? Do you get angry?
  10. Are you perhaps stubborn, high-minded, egotistical, proud, or cowardly? Be careful with these sins, as the diagnosis and solution to them are difficult.
  11. Do you gamble or play cards, even without money, with relatives and people at home to “kill time” as the saying goes?
  12. Have sexual sins polluted your body, mind, or soul? For example, have you engaged in fornication (sexual intercourse before marriage), or masturbation, prostitution, homosexuality, lesbianism, etc.?
  13. Do you watch dirty shows on television or at the movies?
  14. Do you read pornographic, immoral books and magazines?
  15. Have you ever considered committing suicide?
  16. Are you a slave to your stomach (i.e. gluttony)?
  17. Are you lazy, careless and negligent? Do you not help out when you can?
  18. Do you say improper, dirty, and immoral words or use swear words for the sake of humor or to insult or humiliate others?
  19. Do you have a spirit of self-denial?
  20. Do you expel from your mind bad or sly thoughts that come to pollute your heart?
  21. Are you careful so that your eyes don't gaze or stare at provocative pictures or people? Do you go to the movies and theatres?
  22. Are you careful what you ears hear? Do you like to hear sinful music and conversations?
  23. Do you dress immorally? If you are a woman, do you wear men's clothing, (e.g. pants) or short skirts, open shirts; transparent shirts, and scandalize others with your appearance? In addition, do you dress in this way when appearing at holy places? If you are a man, do you dress provocatively?
  24. Have you appeared naked in public or semi-naked in a swimsuit or bikini publicly?
  25. Do you dance in a provocative and sinful manner? Do you listen to sinful immoral songs? Do you frequent parties, nightclubs, and bars? Do you celebrate sinful, worldly festivals such as mardigras, gay and lesbian festivals, Halloween etc.?
  26. Are you a drunkard? Do you abuse “recreational” or pharmaceutical drugs?
  27. Do you smoke? Smoking destroys your God-given valuable health and is also wasteful of money, and therefore is a sin.
  28. Do you talk excessively about meaningless things?

For Couples

  1. Do you remain faithful to each other? It is tragic when one of you is unfaithful to the other.
  2. Did one of you embarrass or criticize the other publicly or privately?
  3. Do you not endure the apparent weakness of the other? Do you show harshness?
  4. Do you or your partner permit the other to follow the latest fashion and trend and anything which is opposed to the law of God? Do you perhaps drag the other along to parties on the condition that you will in this way provide the other the means to follow fashion and a worldly life?
  5. Do you take into consideration the struggle the other has outside and inside the home, so that you both help each other bodily and spiritually in the struggle?
  6. As a partner, have you had excessive sexual demands and degraded your relationship? Do you abstain from sexual relations on Wednesdays, Fridays, Sundays, Feast Days, (including the night before) and on the days of the Holy Fasts of the Church?
  7. Do you perhaps prevent your partner from going to church, spiritual gatherings and talks?
  8. Do you bring up your children “in the instruction and counsel of Christ”? Do you only concern yourself with their intellectual growth and not with the nature of their character?
  9. Do you direct your children to go to church regularly, to go to confession, to frequently partake of Holy Communion (properly prepared), and to go to Sunday school? Do you teach holy virtues by word and example? Have you taught them to pray in the morning, evening and before and after at each meal? Have you taught them to pray with respect and reverence?
  10. Are you careful of the things they read? Do you buy books and periodical of religious and cultural subjects for them to read and lean?
  11. Do you watch with whom they keep company and who their friends are?
  12. Do you lead them to sinful shows and entertainment or allow them to watch television unsupervised?
  13. Do you teach them humility and meekness and are you careful that they dress in a dignified way?
  14. Do you curse them when they upset you? Do you “send them to hell” or “to the devil”?
  15. Have you had abortions or do you prevent yourself from having children (i.e. contraception)?
  16. Have you been unjust to your children in the division of your estate?
  17. Do you as a parent believe that the responsibility of raising and educating your children rests only with your partner? You have an obligation to educate them and to read to them so that you can relieve you partner.
  18. Do you scorn your children by giving them insulting hand gestures and reprimand them with improper language?
  19. Does each of you love and respect the parents of the other?
  20. Do the grandparents of your children and other relatives get too involved in the family and cause disagreements and disputes?
  21. Do you interfere in your children's families?
  22. Is your partner a blasphemer? Have patience, and try hard to eliminate cursed blasphemy!
  23. Have you ever considered divorcing your partner?
  24. Do you allow your children to become fanatical about sports and even miss church in order to play (e.g. Sunday morning games)?
  25. Are you fair and just with your family, considering and respecting their views and wishes, or do you behave like a dictator?
+ + +

He who is accustomed to give account of his life at confession here will not fear to give an answer at the terrible judgment-seat of Christ. It is for this purpose that the mild tribunal of penitence was here instituted, in order that we, being cleansed and amended through penitence here below, may give an answer without shame at the terrible judgment-seat of Christ. This is the first motive for sincere confession, and, moreover, it must absolutely be made every year. The longer we remain without confessing, the worse it is for us, the more entangled we become in the bonds of sin, and therefore the more difficult it is to give an account. The second motive is tranquillity: the more sincere has been our confession, the more tranquil will the soul be afterwards. Sins are secret serpents, gnawing at the heart of a man and all his being; they do not let him rest, they continually suck his heart; sins are prickly thorns, constantly goring the soul; sins are spiritual darkness. Those who repent must bring forth the fruits of repentance.

Consciousness, memory, imagination, feeling, and will are helps to penitence. As we sin with all the powers of our soul, so penitence must be from our whole soul. Penitence in words only, without the intention of amendment and without the feeling of contrition, may be called hypocritical. Should the consciousness of sins be obscured, it must be cleared up; should the feeling be smothered and dulled, it must be roused; should the will become blunt and too weak for amendment, it must be forced; “the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” (St. Matt. 11:12) Confession must be sincere, deep, and full.

—St John of Kronstadt (My Life in Christ, p. 280)

[1] Recommended are: 1) Repentance and Confession, by St. Nektarios (Roscoe, NY: St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery, 2002); 2) The Forgotten Medicine: The Mystery of Repentance, by Archimandrite Seraphim Aleksiev (Wildwood, CA: St. Xenia Press Skete, 1994); 3) Exomologetarion: A Manual of Confession, by St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite (Thessaloniki, Greece: Uncut Mountain Press, 2006), Part III, “Counsel for the Penitent”.
[2] If you do not have a spiritual father, or do not think you need one, consider these materials on spiritual guidance.
[3] You might also consider whether it is a sin to work on holy days. See Elder Paisios the Athonite's comments on feast days and holidays.
[4] See the “The Rule of Fasting in the Orthodox Church,” by Fr. Seraphim (Rose) of Platina, and this excerpt from The Exomologetarion concerning fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Sacrament of Confession: Bishop Alexander Mileant

The Sacrament of



Remedy for a sick soul


Bishop Alexander (Mileant)



Content: Reasons for inner discord. Looking into oneself. Power of the Sacrament of Confession. Aid to confession. Prayers of the Sacrament of Confession. Notes and conclusion.



Reasons for inner discord

The greatest paradox of our life is that while we all instinctively strive for happiness, most of the time we are unhappy and dissatisfied even when no danger threatens us. Philosophy is helpless in satisfactorily clarifying the reason for this paradox. The Christian faith, however, explains that the reason for our dissatisfaction and dark feelings lies within ourselves. It results from our sinfulness — not only from our personal sins but also from our very nature that is marred by the primordial sin. Sinful corruption is the main source of our grief and suffering.

Sin is a spiritual sickness that grows and expands with time like cancerous cells. Left unchecked, sin gains in strength and enslaves its victim, and in doing so, it taints his mind, weakens his will towards good, permeates him with uneasiness and bitterness, arouses in him passionate feelings and evil thoughts and compels him to sin again and again.

We all are, to a greater or lesser degree, damaged by sin, although we often fail to recognize the full extent of our inner sickness. The main reason that the Lord Jesus Christ came to our world was to eradicate in us the roots of sin and return to us spiritual health and with it eternal bliss. However, because sin is so intimately interwoven with our mind and will, with our subconscious, it cannot be removed instantly or by external means. It is essential that we become actively involved with its extermination, but even our own efforts are not enough to accomplish total eradication of sin. Only the grace of Christ can give us complete spiritual recovery.

Indeed, this is the essence of the great advantage of the Christian faith. In contrast to other religions and philosophical teachings that are powerless in spiritual warfare, only the Christian faith has all the necessary resources and can strengthen us to overcome sin and achieve moral perfection.

The first turning point of spiritual healing is in the Sacrament of Baptism. Here the believer is cleansed from all sins and is spiritually reborn for righteous living. However, the predisposition towards sin, which is interwoven with his free will, is not completely eliminated. As time passes, an individual falls into sin due to carefree ways, inexperience, and different temptations. Supposedly eliminated, sin, similar to cancerous cells left after surgery, begins to propagate once again, gaining strength and striving to totally control the individual's will. The individual once again becomes spiritually sick and consequently unhappy and bitter.

In this difficult and dogged battle with sin, the Sacraments of Confession and Communion are powerful tools available to us. In the Sacrament of Confession the penitent Christian, in the presence of the spiritual confessor, opens to God his darkened and sick heart and allows the heavenly light to enter, cleanse and heal it. In Confession, as in Baptism, the great rebirthing power of the crucified Son of God is concealed. This is the reason that after this Sacrament, the truly penitent person feels cleansed and renewed, as a newly baptized infant. He obtains new strength to battle the evil within himself and to restart a righteous life.

To help our reader gain the most benefit from Confession, we will explain here the meaning and strength of this Sacrament and provide some aids in preparation for confession and prayers read during this Sacrament.


Looking into oneself

In observing the course of our feelings and thoughts, we become quickly convinced that within us constantly battle two entities: one good and one evil. Real Christian life begins only after we consciously elect the good and reject the evil. When we disregard our spiritual growth, passively succumbing to our desires and tendencies, whatever they may be, not making any evaluation of them, we are not yet living a Christian life. Only when we become painfully aware of our shortcomings, when we judge ourselves in the light of the Gospel and decide to improve our moral condition, only then can we begin to ascend on the path to salvation. The Gospel has many vivid examples of the sudden change in people who decided to turn to God. One of them is illustrated by the parable about the Pharisee and the Publican (Lk. 18:4-14). The Pharisee is an example of self deception. He frequents the temple and observes the established religious rituals. Yet it cannot be said of him that he is a pious person, because he is quite content with himself, full of pride, and despises others whom he considers not so religious. He boasts of his righteousness because he fails to see his own moral deficiencies — lack of compassion and love, selfishness and formalism — to mention a few. The Publican, on the other hand, illustrates a sinful person who realizes his poor moral condition and repents. He judges only himself and wants to become a better person. He asks God only for mercy and guidance, and God accepts his prayer while He rejects the boasting of the Pharisee. Jesus Christ makes the repentant Publican an example for us so that we thoroughly examine our hearts and make every effort to correct our moral condition!

Another genuine repentance is seen in St. Mary of Egypt. Having been a reckless and passionate sinner from her youth, after visiting the Resurrection church in Jerusalem she repented deeply, went to the desert and after living there the rest of her life she became one of the greatest saints. (She died at the beginning of the 6th century.) The Church observes her memory in the 5th week of Lent as an example of true repentance.

Often a person, even when considering himself a Christian, pays no attention to his shortcomings and for many years lives unconcerned with any moral improvement. Then suddenly, sometimes after a personal tragedy and sometimes without any apparent reason, his spiritual eyes open, and he decides to turn to God. He becomes a completely different person. In many cases, though, this turning to God happens slowly after much hesitation and repeated falls.

Let us now verify whether the above conditions apply to us. Observe carefully your actions during the last several days, your feelings and intentions, words you said. Just yesterday, for example, you cruelly hurt someone with harsh words, or with an insulting suspicion, or by a caustic sneer. It has been three days now that you have been disturbed by some dirty, base desire, and you not only did not drive away this sinful desire, but even dwelt on and enjoyed it. Or you were given an opportunity to do something good for somebody, but you felt that this would disrupt your peace and comfort, so you failed to do it. If you were observant and conscientious, you would realize that passions comprise a great deal of your existence, that your whole life is like a large braid made of small and great sins: unkind thoughts, feelings, words and deeds. If we pay no attention to the moral content of our life or think that it is quite normal, we still are pagans in our mentality. We will have no reason to try to change. Our true spiritual life will begin only after we say decisively, "No, I do not want to slide down any more! I want to become a true Christian!"

But as soon as you choose the path to righteousness, you will discover that the battle against bad habits and temptations is extremely difficult, painful and exhausting. You will see how frequently impure thoughts, feelings and desires, often against your own will, take hold of you and push you toward sinful actions. In many cases, only some time after you have uttered a cruel or offensive word or have perpetrated an unkind deed, you begin to realize that you should not have spoken so or have done that. But before you have actually sinned, you did not understand where your thoughts and feelings were pushing you. So over and over again we fall into actions that we later regret. This is the way we start to learn the great truth of the words of the Apostle Paul: "For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do" (Romans 7:15). Where do we find help, and how can we be delivered from our inner conflicts? Some people share their difficulties with someone in the family or a close friend; some visit a psychiatrist. But these are only partial and often ineffective solutions. Only after you experience the total difficulty of spiritual warfare and the ineffectiveness of human means do you begin to realize how effective is the regenerating power of Divine Grace.

A prolific pre-revolutionary spiritual writer, Saint Theophan the Recluse, relates the following story: "There was a youth who was greatly saddened because of his numerous sins. Once in grief he fell asleep. And there, in his dream, as if out of the sky, he saw coming down an Angel. The heavenly visitor slit open his chest with a knife, took out his heart, cut it into pieces, and removed from it all the spoiled and corrupt parts. Then he carefully replaced the heart in its original spot, and finally healed the wound as well. The youth awakened and felt cleansed of all his sins. He was so happy that God had accepted his repentance in such a sudden and unexpected way and relieved him from this unbearable burden. In truth, wouldn't it be good," asks Bishop Theophan, "if we could experience a similar healing from a light-bearing Angel!" And such an Angel is available to us. It resides in the healing Grace of our Redeemer which operates through repentance in the Sacrament of Confession!

We know that Jesus Christ brought to earth the holy life. Through the Holy Sacraments of the Church this life is transmitted to all of us. Confession or Repentance is one such sacrament. It is not just a ritual or a venerable old tradition but is an extremely powerful tool for moral healing and correction. It responds to one of the most essential demands of our damaged nature. To decline Confession is the same as suffering from some physical ailment and knowing the right medication but, due to laziness, not using it and thereby letting the illness run rampant.


Power of Confession

Following the teaching of Our Savior and His Apostles, we believe that the Sacrament of Repentance cleanses the soul of the repentant Christian and heals his spiritual ills so that after the absolution of his sins, he once more becomes innocent and sanctified, as he was after Baptism. Confession reinstates the living ties between the Christian and the Body of Christ, i.e. the Church. The power of this Sacrament comes from the blood of the Lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who because of his infinite love and compassion toward us took upon Himself all our sins, nailed them to the cross and suffered what we had to suffer as transgressors of God's commandments. Freed from the burden of sins, the Christian once again rises to spiritual life and gains strength to strive for moral perfection.

To receive the most from the Sacrament of Repentance, a person must prepare for it with prayer, reading of Scripture and introspection. Fasting is an old and a helpful tool for repentance and spiritual renewal.

From the external aspect, the Sacrament of Repentance consists of two parts: a) the verbal confession of all sins done by the repentant, and b) the prayer of absolution administered by the pastor-confessor. The loud articulation of one's sins, i.e. confession, is an indispensable factor of true repentance because it forces the penitent to overcome pride, which is the source of most of our spiritual ills. Besides, the acknowledgment of one's faults and bad habits draws a person closer to overcoming them. This is a well known psychological fact. Many non-religious people go to psychiatrists and receive help just by openly discussing their inner difficulties. The Sacrament of Confession, beyond the psychological, has a sacramental aspect, because through it operates the healing power of the Grace of Jesus Christ.

Repentance, to be effective, should not be limited just to awareness of ones sinfulness or to a cold admission of unworthiness. It should be accompanied with a deep feeling of regret and a sincere desire to become a different person. It requires the decision to battle with one's evil inclinations and the will to correct one's way of life. The penitent opens his soul to God, the true and loving Physician, and asks for mercy and help in the battle with bad tendencies. Such heartfelt contrition is necessary so that the effectiveness of the Sacrament will extend not only to the removal of committed sins but also to bring the Divine remedy into the receptive soul and strengthen it against future temptations.

Upon finishing his confession the penitent kneels before the cross and the gospel, and the priest-confessor places the stole upon his head and prays for the absolution of sins. The priest requests the heavenly Father not to turn away from the repentant as He did not turn away from the prodigal son but to again make him a new creature and a worthy member of His Divine Kingdom. At this time the invisible Grace of God descends upon the Christian and renews within him the spirit of righteousness.

Jesus Christ spoke twice of the Sacrament of Repentance. The first time He said to the Apostle Peter that He will give him the keys of the kingdom of heaven so that whatever he will bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever he will loose on earth will be loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:19). Some time later He gave the authority to forgive and to retain sins to all the apostles. This was done in conjunction with their task to resolve problems among the members of the Church: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the Church. But if he refuses even to hear the Church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 18:15-18). The Lord solemnly established the Sacrament of Confession soon after His Resurrection. He appeared to His disciples and said to them, "`Peace unto you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.' And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said: `Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'" (John 20:21-23). The apostles transmitted this power to absolve and to retain sins to their disciples — bishops and priests — who were to continue their task of saving human souls.

St. John Chrysostom, commenting on the authority given to the pastors of the Church "to bind and loose," wrote, "What the priests determine on earth, God affirms on high in Heaven. Here the Master conciliates with the opinion of His servants." However, the priest-confessor does not absolve sins by his own power, and there is nothing mechanical in the prayers of absolution. The priest-confessor is only a witness of one's repentance and a mediator of Divine Grace. God appointed him to be an instrument of His mercy. Ultimately it is up to the repentant to make his soul receptive to the healing Grace.

By its wide magnitude and power, the invisible work of Grace in the Sacrament of Repentance covers all of man's lawlessness. There is no sin which is beyond forgiveness. What is crucial here is to have sincere regret for committed sins and to decide to become a better Christian. Our Lord Jesus Christ said, "I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Matthew 9:13). New Testament Scriptures are full of examples of God's mercy to sinners. Great was the Apostle Peter's sin of denial, but when he repented, Jesus forgave him and reinstated him as an Apostle. After the Pentecost, when the Apostle Peter started to preach the Gospel, he called to repentance even those Jews who crucified the Messiah (Acts 2:38), and later he called to repentance Simon, who was a sorcerer and at the end became a heretic (Acts 8:22). Saint Paul, before becoming an apostle, hated the Christian faith, persecuted the Church and took part in the death of the first martyr, the deacon Stephen. Later he was forgiven by God and received from Him abundant grace. Remembering God's infinite mercy, St. Paul once absolved a person guilty of incest, subjecting him first to temporary excommunication (2 Corinthians 2:7).

With all this one should remember that absolution of sins in the Sacrament of Confession is an act of mercy, not of thoughtless pity. It is given for the spiritual benefit of man "for edification and not for your destruction" (2 Corinthians 10:8). This fact places a great responsibility on the priests when they perform this Sacrament.

The Holy Scripture mentions instances or conditions in which sins are not forgiven. Specifically, it mentions that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven either in this world nor the next (Matthew 12:31-32). In addition it speaks of especially devastating "mortal sins." "All wrongdoing is sin," explains the Apostle John, "but there is a sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that [person who commits such mortal sin" (1 John 5:16). The Apostle Paul teaches that "it is impossible for those who were once enlightened and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again through repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame" (Hebrews 6:4-6). All these warnings refer to people with a cynical attitude toward God; they either reject His mercy or they don't want to abandon their sinful habits.

In all cases the reason for unforgiveness comes not from any limitations of the Sacrament of Confession but from the unrepentance of the sinner. Indeed, in the case of speaking offensive words against the Holy Spirit, how can any sins be forgiven when His mercy is ridiculed and rejected? On the other hand we must believe that even the sin of blasphemy can be forgiven when it is followed by a true repentance. St. John Chrysostom says the following about this: "For even this guilt [blasphemy against the Holy Spirit] was forgiven to many repentant Jews. Many of them who blasphemed against the Holy Spirit [during Jesus Christ's preaching] later believed, became Christians and everything was forgiven to them" (Sermon on the Gospel of Matthew). The Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787 A.D. in the city of Nicea, near Constantinople) said the following about mortal sins: "A mortal sin is the one which remains unrepented ... These [sinners] will have no share with the Lord, unless they humble themselves and turn away from their transgressions."

The Gospel teaches that all must be allowed to repent, "I say to you that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15:7). These words include Christians who have fallen into sin.

Some contemporary Christians mistakenly believe that their faith alone makes them holy and free of sin and that for this reason there is no necessity to repent of anything. Referring to these self-satisfied "righteous" ones, the Apostle James writes, "For we all stumble in many things" (James 3:2). The Apostle John teaches that even Christians, not only pagans, need to cleanse their conscience: "If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. If we confess our sins, He [Jesus Christ] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9-10).

The Holy Fathers of the Church explain that the absence of a penitent attitude occurs in people not because they are actually sinless but because of their spiritual hardening. Indeed, the brighter the light, the clearer one detects the dust and other defects on objects. Similarly, the closer man approaches God, the clearer he sees his shortcomings and the humbler he becomes. In the lives of saints we see that the more they succeeded in Christian virtues, the more unworthy they felt about themselves. Even saints who performed great miracles repented with grieving and tears of their insignificant faults and considered themselves unworthy.


Aid to Repentance

A spiritual leaflet from Mount Athos gives the following directive: "Intending to confess, before going to the priest, seclude yourself, beloved brother, even if for an hour. Put aside all secular matters, collect your thoughts and thoroughly examine your conscience: How did you sin in thought, word or deed? In what did you offend God and your neighbor? Try to remember all the sinful events and their details. After this pray, grieve and wash your conscience with tears of repentance. Feeling relief in your heart, make a firm resolve to fight your bad habits and to become a better Christian. After preparing yourself in this way, go to the priest-confessor believing that God will forgive you ¾ for He has never rejected a contrite and humble heart. When you come to the priest, confess without shame, do not hide anything, do not try to `save face.' For many of us have become accustomed to putting up a front for others, and try to appear better than we really are. Being used to hypocrisy, we are often ashamed to honestly admit our faults, omitting some and leaving others incomplete. Remember, my brother, that the Holy Spirit says in the Scripture: `Whoever hides his sin receives no benefit.' So speak openly without self-justification and without blaming others. If someone offended you, make peace with him and forgive him with all your heart, according to the words of the Lord: `If you forgive others then God the Father in heaven will forgive you. But if you do not forgive those who sin against you, then the Father will not forgive you your sins.' Amen."

The following prayers of repentance with enumeration of sins can help an individual to repent at home and to come to church prepared for Confession:

I bring to You, my merciful Lord, the heavy burden of my innumerable transgressions, which I have committed from my very youth and up till today.

Mental and sensual sins: I have sinned, my Lord, by being insensitive towards Your mercies, by neglecting Your commandments and by being ungrateful. I have sinned by being indifferent towards Your Truth, by having doubts about faith, by being superstitious and curious about unorthodox teachings. I have sinned by thirst for pleasure, love for money and luxury items, by passionate interest in another person and sinful thoughts. I have sinned by spiritual weakness, vanity, suspicion, jealousy, envy, irritability and anger. I have sinned by excessive sadness, depression and despair. I have sinned by contempt for people, gloating over misfortunes others, self-reliance, pride and blasphemous thoughts. Forgive me, O Lord, and help me to become a better Christian.

Sins of the tongue: I have sinned, my Lord, by idle talk, unnecessary laughter, speaking in the church and by using Your Holy Name in vain. I have sinned by criticizing of others, by using rude words, yelling, and by making sarcastic comments. I have sinned by cursing people and wishing them evil, by mockery and insults. I have sinned by telling indecent jokes, bragging and breaking my promises. I have sinned by complaining, irreverent conversations and damning. I have sinned by spreading unkind rumors, gossiping, lying, slandering and denunciation. Forgive me, O Lord, and help me to become a better Christian.

Sins through deeds: I have sinned, my Lord, by not loving You, my Creator and Benefactor, with all my heart and all the time as I should. I have sinned, by being selfish, lazy and by wasting time. I have sinned by careless and disoriented prayer, by missing church services and coming late to church. I have sinned by being disrespectful with my parents, by refusing to help them and to do what they said, by disobedience and stubbornness. I have sinned by negligence towards family needs and by failing to instruct my children in the Christian faith. I have sinned by self centeredness, over-preoccupation with my career and success in life, greediness, stinginess and by failing to help the needy. I have sinned by over-eating, over-indulgence, breaking fasts, smoking, abusing alcohol, using stimulants, squandering resources and by gambling. Forgive me, O Lord, and help me to become a better Christian.

I have sinned, my Lord, by looking at someone with lust, looking at indecent films or magazines, listening to music which evokes crude or lustful desires, listening to indecent jokes and stories. I have sinned by wasting too much time in front of a TV, by watching scenes of violence and sin. I have sinned by being obsessed with my appearance, by behaving in a tempting matter, masturbation, lasciviousness, sexual perversions, adultery, and other corporal sins which are too shameful to say aloud. I have sinned by losing my temper, displaying anger, by crudeness, rude treatment of close ones, by non-reconciliation and revenge. I have sinned by hypocrisy, insolence, impertinence and careless handling of sacred objects. I have sinned by being cruel, deceitful, stealing, and taking bribery. I have sinned by consenting to abortion, having interest in occult subjects, astrological forecasts and by visiting fortune tellers.

Dear brother or sister in Christ, never despair! Remember that there is no sin which is beyond God's mercy. For the Lord Himself promised through His prophet, "Though your sins may be like scarlet, I shall whiten them as snow; Though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18).


Prayers for this Sacrament

The best time for confession is on the eve of Communion, usually on Saturday before or during Vespers. If one cannot come to the Vespers service, he can confess on the day of Communion. In that case, it is necessary to come before the Liturgy starts, because the priest should not be distracted from the altar during the service. Those who come late must understand that Confession during Liturgy delays the church service, causes other worshippers to wait and forces the priest to rush. This kind of haphazard Confession can hardly accomplish what this great Sacrament was intended for. It lowers Confession to the level of a meaningless ritual.

During the Sacrament of Confession, after the commencement prayers and the 51st Psalm, the priest-confessor reads the following Troparia:

Have mercy on us Lord, have mercy on us; for being devoid of all defense, we sinners offer to Thee, as Master, this supplication: Have mercy on us.

Glory to the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Lord have mercy on us, for in Thee have we trusted. Be not very angry with us, neither remember our iniquities, but as One tender of heart, look down upon us even now and deliver us from our enemies. For Thou art our God, and we are Thy people, all being the work of Thy hands, and we call upon Thy name.

Now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen. Open unto us the door of Thy loving-kindness, O Blessed Birth-giver of God, so that hoping in Thee we may not perish, but through Thee may be delivered from adversities, for Thou art the salvation of Christian people. Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.

Then the priest reads the following prayer:

O God our Savior, Who by Thy prophet Nathan granted unto repented David pardon of his transgressions, and have accepted the Manasses' prayer of penitence! Do Thou, in Thy love towards mankind, accept also Thy servant [name] who repents of his sins which he has committed, overlooking all that he has done, pardoning his offenses and passing by his iniquities. For Thou hast said, O Lord: I have desired not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from the wickedness which he has committed, and live. And that even unto seventy times seven sins ought to be forgiven. For Thy majesty is incomparable, and Thy mercy is limitless, and if Thou shouldst regard iniquity, who should stand? For Thou art the God of the penitent, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

The priest further reminds the repentant: "Behold, my child, Christ stands here invisibly receiving your confession. Do not be ashamed and do not fear, and do not withhold anything from me; but without doubt tell all you have done and receive forgiveness from the Lord Jesus Christ. Lo, His holy image is before us, and I am only a witness, bearing testimony before Him of all things which you say to me. But if you conceal anything from me, you shall have the greater sin. Take heed, therefore, lest having come to the physician, you depart unhealed."

The repentant stands before the lectern, crosses himself, kisses the cross and the holy gospel, and in a repentant attitude confesses sins before the priest. After he finishes, the priest gives needed advice and sometimes instructs him to do certain things in order to help the penitent to overcome some bad habits --- to read Scriptures, pray, fast, do some kneeling, to make certain acts of mercy, etc.

At the end the penitent kneels before the cross, and the priest, covering the head of the penitent with his stole, reads the following prayer of absolution:

O Lord God of the salvation of Your servants, merciful, compassionate and long-suffering; Who repents concerning our evil deeds, not desiring the death of a sinner, but that he should turn from his way and live. Show mercy now on Your servant [name] and grant to him (or her) an image of repentance, forgiveness of sins and deliverance, pardoning all his (or her) sins, whether voluntary or involuntary. Reconcile and unite him (or her) to Your Holy Church, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom, with You, are due dominion and majesty, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

May our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, by the grace and compassion of His love for mankind, forgive you, my child, [name], all your transgressions. And I His unworthy Priest, through the power given me, forgive and absolve you from all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Following this prayer, the penitent rises, kisses the Cross and the Gospels and, receiving a blessing from the priest, steps away thanking God.



Thus, in the Sacrament of Confession God gave us a powerful tool to battle sin. In preparing for our confession of sins, we learn to watch over our inner life more carefully, to realize our weak points and the cunning methods of our temptor, the devil. Sincere confession before a priest helps us combat our pride and thus to become free from the bonds of passion with which the devil wants to ensnare us.

After a deep repentance and the Divine cleansing that follows it, a Christian feels as if a heavy stone was removed from his heart. He finds himself renewed and enlightened, willing to love God and other people. This feeling should be the most obvious proof of the great spiritual power of the Sacrament of Confession. For this reason let us cherish this Divine tool of spiritual healing and ask God to give us wisdom and willingness to lead the remaining days of our life in righteousness, so that all our thoughts, words and deeds will be directed toward His glory and our salvation. Amen.

Some Notes:

"Epitimia" or penance is to be understood as an interdiction which, according to Church canons, the priest as a spiritual physician has to apply in certain cases in order to treat the moral diseases of his spiritual children. For example he might impose a fasting beyond that which others do, some additional prayers of repentance, performing of a certain amount of prostrations, works of mercy, reading of the Holy Scripture and other righteous exercises.

Special penance or epitimia imposed sometimes by the priest-confessor is not a punishment but represents an action for correction or pedagogical healing. The purpose is to deepen contrition for sinning and to support the will for correction. The Apostle Paul said, "For godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death" (2 Corinthians 7:10). One of the canons of the Sixth Ecumenical Council declares: "Receiving from God the power to bind and loose, the priest must evaluate the nature of sin and preparedness of the repentant, and thus utilize appropriate means of healing. But if not applying appropriate means to this or the other, salvation will not be available to the sinner. For all sins are not similar, but different and specific, and represent many aspects of harm from which evil develops and disperses further, unless it is stopped by the healing power."

In the ancient Church Confession was accomplished somewhat differently from the contemporary Russian practice. At that time Christians had Communion every Sunday, or in any case often, so that Confession was not necessary each time. Christians came to Confession as needed, when they had committed a serious sin if their behavior was a temptation to other Christians. Usually the Confession of sins was done aloud before the priest and the congregation as well. At present time in the Greek Orthodox Church, Confession is not done before each communion and is separate from the Liturgy. Confession is heard at a time assigned by the priest and in a place specifically designated for this purpose, a confessional. Closer to our times the Russian St. John of Kronstadt, having no opportunity to hear individual confessions, often performed communal Confession, in which thousands of people participated. During this Sacrament many confessed their sins aloud and repented in front of the whole congregation. These communal confessions had a very beneficial effect on those who took part in them.

In whatever outward form the Confession is performed, it is necessary to remember that it is a great Sacrament and requires our most serious and reverent attitude. Its purpose is to achieve beneficial healing of the soul. That is the reason that a quick Confession just before the presentation of the Chalice is not the proper attitude towards this Sacrament. It is imperative to appear for Confession in advance, and one must repent with heartfelt sorrow and faith in the power of the healing grace of God.

Dialogue on Confession: Archpriest V. Krechetov

Confession — not a novel but a battle

Православие.Ru / Интернет-журнал, 17 октября 2008 г.

Interview with Archpriest Valerian Krechetov




“How should I tell the priest about my sins? Is a feeling of repentance indispensable during confession? After confession, should one expect a feeling of spiritual relief, or lightness of soul? These beginners’ questions often remain troublesome even for very experienced parishioners. Many of us are too fainthearted to “waste a priest’s time” with such “simple and insignificant” questions. In order to fill in this gap about confession, such “simple and insignificant” questions were given by our NS correspondent Dmitry Rebrov to the highly-respected Protopriest Valerian Krechetov, the senior father-confessor[1] in the Moscow Diocese and head priest of the Church of the Protection in the village of Akulovo, Moscow Province.


- Father Valerian, how would you explain to a church-newcomer what confession is and why it is necessary?

- Once a professor at a theological academy gave my father--also a priest--this question during an exam: “Tell me, young batiushka[2], (and my father was already in his fifties; he was 49 when he entered the seminary), what does God do when he wants to bring someone to Himself? My dad answered this way and that, and the old professor agreed. Yet towards the end, to get at the heart of the matter, he asked, “And what is the most important?” He himself answered, “He sends a person spiritual heaviness and sorrow of soul, so that the person will seek God, so that he will realize that he cannot be delivered from that condition by any earthly means.” And I think this is very true! During his life, a person constantly and inescapably runs into the consequences of his sins. There is a saying, “Live in such a way during the day, so that at night your conscience won’t bite.” This is an expression of folk wisdom: it is certainly true that one’s sleep is disturbed by impressions of what one did, said, or saw during the day. It seems that everything has gone without problems, but then one begins to ponder on some incident or other, and hears a certain voice saying something to him--the voice of conscience. Sometimes a person, seeing that what he has done is irrevocable, takes a terrible step: he decides to “deliver” himself from this earthly life, or he begins to drink. And thus a person falls into a state even more ruinous than that from which he is fleeing. All of this is but anesthesia; the person can’t cure the disease, but he gets rid of the symptoms, or at least numbs himself to them. Searching for a way out of this pain of soul also brings him to see his need for repentance and forgiveness, one of the basic causes compelling a person to go to Church and confession.

- It is often asked, “Why does a person have to go to church and confess before a priest? What’s wrong with repenting alone, by yourself, before God--at home, for example--without an intermediary?

- If confession in a church isn’t possible for some reason, then it is possible to confess this way, without an intermediary. But can a neophyte hear when God says, “Very good, I forgive you?” Saint John of Kronstadt, when he sinned in some way, would pray until he received forgiveness and spiritual healingfrom God. But does a neophyte have such a degree of communication with God?

People have a natural need for personal contact. But both in relations with another person and in relations with God, it is very important not only to be understood, but also to have a visible sign that God or the other person understands you. The Lord established it thus, that a person receive His forgiveness through another person: a priest. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained (John 20:23).

- When a person comes to confession, sometimes the question arises: What kind of things specifically should a person confess? Our conscience doesn’t seem to bother us, doesn’t accuse us of anything; we didn’t kill anyone, didn’t rob anyone.

- Yes, the conscience accuses a person first of the serious sins. But if the conscience doesn’t say anything, often that is because the conscience has opened its mouth before, but the person stopped it up. The holy fathers say that if a person goes from sunlight into a dark room, he begins first to see big objects, then smaller; if he lights a light, then he begins to see everything. In the same way, a person who begins to keep track of his inner life at first sees only the big sins, then the smaller. Then grace gives him light so that he can see his own sins, for this is what we ask God during Great Lent through the prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian.

Specifically of what sins one should repent is a question of time. At first a person doesn’t understand or notice very much. But during the sacrament itself … grace, the spirit of God, begins to open up a person’s ability to see his sins. And the person, perhaps not even realizing specifically how he has sinned, all the same feels his sinfulness. Although the confession of sins includes the idea of comprehension;there is also a state of feeling when a person realizes simply that he is sinful in comparison to holiness; and this also is the action of grace. For example…

My father was born in 1900, so the post-revolutionary years came during his youth. There were all these new currents of thought, this breath of “freedom” … and so he drifted away from the Church. His mother, my grandmother, asked him during Lent if he wouldn’t go to Church and take Holy Communion. She said, “If you do, I’ll bow down at your feet.” “Oh Mama, you don’t have to do that, I’ll just go,” he answered, and went to the church on the Arbat, to Father Vladimir Vorobiev (the grandfather of Archpriest Vladimir Vorobiev, the current rector of St Tikhon’s Orthodox University). He got in line for confession and had not a single thought about repentance; he just stood there and looked at the pretty girls. When his turn came, he knelt down, and to the priest’s question, “Well, young fella, what do you want to say?” my papa answered, “I don’t have anything to say.” “And why did you come?” “My mama asked me to.” The priest was silent for a little while, and then answered, “That’s very good, that you listened to your mama.” He covered my father with his epitrachelion[3] and began to read the prayer of forgiveness. “What happened to me next, I don’t understand to this day,” my father told me later. “I began to sob; tears came out of my eyes as if from a spigot. And when I got up and returned to my place in the church, I didn’t look at anyone, anyone at all. The world had become completely different for me.” From that time on, my father began to go to Church. Then by the Providence of God, he was sent to prison, where he was in the same prison cell with holy confessors of the faith. After prison he became a clergyman.


- Are there any aids to help prepare for confession?

- One could advise a person to read something written for this purpose; there is a good book by Father John Krestiankin, “Experience in Preparing for Confession”[4], and some other material; but here we find a complication: there have appeared some enumerations or lists of sins in which we find a certain “relishing” or “savoring” of the sins. And one must be very careful with such lists, since they sometimes function like a kind of textbook of sin, or manual of sins; because there are listed there such sins that a person not only never did but never even thought of. One should not read a list detailing the sins of the flesh, because it soils the soul. As for the other kinds of sin, it’s better simply to pay attention to your inner state. For example, when we see a weakness in someone, the very fact that we notice that weakness means that that sin is also in us. You remember the “mote” in someone else’s eye and the “beam” in your own? What is it, this mote? A mote grows into a log, and a log is a passion. The mote is a sin; that is, a concrete manifestation of that passion. But if we do not know what kind of tree it is, or what kind of log, if we don’t even know that they are harmful, then we will never suspect what the mote is all about. As it is now expressed, “Everyone understands things according to the degree of his depravity.” And so we notice in another person specifically that sin, we understand specifically that passion, which is in us ourselves.

- Some people are disturbed that forgiveness, it turns out, is so easy to receive. A person sins, then repents, then sins again, then repents … and over and over? Without any repentance?

- Why do you say that? Who told you such a thing? At confession, sin is forgiven; but even so, a person still has to bear the consequences of his sin. The classic example is the repentant thief who was crucified on the cross beside Christ. He repented, and the Lord said to him, Today you will be with Me in Paradise. Nothing unclean can enter into Paradise, so we know that the Lord has already purified him and forgiven him his sins; nevertheless, he remained hanging on the cross! And if that weren’t enough, the Gospel tells us that the soldiers then broke his legs (cf. John 19:32). A person all the same has to bear consequences for his sins, although certainly not to the degree he deserves to suffer.

- Many Christians, although they confess every week, nevertheless remain sinners, in no visible way differing from everyone else. Furthermore, they repent over and over again of the very same sins. It turns out, does it, that confession hasn’t helped them?

- Nothing of the sort. He who constantly labors over himself already differs from other people. Regarding the very same sins, even the Apostle Paul was given a thorn in the flesh, some kind of pain, suffering, or trial, so that he would not get puffed up. As they say, “Until the last breath, even up to the gates of Paradise, the battle with sin goes on.” St Mary of Egypt repented, but for another 17 years she struggled fiercely with sin!

- Is it necessary to have a feeling of repentance during confession? Some people simply list their sins without any visible emotion. Is this also okay?

- The importance of the struggle with a sin is not simply that a person names it, but that the sin becomes disgusting and repulsive to him or her. When we were on Mount Athos, a priest asked one of the spiritual fathers, “Why does it happen that we repent, have Holy Communion, and then go out and commit the same sins again?” The elder answered, “It is simply because pain of heart has not yet outweighed and overpowered the sin!”

If you simply enumerate sins, with no pain of heart, that means that you don’t have an inner battle with sin. Repentance obviously includes acquiring an inner feeling of repentance. And this feeling is from God—you can’t give orders to your heart. But sometimes, simply naming your sin at confession is a labor unto blood.

Confession is only the beginning of repentance; repentance is the backbone of one’s whole spiritual life. Regarding the prayer which the priest reads at confession (the priest usually reads the beginning of the prayer at the start to everyone together, but the end of the prayer to each person individually). “I forgive and remit…” Thus begins the concluding part, and includes the words, “…give him/her (the person confessing, whose sins are being remitted by this prayer) the image of repentance.” What was before that, you ask? He or she has clearly already repented, yet we priests immediately read, “…give him/her the image of repentance!” This is in order to show clearly that immediately after our confession, a new level of repentance begins.

Do you remember how the Apostle Peter in the Gospel fell at the feet of the Saviour and said, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord (Luke 5:8)? This too is a repentant state, which my father also experienced that time when he felt the grace of God!

- When some people come to the Church, they totally change their lives after their first confession. Some, on the contrary, hardly change at all, continuing to live in their sins as before. On what does this depend?

- It depends on one’s determination, one’s resolve. One needs to ask for God’s help, for firm resolve, and also for patience. About 40 years ago we were talking with Father John Krestiankin (he was still young then), and he asked if I had read these words of the Apostle James: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God (James 1:5). He asked me, “What kind of wisdom do you think this is? The wisdom of Solomon? No, it is patience!” Patience is a spiritual art, a spiritual science. And through patience a person can truly be delivered from sin.

- Sometimes after confession there comes a feeling of spiritual relief or lightness of soul, and sometimes not. What does this mean? Should one expect such a feeling after every confession?

- If there is such a feeling, glory be to God. But one should not expect it, or wait for it. It will not necessarily appear; and if it doesn’t, that means that one should keep working, that in the battle with sin one can never relax. In general, one should not expect spiritual states, and certainly not seek them. If such states are granted—good; but one shouldn’t expect them. Actually seeking or pursuing such spiritual or emotional states is categorically forbidden. If you do not feel spiritual lightness or emotional relief after confession, that does not mean that God has not accepted your confession. One of the incidents of the holy fathers goes like this: A certain man repented all the time, genuinely, but all the same was still not delivered from a feeling of heaviness; the fathers of the monastery began to pray for him, “O Lord, he repents so sincerely; why have You not yet forgiven him?” And the answer came, “I forgave him long ago, but this suffering is necessary for his salvation.”

- How much detail should a person go into when describing his sins at confession? Is it enough to simply list them, or is it necessary to tell the priest in detail??

- Unfortunately, if each person described everything in detail, confession might last till evening. Sins of the flesh, in particular, should not be told in detail. Also regarding this kind of sin: when a person explains about the circumstances, in my experience, there is often an element of self-justification. Other people sometimes start to retell their whole workday; they have brought me at times entire notebooks. If you start to describe what you have done over the last week or month, then you end up with a whole novel!

The most important thing is not the details but the struggle: if one has named a sin, he should also wrestle with it. If there is not a real battle with sin, then all the details in the world won’t help.

Protopriest Valerian Krechetov was born in 1937 into the family of the repressed[5] accountant and afterwards priest Michael Krechetov. The future Father Valerian graduated from high school in 1959 and then was accepted at the Moscow Forestry-Engineering Institute. Three years after graduation, he followed the example of his father and entered Moscow Seminary. He was ordained a priest on January 12, 1969, and in 1973 graduated from Moscow Theological Academy. During his long years of service as a priest he was able to get to know many outstanding pastors, including Father Nicholas Golubtsov, Father John Krestiankin and Father Nicholas Guryanov. At present, he is the senior father-confessor of the Moscow Diocese and head priest of the Church of the Protection in the village of Akulovo, Odintsovski District.


[1]father-confessor (dukhovnik in Russian): in this context, the meaning is not simply “spiritual father”, but an experienced spiritual father and priest who has been granted by his bishop the right to confess other priests in that diocese; these confessions customarily take place during a fasting period such as Lent.

[2]Batiushka: an endearing term for a priest or monk; and respectful, old-fashioned word for one’s father. Accented on the first syllable: “batiushka.”

[3]Epitrachelion: a vestment which hangs as a stole from the neck of a priest, and is placed on the penitent’s head when the prayer of absolution is said; it is the one indispensable vestment for all priestly ministrations.

[4]In Russian this book is entitled Opyt Postroenia Ispovedi, the printed version of a series of talks given at Pskov Caves Monastery during Great Lent to help people prepare for confession.

[5]repressed (in Russian repressirovanni): a victim of political repression; this usually includes years of suffering in a concentration camp.

All-night Vigil Service: An explanation by Fr. V. Potapov
The All-night Vigil Service -- The Evening Sacrifice
Fr. Victor Potapov


CHRIST DENOUNCED THE SCRIBES of His time for elevating rituals and ceremonies to the level of exalted religious virtues, and He taught that only service offered "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24) is appropriate to be offered to God. Denouncing the legalistic attitude toward the Sabbath day, Christ said, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). While the Savior's harshest words were directed against the Pharisaical devotion to traditional ritual form, Christ Himself visited, taught, and prayed in the Temple in Jerusalem, as did His apostles and disciples. 

Not only did Christianity not abandon ritual, but also in time, in the course of its historical development, it established its own complex system of worship. Does this constitute a self-contradiction? Is not private prayer sufficient for a Christian?

Faith expressed only in the soul becomes an abstraction rather than a living faith. For faith to become a living faith, it must be realized in life. Participation in church religious ceremonies is the realization of faith in our lives, and those who not only reflect upon their faith, but also live it, of necessity participate in the liturgical life of the Church of Christ; they attend Church and they know and love the order of Church services. 

In his book Heaven on Earth: Worship in the Eastern Church, Archpriest Alexander Men' explains the need for external forms of worship: "Our life, in all of its most diverse manifestations, is clothed in rituals. In the Russian language the noun "obryad" is derived from the verb that means "to dress in" or "to clothe." Joy and sorrow, daily greetings, approval, delight, and indignation, all assume external forms in human life. So what right do we have to strip these forms from our feelings toward God? What right do we have to reject Christian art and Christian rituals? The words of prayers, and the hymns of thanksgiving and repentance that poured forth from the depths of the hearts of great theologians, great poets, and creators of great melodies are not without benefit for us. Immersion into them schools the soul, educating it in genuine service to the Eternal One. Worship services lead to the enlightenment and elevation of man; they ennoble his soul. Thus, Christianity, serving God 'in spirit and truth' preserves both rituals and ceremonies." 

Christian worship, in the broad sense of the term, is collectively known as liturgy; that is, communal activity and common prayer, while the science of worship is known as liturgics. 

Christ said, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I" (Matthew 18:20). One may call divine services the focus of a Christian's entire spiritual life. When a multitude is inspired by common prayer, the people find themselves surrounded by a spiritual atmosphere that enables true prayer. At that point, the faithful enter into a mystical, sacramental communion with God, a state essential to genuine spiritual life. The holy fathers of the Church teach that just as a branch broken from a tree dries up because it is deprived of the sap it needs to live, so a person severed from the Church no longer receives that strength, that grace, which lives in the divine services and mysteries of the Church, and which is essential for man's spiritual life. 

Fr. Pavel Florensky, a famous Russian theologian of the early 20th century, called divine services "the synthesis of the sciences," because within the temple all of the substance of man's being is ennobled. Everything in an Orthodox church is essential: its architecture, the smell of incense, the beauty of the icons, the singing of the choir, the homily, and the actions performed. 

The actions carried out in Orthodox divine services are distinguished by their religious realism; a realism that engenders a sense of immediacy in the faithful to the principal events commemorated in the Gospel by removing the barriers of time and space between the events and those who pray. 

During the Nativity services, we not only remember the birth of Christ, but Christ is actually mystically born, just as He is resurrected on Holy Paskha (Easter). Similar statements can be made about His Transfiguration, His Entry into Jerusalem, the Mystical Supper, His Passion, His Burial, and His Ascension; and about all of the events in the life of the Most Holy Theotokos, from her Nativity to her Dormition. Through its divine services, the life of the Church is revealed to be the mystical accomplishment of God's Incarnation. The Lord continues to live in the Church and in the same human image which, once manifested, continues to exist throughout all time; and to the Church is given the ability to bring to life the commemorations of divine events; to endow them with power, so that we might become their new witnesses and participants. Thus all of the divine services together acquire the meaning: the life of God, and the temple, which is His dwelling place.

This begins a series of commentaries on the meaning and structure of the All-night Vigil. We hope that our work will help our readers to appreciate and love this marvelous divine service of the Orthodox Church.

In the service of the All-night Vigil, the Church conveys to the faithful a sense of the beauty of the setting sun and turns their thoughts toward the spiritual light of Christ. The Church also points the faithful toward prayerful consideration of the coming day and of the eternal light of the Heavenly Kingdom. The All-night Vigil is a service that sets before us the turning point in time between the day now passing and the day now coming. 

St. Basil the Great described the aspirations that guided the ancient composers of evening hymns and prayers as follows: "Our fathers did not wish to receive the grace of evening light in silence; rather, they offered thanks as soon as it appeared." 

In participating in the All-night Vigil, the faithful in a sense prayerfully bid farewell to the past and welcome the future. Moreover, in the All-night Vigil they are prepared for the Divine Liturgy and for the Mystery of the Eucharist.

As its name suggests, the All-night Vigil is a service that in principle lasts all night. True, in our times, such services, lasting all night, are infrequent, and take place for the most part in some monasteries, such as those on Mount Athos. In parish churches, an abbreviated form of the All-night Vigil is served. 

The All-night Vigil transports the faithful into a time long ago, into the services of the earliest Christians. For the earliest Christians, their evening meal, their prayers and commemorations of the martyrs and of the reposed, as well as the Liturgy itself, comprised one whole; traces of these observances have been preserved even to this very day in the various evening services of the Orthodox Church. These traces include the blessing of bread, wine, wheat, and oil, as well as those times in which the Liturgy is combined in one whole with Vespers; for example, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, celebrated during Great Lent; the liturgies on the eves of the feasts of the Nativity of Christ and of His Baptism; the Liturgies of Great Thursday and Great Saturday, and the midnight Liturgy of the Resurrection of Christ. 

In fact, the All-night Vigil consists of three services: Great Vespers, Matins, and the First Hour. Sometimes the first part of the All-night Vigil consists not of Great Vespers, but of Great Compline. Matins is the central and most substantial part of the All-night Vigil. 

Reflecting on what we hear and see in Vespers, we are transported into the historical Old Testament times of humanity, and we experience in our hearts what those people experienced. 

Knowing what is recounted in Vespers and Matins makes it easy for us to understand and learn the flow of Church services; the order in which they proceed, as well as the hymns, readings, and the religious ceremonies they contain.

Part I. Great Vespers

IN THE BIBLE WE READ that in the beginning, God created heaven and earth, and that the earth was unstructured ("unsightly" or "unfurnished," as the Holy Bible says), and that the Life-giving Spirit of God moved silently above it, infusing the earth with living powers. Great Vespers, the beginning of the All-night Vigil, takes us back to this dawning of creation. 

The service begins with a silent making of the sign of the cross with the censer before the Holy Table and the censing around the Holy Table in a cross fashion. This action is one of the most profound and significant moments in all of Orthodox worship. It is an image of the movement of the Holy Spirit within the essence of the Holy Trinity. The very silence of this censing gives us an indication of the Divine eternal rest, which was from before the world existed. It symbolizes the fact that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, Who sends the Holy Spirit from the Father, is "the Lamb, sacrificed from the creation of the world." Similarly, the cross, the weapon of His saving sacrifice, also has an eternal, cosmic, pre-creation significance. In one of his homilies for Great Friday, the 19th century Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow emphasized that "The Cross of Christ … is the earthly image and shadow of the heavenly Cross of Love."

After the censing, the priest stands before the Holy Table, while the deacon, having gone through the Royal Doors to the ambo, stands facing the west (that is, toward the faithful), and announces: "Upright!" Then, turning to the east, he continues "Bless, Master!" 

The priest makes the sign of the cross with the censer before the Holy Table, and says, "Glory to the holy, consubstantial, life-creating, and indivisible Trinity, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages." 

The meaning behind these words and actions rests in the fact that the deacon, concelebrating with the priest, invites those who have gathered here to stand at prayer, to be attentive, and to "take heart." The priest is confessing the Beginning and Creator of all, the consubstantial and life-creating Trinity. In making the sign of the Cross with the censer, the priest is demonstrating that it was through the Cross of Jesus Christ that Christians were made worthy to comprehend to some extent the mystery of the Holy Trinity in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. 

After the doxology "Glory to the holy," the clergy within the altar glorify Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the All-holy Trinity, by singing "O Come, let us worship God our King … the very Christ, our King and God."

The Proemial Psalm

Then the choir sings verses from the Proemial Psalm, Psalm 103, beginning with the words "Bless, the Lord, O my soul," and ending with "In wisdom hast Thou made them all." This psalm hymns the universe created by God, the visible and invisible world, and it has been an inspiration to poets from among many different peoples and historical periods. Russian 18th century poet Lomonosov restated it in verse. Its themes also resound in the ode of 19th century Russian poet Derzhavin entitled "God", and in the "Prologue to the Heavens" by Goethe.

The principal feeling imbuing this psalm is man's admiration for and contemplation of the beauty and harmonious arrangement of the world made by God. God "brought order" to the unformed earth during the six days of creation. Everything became beautiful ("God saw that it was good," Genesis 1:10; cf. 12, 18, 21, 25 [LXX]). The 103rd Psalm also expresses the idea that even the least noticeable thing in nature holds within it the most wondrous of wonders.

Censing of the Church 

The censing of the entire temple takes place during the singing of Psalm 103 while the Beautiful Gates are still open. This practice was introduced into the Church so that the faithful might be reminded of the movement of the Holy Spirit above God's creation. The open Beautiful Gates at this point are a symbol of paradise; that is, of the state in which the first people lived in direct communion with God. Immediately following the censing of the temple, the Beautiful Gates are closed, just as Adam's ancestral sin closed the gates of paradise to man separating him from God. 

All the rituals and hymns at the beginning of the All-night Vigil reveal to us the cosmic significance of the Orthodox temple; the temple that represents a true image of the structure of the world. The altar and the Holy Table represent paradise and heaven, over which the Lord reigns. The clergy represent the angels who serve God. The central part of the temple represents the earth and man. The clergy descend from the altar and to the faithful in much the same way that paradise was returned to man by the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ. They wear shining vestments as a reminder of the Divine Light with which the garments of Christ shone on Mount Tabor.

The Lamplighting Prayers

The Beautiful Gates are shut immediately after the priest censes the church, as a reminder that with Adam's ancestral sin, the gates of paradise were shut to him, and he was estranged from God. Now fallen man, standing before the closed gates of paradise, prays for a return to the path to God. The priest, representing the repentant Adam, steps before the closed Beautiful Gates. Standing there as an image of repentance, with head uncovered and without the resplendent phelonion in which he had celebrated the festive beginning of the service, he silently reads the seven Lamplighting Prayers. These prayers, composed in the 4th century, make up the most ancient part of Vespers; in them we hear man's recognition of his helplessness and his plea for direction on the path of truth. The prayers are characterized by lofty eloquence and spiritual depth. The seventh prayer states: 

"O God, great and most high, Who alone hast immortality and dwellest in light unapproachable; Who hast fashioned all creation in wisdom; Who hast divided between the light and the darkness, and has appointed the sun for dominion of the day, the moon and stars for dominion of the night; Who hast counted us sinners worthy at this present hour also to come before Thy Countenance with thanksgiving, to offer unto Thee our evening glorification: do Thou Thyself, O man-befriending Lord, direct our prayer as incense before Thee, and accept it for a savour of sweet fragrance. Grant us peace in the present evening and the coming night; array us with the armour of light; deliver us from the terror by night, and from everything that walketh in darkness; and grant us sleep, which Thou hast given for the repose of our infirmities, free from all diabolic imagining-yea, O Master of all, Bestower of good things: so that we, being moved to compunction upon our beds, may call to remembrance Thy Name in the night, and being enlightened by the meditation on Thy commandments, we may rise up in joyfulness of soul to glorify Thy goodness, offering up prayers and supplications unto Thy loving kindness, for our own sins and for those of all Thy people, whom do Thou visit in Thy mercy, through the intercessions of holy Theotokos..." 

It is Church practice that during the reading of these Lamplighting Prayers, the candles and lamps within the temple are lit, an action that symbolizes the hopes, revelations, and prophecies in the Old Testament regarding the coming Messiah, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Great Ektenia

Next, the deacon chants the Great Ektenia. Ektenia or "litany" is a series of short prayerful requests or pleas addressed to the Lord, regarding the worldly and spiritual needs of the faithful. Ektenia is an especially fervent prayer read on behalf of all of the faithful. The choir, also acting on behalf of all of those present at the service, responds to these petitions with the words "Lord, have mercy," a phrase that, while short, is nonetheless one of the most perfect and complete prayers that can be uttered by man. It says all that there is to say. 

The Great Ektenia is known for its opening words "In peace let us pray to the Lord," is, thus, also known as the Litany of Peace. Peace is an essential condition for any prayer, whether an individual or a communal church prayer. In the Holy Gospel according to Mark, Christ speaks of the spirit of peace as the basis for any prayer: "And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought [anything] against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses," (Mark 11:25). St. Seraphim of Sarov said, "Acquire the spirit of peace, and thousands around you will be saved." This is why at the beginning of the Vigil, and in most services, the Church invites the faithful to pray to God with a calm, peaceful conscience, they having reconciled themselves to their neighbor and to God. 

Further on in the Litany of Peace, the Church prays for peace throughout the world, for the unification of all Christians, for our native land, for the temple in which the service is taking place, and in general for all Orthodox churches, and for them that enter the temple not out of curiosity alone but, as the litany says, "with faith, reverence, and the fear of God." We remember those who travel, the sick, the imprisoned, and we hear a request to be saved from "all tribulation, wrath, danger, and necessity." In the closing petition of the Litany of Peace we state: "Calling to remembrance our Most Holy, Immaculate, Most Blessed, Glorious Lady, Theotokos and Ever-virgin Mary with all the Saints, let us commit ourselves and one another and all our life unto Christ our God." This formula encompasses two profound and basic Orthodox theological concepts: the dogma of the prayerful intercession of the Mother of God at the head of all of the Saints, and the lofty ideal of Christianity - the dedication of one's life to Christ our God. 

The Great Ektenia or Litany of Peace ends with the priest's doxology, which, just as at the beginning of the Vigil, glorifies The Holy Trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Psalter

As Adam stood repentant before the gates of paradise and prayed to God, so, the deacon stands before the closed Beautiful Gates and begins the Great Ektenia with the words: "In peace let us pray to the Lord…" 

Adam, however, had just heard God promise that the "seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent" and that the Savior would come into the world, so Adam's heart burned with the hope of salvation. 

This hope is expressed in the All-night Vigil in the hymn that follows. As if in answer to the Great Ektenia, a biblical psalm is heard: "Blessed is the man..." This psalm, the first psalm of the Psalter, embodies a direction and warning to the believer against taking erroneous, sinful paths in life. In most churches only few verses of this psalm are chanted followed by "Alliluya." In monasteries, not only the first psalm, "Blessed is the Man," but the entire first kathisma of the Psalter is chanted. The Greek word kathisma means "seat" or "stall" because, according to Church rules, it is permitted to sit during the readings of the kathismata. The Psalter consists of 150 psalms and is divided into 20 groups of psalms known as kathismata. Each kathisma in turn is divided into three parts, or "Glories," for each part ends with the words "Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit." The entire Psalter, all 20 kathismata, is read over the course of the services in a week. During Great Lent, the 40-day period preceding Paskha, a period during which Church prayer intensifies, the Psalter is read twice each week. 

The Psalter was incorporated into the liturgical life of the Church in the earliest days after the Church was established. It occupies a position of great honor within Church life. St. Basil the Great, writing in the 4th century, stated: "The Book of Psalms includes useful material from all of the books. It has prophecies regarding the future, it calls to mind past events, it sets out the laws of life, and it offers rules for action. The psalms bring peace to the soul and order to the world. The Psalter quenches restless and troubling thoughts … is comfort from daily toils. The psalm is the voice of the Church and is perfect theology..." 

In his book In the World of Prayer, Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky writes about the significance of the Psalter in Orthodox worship: 

"Within the Church, the Psalter is, so to speak, Christianized. Here, many Old Testament concepts and expressions take on a new, more complete meaning. For this reason, the Holy Fathers and spiritual strugglers love to use the words of the Psalter that speak about defense against our enemies and express their thoughts on the battle with the enemy of our salvation and with the passions. Thus it is no surprise that the psalms take up such a large part of divine worship services. Each service begins with psalms, some with only one, others with three. An enormous number of verses from the Psalter are to be found throughout all of the liturgical cycles."

The Small Litany

After the first psalm is sung, the Small Litany is chanted: "Again and again in peace let us pray to the Lord." This ektenia, a shortened form of the Great Ektenia, contains two petitions: 

"Help us, save us, have mercy upon us, and keep us O God, by Thy grace. 

"Lord, have mercy. 

"Calling to remembrance our Most Holy, Immaculate, Most Blessed, Glorious Lady Theotokos and Ever-virgin Mary with all the Saints, let us commit ourselves and one another and all our life unto Christ our God. 

"To Thee, O Lord." 

The Small Litany concludes with the priest's reading of one of the doxologies appointed in the order of service. 

It is known from the history related in the Bible that the voices of sorrow and hope, which had first cried at the gates of paradise after the fall into sin of our first created parents, continued to sound until the very coming of the Christ. 

In the Vigil, sinful man's sorrow and repentance are expressed in the verses of the penitential psalms that are sung to special melodies and with particular solemnity.

"Lord I Have Cried Unto Thee" and the Censing

After the singing of "Blessed is the Man", and after the Small Litany, we hear the verses from Psalms 140 and 141, psalms beginning with the words "Lord, I have cried unto Thee, hearken unto me." These psalms that relate fallen man's longing for God, and his striving to truly serve God, constitute the most characteristic, distinguishing feature of any Vespers service. In the second verse of Psalm 140, we encounter the words "Let my prayer be set forth as incense before Thee" (a prayerful sigh that is known for its especially moving musical setting in the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, sung during Great Lent). The censing of the entire church takes place while these verses are sung. 

What does this censing signify? 

The Church answers through the words of the psalm already mentioned: "Let my prayer be set forth as incense before Thee, the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice," that is to say, may my prayer ascend unto Thee [God], like smoke from the censer, and may the raising of my hands be as an evening sacrifice to Thee. This verse reminds us of that time in the ancient past when, according to the Law of Moses, in the evening of each day a sacrifice was offered in the tabernacle, that is, in the portable temple used by the people of Israel while they were moving from the bondage of Egypt to the Promised Land. The sacrifice was marked by the lifting up of the hands of one bringing the sacrifice, and by the censing of the altar that contained the Holy Tablets of the Law, which had been received by Moses from God on the summit of Mt. Sinai. 

The ascent of the smoke from the burning incense symbolizes the prayers of the faithful, ascending to Heaven. When the deacon or priest censes in the direction of the faithful, they respond by bowing their heads, as a sign that they recognize it to be a reminder that the prayer of the believer, like the smoke of incense, easily rises up to Heaven. The censing of the people also reveals profound truth: the Church sees in each person the image and likeness of God - a living icon of God, as it were - and sees the betrothal to Christ received in the mystery of Baptism. 

During the censing of the church, the singing of "Lord, I have cried..." continues and our congregational parish prayer joins in offering the sentiment of this psalm, for we are no less sinners than were our first parents. From the depths of our hearts, we, together with them, cry out the words "Hearken unto me, O Lord."

The Stichera for “Lord I Have Cried”

Among the penitential verses of the 140th and 141st Psalms, we hear "Bring my soul out of prison..." and, from the 129th Psalm "Out of the depths I have cried unto Thee, O Lord, O Lord, hear my voice." Voices of hope in the promised Savior resound from the chanting. 

Hope amid sorrow is heard in the two hymns that follow Lord, I Have Cried, the so-called "Stichera for Lord, I Have Cried." While the verses preceding the stichera speak of darkness and sorrow of the Old Testament, the stichera themselves (those refrains that supplement the verses) speak of the joy and light of the New Testament. 

Stichera, liturgical songs composed in honor of a feast or a saint, are of three types: 1) "Stichera for Lord, I Have Cried" which as we have already noted are sung at the beginning of Vespers; 2) those sung at the close of Vespers between verses taken from the Psalms, known as Aposticha; and 3) those toward the close of the second part of the Vigil, sung together with psalms wherein the invocation "Praise ye" is often encountered. These are known as the "Stichera for the Praises." 

The Resurrection stichera glorify the Resurrected Christ, and festal stichera tell of the reflection of His glory in various sacred events or spiritual struggles of the saints; for ultimately, all of church history is tied to Paskha and to Christ's victory over death and hell. By following the sticharion text, one can recognize who or what event is being commemorated and glorified in the services of the day.

The Octoechos

Like the Psalm "Lord, I Have Cried," the stichera are also a distinguishing feature of the All-night Vigil. In Vespers, between six and ten stichera are sung in a specific tone. Since antiquity, there have been eight tones, composed by St. John of Damascus, who struggled spiritually at the Lavra (monastery) of St. Sabbas the Sanctified in Palestine during the 8th century. Each tone encompasses several melodies to which specific prayers in the divine services are sung. The tones change weekly. The cycle of the so-called Octoechos moves through the eight tones over the course of eight weeks, and then begins anew. All of these melodies are contained in the liturgical book known as the "Octoechos" or the "Book of Eight Tones". 

The tones are one of the most outstanding features of Orthodox liturgical music. In the Russian Orthodox Church, these tones are from various settings: Greek, Kiev, znamenny and special services.


The Nativity of the Son of God was the answer to the repentance and hope of the people of the Old Testament. A special Theotokion sticheron, sung immediately after the stichera for "Lord, I have cried," tells us of this. This sticheron is known as a Dogmatikon or a Theotokion-Dogmatikon. There are eight dogmatika; one for each tone. The dogmatika are composed of praises of the Theotokos and the teachings of the Church about the incarnation of Jesus Christ and about how His two completely distinct natures, divine and human, dwell in Him. 

What set the dogmatika apart are their profound catechetical meaning and their sublime poetry. Here is an English rendering of the Dogmatikon in the First Tone: 

"Let us hymn the Virgin Mary, the glory of the whole world, who sprang forth from men and gave birth unto the Master, the portal of heaven, and the subject of the hymnody of the incorporeal hosts and adornment of the faithful; for she hath been shown to be heaven and the temple of the Godhead. Having destroyed the middle wall of enmity, she hath brought forth peace and opened wide the kingdom. Therefore, having her as the confirmation of our faith, we have as champion the Lord born of her. Wherefore, be of good courage! Yea, be ye of good cheer, O people of God, for He vanquisheth the foe, in that He is almighty!" 

This Dogmatikon sets forth, in concise form, the Orthodox teachings about the human nature of the Savior. The principal theme of the Dogmatikon in the first tone is that the Mother of God was born of common people, and herself was a common person, and not a superhuman. So men and women, though sinful, preserved their spiritual essence to the extent that, in the person of the Mother of God, they were worthy of taking the Divinity, Jesus Christ, into their inner selves. The Holy Fathers of the Church taught that the all-holy Theotokos is man's justification before God. In the person of the Mother of God, humanity was raised to heaven; and God, in the person of Jesus Christ, Who was born of her, came down to earth. This, considered from the perspective of Orthodox Mariology (teachings with respect to the Mother of God), is the actual purpose of Christ's Incarnation.

The English translation of the Dogmatikon in the Second Tone declares: 

"The shadow of the law passed away when grace arrived; for, as the bush wrapped in flame did not burn, so did the Virgin give birth and yet remained a virgin. In place of the pillar of fire, the Sun of righteousness hath shone forth. Instead of Moses, Christ is come, the salvation of our souls." 

The meaning of this Dogmatikon lies in the fact that through the Virgin Mary, grace came into the world and liberated the faithful from the weight of the Old Testament law, which was a mere shadow and symbol of the future good things of the New Testament law. The Dogmatikon in the Second Tone also underscores the ever-virginity of the Theotokos, depicted in the Old Testament symbol of the burning bush that was not consumed. This burning yet unconsumed bush was the thorn bush that Moses saw at the base of Mt. Sinai. According to the Bible, the bush burned but was not consumed, that is, it was engulfed by flame, but did not burn.

The Little Entrance

The singing of the Dogmatikon at the Vigil represents the uniting of earth and heaven. During the singing of the Dogmatikon, the Beautiful Gates are opened to show that heaven, in the sense of man's communion with God, which was closed by Adam's sin, was opened once more with the coming to earth of Jesus Christ; the Adam of the New Testament. At this point, the Evening or Little Entrance takes place. The priest, preceded by a deacon, comes out of the altar through the north, deacon's, door, just as the Son of God, preceded by St. John the Forerunner, appeared to man in the world. The choir concludes the Evening or Little Entrance by singing the prayer "O Gentle Light," portraying in words what the priest and deacon have portrayed in the action of the entrance; the gentle, humble Light of Christ, which appeared almost unnoticed in the world.

The Prayer “O Gentle Light”

"O Gentle Light " (rendered as "O Gladsome Light" by some) is known, in the cycle of chants of the Orthodox Church, as the evening hymn, since it is sung at all Vespers services. In the words of this hymn the children of the Church, "having come to the setting of the sun, having beheld the evening light, we praise the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - God." It is apparent from these words that the chanting of "O Gentle Light" was intended to coincide with the appearance of the soft light of sunset, a time when the soul of the believer should be close to feeling the touch of another kind of light, a light from above. This is why, in ancient times, Christians, on observing the setting of the sun, poured out their feelings and turned in prayerful attitude of soul to their Gentle Light, Jesus Christ, Who is described by the Apostle Paul as the brightness of the glory of the Father (Hebrews 1:3) and by the Old Testament prophet as the true Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2[LXX]), and the true light that according to the Holy Evangelist John appeared in the world to dispel spiritual darkness (John 1:4, 9); a light that is eternal, an unsetting sun. 

St. Cyprian of Carthage, who lived in the 4th century, wrote, "In as much as Christ is the true sun and the true day, when we pray at the setting of the sun and ask that light to come to us, we are praying for the coming of Christ, Who possesses the grace to offer us eternal light." 

The prayer "O Gentle Light," which appeared in the epoch when the Church of Christ was in the catacombs, is the third distinguishing feature of the Vespers. "O Gentle Light" also contains one of the most important of Orthodox dogmas, the confession of Christ as the visible face of the All-holy Trinity, a dogma that is the foundation for the practice of venerating icons.

"Let us attend"

After the chanting of "O Gentle Light," the clergy serving in the altar make several short exclamations: "Let us attend, " "Peace be unto all," and "Wisdom." These exclamations are made not only during All-night Vigil, but during other services as well. These liturgical exclamations, though repeated several times in church, can easily pass us by unnoticed. They are minor words, but their content is great and significant. 

In our daily life, to be attentive or heedful is important. Yet the capacity to be attentive or heedful does not always come easily. Our intellect (mind) is predisposed to being forgetful and unfocused. It is difficult to force oneself to be attentive. The Church is aware of our weakness, and so it takes it upon itself to keep reminding us with the phrase, "Let us attend!" which tells us: let us be attentive, let us be heedful, let us take note, let us be careful, let us gather our wits, and let us strain to focus our mind and our memory on what we are hearing. Even more important, let us so set our hearts that nothing that is going on in church will slip by us. To be attentive or to take heed means to unburden ourselves, to free ourselves of memories, empty thoughts, and concerns; or, to use an expression from our liturgical language, to "put aside all earthly cares..."

“Peace Be Unto All!”

The little exclamation, "Peace be unto all", is first heard during the All-night Vigil immediately following the Small Entrance and the prayer, "O Gentle Light." 

Among ancient peoples, the word "peace" was a form of greeting. Devout Jews to this day greet one another with the word "shalom." This form of greeting was used during the earthly life of the Savior, as well. The ancient Hebrew word 'shalom' has a variety of meanings and caused New Testament translators considerable difficulty until they ultimately settled on the word ειρήνη-eirini, Greek for "peace." The word "shalom" has several shades of meaning in addition to its direct meaning. For example, it can mean, "to be complete, healthy, and unharmed." Its fundamental meaning is a dynamic one. It means, "to live well," to have well being, to be healthy, satisfied and so on, and is to be understood both in the material and in the spiritual sense, individually and communally. Figuratively, the word "shalom" meant good relations among various individuals, families, and peoples, between man and wife, and between man and God. For this reason, its antonym or opposite meaning was not necessarily war, but most likely was everything that could interrupt or destroy individual well being or good communal relations. In this broader sense, the word "peace", "shalom," represented a special gift given by God to Israel for the sake of His Covenant; His agreement with them. For this reason, the word was employed in an entirely specific, even priestly way, as a blessing. 

The Savior used this word in precisely this sense, as a greeting. He greeted the apostles with it, as St. John states in his Gospel: "The first day of the week [after the Resurrection of Christ] … came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them [His disciples], Peace be unto you, (John 20:19). Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent Me, even so send I you." (John 20:21) This was not simply a kind of formal greeting such as we so often hear in ordinary human discourse. Here Christ actually sends His disciples out into the world, knowing that they are to go through the abyss of hatred and persecution, and be martyred. 

This is that peace of which the Apostle Paul spoke in his epistles, the peace not of this world, the peace that is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit; the

The Prokeimenon

peace that is of Christ; "For he is our peace." (Ephesians 2:14) 

This is why during services the bishops and priests so often bless the people of God with the sign of the Cross and with the words "Peace be unto you!"

The Προκειμενον-Prokeimenon follows the greeting of the faithful with the words of the Savior's greeting, "Peace be unto you." The Prokeimenon is a short passage taken from the Holy Writ and is read along with one or more other stichos-verses that supplement the meaning of the Prokeimenon. The Sunday Prokeimenon, in the sixth tone, is read during Vespers on Saturday evening on the eve of the Resurrection commemorated every Sunday. The Russian word for Sunday, Voskresenie, literally means "Resurrection." The Prokeimenon is read first in the altar, then repeated by the choir.

The Paremia

The Readings, or Paremia, which literally means "lessons," consists of a passage or passages from the Old or the New Testament. The Church has decided that readings such as these, which contain prophecies or words of praise about the event or saint being commemorated, should be read on eves of great feasts. While three readings are usually read, from time to time there are more. For example, on Great Saturday, the Eve of Paskha, fifteen paremia are read.

The Augmented Litany

Christ's coming into the world, which is shown to us in the action of the evening Small Entrance, shows the closeness of God to man and strengthens our prayerful communion. This is why immediately after the prokeimenon and the readings, the Church invites the faithful to intensify their prayerful communion with God through the Augmented Litany. The several petitions in the Augmented Litany remind us of the content of the first vesperal litany or ektenia, the Great Ektenia. However, the Augmented Litany also includes prayers for the reposed. The Augmented Litany begins with the words "Let us all say with our whole soul and our whole mind..." The choir responds to each petition for all of those praying, with a thrice repeated "Lord, have mercy."

The Prayer “Vouchsafe, O Lord”

The prayer, "Vouchsafe, O Lord," is read after the Augmented Litany. A portion of this prayer, which was composed in the Syrian Church during the 4th century, is read in the Great Doxology during Matins.

The Litany of Supplication

The concluding Litany of Supplication is chanted immediately after the prayer, "Vouchsafe, O Lord." After the first two petitions, the choir responds to the remaining petitions with "Grant this, O Lord," which makes the requests bolder than does "Lord have mercy," the penitential response heard in the earlier litanies. In the initial litanies of Vespers, the faithful pray for the welfare of the whole world and the Church; that is, for external welfare. In the Litany of Supplication, we hear prayers for success in our spiritual life; that is, for a sinless conclusion to the day, for an angel of peace, for pardon and remission of our sins, for a Christian and peaceful ending to our life, and for a good defense before the dreaded judgment seat of Christ.

Bowing of the Heads

After the Litany of Supplication, the Church calls on the faithful to bow their heads unto the Lord. At this moment, the priest addresses God with a special "hidden" prayer, which he reads silently. It contains the idea that those who have bowed their heads expect help not from men, but from God, and they ask Him to guard the faithful from every enemy, external, and internal; from vain thoughts and from evil imaginings. The Bowing of the Heads is an external sign that the faithful put themselves under God's protection.

The Litia

On great feasts and on days commemorating highly honored saints, the Bowing of the Heads is followed by the Litiya or Service of Entreaty. The term "litiya" means intensified prayer. It begins with the singing of special stichera in honor of the feast or saint of the day. As the singing of stichera begins, the clergy go in procession through the north, or deacon's, door of the iconostasis, and out of the altar. The Beautiful Gates remain shut. A candle is carried at the head of the procession. When the litiya is celebrated outside of the church building; for example, during times of civil distress or on days marking liberation from such distress, the litiya is incorporated in a Moleben and Procession of the Cross. Also a Memorial Litiya may be performed in the narthex after Vespers or Matins. 

Michael Skaballanovich, a pre-Revolutionary liturgist, writes that "in the litiya, the Church steps out of its blessed milieu and, with the goal of mission to the world, into the external world or narthex; that part of the church which abuts this world, the part which is open to all, including those not yet part of the Church or those excluded from Her. From this stems the universal character of the litiya prayers, embracing all people." 

During the litiya, the deacon reads the prayer, "Save, O God, Thy people," as well as reads four other short petitions. These are composed of entreaties for the salvation of the people, the Church and civil authorities, for the souls of Christians, for the cities, for this land and all believers living herein, for the reposed, as well as entreaties asking that we be preserved from foreign invasions and from civil war. Each of these five petitions, chanted by the deacon, ends with repeated chanting of "Lord, have mercy." 

During the litiya, the faithful display a heightened sense of humility. In the litiya a host of saints is invoked by name, underscoring one of the basic dogmas of Orthodoxy: our veneration of, and prayerful communication with, the saints. 

The words "Lord, have mercy," are repeatedly chanted during the litiya, which causes the heart, mind, and soul of those who pray to be saturated with this petition. These multiple repetitions are intended to focus our attention on the meaning of the prayer, something the Church considers especially important for man's spiritual growth. Like a musical theme, this often repeated prayer accompanies us out of the church and into our daily life. 

"Lord, have mercy,"- only three words, yet how profound! First of all, in calling God "Lord," we affirm the fact of His rule over the world, over mankind; and, the most important, over ourselves, and over those who call Him "Lord," which means "ruler" or "master." For this reason we refer to ourselves as "servants" or "slaves" of God. There is nothing shameful about this title. Slavery is intrinsically a negative thing, for it robs man of his earliest gift from God, the gift of freedom. Since it is a gift given by God to man, man's serving God is in fact the acquisition of perfect freedom in God. It is good to treasure, keep, and cultivate the prayer, "Lord, have mercy." 

After the deacon has read the petitions and the priest has read the prayer, "O Master, plenteous in mercy," and during the singing of the Aposticha, which consists of stichera (verses that glorify the feast or saint of the day), the clergy and faithful enter the nave or central part of the church. At this time, a table is placed in the center of the church. On the table are five loaves of bread, as well as, wheat, wine, and oil. All are then blessed in this token act of the ancient custom of distributing food to the faithful, some of whom had come from afar, so that they might gain the strength to participate in the lengthy worship services. Five loaves are blessed in memory of the Lord's feeding of the five thousand who listened to his sermon. Later, during Matins, and after the faithful have venerated the Festal Icon, the priest anoints them with blessed oil.

The prayer “Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart”

The Prayer of St. Symeon, the God-receiver, "Now lettest Thou Thy servant departs in peace, O Master," is read after the Aposticha. St. Symeon uttered these words when he received the Divine Infant Christ in his arms in the Temple of Jerusalem on the fortieth day after Our Lord's Nativity. In this prayer, the Old Testament elder thanks God for enabling him, before his death, to see Salvation; that is, to see Christ, Who was given by God for the glory of Israel, and for the enlightenment of the Gentiles and of the entire world. In English, the prayer says: "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, O Master, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples; a light of revelation for the nations, and the glory of Thy people Israel." 

Vespers, the first part of the All-night Vigil, is now drawing to a close. Having begun with a commemoration of the opening pages of Old Testament history, the creation of the world, it ends with the prayer "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart," symbolizing the conclusion of the history of the Old Testament.

The Trisagion

Immediately following the prayer of St. Symeon the God-receiver, the Trisagion or Thrice-Holy prayers are read. They include the prayers "Holy God," "All Holy Trinity," and "Our Father," and end with the doxology exclaimed by the priest "For Thine is the kingdom…" Following the Trisagion, the Troparia or Dismissal Hymns are sung. A troparion is a short, concise hymn in honor of the saint being commemorated or about the holy event being celebrated that day. The distinguishing feature of the troparion is that it concisely describes either the person being glorified or an associated event. At the Resurrection Vespers on Saturday evening, the troparion to the Mother of God, "O Theotokos and Virgin, rejoice!" is sung three times. This troparion is sung at the conclusion of Resurrection Vespers because of the joy of Christ's Resurrection, the focus of Matins that follows. It announces the joy of the Annunciation when Archangel Gabriel advised the Virgin Mary that she was to give birth to the Son of God. The words of this troparion are composed mostly of the words of greeting spoken by the Archangel to the Mother of God. 

In the event that a litiya is part of the All-night Vigil, the priest or deacon moves around the table, on which the loaves of bread and the wheat, wine and oil are placed, censing them three times as the troparion is being sung three times. Then the priest reads a prayer that asks God to "bless the bread, wheat, wine and oil, and multiply them throughout the world and to enlighten those who eat of them." Before reading this prayer, the priest slightly elevates one of the loaves, and makes the sign of the Cross with it over the remaining loaves. This action is done in remembrance of Christ's miraculous feeding of the five thousand with five loaves of bread. 

In the past, the bread and wine that were blessed were then distributed to the faithful in order to strengthen them during the service, which in fact continued for the entire night. In contemporary worship, the blessed bread is cut into small pieces to be given to the faithful later, as they are anointed with oil during Matins; this will be expanded upon later. The solemn ceremony of the blessing of the loaves dates back to a practice of earliest Christian times, and is a remnant of the Agape or Love Feast observed by those first Christians. 

At the conclusion of the litiya, in recognition of God's mercy, the choir sings thrice, "Blessed be the Name of the Lord from henceforth and forevermore." This is also the concluding sticheron of the Divine Liturgy. The priest closes Vespers, the first part of the All-night Vigil, blessing the faithful from the ambo with the ancient blessing in the name of the incarnate Jesus Christ: "The blessing of the Lord come upon you, by His divine grace and love for man, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages."

The All-night Vigil Service -- The Evening Sacrifice

Part II – Matins

THE SERVICES OF VESPERS AND MATINS define the day. In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, we read: "And there was evening and there was morning, the first day" (Genesis 1:5 [LXX]). For this reason, in ancient times the order of services called for Vespers, the first part of the All-night Vigil, to end late in the night; and for Matins, the second part, to finish at dawn. In contemporary practice, Matins (if conducted apart from Vespers) is usually moved to a later hour in the morning or back to the previous evening.

The Six Psalms

Matins, if held as a part of the All-night Vigil, begins with the reading of the Six Psalms or Hexapsalmia, which consists of Psalms 3, 37, 62, 87, 102, and 142 ([LXX]), read in order as one liturgical whole. The reading of the Six Psalms is preceded by two Bible verses: the thrice repeated words of praise spoken by the angel at Bethlehem: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2:14), and the twice repeated words from the 50th Psalm: "O Lord, Thou shalt open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Thy praise" (Psalm 50:15 [LXX]). 

The first of these verses, the angelic words of praise, clearly and eloquently point out three fundamentally related paths of struggle in pursuit of a Christian life. Upward, toward God in the words of praise, "Glory to God in the highest," outward toward your neighbor in the words, "and on earth peace," and downward into the depth of your heart in the words, "good will among men." Seen together, the thrust of these struggles, upward, outward and downward, form the symbol of the Cross, thereby manifesting the ideal of the Christian life: granting peace with God, peace among men, and peace in the soul. 

The order of services calls for the candles in the church to be extinguished during the reading of the Six Psalms. The falling darkness symbolizes that dark night when Christ came to earth, as the angel sang the hymn of praise, "Glory to God in the highest." The semidarkness of the church helps us to pray more earnestly. The Six Psalms encompass the entire range of human experiences that enlighten New Testament Christian life, not only its overall joyousness, but also the sorrowful path that leads to that joy. 

At the midpoint of the Six Psalms comes the fourth psalm, Psalm 87; the most sorrowful of the six, filled as it is with a dreadful bitterness. While this psalm is being read, the priest leaves the altar and stands before the Beautiful Gates and continues to read the twelve special morning prayers, which he has already begun to read in the altar before the Holy Table. At that moment the priest symbolizes Christ, Who, having heard the sorrow of fallen mankind, not only came down to man, but shared in his suffering to the end. The psalm, which is being read at that moment, speaks of this theme. 

The priest's silent morning prayers contain prayers for the Christians standing in church; petitions that they be forgiven their sins, that they be given true faith and sincere love, that all their works be blessed, and that they might be made worthy of the Heavenly Kingdom.

The Great Litany

Upon the conclusion of the Six Psalms and the morning prayers, the Great Litany is once again intoned, as it was during Vespers at the beginning of the All-night Vigil.  Its significance here at the beginning of Matins is that Christ, the Intercessor, who appeared on earth and Whose Nativity we praised at the beginning of the Six Psalms, will fulfill all the promises of spiritual and physical good of which the litany speaks.

Psalm 117 "God is the Lord"

Immediately following the Litany of Peace, we hear the singing of the 117th Psalm, "God is the Lord," and the oft-repeated refrain, "God is the Lord and hath appeared unto us; blessed is he who cometh in the Name of the Lord." The order of divine services appoints that these words be sung at this specific point in Matins in order to direct our memory and attention to Christ's embarking on His public ministry. This verse expands upon the praise of the Savior that was heard at the beginning of Matins during the reading of the Six Psalms. These words also served as a greeting to Jesus Christ when He entered Jerusalem for the final time before His passion on the Cross. The doxology "God is the Lord and hath appeared unto us…" and three special verses that follow are chanted by either the deacon or by the priest before the main, or local, Icon of Christ in the iconostasis; this is the icon of Christ immediately to the right of the Beautiful Gates. The choir then repeats the first verse, "God is the Lord and hath appeared unto us." 

The singing or chanting of these verses should reflect a joyous, festive mood. For this reason, the candles, which had been extinguished during the reading of the Six Psalms penitential, are lighted once again. 

Immediately after the verses for "God is the Lord," the Resurrection Troparion is sung. The Feast is glorified in it and the essence of the words "God is the Lord and hath appeared unto us" is explained. The Resurrection Troparion heralds the sufferings of Christ and His Resurrection from the dead; events that will be illuminated in detail later in the service of Matins.


At the All-night Vigil, the second and third kathismata (the Greek plural of kathisma) are read after the completion of the Great Litany, the verses of "God is the Lord," and the troparia. As we have already stated, the Greek word καθισμα-kathisma means "seat" or "stall," and according to the Church order of services, during the reading of the kathismata the faithful are allowed to sit. 

The entire Psalter, composed of 150 psalms, is divided into 20 kathismata; that is, into 20 groups or chapters of psalms. Each kathisma is in turn divided into three "glories," that is, each section of the kathisma concludes with the words, "Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit," being chanted three times, and after each "glory" the choir sings "Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. Glory to Thee, O God." 

The kathismata contain expressions of a penitential, contemplative character. They call us to consider our sins; and they are included by the Orthodox Church in the Divine Services to call the faithful to look into their own lives and actions, and deepen their repentance before God. 

The second and third kathismata, read during Sunday Resurrection Matins, are of a prophetic character. They describe the passion of Christ: the abuse He endured, the piercing of His hands and feet, the casting of lots and dividing of His garments, and His death and Resurrection from the dead. 

The kathismata of the Resurrection during the All-night Vigil bring the faithful to the central and most festive portion of the services, to the polyeleos.

The Polyeleios

"Praise ye the Name of the Lord. Alleluia." These and the following words are taken from the 134th and 135th Psalms and introduce the most festive portion of the Resurrection Vigil Service, the polyeleos, which celebrates the Resurrection of Christ. The word πολυελεοσ - polyeleos comes from two Greek words that mean "plenteous in mercy." The crux and fulcrum of the polyeleos rests in the chanting of "Praise ye the name of the Lord," with each verse of the Psalms followed by the refrain, "for His mercy endureth forever." In this refrain, the Lord is glorified for the abundant mercies He had shown toward man; the first and foremost of which is His salvation and redemption of man. 

At the polyeleos, the Beautiful Gates open, the entire church is illuminated, and the clergy come out of the altar and cense the entire church. Through these liturgical actions, the faithful witness the events of the Resurrection. In the opening of the Beautiful Gates, they see how Christ rose from the tomb; and in the clergy procession from the altar to the center of the church, they see how He again appeared among His disciples. While this is taking place, the psalm, "Praise ye the Lord"(Psalm 134:3 [LXX]), continues to be chanted, together with the angelic refrain, "Alleluia" (Praise the Lord); it is as if the choir is acting on behalf of the angels, calling the faithful to praise the Risen Lord. 

The chanting of "plenteous in mercy" during the polyeleos, a service typically done during the Vigil on the eves of Sundays and of great feasts days, especially demonstrates God's mercy. It is especially appropriate during this service to praise His Name and to thank Him for His mercy. 

In preparation for Great Lent, the short 136th Psalm is added to the verses of Psalms 134 and 135 that constitute the polyeleos. Psalm 136 begins with the words "By the waters of Babylon" and tells of the suffering of the Hebrew people in the Babylonian captivity and of their grief over the loss of their homeland. It is sung during the several weeks prior to Great Lent, so that, like the Hebrews who strove to free themselves from Babylonian captivity and return to their Homeland, the Promised Land, Christians, who are the New Israel, might strive in repentance and abstinence toward their spiritual home, the Kingdom of God. 

During feasts of the Lord and of the Theotokos, as well as on days commemorating especially venerated saints, the polyeleos is followed by a magnification, a short verse of praise for the feast or saint of the day. First the clergy, standing before the festal icon in the center of the church, sing the magnification. Then, while the entire church is censed, the choir repeats the same text several times. 

The angels were the first to learn of the Resurrection of Christ and to tell people the Good News. Thus, the polyeleos begins with the angels bidding us, "Praise ye the Name of the Lord." The next to learn of the resurrection were the Myrrh-bearing Women, who, in accordance with ancient Hebrew custom, came to the Tomb of Christ to anoint His body with myrrh, an aromatic oil. So, the singing of the angelic Alleluia is followed by the resurrection troparia that tell of the Myrrh-bearers' visit to the tomb, and of the appearance of the angel who told them of the Savior's resurrection and directed that they tell this news to His apostles. Each troparion is preceded by the words, "Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes." The last of Jesus Christ's followers to learn of His resurrection from the dead were the apostles. This moment in Gospel history is commemorated with the reading of the Resurrection Gospel, the central part of the Vigil Service. 

Several preliminary doxologies and prayers precede the Gospel reading. Thus, after the Resurrection troparion and the Small Ektenia that is an abridged form of the Great Ektenia, special verses known as the Hymns of Degrees are sung. These ancient verses come from 15 psalms known as Hymns of Degrees because in Old Testament times they were sung by two choirs, facing one another along the steps, here called degrees, of the Temple in Jerusalem. Usually, we hear the first part of the Hymns of Degrees in Tone IV, beginning with "From my youth many passions have warred against me."

As just related, the highlight of the All-night Vigil is the reading of a Gospel passage about Christ's resurrection from the dead. The order of divine services calls for a number of prayers to be read in preparation for this holy Gospel. The reason for the rather lengthy preparation of the faithful for the reading of the Gospel is that the Gospel remains a "sealed" book and a "stumbling block" for those among the faithful that the Church has not yet taught to understand and heed it. Furthermore, the Holy Fathers teach that a Christian must first pray in order to draw the maximum spiritual benefit from the reading of the Holy Writ. This prayerful introductory preparation for the reading of the Gospel at the All-night Vigil serves this purpose. 

Our prayers in preparation for the reading of the Gospel include the following liturgical elements. First, the deacon chants, "Let us attend," then "Wisdom"; then comes the prokeimenon relevant to the Gospel reading. The prokeimenon, as we said earlier, is a short excerpt from Divine Scripture, ordinarily from one of the psalms, which is read together with other verses complementing the theme of the prokeimenon. The deacon chants the prokeimenon and its accompanying verse, and the choir responds after each of the deacon's chants. 

The doxology, "For holy art Thou," and the chanting of "Let every breath praise the Lord," conclude the polyeleos with its festive words of praise introducing the Gospel. The gist of their meaning is: Let everything that has life praise the Lord, the giver of life. Afterward, the wisdom, holiness, and benevolence of the Lord, Creator and Redeemer of all creation is explained and preached through the holy Word of the Gospel.

The Holy Gospel

"Wisdom. Upright. Let us hear the Holy Gospel." This is an invitation to stand up straight, with respect, piety, and spiritual uprightness, to hear the Word of God. 

As we have said before, the central part of the All-night Vigil is the reading of the Gospel. In it we hear the voices of the apostles, heralding the Good News of the Resurrection of Christ. 

Eleven differing Resurrection Gospel lessons, all of which tell of the Resurrection of the Savior and of His appearance to the Myrrh-bearing Women and to the disciples, are read in turn during the year at Saturday All-night Vigils.

The Resurrection Gospel lessons are read from within the altar, the most important part of the Orthodox temple, which here represents the Tomb of our Lord. On other feast days, the Gospel is read in the midst of the people. This is done because an icon is placed in the center of the Temple, representing the saint or event being celebrated whose meaning the Gospel proclaims. 

After the Resurrection Gospel reading, the priest brings the Holy Bible out for veneration. He emerges from the altar as from the Tomb, and holding the Gospel, he emulates the angel as he shows us Christ, about Whom he had preached. Like the disciples, the parishioners bow down before the Holy Gospel, and like the Myrrh-bearing Women, they kiss it, and everyone sings, "Having beheld Thy Resurrection, O Christ." 

Beginning with the polyeleos, our exultation and joy in encountering Christ increases. This part of the Vigil instills in the faithful recognition that in the person of Jesus Christ, Heaven has come down to earth. The Church also reminds its children that whenever we hear the chanting of the polyeleos, we must bear in mind the coming day and with it the Feast of Eternity, the Divine Liturgy, which is not simply a representation on earth of the Heavenly Kingdom, but is in fact its coming to pass, unchanged and in all its fullness, on earth. 

We must greet the Heavenly Kingdom with a broken spirit and with repentance. For this reason, immediately after the joyous singing of "Having beheld Thy Resurrection, O Christ," the penitential 50th Psalm, beginning with the words "Have mercy on me, O Lord," is chanted. It is only during the night of Paskha and the entire week following it, when we are permitted to experience such ultimately joyous rapture, free of sorrow or penitence, that the reading of the 50th Psalm is omitted from divine services.

This penitential Psalm, "Have mercy on me, O Lord," is concluded with a prayer for the intercession of the apostles and the Mother of God. Then, the opening verse of the 50th Psalm is repeated: "Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy, and, according to the multitude of Thy compassions, blot out my transgression!" 

Further on, it is with the mixture of both joy in the Resurrection and repentance that we hear the sticharion, "Jesus, having risen from the dead, as he foretold, hath given us life eternal and great mercy." The "great mercy," which Christ shows to those who repent, is the granting of "life eternal." 

According to the Church, the Resurrection of Christ illumines the nature of anyone who unites himself with Christ. This enlightenment is demonstrated in the extremely important variable part of the All-night vigil known as the canons.

The Canon

The miracle of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ enlightened human nature. In the canon, the portion of the Vigil that follows the reading of the Gospel, the Church shows the faithful this enlightenment. In contemporary practice, the canon consists of nine odes or songs. Each ode of the canon consists of a specific number of individual troparia. 

Each individual canon has a specific subject of celebration: the Most Holy Trinity, an event from the Gospel or from the history of the Church, prayers to the Theotokos, or the magnification of a saint or saints of the day. The Sunday canons (read on Saturday evening in usual Russian practice) celebrate the Resurrection of Christ and the ensuing enlightenment of the world, the victory over sin and death. Festal canons illuminate in detail the meaning of the feast and the life of the saint, as a model of the transfiguration of the world already taking place. The Church in some measure celebrates Christ's victory over sin and death by contemplating the light of this transfiguration reflected in the canons. 

The canons are read, but the initial verse of each individual ode is sung by the choir. These introductory verses are known as irmoi, from the plural form of the Greek verb eirmos, meaning "to tie." The irmos presents a pattern for all of the troparia that follow within a given ode. 

An event from the Old Testament that embodies a transfiguring, that is, a prophetic and symbolic meaning relevant to the New Testament, serves as the pattern for each introductory irmos. For example, the irmos of the first ode commemorates, in Christian terms, the Hebrews' miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. In this irmos, the Lord is glorified as the all-powerful deliverer from evil and slavery. 

The irmos of the second ode is taken from the song of denunciation spoken by Moses in the Sinai desert to awaken a spirit of repentance in the Hebrews fleeing from Egypt. The second ode is sung only during Great Lent. 

The irmos of the third ode is based on the song of thanksgiving sung by Anna, mother of the prophet Samuel, for having been given a son. In the irmos of the fourth ode, we hear a Christian interpretation of the appearance to the prophet of the Lord God, Habakkuk, as seen in the brilliant sunlight streaming from behind the wooded mountain. In this vision, the Church perceives the glory of the coming Savior. 

In the fifth ode, the theme of which comes from the book of the prophet Isaiah, Christ is glorified as the bringer of peace. It also contains the prophecy of the Resurrection from the dead. 

The sixth irmos is taken from the story of the prophet Jonah, cast into the sea and swallowed up by a whale. In the eyes of the Church, this event serves to remind the Christian that he has sunk into the abyss of sin. The irmos also expresses the idea that there is no sorrow or misfortune in which the heartfelt prayer of the faithful cannot be heard. 

The irmoi of the seventh and eighth odes of the canon are based on the song of the three Hebrew children who were cast into the fiery Babylonian furnace. This event is a prefiguring of Christian martyrdom. 

Between the eighth and ninth odes, a hymn in honor of the Theotokos is chanted. The hymn begins with the words, "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior." It is accompanied by the refrain, "More honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim." The deacon chants the beginning of this glorification of the Mother of God. First he censes the altar and the right side of the iconostasis, and then he stops before the icon of the Theotokos on the iconostasis. Raising the censer, he chants: "The Theotokos and the Mother of the Light, let us magnify in song." The choir responds with the glorification of the Mother of God. 

During the chanting of the glorification, the deacon censes the entire church. Then the troparia of the final ode of the canon are read and, for the last time in the Vigil, we hear the Small Litany, "Again and again, in peace let us pray to the Lord." During the Resurrectional All-night Vigil, and following the Small Litany and the priest's doxology, the deacon exclaims "Holy is Our God," and this phrase is then echoed thrice by the choir.

The Exapostilarion

In monasteries that follow the order of service to the letter, and in churches in which the All-night Vigil actually does last all night, sunrise coincides with this point in the service. Special hymns celebrate its approach. The first hymn is known as the Hymn of Light, or Svetilen, in Russian, a term referring to the heralding of the approaching light. This type of hymn is also known by the Greek term exapostilarion, as typically spelled in English, which means "I send out," because a chanter is in fact "sent out" from the kliros (from where the choir sings) to the center of the church to chant the exapostilarion. The renowned hymns, "I see Thy Bridal Chamber adorned, O My Savior," and "The Wise Thief," heard during Passion Week, are examples of Exapostilaria or Svetilen. Among the best known of the Hymns of Light for the Mother of God is "The apostles, from the ends," sung during the Dormition of the Mother of God. 

After the Hymn of Light, the verse, "Let every breath praise the Lord," is sung, and Psalms 148, 149, and 150 (LXX) are read. These three psalms are known as the Psalms of Praise, for in them the term "praise ye" is often repeated. Special stichera, known as the Aposticha for the Praises, are combined with these psalms. They are usually sung at the close of Psalm 149 and after each verse of the short 150th Psalm. As in the case of the other stichera during the Vigil, the Aposticha for the praises glorify a Gospel event, an event in the life of the Church, or a saint or saints being commemorated on that day.

The Great Doxology

As we have already noted, in ancient times and even today in those monasteries where the All-night Vigil indeed lasts all night, the sun rises during the second half of the Vigil. At this point, the Lord, the Giver of Light, is praised in a special, ancient Christian hymn, the Great Doxology, which begins with the words, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace." But before this, we see the priest through the open doors of the altar as he stands before the Holy Table and exclaims, "Glory to Thee, Who hast shown us the light." 

In the All-night Vigil, Matins concludes with the Augmented Litany and with the Litany of Supplication, the very same Litanies which were read earlier in the Vigil, during Vespers. They are followed by the priest's closing doxology and by the Dismissal. The priest addresses the Mother of God with the prayer: "O Most Holy Theotokos, save us!" The choir responds with a glorification of the Theotokos: "More honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim." Thereafter, the priest again glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ with the doxology, "Glory to Thee, O Christ God, our hope, glory to Thee." The Choir responds with "Glory, both now and ever," showing thereby that the glory of Christ is as well the glory of the All-holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And thus ends the Vigil as it began, with a glorification of the Holy Trinity

The Hours

After the priest's final blessing, the First Hour and final portion of the All-night Vigil is read. 

As we have already noted, the primary idea expressed in Matins is the joyous realization by the faithful that all who unite themselves to Christ will be saved and will be resurrected together to be with Him. According to the Church, we can attain union with Christ only with an attitude of humility and recognition of our unworthiness. For this reason, the Vigil does not end with the festive and joyous service of Matins, but with the First Hour, a service expressing a humble, repentant striving toward God. 

The daily cycle of services of the Orthodox Church includes three Hours in addition to the First Hour. The Third and Sixth Hours are read before the beginning of the Divine Liturgy, and the Ninth Hour is read before the beginning of Vespers. Formally, the Hours contain selections of texts pertinent to that particular time of day. However, each Hour also has a distinct mystical and spiritual significance, for each commemorates a stage of Christ's Passion. The services proceed with an air of serious concentration, and bear the stamp of Great Lent and of the Passion. A characteristic of the Hours that shows their kinship to the services of Great Lent is that reading takes precedence over singing. 

The subject of the Third Hour is the handing over of the Savior to be insulted and flogged. A second New Testament theme is joined to the Third Hour: the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. In addition, in the Third Hour we find prayers for assistance and protection in our external and internal battle with evil, and we find prayers of repentance, such as that expressed in the 50th Psalm, which begins with "Have mercy on me, O God." 

The Sixth Hour coincides with the hour when Christ was crucified and nailed to the Cross. During the Sixth Hour, we hear the reader express the bitterness brought on by militant evil rampant in the world, while at the same time we hear an expression of hope in God's help. This hope is especially strongly expressed in the third of the psalms read during the Sixth Hour, the 90th Psalm, which commences with "He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High shall abide in the shelter of the God of heaven." 

The Ninth Hour is the hour when Christ, while on the Cross, granted paradise to the thief, and gave up His soul to God the Father until His Resurrection. In the psalms of the Ninth Hour we already hear thanks being expressed to Christ for His saving of the world. 

Such, in brief, is the substance of the Third, Sixth, and Ninth Hours. Now let us return to the First Hour, the hour that concludes the All-night Vigil. 

Overall, in addition to commemorating the events that transpired during the first stage of Jesus Christ's Passion, the First Hour expresses feelings of thanksgiving to God for the approaching light of day and for His setting us on a path during the coming day that is pleasing to Him. This is all expressed in the three psalms read during the First Hour, as well as in its other prayers, and especially in the prayer, "Thou Who at all times and at every hour," a prayer read during each of the Hours. In this prayer, the faithful ask for unity of Faith and for true knowledge of God. According to the Church, it is that knowledge that is the fountain from which will spring a Christian's future spiritual benefits, that is, salvation and life eternal. The Lord speaks of this in the Holy Gospel according to John, chapter 17: "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." The Orthodox Church teaches that it is possible to know God only through love and oneness of mind. This is why during the Liturgy, before the confession of faith in the Symbol of Faith, we proclaim, "Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in essence and undivided." 

Following the prayer, "Thou, Who at all times…" the priest comes out of the altar. He is dressed humbly, wearing an epitrachelion but without his shining outer vestments. The temple is in semi-darkness. In such a setting, the priest concludes the First Hour, and with it the All-night Vigil, with a prayer wherein he glorifies Christ as the True Light, Who enlighteneth and sanctifieth every man that cometh into the world. Turning to the Icon of the Mother of God, he commemorates her at the conclusion of the prayer. The choir responds with a festive hymn taken from the Akathist for the Annunciation of the Theotokos, "To thee the Champion Leader."


The All-night Vigil expresses with absolute clarity the spirit of Orthodoxy, something described in the teaching of the Holy Fathers of the Church as "the spirit of Resurrection, Transfiguration, and Deification of man." The All-night Vigil, as does Orthodox Christianity in general, contains the expression of two Passovers, the Passover of the Crucifixion and the Passover of the Resurrection. The All-night Vigil, especially as conducted on the eve of Sunday, the Day of Resurrection, takes its structure and subject matter from the services of Passion Week and the Week of Paskha. Vladimir Ilin writes the following in his book on the All-night Vigil, published in Paris in the 1920s: "The All-night Vigil and its soul, the Jerusalem Typicon, the Eye of the Church, grew and were completed at the Tomb of the Lord. Overall, it is the night services at the Tomb of the Lord that are the cradle from which grew a marvelous garden, the daily cycle of Orthodox services. Its finest flower is the All-night Vigil. If the source of the Orthodox Liturgy is the Mystical Supper of Christ, held in the home of Joseph of Arimathea, then the source of the All-night Vigil is at the Life-giving Tomb of the Lord, which opened the way for the world into the heavenly mansions and poured out onto men the blessedness of life eternal." 

We live in a world of vanity, in which it is extremely difficult to find the time, even if only a few minutes, to enter into the interior cell of our soul and to enjoy silence and prayer; to gather one's thoughts, to consider one's spiritual fate, to heed the voice of one's conscience and to cleanse one's heart through the Mystery of Confession. The Church gives us such an opportunity during the hours in which the All-night Vigil is served. 

How good it would be if we trained the members of our households and ourselves to come to love this Service! One could, at first, attend the All-night Vigil only once every two weeks, or once per month. It is necessary only to begin, and the Lord will reward us with a precious spiritual honor: The Lord will visit our hearts, will take up residence in it, and will open up to us the broad, spacious, and extremely rich world of Church prayer. Let us not deprive ourselves of this opportunity.

© 1999 by Archpriest Victor Potapov

Detailed commentary on the All-night Vigil Service

lent, cruciform censing. (The creation of the world and the salvation of the world).

Intonation to the glory of the Holy Trinity: "Glory to the Holy, Consubstantial 1, Indivisible Trinity..." (Glory to the Creator).

Hymn: "O come let us worship..." (Glory to the Saviour).


THE ALL-NIGHT VIGIL is conducted on the eve of Sundays and feastdays. The Vigil combines in itself part of the evening service and part of the morning service: from the evening service comes Vespers, while from the morning service comes Matins and the First Hour. In this way, one must distinguish three parts in the Vigil:

  1. Vespers-from the beginning of the Vigil until the doxology and the six psalms,

  2. Matins-from the doxology and the six psalms until the Great Doxology with the litany which follows,

  3. First Hour
    although these three parts flow imperceptibly together, forming one service (not only outwardly, but also inwardly).


From the creation of the world to the Nativity of Christ

Both in the content of its prayers and in the actions appointed for the clergy, Vespers tells us about the creation of the world and the spiritual life of people before the coming to earth of the Saviour.

By giving attention to what we hear and see during Vespers, we are transported into the time of Old Testament humanity and experience in our hearts that which it experienced.

What precisely does Vespers portray and how-by what actions and by what words of prayers and hymns?

In knowing what is portrayed in Vespers (and likewise in Matins), it is easy to understand and remember the entire progression of the service-that order in which there follow one after another the hymns, readings and sacred actions.


1. In the beginning God created heaven and earth, the earth was still without form, and over it in silence there was borne the Life-giving Spirit of God, as if pouring into it the powers of life.

The Vigil transports us to this beginning of creation: the service begins in complete silence: the Royal Doors are open as the priest and deacon silently cease around the altar table. The censing on four sides forms the sign of a cross, and in complete silence, only here within the altar, arise clouds of incense, just as the Holy Spirit was borne aloft in silence over the formless earth, while the cruciform censing speaks of the salvation of the world through the Lifegiving Cross of the Lord, through the Saviour's sacrifice on the Cross. The cruciform censing unites in one action the creation of the world and the salvation of the world, just as they were united in the eyes of God, in God's pre-eternal Counsel. (The Saviour is called "the Lamb of God, slain from the creation of the world".)

That which is represented by this initial action is pro­ claimed in the first words of the Vigil. The priest's first exclamation glorifies the Creator of the world-the Lifegiving Trinity:

"Glory to the Holy, Consubstantial, Undivided and Lifegiving Trinity"...while the first hymn, which follows this exclamation, glorifies the Saviour of the world:

This hymn is chanted within the altar.

Psalm about the creation of the world: "Bless the Lord, O my soul..."

Censing around the entire church, among the people; the Royal Doors are open.

The Royal Gates are closed. The deacon exits.

The deacon stands before the Royal Gates; the Great Litany.

Psalms from the first kathisma: Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly (the first sound of hope).



Penitential psalms.

"O Come, let us worship God Our King ... Christ Himself, our King and our God..."

This hymn comes from within the altar, revealing the meaning of what has just been performed there-the cruciform censing.

2. God "formed" the formless earth in six days of creation—everything became beautiful (it was good).

The choir sings a psalm about the creation of the world, about its beauty: "Bless the Lord, O my soul..." Here there is depicted the creation of the world; we hear the words, in wisdom hast Thou made them all ... wondrous are Thy works, O Lord...


At the creation of the world paradise was open to man, God was close to him (in this consisted his blessedness). The Royal Doors stand open, just as the doors of paradise were open. The priest comes out of the altar and, censing the whole church, he walks among the people, just as God walked among the people in paradise.

The congregation shares with the first people the feeling of joy in the knowledge of the nearness of God, and their prayers arise to God, like the incense which fills the whole church.


The people were unable to handle their freedom; they gave in to the deceit of the devil and departed from submission to the will of God. This sin of insubmission deprived the people of God's nearness, and the paradise of a blessed life was closed to them. Adam became a slave of sin and death. He was expelled from paradise, and an angel with a sword stood at the gates to paradise.

After the censing the altar doors are closed, just as paradise was closed. The deacon comes out from the altar and stands before the dosed gates of the altar, just as Adam stood before the gates of paradise. On the door through which the deacon leaves the altar is usually depicted an angel with a sword-as if guarding the entry to paradise.


Just as Adam, at the gates of paradise, turned in repentance with prayer to God, so, too, the deacon before the Royal Gates, begins the petition-the Great Litany: "In peace, let us pray to the Lord"...

Then Adam hears God's promise-"the seed of a woman shall bruise the head of the serpent," a Saviour shall come to earth-and a fire of hope is kindled in Adam's soul.

This hope is heard in the Vigil in the psalms of the first kathisma (the first section of the Psalter): "Blessed is the man, who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly"...

Normally, only selected verses are used, sung triumphantly with the refrain, "Alleluia"...


The voices of grief and hope, first heard at the very gates of paradise, do not fall silent until the coming of Christ.

Individual verses: "Lord, I have cried unto Thee, hearken unto me; hearken unto me 0 Lord..."

"Let my prayer be set forth..."




Hope: versifies on 'Lord, I have cried...' (New Testament content).


Verses before them (from the Old Testament Psalms): "Bring my soul out of prison..." "Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, 0 Lord..."





The Appearance of the Son of God


1) is celebrated in song by the dogmatic; the Royal Doors open



2) is celebrated in action by the evening entrance a. the priest is preceded by the deacon




b. the entrance is "simple"

"Wisdom, let us attend."

1) REPENTANCE. The grief and repentance of fallen mankind are passed on from generation to generation in the penitential psalms which are chanted as separate verses, with particular solemnity and special melodies.

First are chanted two verses from the Psalm, "Lord, I have cried unto Thee": "Lord, I have cried unto Thee, hearken unto me..:' and "Let my prayer be set forth, as incense before Thee...During the chanting of these verses, the deacon censes; the incense rises, like the supplication of sinful mankind to its Creator.

And with this supplication is joined our own prayer, for we likewise are sinners. The words of the psalms, so simple and moving, come from our hearts also: Hear us, 0 Lord.

2) HOPE. Among the following penitential verses­ "Bring my soul out of prison...", "Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, 0 Lord. 0 Lord, hear my voice," etc.-are heard the sounds of hope in the promised Saviour.

This hope among grief is heard in the hymns after "Lord, I have cried," the so-called "versicles on 'Lord I have cried.'" If the verses before the versicles speak about the Old Testament darkness and grief, the versicles (the refrains to the verses, supplementing them as it were) speak about the New Testament joy and light.

The Sunday versicles sing of the glory of the Resurrection; the festal versicles sing of the reflection of this glory in the festal events and personages (saints).

"Lord, I have cried..." together with the versicles are chanted in eight different melodies or tones; these tones change weekly, throughout the year.




God's response manifested itself in the birth of the Son of God on earth.

1. This is spoken of in a special verse, the Theotokion, which is sung directly after the versicle on "Lord, I have cried." It is called the dogmatic Theotokion because it contains a dogma (in Greek, "teaching") about the birth of God.

There are eight dogmatic Theotokia; each tone has its own dogmatic.

Before the dogmatic there is chanted not an Old Testament verse, but a New Testament verse: "Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit...", because it speaks not about the Old Testament hope but about its fulfillment, about the accomplished Incarnation.

2. This appearance of the Son of God on earth is depicted in sacred actions, in the so-called evening entrance:

a) During the singing of the dogmatic the priest opens the Royal Gates, indicating the joining of heaven and earth, while through the north door he appears from the altar, preceded by the deacon, as the Son of God appeared to the people preceded by St. John the Forerunner.

b) And just as the Son of God appeared on earth in humbleness, so the priest walks silently, his hands down at his side ("simply," as the Typicon says), while the choir concludes the evening entrance with the prayer, "0 gentle light...", whose words signify what  the priest depicts through action; it speaks of the gentle light, of the humility of the Son of God, Who appeared not in the fullness of the Divine Glory of the Heavenly Father, but with the gentle light of that glory.

"O gentle light ... of the holy glory of the immortal Heavenly Father ... Jesus Christ..."



Prokimenon: 'The Lord is enthroned"... (proclaimed from the altar)


On the eves of feasts, Old Testament readings with special verses.








Strengthening of prayer


a. augmented litany: "Let us all say with our whole soul..."

b. supplicatory litany: "Let us complete our evening prayer unto the Lord..."

c) Litya (on the eve of feasts)



The Prayer of St. Simeon the God-receiver: "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, 0 Master..."

In order to turn the attention of the faithful to the wise, profound meaning of the evening entrance, and especially its conclusion with the prayer "0 Gentle Light", the deacon, after the dogmaticon, intones "Wisdom," and then, with the words "Let us attend," calls all to be reverently humble, "simple," in the same manner in which the priest came out, to strive towards this Gentle Light which enlightens all.

The Lord promised and mankind hoped that the Son of the Virgin would crush the head of the serpent, would accomplish the royal feat of victory over the devil. In the Sunday vespers the fulfillment of this hope is expressed by the triumphant proclamation of the Lord's enthronement: after "0 Gentle Light" follows the prokimenon: "The Lord is enthroned, He is clothed with majesty."

At great feasts, after the prokimenon of the feast, there are special readings (paremii or parables), prophecies from the Old Testament. The readings describe the grandeur and glory of the celebrated Event or Personage, how they were foretold by the prophets or prefigured by Old Testament events.

The grandeur ("majesty") of the feast in general reflects that grandeur in which the Lord clothed Himself. For this reason it is fitting to substitute the Sunday prokimenon with the festal prokimenon and the readings.


With the Incarnation of the Son of God, the proximity between God and man was strengthened, their communion in prayer was strengthened. The image of the incarnate Son of God irrepressibly draws to itself the hearts of the faithful, and in Vespers there is heard the intensified prayer:

a) the great (augmented) litany with the thrice repeated "Lord, have mercy" and

b) the supplicatory litany and, before great feasts,

c) the Litya, a still more fervent supplication before the doors of the church, with an appeal to the Theotokos and the saints, as our intercessors before God, and with special verses.


In remembrance of the meeting of the Son of God on earth there is sung or read the prayer, "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace...", the prayer of St. Simeon the God-receiver, who with faith and hope waited many years for the coming of the Saviour, as though in the person of the whole of mankind, striving to approach God.

The Lord is always waiting for man to make a move; he must make the first step toward God, for the Lord never forcefully imposes anything on him. In looking upon the image of the Lord appearing on earth, one's thought involuntarily turns to the one who manifest an intense striving towards the Saviour, an intense anticipation of Him on earth, as if representing in himself all those going towards God, from the right- eons men and women of the Old Testament and those kings and prophets who, in the word of the Saviour, desired to see Him and did not, and including those people "awaiting a Redeemer," who happened to be among those praying in the temple the day of the Meeting and in whose presence the righteous Simeon and Anna made their prophecies.



"Virgin Theotokos, rejoice..."




The Royal Doors are opened.




On the eve of feasts: the troparion of the feast and the blessing of the loaves..

The beginning of Matins









The angels' doxology: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good- will among men."



Six Psalms

About a Christian's joys and sorrows (like St. Seraphim's).



But the greatest striving towards God was manifest by the Virgin Mary.

She, who "sprouted from man," in her striving towards God rose to such heights that she became worthy of giving flesh to God come to earth and of becoming His Mother.

She destroyed the boundary between God and man ("destroying the wall of enmity").

Through Her the Lord came to earth, and in her honor the angel's greeting, "Virgin Theotokos rejoice...", is chanted before the open Royal Doors.

(The kontakion for the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord notes that the Lord "preceded", quickened our salvation, "sanctifying the Virgin's womb ... and blessing the hands of Simeon.")

On the eve of feasts the Theotokos is commemorated and entreated in prayer at the Litya, in which case "Virgin Theotokos rejoice..." is not sung, but is replaced by the troparion of the Feast, after which there is the blessing of the loaves (a tradition from old times when, due to the long service, it was necessary to give some sustenance to the congregation).

The priest concludes Vespers by blessing the congregation in the name of the Incarnate Lord:

"The blessing of the Lord be upon you..."


(The Second part of the Vigil)

The New Testament life of the people;
the ascetic struggle of the Son of God


With the coming of the Saviour there began for the true followers of Christ a bright and grace-filled life-Love and peace with God, love and peace with people, love and peace in the soul.

The general picture of this bright life is depicted during Matins with the angels' hymn: "Glory to God in the highest...", which sounded forth at the very birth of this life, on the night of Christ's Nativity. It is likewise illustrated by the Six Psalms, with which Matins begins.

1. The Angels' Doxology

The angels' doxology briefly but clearly denotes three fundamental and connected strivings of the Christian: upwards to God (glory to God in the highest), across to his neighbor (and on earth peace) and into the depths of his heart (goodwill among men), which forms the sign of the Cross, manifesting itself in this way as a symbol of the true Christian life, giving peace with God, peace with others and peace in the soul.

2. The Six Psalms

The Six Psalms illumine in greater detail this New Testament Christian life-not only its overall joyous, bright disposition but also the sorrowful path to this Christian joy.

The Six Psalms bring to mind the image of St. Seraphim-always radiant and joyful, and at the same time always calling himself "wretched, sinful" Seraphim, trusting solely upon the Lord.

a. Psalms of joy:

1st-Ps. 3;

3rd-Ps. 62;

5th-Ps. 102.


b. Sorrowful psalms, about

Humility, repentance, hope, as ways to joy.

Second-Ps. 37

Fourth-Ps. 87



Joyous and sorrowful psalms alternate the reverent attention of the



The priest before

(the silent royal doom Prayer)

The great litany

a) The bright and joyful state, announced by the angels, are echoed by the first, third and fifth Psalms which are read -joyful psalms, speaking about life amidst the mercy and blessed assistance of God ("joyous" Seraphim).

b) the three remaining psalms-2, 4, and 6-psalms of sorrow, illumine the sorrowful path to this joyful life (the path of "wretched" Seraphim), creating a disposition of humility, repentance, hope, sorrow in the midst of joy.

("Blessed are the poor in spirit," "blessed are they that mourn," our Saviour taught.)

The Psalms are full of these dispositions.

Joy and sorrow, sorrow and joy are heard simultaneously in the words of the Six Psalms, just as they should be heard simultaneously in each Christian soul.

In order to nurture within oneself this Christian disposi­tion, one must listen with utmost attention and reverence to the words of the Six Psalms, one must become penetrated by them, as if they flow from the depths of one's soul. (This point is likewise emphasized in the Church Typicon.)

In the middle of the Six Psalms, before the fourth and most sorrowful of the psalms, the priest comes out from the al t4 d an. ;, standing before the Royal Doors, silently reads seecial prayers (matinal)-as though Christ Himself has come forth as our intercessor, praying together with us and strengthening our hope in God's help.

After the Six Psalms, in the great litany (ektenia), we pray for this grace-filled help from God.


The appearance of the Son of God effects a joyful transformation in the life of mankind. What precisely did Christ do that brought forth this transformation? As Matins unfolds, it portrays Christ's accomplishment:

1) The Son of God did not disdain to become a man (we hear of this in the prokemenon)

2) The Son of God endured sufferings, crucifixion and death (the kathismas)

3) The Son of God arose, sanctifying man's nature (polyelei and the reading of the Gospel)

4) The Son of God sanctifies and transfigures all who desire to be joined to Him-He saves all of them from sin and death (canon).

Those praying, having been brought into the proper disposition by the Six Psalms, should, in beholding Christ's achievement, experience it and becoming spiritual united with Christ.

The prokemenon: "God is the Lord and has appeared unto us..."








a) containing prophecies concerning the sufferings and death of the Saviour




b) the response to the Saviour's call, "Repent!"



The joy of the Resurrection.


Polyelei with full illumination, the Royal Doors open and censing.







The voice of the angels:


"Praise ye the name of the Lord..."


In order to restore man's fallen human nature, God, our Lord, did not disdain to become a man, while remaining God. This is the subject of the Sunday Matins prokemenon: "God is the Lord and has appeared unto us..." God is our Lord and He appeared among us.

The sufferings, death and resurrection of the incarnate Lord-which come further down the path to the salvation of the world-are heralded by the troparion which follows. (The troparion speaks briefly of the Saviour's accomplishment, which will be illumined in greater detail in subsequent parts of the Matins service.)

On the eve of feasts the troparion of the feast is sung-a short account about the feast or the life of the saint, about what was made possible thanks to the manifestation of the Son of God and His sanctification of the world.


1) This is related in the kathismas-the psalms of King David, which prophetically describe the sufferings and death of the Saviour, His immortality and His descent into hades, and likewise the glory of His Resurrection (kathismas II and III, read at Sunday Matins). Here we hear about how He was mocked, about how His hands and feet were pierced, how lots were thrown and His garments divided, about His incorruption and how He did not remain in hades, about the path of life instead of death, about blessedness and glory, etc.. (Psalms 21,15, 23).

2) At the same time the kathismas evoke feelings of repentance and compunction for sins, the same feelings called forth by the first words of our Saviour's ministry on earth: Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.


Christ's Resurrection is the subject of the more triumphant part of Matins: the polyelei (polyelei literally means "much mercy" or, in another sense, much oil, much light).

Both through the actions of the clergy and the words that are chanted, the polyelei calls forth images of Christ's Resurrection and the events which followed it. At the polyelei the Royal Doors are opened, the entire church is brightly illumined, and the priest appears from the open altar, censing the whole church. We see a reflection of the stone rolled away from the tomb and the brightness of the angel, we see Christ risen from the tomb and appearing once again among His disciples. In the Gospel reading and singing which follow, we hear about what occurred after the Resurrection.

1) The angels were the first to learn of Christ's Resurrection and the first to announce this to the people.

The polyelei begins with the triumphant singing of the psalm: "Praise ye the name of the Lord...", with the refrain, the angels' exclamation: "Alleluia":

Praise ye the name of the Lord, Alleluia.

O ye servants, praise the Lord. Alleluia.

Blessed is the Lord out of Sion,

Who dwelleth in Jerusalem. Alleluia.

0 give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good,

for His mercy endureth forever. Alleluia.

0 give thank unto the God of heaven,

for His mercy endureth forever. Alleluia.

This sounds forth like the voice of the angels, calling us to glorify the risen Lord. We must respond to this voice, receive it into the depths of our heart and become inflamed with the joy of the Resurrection.


The Resurrection troparia: "The assembly of angels was amazed..." (the testimony of the myrrh-bearers)







The voice of the apostles: the reading of the Gospel"






Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the holy Lord Jesus, the only sinless One. We worship Thy Cross, 0 Christ, and Thy holy Resurrection we praise and glorify, for Thou art our God..."



The veneration of the Gospel or festal icon (with anointing)




The joy of salvation



Canon, composed of 9 songs- irmosi and many troparia.


Refrains read before the troparia: "Glory to Thy holy Resurrection, 0 Lord „ and "Most Holy Theotokos, save us," etc..

2) The myrrhbearing women were next to learn of the Resurrection. After "praise ye..." we chant the Resurrection troparia about the visitation of the myrrhbearing women to the tomb and the appearance of the angel telling them of the Resurrection and bidding them to relate this to the apostles.

"The assembly of angels was amazed..."

"Very early the myrrhbearing women hastened unto Thy tomb, lamenting, but the angel stood before them and said.."

"Before each troparion is sung the refrain: "Blessed are Thou, 0 Lord, teach me Thy statutes."

3) Finally, the apostles learned of the Resurrection and preached to all the world.

After the preparatory exclamations and prayer the Gospel is read; we hear, as it were, the voice of the apostles, preachers of the Resurrection.

There are eleven Resurrection Gospels which are read consecutively, one each week, at the Saturday vigil services through the course of the year; these selections tell of the Saviour's Resurrection and His appearance to the myrrhbearers and the disciples.

Usually the Sunday Gospel is read by the priest in the altar: the glad tidings of the Resurrection sound forth as if from the very tomb of the Lord. Then, during the singing of the hymn, "Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ...", the Holy Gospel is carried to the center of the church for veneration by the faithful.

At the vigils for feasts, Christ's Resurrection is recalled in sacred actions during the polyelei and the hymn, "Praise ye the name of the Lord..." In place of the Resurrection troparia and the Resurrection Gospel, the magnification (a brief verse in honor of the feast) is sung before the icon of the feast and there, too, is read the Gospel concerning the essence of the feast or the spiritual accomplishments of the saint. When the faithful venerate the icon they are anointed with oil which has been blessed at the blessing of the loaves. (At feasts the lamp of Christ's Resurrection is alight, and therefore the Sunday readings and hymns can be replaced by festal readings and singing, describing what grew out of the ground of the Resurrection.)


Human nature is enlightened by the Resurrection, and this enlightenment awaits all who unite themselves to Christ.

Even now, in the saints and especially in the person of the Theotokos we already see the coming enlightenment.

The joy of salvation sounds forth triumphantly in the canon, which follows the Gospel reading.

The canon is comprised of nine songs or irmosi, and a series of verses, troparia, which are read between the irmosi together with their corresponding refrains: "Glory to Thy holy Resurrection, 0 Lord," "Most Holy Theotokos, save us,""Holy Saint Nicholas, pray to God for us," etc..

In the Resurrection canons, at the Saturday night vigils, Christ's Resurrection and the enlightenment of the world which followed, the victory over sin and death, is illumined from all sides and joyously hymned. (There are eight Resurrection canons, one for each tone.)

Similarly, the festal canons illumine the meaning of the feast or the life of the saint, as an image of the already accomplished enlightenment of the world. The Church celebrates, beholding the reflections of this transfiguration, the victory over sin and death.

Exclamation with censing: "The Theotokos and the Mother Light let us magnify in song."

"My soul doth magnify the Lord"... with the refrain: "More honorable than the cherubim... 11 or, on the eve of feasts, "Magnify, O my soul..."

The joy of the doxology.

Songs and psalms of praise. every breath praise the Lord," etc.. "Most blessed art thou, 0 Virgin Theotokos".

Exclamation: "Glory to Thee, who has shown us the light!"

The Great Doxology: "Glory to God in the highest..."




Augmented litany of supplication.

Between the eighth and ninth songs of the canon, we hymn that representative of the human race who attained the highest illumination-the Mother of God; in her honor we chant the song, "My soul doth magnify the Lord..." with the refrain at each verse of this son "More honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim..." at which time the central icon of the Mother of God is ceased with the exclamation, "The Theotokos and the Mother of Light let us magnify in song."

At the vigil of feasts this exclamation is not heard and instead of "My soul doth magnify..." we chant a special magnification, commensurate with the feasts, beginning with the words: "Magnify, O my soul..."


After the canon, the spiritual feat of the Son of God is so brightly illumined before the faithful that they are involuntarily inspired to give praise and glory to Him. We chant hymns of praise and psalms of praise, calling all creation to glorify the Lord, for together with man, all creation likewise awaits its transfiguration.

"Let every breath praise the Lord..." "Praise the Lord from the highest..." etc..

After the hymn of praise to the Theotokos, "Most blessed art thou, 0 Virgin Theotokos...", the Royal Doors open and we chant the triumphant Great Doxology after the exclamation by the priest, "Glory to Thee Who hast shown us the light!"

The Great Doxology, "Glory to God in the highest...", in which principally we give praise to the Saviour, ends with the Trisagion, "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us," in honor of the Most Holy Trinity.


Just as the image of the coming to earth of the Son of God roused us during vespers to intensified prayer, expressed by the augmented litany of supplication, likewise at the end of Matins the image of the Son of God Who has accomplished His podvig, inspires the same type of intensified prayer; Matins ends with an augmented litany of supplication and the usual concluding prayers (so called "dismissal").

(The third part of the Vigil)
The humble striving of man towards God.
Salvation is granted, but one must take it.

Matins is filled with joy: each person who unites himself with Christ is saved and is resurrected together with Him.

However, in order to unite oneself to Christ, one must desire this; a man must freely go to meet Christ; an Orthodox Christian humbly considers himself as a sinner who is merely moving in the direction of Christ.

For this reason the vigil does not conclude with the triumph and joy of Matins, but there is added a third part-the First Hour, a service of humility, repentance, of meek striving towards God.

If we return to the image of Saint Seraphim, then we can say that Matins inspired us with the disposition of the bright, "joyous Seraphim". The First Hour, on the other hand, should inspire us with the disposition of "wretched, sinful Seraphim."

Only together can these two dispositions of joy and sorrow give the fullness of the Christian character, as it is delineated in the Six Psalms.

Atmosphere of humility: the church is dim, there is little sin singing; the removed priest has his chasuble.

Content: 3 psalms

Prayer: 'Thou Who at all times and at every hour..."

"To thee, the champion leader..."


The setting for the First Hour is humble: the church is submerged in semi-darkness: the lights are off, there is almost no singing; the priest has taken off his vestment, leaving only his stole; from the cliros one hears the voice of the reader.

The main content of the service consists in the following:

1) Three psalms, filled with an awareness of our weakness and unworthiness, with repentance and humble turning to God;

2) Troparia (hymns)-voices of joy which even amid sorrow does not leave us;

3) Prayers: "Thou Who at all times..."", in which man responds to Christ's call to salvation, entreating Him, that He, "Who calls all men to salvation," would support us on this path to salvation, that He would enlighten our souls, purify our bodies, correct our thoughts, surround us with His holy angels... For man himself must tread the path to salvation, but he cannot do this on his own without the grace-filled help of God.

The faithful appeal for this grace-filled aid at the end of the First Hour likewise to Her who stands closest of all to God and acts as mankind's most certain intercessor, we chant to the Mother of God the hymn: "To thee, the champion leader...", after which the priest reads the dismissal of the First Hour (concerning our salvation by the Resurrected Christ, our True God, by the prayers of His Most Holy Mother and all the saints), thus concluding the All-Night Vigil.

Divine Liturgy Explanation by Bishop Alexander Mileant

The Divine Liturgy

Author: Bishop Alexander Mileant


The Liturgy is the most important divine service. In it the most holy Mystery of Communion is celebrated, as established by our Lord Jesus Christ on Holy Thursday evening, the eve of His Passion. After giving praise to His heavenly Father, the Lord took bread, blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to the apostles, saying, "Take! Eat! This is My Body which is broken for you…" Then He took the cup of wine and blessed it and gave it to them with the words, "Drink ye all of it! For this is My Blood of the New Testament which is shed for many, for the forgiveness of sins." And when they had communed of these, the Lord gave them the commandment always to perform this Mystery, "Do this in remembrance of Me" (Matt. 26:26-28, Lk. 22:19; I Cor. 11:24).

The Apostles celebrated Holy Communion according to the commandment and example of Christ and taught their disciples and successors to perform this great and saving Mystery. In the earliest times the order and form of celebrating the Liturgy were transmitted orally, and all the prayers and sacred hymns were memorized. Eventually, written explanations of the Apostolic Liturgy began to appear. As time passed, new prayers, hymns, and sacred actions were added in various churches. The need arose to unify the existing orders of the Liturgy for the sake of harmony in their celebration. In the fourth century, when the persecutions of the Romans against Christians ended, it was possible to re-establish good order in the Church's inner life through the Ecumenical Councils. St. Basil the Great wrote a form of the Liturgy for general use, then, somewhat later, St. John Chrysostom wrote a shorter version of St. Basil's Liturgy. These Liturgies were based on the most ancient Liturgy, attributed to St. James the Apostle, the first bishop of Jerusalem.

St. Basil the Great, who reposed in 379 A.D, was archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia in Asia Minor. He is called "the Great" because of his great ascetic endeavors and his literary contribution to the Church of numerous prayers and ecclesiastical writings and rules. St. John Chrysostom was an archbishop of Constantinople. He was called "Chrysostom" (in Greek, "the golden tongued") for his unique rhetorical gifts with which he proclaimed the Word of God. Though he reposed in 402 A.D. in exile, many volumes of his sermons and letters remain to edify us spiritually.

The Liturgy is described by various terms. "Liturgy" itself comes from a Greek word meaning "common action or service" and signifies that the Mystery of Holy Communion is the reconciling sacrifice of God for the sins of the entire community of faithful, the living and the dead. Because the Mystery of Holy Communion is called "Evharistia" in Greek or "the Thanksgiving Sacrifice," the Liturgy is also called the Eucharist. It is also termed the Mystical Supper or the Lord's Supper since it reminds us of the Mystical Supper performed by Christ. In Apostolic times the Liturgy was referred to as "breaking bread" (Acts 2:46 cf. I Cor. 10:16). In the Liturgy the earthly life and teachings of Jesus Christ, from His Nativity to His Ascension into Heaven, are recalled, as well as the benefits which He bestowed upon the earth for our salvation.

The order of the Liturgy is as follows. First, the elements for the Mystery are prepared, then the faithful are prepared for the Mystery, and finally the very Mystery itself is celebrated and the faithful receive Communion. These three parts are called:

I) the Proskomedia,

II) the Liturgy of the Catechumens, and

III) the Liturgy of the Faithful.

The Proskomedia

Proskomedia is a Greek word meaning offering. The first part of the Liturgy derives its name from the early Christian custom of the people offering bread and wine and all else that was needed for the Liturgy. Therefore, each small loaf of the bread which is used in it is termed a "prosphora," another word meaning offering. This bread or prosphora must be leavened, pure, and made of wheat flour. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself, for the celebration of the Mystery of Holy Communion, used leavened, not unleavened bread, as is clear from the Greek word used in the New Testament. The prosphora must be round and formed in two parts, one above the other, as an image of the two natures of Jesus Christ, divine and human. On the flat surface of the upper part a seal of the Cross is impressed, and in the four sections thus formed are the initial Greek letters of the name of Jesus Christ, "IC XC," and the Greek word "NIKA," which mean together "Jesus Christ conquers."

The wine used in the Mystery must be red grape wine, as this color reminds us of the color of blood. The wine is mixed with water to remind us of the pierced side of the Savior from which flowed blood and water on the Cross. Five prosphoras are used in the Proskomedia to recall the five loaves with which Christ miraculously fed the five thousand, an event which gave Him the means to teach the people about spiritual nourishment, about the incorrupt, spiritual food which is bestowed in the Mystery of Holy Communion (John 6:22-58). One prosphora, known as the Lamb, is used for Holy Communion, in accordance with the words of the Apostle: "For we, being many, are one bread and one body, for we are all partakers of that one Bread" (I Cor. 10: 17).

The Proskomedia is performed by the priest in a quiet voice at the Table of Preparation when the sanctuary is closed. During its celebration, the Third and Sixth Hours are read.

The priest takes the first prosphora and with a small spear makes the sign of the Cross over it three times, saying the words, "In remembrance of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ." The priest then cuts a cube out of the center of this prosphora with the spear (a small, wedge-shaped knife) and pronounces the words of the Prophet Isaiah: "He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment; and who shall declare His generation? For He was cut off out of the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people was He stricken" (Is. 53:7-8).

This cube-shaped portion of the prosphora, called the Lamb (John 1:29), is placed on the diskos, a metal plate. Then the priest cuts a cross in the bottom of the Lamb while saying the words, "Sacrificed is the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, for the life of the world and its salvation." He then pierces the right side of the Lamb with the spear, saying the words of the Evangelist, "One of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith there came out blood and water. And he that saw it bore record, and his record is true" (John 19:34). In accordance with these words wine is poured into the chalice mixed with water.

From the second prosphora, the priest cuts out one portion in honor of the Virgin Mary and places it on the right side of the Lamb on the diskos. From the third prosphora, which is called "that of the nine ranks," are taken nine portions in honor of the saints, John the Forerunner and Baptist, the prophets, the Apostles, the hierarchs, the martyrs, the monastic saints, the unmercenary physicians, the grandparents of Jesus, Joachim and Anna, the saint who is celebrated that day, the saint to whom the church is dedicated, and finally the saint who composed the liturgy being celebrated. These portions are placed on the left side the Lamb. From the fourth prosphora, portions are removed for the hierarchs, the priesthood, and all the living. From the fifth prosphora, portions are taken for those Orthodox Christians who have reposed.

Finally, portions are removed from those prosphoras donated by the faithful, as the names of the health and salvation of living and for the repose of the dead. All these portions are placed on the diskos below the Lamb.

At the end of the Proskomedia the priest covers the bread with a metal asterisk (star) and then covers the diskos and chalice with special veils, censes the diskos and the chalice and prays that the Lord bless the offered Gifts and remember those who have offered them and those for whom they are offered.

The sacred instruments used and actions performed in the Proskomedia have symbolic meanings. The diskos signifies the caves in Bethlehem and Golgotha; the star, the star of Bethlehem and the Cross; the veils, the swaddling clothes and the winding sheet at the tomb of the Savior; the chalice, the cup in which Jesus Christ sanctified the wine; the prepared Lamb, the judgment, passion, and death of Jesus Christ; and its piercing by the spear, the piercing of Christ's body by one of the soldiers. The arrangement of all the portions in a certain order on the diskos signifies the entire Kingdom of God, whose members consist of the Virgin Mary, the angels, all the holy men who have been pleasing to God, all the faithful Orthodox Christians, living and dead, and, in the center its head — the Lord Himself, our Savior. The censing signifies the overshadowing by the Holy Spirit, whose grace is shared in the Mystery of Holy Communion.

So powerful is the Church's intercession that even the righteous have been known to appear in dreams to those still living to ask the Church's prayers. In view of the great spiritual benefit bestowed upon those commemorated during Divine Liturgy, we should be conscientious in giving the names of those dear to us — and all those in special need of prayer — to be read at the Proskomedia. Most churches provide special printed slips of paper (usually located near the candle counter) for this purpose. For longer lists of names commemorated regularly, it is recommended to use a booklet.

How should one write out commemoration slips or booklets to be read at the Proskomedia?

Separate lists should be made for the living and departed; these should be clearly marked at the top, either "For the health and salvation of the servants of God..." or "For the repose of the souls of the servants of God..."

Proper Christian names received at baptism should be used, no nicknames or shortened forms: i.e., Theodore, not Ted; Margaret, not Peggy.

Whether a booklet or a slip of paper is used, care should be taken that it is clean and neat, reflecting a reverent attitude towards the holiness of the liturgical commemoration. Papers should not be crumpled or full of messy erasures. Booklets with loose pages or broken staples should be replaced. The writing should be legible; it should not be so small, or the names written so close, as to be difficult to read; those with poor handwriting should print or ask someone's assistance. The priest should be allowed to concentrate on prayer, not on retrieving loose pages or deciphering illegible script.

At the Divine Liturgy only members of the Orthodox Church are commemorated, since the particles placed on the diskos represent the Holy Church, the body of Orthodox believers. Separate lists should be kept of non-Orthodox to be commemorated with appropriate prayers.

Lists and booklets should be regularly updated, i.e., when someone dies or is ordained. It is best to designate "newly-departed" in pencil which can more easily be erased after the 40th day.

Clergy should be given their proper title: not simply "Father..." but Priest, Deacon, Hieromonk, Monk, Reader, etc. Ecclesiastical titles may be abbreviated: Metropolitan — Met.; Archbishop — Archbp.; Bishop — Bp.; Archimandrite — Archim.

Commemoration slips should be handed in at the candle counter as early as possible, preferably at the preceding vigil service. Once the Liturgy of the Catechumens has begun it is more difficult for the priest, particularly if he serves without a deacon, to read the commemorations, although strictly speaking he may do so up to the time of the Great Entrance.

The Liturgy of the Catechumens

The second part of the Liturgy is called the Liturgy of the Catechumens because the catechumens, those preparing to receive Holy Baptism, are allowed to participate in its celebration. By making the sign of the Cross with the Gospel over the Holy Table, the priest begins the Liturgy with a solemn exclamation that reveals the key to the entire celebration:

Благословено царство Отца и Сына, и Святаго Духа, ныне и присно, и во веки веков.

Хор: Аминь.

Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

Choir: Amen.

With these words the priest announces the goal of the divine service about to begin: the strengthening and expansion of the Kingdom of God brought to the world by Jesus Christ, to the Glory of the only one true God, worshipped in the Holy Trinity. The word "Amen" means "so be it" in Hebrew.

The deacon, standing on the ambo, the raised area in front of the altar, and facing the Holy Doors, symbolizes the angel who encourages us to pray. He raises his stole, the symbol of the angel’s wing, and in the Great Litany calls the whole assembly to pray the same prayers that have been assembled by the Church since Apostolic times. He begins with the petition for peace, without which prayer is impossible.


Великая Ектения

The Great Litany

Диакон: Миром Господу помолимся.

Хор: Господи, помилуй.

О свышнем мире и спасении душ наших Господу помолимся.

О мире всего мiра, благостоянии святых Божиих церквей и соединении всех Господу помолимся.

О святем храме сем и с верою, благоговением и страхом Божиим входящих в онь Господу помолимся.

(Здесь идут прошения об епископстве и о гражданских властях.)

О граде сем, всяком граде, стране и верою живущих в них Господу помолимся.

О благорастворении воздухов, о изобилии плодов земных и временех мирных Господу помолимся.

О плавающих, путешествующих, недугующих, страждущих, плененных и о спасении их Господу помолимся.

Да избавитися нам от всякия скорби, гнева и нужды Господу помолимся.

Заступи, спаси, помилуй и сохрани нас, Боже, Твоею благодатию.

Пресвятую, пречистую, преблагословенную, славную Владычицу нашу Богородицу и Приснодеву Марию, со всеми святыми помянувше, сами себе и друг друга и весь живот наш Христу Богу предадим.

Хор: Тебе, Господи.

Священник: Яко подобает Тебе всякая слава, честь и поклонение, Отцу и Сыну, и Святому Духу, ныне и присно, и во веки веков.

Хор: Аминь.

Deacon: In peace let us pray unto the Lord.

Choir: Lord, have mercy.

For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord.

For the peace of the whole world, for the good estate of the holy churches of God, and for the union of all, let us pray to the Lord.

For this holy temple, and for those who enter with faith, reverence, and fear of God, let us pray to the Lord.

(Petitions for the bishops and the civil authorities.)

For this city, for every city and country, and for the faithful dwelling in them, let us pray to the Lord.

For seasonable weather, for abundance of the fruits of the earth, and for peaceful times, let us pray to the Lord.

For travelers by land, by sea and by air; for the sick and the suffering; for captives and their salvation, let us pray to the Lord.

For our deliverance from all affliction, wrath, danger and necessity, let us pray to the Lord.

Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by Thy grace.

Calling to remembrance our all-holy, immaculate, most blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary with all the Saints, let us entrust ourselves and each other, and all our life unto Christ our God.

Choir: To Thee, O Lord.

Priest: For unto Thee are due all glory, honor, and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

Choir: Amen.

In this litany the various petitions made of the Lord are made in the order of their relative importance to the Church. The worshippers make the sign of the Cross, and while harmonizing their hearts to the deacon’s petitions, they cry mentally with the choir: "Lord, have mercy." The Great Litany reminds us that, in order to pray successfully, we have to be at peace, that is, reconciled with all, having no resentment, anger, or hostility toward anyone. According to the teaching of the Savior, we may not offer God any gifts if we remember that our "brother hath aught against" us (Matt. 5:23-24). "For the peace of the whole world" asks that there be no disputes or hostility among nations or races in the entire world. "For the good estate of the holy churches of God" is a prayer in which the Orthodox Churches in every country firmly and unwaveringly confess the Orthodox Church as the true, apostolic Faith, on the basis of the Word of God and the canons of the Catholic Church; and "for the union of all" asks that all may be drawn into the one flock of Christ (cf. John 10:16). We pray "for this holy temple," which is the principal sacred object of the parish and should be the object of special care on the part of each parishioner. We pray that the Lord will preserve it from fire, theft, and other misfortunes and so that those who enter it will do so with sincere faith, reverence, and the fear of God. "For travelers by land, by sea, and by air; for the sick and the suffering" is for all people who are away for good cause who especially need our prayers.

The deacon concludes the litany by asking the faithful to entrust themselves and their whole life to Christ, to which we all respond: "To Thee, O Lord." During the litany the priest prays that the Lord will look down upon the church, and those at prayer in it, and fulfill their needs.

After the Great Litany, Psalms 102 and 145, which are called antiphons, are chanted. In the ancient Church these psalms were chanted "antiphonally" — that is, with the verses alternating between two choirs.

Первый Антифон

(Псалом 102-й)

First Antiphon

(Psalm 102)

Благослови душе моя Господа, благословен еси Господи. Благослови душе моя Господа, и вся внутренняя моя - имя святое Его. Благослови, душе моя, Господа, и не забывай всех воздаяний Его. Очищающаго вся беззакония твоя, исцеляющаго вся недуги твоя. Избавляющаго от истления живот твой, венчающаго тя милостию и щедротами. Исполняющаго во благих желание твое, обновится яко орля юность твоя. Щедр и милостив Господь, долготерпелив и многомилостив.

Благослови душе моя Господа, благословен еси Господи.

Bless the Lord, O my soul! Blessed art Thou, O Lord! Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, Who healeth all thy diseases. Who redeemeth thy life from corruption, Who crowneth thee with mercy and compassion. Who fulfilleth thy desire with good things, thy youth is renewed like as the eagle's. The Lord is compassionate and merciful, long-suffering and of great goodness.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, blessed art Thou, O Lord.

These Psalms describe the blessings bestowed on us by God for which we should bless the Lord. Originally the Old Testament composer of these beautiful songs had in mind mostly the earthly blessings of the Lord. But in the light of the New Testament, considering all that Jesus Christ did for us, these Psalms acquire a special meaning. The antiphons are separated by small litanies:

Малая Ектения

The Little Litany

Диакон: Паки и паки миром Господу помолимся.

Хор: Господи, помилуй.

Диакон: Заступи, спаси, помилуй и сохрани нас, Боже, Твоею благодатию.

Пресвятую, пречистую, преблагословенную, славную Владычицу нашу Богородицу и Приснодеву Марию, со всеми святыми помянувше, сами себе, и друг друга, и весь живот наш Христу Богу предадим.

Хор: Тебе, Господи.

Священник: Яко Твоя держава, и Твое есть Царство, и сила, и слава, Отца и Сына, и Святаго Духа, ныне и присно, и во веки веков. Хор: Аминь.

Deacon: Again and again in peace let us pray unto the Lord.

Choir: Lord, have mercy.

Deacon: Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by Thy grace.

Calling to remembrance our all-holy, immaculate, most blessed, and glorious Lady, Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary with all the Saints, let us entrust ourselves and each other and all our life unto Christ our God.

Choir: To Thee, O Lord.

Priest: For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory: of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

Choir: Amen.


Второй Антифон

(Псалом 154)

Second Antiphon

(Psalm 145)

Хор: Слава Отцу и Сыну, и Святому Духу. Хвали, душе моя, Господа: восхвалю Господа в животе моем, пою Богу моему дондеже есмь. Не надейтеся на князи, на сыны человеческие, в нихже нет спасения. Изыдет дух его и возвратится в землю свою; в тот день погибнут вся помышления его. Господь решит окованные, Господь умудряет слепцы, Господь возводит низверженные, Господь любит праведники. Господь хранит пришельцы, сира и вдову приимет, и путь грешных погубит. Воцарится Господь во век, Бог твой, Сионе, в род и род.

Choir: Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live, I will sing praises to my God while I have being. Put not thy trust in princes, in sons of men in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs he returns to his earth: on that very day his plans perish. The Lord setteth the prisoners free, the Lord maketh wise the blind, the Lord raiseth the fallen, and the Lord loveth the righteous. The Lord preserveth the sojourners, He adopteth the orphan and widow; but the way of the wicked he bringeth to ruin. The Lord will reign forever: thy God, O Zion, unto all generations.

The following hymn, attached to the second antiphon, is dedicated to the Son of God:

И ныне и присно, и во веки веков, Аминь. Единородный Сыне и Слове Божий безсмертен сый, изволивый спасения нашего ради воплотитися от святыя Богородицы и Приснодевы Марии, непреложно вочеловечивыйся, распныйся же, Христе Боже, смертию смерть поправый, един сый Святыя Троицы, спрославляемый Отцу и Святому Духу, спаси нас.

Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen. O only begotten Son and immortal Word of God, Who for our salvation didst will to be incarnate of the Holy Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary, Who without change didst become man and was crucified, Who art one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit: O Christ, our God, trampling down death by death, save us!

This hymn sets forth the Orthodox teaching on the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He is the Only-begotten (one in essence) Son and Word of God, Christ God, Who, being immortal, became man, without ceasing to be God, and accepted a human body from the Holy Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary. By His crucifixion, He with His death conquered death, "trampling down death by death," as one of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, and is glorified equally with the Father and Holy Spirit.

While the choir sings, the priest silently prays in the altar: "O Lord our God, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance; preserve the fullness of Thy Church; sanctify those who love the beauty of Thy house; glorify them in return by Thy divine power; and forsake us not who hope in Thee… O Thou who hast bestowed on us these common and united prayers, and dost promise that when two or three are gathered together in Thy name, Thou wilt grant their requests, fulfill even now the requests of Thy servants as is expedient for them, and in the world to come, life eternal."

Малая Ектения

The Little Litany

(Смотри выше).

Священник: Яко благ и Человеколюбец Бог еси, и Тебе славу возсылаем, Отцу и Сыну, и Святому Духу, ныне и присно, и во веки веков.

Хор: Аминь.

(Same as above).

Priest: For Thou art a good God who lovest mankind, and unto Thee do we send up glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

Choir: Amen.

The next (third) antiphon, called the Beatitudes, is taken from the Sermon on the Mount (see Matt. 5:3-12). The Beatitudes indicate the spiritual qualities necessary for a Christian: humility of spirit (spiritual poverty) and contrition concerning our sins, meekness when drawing near the righteousness of God, purity of heart, compassion for our neighbor, seeking peace in all situations, patience amid every temptation, and a readiness to endure dishonor, persecution, and death for Christ; trusting that, as a confessor for Him, and through such ascetic struggles, we can expect a great reward in Heaven.

Заповеди Блаженства

The Beatitudes

Во Царствии Твоем помяни нас, Господи, егда приидеши во царствии Твоем.

Блажени нищии духом, яко тех есть Царство Небесное. Блажени плачущии, яко тии утешатся. Блажени кротцыи, яко тии наследят землю. Блажени алчущии и жаждущии правды, яко тии насытятся. Блажени милостивии, яко тии помиловани будут. Блажени чистии сердцем, яко тии Бога узрят. Блажени миротворцы, яко тии сынове Божии нарекутся. Блажени изгнани правды ради, яко тех есть Царство Небесное. Блажени есте егда поносят вам, и изженут, и рекут всяк зол глагол на вы лжуще Мене ради. Радуйтеся и веселитеся, яко мзда ваша многа на небесех.

In Thy Kingdom remember us, O Lord, when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God. Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven.

During the chanting of the Beatitudes, the Royal Doors are opened for the Small Entry. As the Beatitudes are ending, the priest comes out with the deacon, who carries the sacred Gospel through the north door onto the ambo. The priest prays that He, Who in heaven appointed the armies of angels and the heavenly hosts to minister His glory, may now order these same celestial powers to serve with us in this entry into the holy altar. This entrance with the Holy Gospel reminds us of the first appearance of Jesus Christ to the world, when He came to begin His universal preaching. The candle which the altar boy carries at this time in front of the Gospel signifies John the Forerunner who prepared the people to receive the Messiah.

The deacon standing by the Royal Doors, raises the sacred Gospel aloft and proclaims:

Малый вход

Entrance with Gospel

Диакон: Премудрость, прости!

Хор: Приидите, поклонимся и припадем ко Христу. Спаси ны, Сыне Божий, воскресый из мертвых поющия Ти. Аллилуия.

Deacon: Wisdom! Aright!

Choir: Come, let us worship and fall down before Christ, who rose from the dead, O Son of God, save us who sing to Thee: Alleluia!

This exclamation reminds the faithful that they must stand upright (in the literal meaning of the Greek word orthi, which means correctly or straight) and be attentive, keeping their thoughts concentrated. They should look upon the Holy Gospel as upon Jesus Christ Himself, Who has come to preach, and they should faithfully sing, "O come, let us worship..." In Hebrew the word "Alleluia" means "Praise the Lord."

The troparia and kontakia (short commemorative hymns for Sunday or the feast) are then chanted, while the priest prays that the Heavenly Father who is hymned by the Cherubim, and glorified by the Seraphim, might receive from us the angelic hymn (the Trisagion), forgive us our sins, and sanctify and grant us the power rightly to serve Him. The conclusion of this prayer is uttered aloud:



Священник: Яко свят еси, Боже наш, и Тебе славу возсылаем, Отцу и Сыну, и Святому Духу, ныне и присно, и во веки веков.

Хор: Аминь. Святый Боже, Святый крепкий, Святый безсмертный, помилуй нас (трижды).

Слава Отцу, и Сыну, и Святому Духу, и ныне, и присно, и во веки веков, Аминь. Святый безсмертный, помилуй нас.

Святый Боже, Святый крепкий, Святый безсмертный, помилуй нас.

Priest: For holy art Thou, O our God, and unto Thee do we send up glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

Choir: Amen. Holy God! Holy Mighty! Holy Immortal! Have mercy on us (thrice).

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. Holy Immortal! Have mercy on us.

Holy God! Holy Mighty! Holy Immortal! Have mercy on us.

With this hymn the worshipers glorify the Holy Trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The hymn originates from the ecstasy of Isaiah in which he witnesses the angelic order of Seraphim crying "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts" and from the vision of the Apostle John in which he saw worshipers in Heaven exclaiming: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was, and is, and is to come!" (Is. 6:3, Rev. 4:8). Through the singing of this prayer, the Church raises the hearts of the believers to contemplation of the Lord’s glory and, together with the heavenly powers, to extol and worship Him.

Following the Trisagion, the Epistle for the day is read. The faithful are prepared for the attentive hearing of the Epistle by the exclamations, "Let us attend!" "Peace be unto all!" "Wisdom!" and the chanting of the prokeimenon, which is a special short verse which changes with the day. During the reading of the Epistle, a censing is performed as a symbol of the Grace of the Holy Spirit by which the Apostles proclaimed to the entire world the teachings of Jesus Christ. We should respond both to the censing and to the exclamation of the priest, "Peace be unto all!" with a simple bow, without making the sign of the Cross.

"Alleluia" is sung three times with the intoning of special verses, and the Gospel of the day is read. The priest precedes this reading with the prayer: Illumine our hearts with the incorruptible light of Thy knowledge, O Master, Lover of mankind, and open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy Gospel teachings. Implant in us also the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that, trampling down all lusts of the flesh, we may pursue a spiritual way of life, being mindful of and doing all that is well-pleasing unto Thee…

The candle held at this time by the altar boy signifies the all-illuminating Light of Christ, Who taught us how to believe and how to live in order to achieve the Kingdom of eternal light. It is usual at this point to have a sermon in which the meaning of the Epistle and Gospel readings are explained. Sometimes the sermon is put at the end of the service.

The Gospel is followed by the Litany of Fervent Supplication, in which the faithful are invited to pray to the Lord God with a pure heart and all the powers of their soul:



Litany of

Fervent Supplication

Диакон: Рцем вси от всея души, и от всего помышления нашего рцем.

Хор: Господи, помилуй.

Диакон: Господи Вседержителю, Боже отец наших, молим Ти ся, услыши и помилуй.

Помилуй нас, Боже, по велицей милости Твоей, молим Ти ся, услыши и помилуй.

Хор: Господи, помилуй (трижды).

(Затем вставляются прошения о духовных и гражданских властях).

Еще молимся о братиях наших священницех, священномонасех и о всем во Христе братстве нашем.

Еще молимся о блаженных и приснопамятных святейших патриарсех православных, и благочестивых царех и благоверных царицах, и создателех святаго храма сего, и о всех прежде почивших отцех и братиях наших, зде лежащих и повсюду православных.

Еще молимся о плодоносящих и добродеющих во святем и всечестнем храме сем, труждающихся, поющих и предстоящих людех, ожидающих от Тебя великия и богатыя милости.

Священник: Яко милостив и Человеколюбец Бог еси, и Тебе славу возсылаем, Отцу и Сыну, и Святому Духу …

Хор: Аминь.

Deacon: Let us all say with all our soul and with all our mind, let us say.

Choir: Lord, have mercy.

O Lord almighty, the God of our fathers, we pray to Thee, hearken and have mercy.

Have mercy on us, O God, according to Thy great mercy, we pray to Thee, hearken and have mercy.

Choir: Lord, have mercy (thrice).

(Here follow petitions for the bishops and the civil authorities.)

Again we pray for our brethren, the presbyters, the hieromonks, and for all our brethren in Christ.

Again we pray for the blessed and ever-memorable holy Orthodox patriarchs, and for the blessed and ever-memorable founders of this holy temple, and for all our fathers and brethren gone to their rest before us, and the Orthodox here and everywhere laid to rest.

Again we pray for those who bring offerings and do good works in this holy and all-venerable temple, for those who minister and those who chant, and for all the people present who await Thy great and abundant mercy.

Priest: For Thou art a merciful God, and the Lover of mankind, and unto thee do we send up glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

Choir: Amen.

The petitions of this litany are similar to those of the Great Litany, but the augmented repetition of the words "Lord, have mercy" makes its petitions more fervent. Here we pray that the Lord will be compassionate toward us, for life, peace, health, salvation and the forgiveness of the sins of the "brethren of this holy and all-venerable temple" (the parishioners). The last petition of this litany refers to those who are active and do good works in the holy, local church (parish), those who minister in it, those who chant and read and serve and the people present who await God’s great and abundant mercy. Those who bring offerings and do good works for the church are those faithful who provide the church with all that is necessary for the divine service (oil, incense, prosphoras, etc.), those who contribute to the needs of the church and parish with their monetary gifts and with their material goods for the beauty and decoration of the church, and those who help poor parishioners and provide help for other common religious and moral needs as they arise.

The Litany for the Catechumens is then chanted. In it we ask the Lord to have mercy on those preparing to join the Church and to establish them in the true Faith:


об Оглашенных

Litany of

the Catechumens

Диакон: Помолитеся, оглашеннии, Господеви.

Хор: Господи, помилуй.

Вернии, о оглашенных помолимся, да Господь помилует их.

Огласит их словом истины.

Открыет им Евангелие правды.

Соединит их святей Своей соборней и Апостольской Церкви.

Спаси, помилуй, заступи и сохрани их, Боже, Твоею благодатию.

Оглашеннии, главы ваши Господеви приклоните.

Хор : Тебе, Господи.

Священник: Да и тии с нами славят пречестное и великолепое имя Твое, Отца и Сына и Святаго Духа, ныне и присно, и во веки веков.

Хор: Аминь.

Deacon: Pray, ye catechumens, unto the Lord.

Choir: Lord, have mercy.

Ye faithful, let us pray for the catechumens, that the Lord will have mercy on them.

That He will catechize them with the word of truth.

That He will reveal unto them the gospel of righteousness.

That He will unite them to His Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Save them, have mercy on them, help them, and keep them, O God, by Thy grace.

Ye catechumens, bow your heads unto the Lord.

Choir: To Thee, Lord.

Priest: That with us they may glorify Thine all honorable and majestic name: of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

Choir: Amen.

During this litany the priest unfolds the antimins on the Holy Table, the catechumens are told to depart from the church building, and the Liturgy of the Faithful begins. The institution of the catechumens has now fallen into disuse, but the litany still remains to remind us of the vows we made at Baptism. It also reminds us of our apostolic duty to help others to join the true Church.

The antimins which means "in place of the table" is a special cloth depicting the burial of our Savior that is blessed and signed by the bishop for the performance of the Liturgy. It recalls the time of the persecution of Christians when the Church had no permanent abode and could not carry the Holy Table from place to place. Instead, the antimins was taken to the place where the Liturgy was to be performed. Without it the Liturgy cannot be performed, so the priest is responsible for the preservation of the antimins if something happens to the church.

The Liturgy of the Faithful

This third part of the Liturgy is the Liturgy of the Faithful. It is so called because only the faithful (those already baptized) are allowed to be present during its celebration. It can be divided into the following sections: 1) the transferring of the honorable Gifts from the Table of Preparation to the Holy Table, 2) the preparation of the faithful for the sacrifice of the Gifts, 3) the sacrifice (changing) of the Gifts, 4) the preparation of the faithful for Communion, 5) Communion, and 6) the thanksgiving after Communion and the Dismissal.

Two short litanies are proclaimed after the catechumens are told to depart from the church:

Диакон: Елицы (все те, которые) оглашеннии, изыдите. Оглашении изыдите,…

Да никто от оглашенных, елицы вернии, паки и паки миром Господу помолимся.

Хор: Господи, помилуй.

Диакон: Заступи, спаси, помилуй и сохрани нас, Боже, Твоею благодатию.

Диакон: Премудрость.

Священник: Яко подобает Тебе всякая слава, честь и поклонение, Отцу и Сыну, и Святому Духу, ныне и присно, и во веки веков.

Хор: Аминь.

Диакон: Паки и паки миром Господу помолимся.

Хор: Господи, помилуй.

Диакон: Заступи, спаси, помилуй и сохрани нас, Боже, Твоею благодатию.

Диакон: Премудрость.

Священник: Яко да под державою Твоею всегда храними, Тебе славу возсылаем, Отцу и Сыну, и Святому Духу, ныне и присно, и во веки веков.

Хор: Аминь.

Deacon: All catechumens, depart. Depart, catechumens. All that are catechumens, depart. Let no catechumen remain. Let us, the faithful, again and again in peace, pray unto the Lord.

Choir: Lord, have mercy.

Deacon: Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by Thy grace.

Deacon: Wisdom!

Priest: For unto Thee are due all glory, honor, and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.

Choir: Amen.

Deacon: Again and again in peace let us pray unto the Lord.

Choir: Lord, have mercy.

Deacon: Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by Thy grace.

Deacon: Wisdom!

Priest: That guarded always by Thy might we may send up glory unto Thee: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

Choir: Amen.

During these litanies the priest prays: "Again and oftimes we fall down before Thee and pray unto Thee, O Good One and Lover of mankind, that looking down upon our supplication Thou wouldst cleanse our souls and bodies from all defilement of flesh and spirit; and grant us to stand blameless and uncondemned before Thy holy altar. Grant also to those who pray with us, O God, growth in life and faith and spiritual understanding. Grant them always to worship Thee blamelessly with fear and love, and to partake without condemnation of Thy Holy Mysteries and grant that they may be accounted worthy of Thy Heavenly Kingdom."

Then the Cherubic Hymn is chanted. This hymn reminds the faithful that they have now left behind every thought of daily life: offering themselves as a likeness of the Cherubim. They are found close to God in Heaven, and, together with the angels, sing the thrice-holy hymn of praise to God. During the Cherubic Hymn, the deacon performs a censing. The priest in private prayers asks the Lord to purify his soul and heart from an evil conscience and, by the power of the Holy Spirit to make him worthy to offer to God the Gifts which have been offered. Then the priest and the deacon quietly say the words of the Cherubic Hymn thrice; then both proceed to the Table of Preparation to transfer the precious Gifts to the Holy Table. This procession is called the Great Entry.





Хор: Иже херувимы тайно образующе, и животворящей Троице Трисвятую песнь припевающе, всякое ныне житейское отложим попечение.

Яко да Царя всех подымем, ангельскими невидимо дори-носима чинми. Аллилуия, Аллилуия, Аллилуия.

Choir: Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim and chant the thrice-holy hymn unto the life-giving Trinity, now lay aside all earthly cares.

That we may receive the King of all who cometh invisibly up borne by the angelic hosts. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

The words of the original Greek for up borne mean literally, "borne aloft as on spears." This refers to an ancient practice in which a nation desiring, to glorify its king would seat him upon their shields, and raising him up, would carry him before the army and through the city streets. The shields were held up on spears, so it seemed that the triumphant leader was carried by spears.

The deacon, with the aer (the large veil) on his left shoulder, carries the diskos on his head, while the priest carries the chalice in his hands. Leaving the altar by the north door (while the choir chants "Let us lay aside all earthly cares ..."), they come to a stop on the ambo, facing the people. They commemorate the bishops, the local ruling bishop, the clergy, monastics, the founders of the church and the Orthodox Christians who are present. They then turn and enter the altar through the Royal Doors, place the precious Gifts on the Holy Table, on the opened antimins, and cover them with the aer. As the choir finishes the Cherubic Hymn, the Royal Doors and curtain are closed.



The Great


Диакон: Господина нашего преосвящ. митрополита … …

Священник: Страну сию, правителей и воинство ея, создателей и благотворителей святаго храма сего, прихожан, поющих, и всех вас православных христиан да помянет Господь Бог во Царствии Своем, всегда, ныне и присно и во веки веков.

Хор: Аминь. Яко да Царя всех ....

Deacon: The Orthodox episcopate of the Russian Church...

Priest: The President of this country, all civil authorities, and the armed forces, the founders of this holy temple, all parishioners, the chanters and all Orthodox Christians may the Lord God remember in His Kingdom, always now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

Choir: Amen. That we may receive ...

The faithful stand during this time with bowed heads and pray that the Lord remember them and all those close to them in His Kingdom. After the priest says the words "and all of you Orthodox Christians, may the Lord God remember in His Kingdom," the people reply softly, "And may the Lord God remember thy priesthood in His Kingdom, always, now and ever and unto the ages of ages."

The Great Entry symbolizes the solemn passing of Jesus Christ to His voluntary suffering and death by crucifixion. The priest places the holy chalice and the bread representing the Body of Christ on the Holy Table as if in the grave. The Royal Doors are closed as if they were the doors of the Lord’s tomb. The curtain is drawn as if it were the guard stationed before the Sepulcher. Commemorating these events, the priest prays: "The noble Joseph, having taken down Thine immaculate Body from the tree, wrapped It in pure linen and anointed It with spices, and laid It in a new tomb. In the tomb with the body and in hell with the soul, in paradise with the thief and on the throne with the Father and the Spirit, was Thou, Who fillest all things, O uncircumscribed Christ. More life-giving, and more beautiful than paradise, and truly more radiant than any royal chamber is Thy tomb, O Christ, the fountain of our resurrection."

Following the Great Entry is the preparation of the faithful so that they may be worthy to be present during the sacrifice of the Gifts that have been prepared. This preparation begins with the Litany of Supplication:



Litany of


Диакон: Исполним молитву нашу Господеви.

Хор: Господи, помилуй.

О предложенных честных Дарех Господу помолимся.

О святем храме сем и с верою, благоговением и страхом Божиим входящих в онь Господу помолимся

О избавитися нам от всякия скорби, гнева и нужды Господу помолимся.

Заступи, спаси, помилуй и сохрани нас, Боже, Твоею благодатию.

Дне всего совершена, свята, мирна и безгрешна у Господа просим.

Хор: Подай, Господи.

Ангела мирна, верна наставника, хранителя душ и телес наших у Господа просим.

Прощения и оставления грехов и прегрешений наших у Господа просим.

Добрых и полезных душам нашим и мира мiрови у Господа просим

Прочее время живота нашего в мире и покаянии скончати у Господа просим.

Христианския кончины живота нашего, безболезненны, непостыдны, мирны и добраго ответа на страшном судищи Христове просим.

Пресвятую, пречистую, преблагословенную, славную Владычицу нашу Богородицу и Приснодеву Марию, со всеми святыми помянувше, сами себе и друг друга, и весь живот наш Христу Богу предадим.

Хор: Тебе, Господи.

Священник: Щедротами Единороднаго Сына Твоего, с Ним же благословен еси, со пресвятым и благим и животворящим Твоим Духом, ныне и присно, и во веки веков.

Хор: Аминь.

Deacon: Let us complete our prayer unto the Lord.

Choir: Lord, have mercy.

For the precious Gifts now offered, let us pray to the Lord.

For this holy temple, and for those who enter with faith, reverence, and the fear of God, let us pray to the Lord.

For our deliverance from all tribulation, wrath, danger, and necessity, let us pray to the Lord.

Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by Thy grace.

That the whole day may be perfect, holy, peaceful, and sinless, let us ask of the Lord.

Choir: Grant this, O Lord.

An angel of peace, a faithful guide and guardian of our souls and bodies, let us ask of the Lord.

Pardon and forgiveness of our sins and offenses, let us ask of the Lord.

All things good and useful for our souls and peace for the world, let us ask of the Lord.

That we may complete the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance, let us ask of the Lord.

A Christian ending to our life; painless, blameless, and peaceful; and a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ, let us ask.

Calling to remembrance our all-holy, immaculate, most blessed, and glorious Lady Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary with all the Saints, let us entrust ourselves and each other and all our life unto Christ our God.

Choir: To Thee, O Lord.

Priest: Through the compassion of Thine only-begotten Son, with whom Thou art blessed, together with Thine all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit...

Choir: Amen.

At the same time the priest prays privately: "O Lord God Almighty, Who alone art holy, Who accepts the sacrifice of praise from those that call upon Thee with their whole heart. Accept also the supplication of us sinners, and bear it to Thy holy altar, enabling us to offer unto Thee gifts and spiritual sacrifices for our sins and for the errors of the people. Make us worthy to find grace in Thy sight, that our sacrifice may be acceptable unto Thee, and that the good Spirit of Thy grace may rest upon us and upon these Gifts here offered, and upon all Thy people."

In order to be present worthily at the celebration of the Holy Mysteries, the following are absolutely required: peace of soul, mutual love, and the Orthodox (true) Faith, which unites all believers. After the Litany of Supplication, the priest blesses the people, saying:

Священник: Мир всем!

Хор: И духови твоему.

Диакон: Возлюбим друг друга, да единомыслием исповемы.

Хор: Отца и Сына, и Святаго Духа, Троицу единосущную и нераздельную.

Диакон: Двери, двери! Премудростию вонмем.

Priest: Peace be to all.

Choir: And to Thy spirit.

Deacon: Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess:

Choir: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: the Trinity, one in essence and undivided.

Deacon: The doors! The doors! In wisdom let us attend!

At this time the curtain behind the Royal Doors is opened and the celebrant lifts the aer from the precious Gifts, and gently waves it over them in expectation of the descent of the Holy Spirit.

"The doors! The doors!" in ancient times reminded the doorkeepers to watch carefully at the doors of the church, that none of the catechumens or unbelievers enter. These words remind the faithful to close the doors of their souls against the assault of thoughts. The "doors" also reminds us that from this point until the end of the Liturgy no one is to leave the church. The Fathers condemned the transgression of this requirement, writing in the ninth Apostolic Canon, "All faithful who leave the church ... and do not remain at prayer until the end, introduce disorder into the church, should be separated from the church community."

The words "In wisdom let us attend!" indicate that we should be attentive to the truths of the Orthodox faith as set forth in the Symbol of Faith (the Creed).

Символ веры

The Symbol of Faith

Хор: Верую во единаго Бога Отца, Вседержителя, Творца небу и земли, видимым же всем и невидимым.

И во единаго Господа Iисуса Христа, Сына Божия, Единороднаго, Иже от Отца рожденнаго прежде всех век. Света от Света, Бога истинна от Бога истинна, рожденна, несотворенна, едино-сущна Отцу, Им же вся быша. Нас ради человек и нашего ради спасения сшедшаго с небес и воплотившагося от Духа Свята и Марии Девы, и вочеловечшася. Распятаго же за ны при Понтийстем Пилате, и страдавша, и погребенна. И воскресшаго в третий день, по Писанием. И возшедшаго на небеса, и седяща одесную Отца. И паки грядущаго со славою судити живым и мертвым, Его же Царствию не будет конца.

И в Духа Святаго, Господа, животворящаго, Иже от Отца исходящаго, Иже со Отцем и Сыном спокланяема и сславима, глаголавшаго пророки.

Во едину святую, соборную и Апостольскую Церковь.

Исповедую едино крещение во оставление грехов.

Чаю воскресения мертвых и жизни будущаго века. Аминь.

Choir: I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made; Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man. And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; Whose Kingdom shall have no end.

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; Who spake by the prophets.

In one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come. Amen.

This Symbol of Faith was formulated by the First (325 A.D) and the Second (381 A.D.) Ecumenical Councils as the framework of truths of the Christian believer. It summarizes the basic dogmas from the vast treasures of Divine Revelation. The belief in the Holy Trinity is confessed in the first eight articles; the remaining four articles refer to the destiny of man related to God’s desire for salvation.

After the Symbol of Faith, the deacon calls the attention of the faithful to offering of the sacrifice (Holy Oblation).



The Anaphora

Диакон: Станем добре, станем со страхом, вонмем, святое возношение в мире приносити.

Хор: Милость мира, жертву хваления.

Священник: Благодать Господа нашего Иисуса Христа, и любы Бога и Отца, и причастие Святаго Духа буди со всеми вами.

Хор: И со духом твоим.

Священник: Горе имеем сердца!

Хор: Имамы ко Господу.

Священник: Благодарим Господа!

Deacon: Let us stand aright! Let us stand with fear! Let us attend, that we may offer the Holy Oblation in peace.

Choir: A mercy of peace! A sacrifice of praise!

Priest: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Choir: And with your spirit.

Priest: Let us lift up our hearts.

Choir: We lift them up unto the Lord.

Priest: Let us give thanks unto the Lord.

The words "Let us lift up our hearts" calls us to be reverently present before God on high. The choir responds with reverence in the name of those praying, "We lift them up unto the Lord," affirming that our hearts are already striving and aspiring to the Lord.

The Sacrifice of the Gifts 

The act of the Holy Mystery of Communion comprises the climax of the Liturgy. It begins with the words of the priest, "Let us give thanks unto the Lord." The faithful express their gratitude to the Lord for His mercy by bowing to Him, while the choir sings,

Достойно и

Праведно Есть

It is Meet

and Right

Хор: Достойно и праведно есть поклонятися Отцу и Сыну, и Святому Духу, Троице единосущней и нераздельней.

Священник: Победную песнь поюще, вопиюще, взывающе и глаголюще:

Хор: Свят, свят, свят Господь Саваоф: исполнь небо и земля славы Твоея. Осанна в вышних, благословен грядый во имя Господне. Осанна в вышних.

Священник: Приимите, ядите, сие есть тело Мое, еже за вы ломимое во оставление грехов.

Хор: Аминь.

Священник: Пийте от нея вси, сия есть кровь Моя Новаго Завета, яже за вы и за многие изливаемая во оставление грехов.

Хор: Аминь.

Священник: Твоя от Твоих Тебе приносяще о всех и за вся

Хор: Тебе поем, Тебе благословим, Тебе благодарим, Господи, и молимтися, Боже наш.

Choir: It is meet and right to worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the Trinity one in essence and undivided.

Priest: Singing the triumphant hymn, shouting, proclaiming and saying:

Choir: Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord of Sabaoth! Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!

Priest: Take! Eat! This is My Body which is broken for you for the forgiveness of sins.

Choir: Amen.

Priest: Drink of it, all of you! This is My Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins!

Choir: Amen.

Priest: Thine own of Thine own we offer unto Thee on behalf of all and for all.

Choir: We praise Thee. We bless Thee. We give thanks unto Thee, O Lord. And we pray unto Thee, O our God.

Praying silently, the priest offers a Eucharistic (thanksgiving) prayer, glorifying the infinite perfection of God; giving thanks to the Lord for the creation and redemption of mankind and for His mercy, in forms both known and unknown; giving thanks that He deems us worthy to offer Him this bloodless sacrifice, although the higher beings, the archangels, angels, Cherubim and Seraphim stand before Him "singing the triumphant hymn, shouting, proclaiming and saying..." These last words of the priest are said aloud as the choir proceeds with the described hymn by singing the angelic hymn, "Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord of Sabaoth! Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory."

The choir adds the exclamation with which the people greeted the entry of the Lord into Jerusalem, "Hosanna (a Hebrew expression of good will: save, or help, O God!) in the highest! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" The words "singing the triumphant hymn" are taken from the visions of the Prophet Ezekiel (1:4-24) and the Apostle John the Theologian (Revelation 4:6-8). In both their visions they beheld the throne of God surrounded by angels in the form of an eagle (singing), a bull (shouting), a lion (proclaiming) and a man (saying) who were continually exclaiming, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty."

The priest quietly continues the Eucharistic prayer, which glorifies the good will and the infinite love of God that was manifest in the coming upon the earth of the Son of God. In remembrance of the Mystical Supper, when the Lord established the Mystery of Holy Communion, he says aloud the words that the Savior said when He instituted this Holy Mystery, "Take, eat ... Drink of it, all of you …" The priest, in a low voice, recalls the commandment of the Savior to perform this Mystery, glorifying His passion, death, and Resurrection, Ascension and second coming. Then the priest says aloud, "Thine own of Thine own ..."

The choir then chants slowly, "We praise Thee… " while the priest silently asks that the Lord to send down the Holy Spirit upon the people praying in the church and to sanctify the Gifts offered. The priest quietly reads the troparion from the Third Hour: "O Lord, Who didst send down Thy Most Holy Spirit upon Thine apostles at the third hour: Take Him not from us, O Good One, but renew Him in us who pray unto Thee." The priest, blessing the Lamb on the diskos, says, "And make this bread the precious Body of Thy Christ." Blessing the wine in the chalice, he says, "And that which is in this cup, the precious Blood of Thy Christ." After each blessing the deacon says, "Amen." Finally, blessing the bread and wine together the priest says, "Changing them by Thy Holy Spirit." And the deacon says, "Amen. Amen. Amen."

At this great and sacred moment the bread and wine are changed into the true Body and true Blood of Christ. The priest then bows before the Holy Gifts as to the Very King and God Himself. This is the most important and solemn moment of the Liturgy.

After the sanctification of the Holy Gifts the priest, in a subdued voice, asks the Lord that the partaking of the Holy Gifts, will serve "unto devoutness of soul (that is, to strengthening in every good deed), unto the forgiveness of sins, unto the communion of the Holy Spirit, unto the fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven, unto boldness toward Thee; not unto Judgment or condemnation." He then remembers those for whom the sacrifice is offered, for the Holy Gifts are offered to the Lord God as a sacrifice of thanksgiving for all the saints.

Then the priest prays for the special remembrance of the all-holy Virgin Mary and says aloud:


Достойно есть

Hymn to

the Theotokos

Священник: Изрядно о пресвятей, пречистей, преблагословенней, славней Владычице нашей Богородице и Приснодеве Марии.

Хор: Достойно есть, яко воистину, блажити Тя Богородицу, присноблаженную и пренепорочную и Матерь Бога нашего, Честнейшую херувим и славнейшую без сравнения серафим, без истления Бога Слова рождшую, сущую Богородицу Тя величаем.

Priest: Especially our all-holy, immaculate, most blessed, and glorious Lady Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary.

Choir: It is truly meet to bless thee, O Theotokos, ever-blessed and most blameless, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim. Who without corruption gavest birth to God the Word, the very Theotokos. Thee do we magnify.

The priest at this time silently prays first for the departed, and then for the living, saying aloud:


Священник: В первых, помяни, Господи, православное епископство Церкве Российския и Господина нашего, высокопреосвященнейшаго митрополита … первоиерарха Русской Зарубежной Церкви и … их же даруй святым Твоим церквам, в мире, целых, честных, здравых, долгоденствующих право правящих слово Твоея истины.

Хор: И всех и вся.

Священник: И даждь нам единеми усты и единем сердцем славити и воспевати пречестное и великолепое имя Твое, Отца и Сына и Святаго Духа, ныне и присно, и во веки веков.

Хор: Аминь.

Священник: И да будут милости великаго Бога и Спаса нашего Иисуса Христа со всеми вами.

Хор: И со духом твоим.

Priest: Among the first, remember, O Lord, our most reverend metropolitan ..., the first hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad and ... Grant them for Thy holy churches in peace, safety, honor, health, and length of days, to rightly define the word of Thy truth.

Choir: And all mankind.

Priest: And grant us with one mouth and one heart to glorify and praise Thine all-honorable and majestic name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

Choir: Amen.

Priest: And the mercies of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ be with you all.

Choir: And with thy spirit.

The Preparation for Communion



Litany Before

the Lord’s Prayer

Диакон: Вся святыя помянувше, паки и паки миром Господу помолимся

Хор: Господи, помилуй.

Диакон: О принесенных и освященных честных Дарех, Господу помолимся.

Яко да Человеколюбец Бог наш, прием я во святый и пренебесный и мысленный Свой жертвенник, в воню благоухания духовнаго, возниспослет нам Божественную благодать и дар Святаго Духа, помолимся.

О избавитися нам от всякие скорби, гнева и нужды, Господу помолимся.

Заступи, спаси, помилуй и сохрани нас, Боже, Твоею благодатию.

Дне всего совершенна, свята, мирна и безгрешна у Господа просим.

Хор: Подай, Господи.

Ангела мирна, верна наставника, хранителя душ и телес наших у Господа просим.

Прощения и оставления грехов и прегрешений наших у Господа просим.

Добрых и полезных душам нашим и мира мiрови у Господа просим.

Прочее время живота нашего в мире и покаянии скончати у Господа просим.

Христианския кончины живота нашего, безболезненны, непостыдны, мирны и добраго ответа на страшном судищи Христове просим

Соединение веры и причастие Святаго Духа испросивше, сами себе и друг друга и весь живот наш Христу Богу предадим.

Хор: Тебе, Господи.

Deacon: Having commemorated all the saints, again and again in peace, let us pray to the Lord.

Choir: Lord, have mercy.

For the precious Gifts offered and sanctified, let us pray to the Lord.

That our God, the Lover mankind, receiving them upon His holy, most heavenly, and noetic altar as a spiritual fragrance, will send down upon us in return His divine grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.

For our deliverance from all tribulation, wrath, danger, and necessity, let us pray to the Lord.

Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by Thy grace.

That the whole day may be perfect, holy, peaceful, and sinless, let us ask of the Lord.

Choir: Grant this, O Lord.

An angel of peace, a faithful guide, a guardian of our souls and bodies, let us ask of the Lord.

Pardon and forgiveness of our sins and offenses, let us ask of the Lord.

All things good and profitable for our souls, and peace for the world, let us ask of the Lord.

That we may complete the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance, let us ask of the Lord.

A Christian ending to our life; painless, blameless, and peaceful; and a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ, let us ask of the Lord.

Having asked for the unity of the Faith, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, let us commend ourselves and each other, and all our life unto Christ our God.

Choir: To Thee, O Lord.

The Litany ends with the following exclamation:

Священник: И сподоби нас, Владыко, со дерзновением, неосужденно смети призывати Тебе, Небеснаго Бога Отца и глаголати:

Отче наш

Хор: Отче наш, Иже еси на небесех! Да святится имя Твое, да приидет Царствие Твое. Да будет воля Твоя, яко на небеси и на земли. Хлеб наш насущный даждь нам днесь. И остави нам долги наша, якоже и мы оставляем должником нашим. И не введи нас во искушение, но избави нас от лукаваго.

Священник: Яко Твое есть царство, и сила, и слава, Отца и Сына, и Святаго Духа, ныне и присно, и во веки веков.

Хор: Аминь.

Priest: And make us worthy, O Master, that with boldness and without condemnation we may dare to call upon Thee, the heavenly God, as Father, and to say:

The Lord's Prayer

Choir: Our Father, who art in the heavens, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

Priest: For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power and the glory: of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

Choir: Amen.

At this time the words "Give us this day our daily bread" remind us of the Bread of Life that Jesus Christ gave to us, namely, His Body and Blood. As Jesus said: "I am the living Bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this Bread, he shall live forever; and the Bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" (John 6:51).

Then follows the giving of peace and the bowing of our heads during which the priest asks the Lord to sanctify the faithful and to enable them to partake without condemnation of the Holy Mysteries. At this time the deacon, while standing on the ambo, takes the orarion from his shoulder and girds himself with it in a cruciform pattern. This allows him to serve the priest unencumbered during Communion and expresses his reverence for the Holy Gifts by representing the Seraphim who, as they surround the Throne of God, cover their faces with their wings (Is. 6:2-3).

Священник: Мир всем

Хор: И духови твоему.

Диакон: Главы ваша Господеви приклоните.

Хор: Тебе, Господи.

Священник: Благодатию и щедротами и человеколюбием единороднаго Твоего Сына, с Ним же благословен еси со пресвятым и благим и животворящим Твоим Духом, ныне и присно, и во веки веков.

Хор: Аминь.

Диакон: Вонмем!

Священник: Святая святым.

Хор: Един свят, един Господь, Иисус Христос, во славу Бога Отца. Аминь.

Хор: Хвалите Господа с небес, Хвалите Его в вышних. Аллилуия, Аллилуия, Аллилуия.

Priest: Peace be unto all.

Choir: And to thy spirit.

Deacon: Bow your heads unto the Lord.

Choir: To Thee, O Lord.

Priest: Through the grace and compassion and love of mankind of Thine only-begotten Son, with whom Thou art blessed, together with Thine all-holy and good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

Choir: Amen.

Deacon: Let us attend!

Priest: Holy Things are for the holy!

Choir: One is Holy. One is the Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Choir: Praise ye the Lord from the Heaven, praise Him in the highest. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

the Holy Lamb above the diskos and loudly proclaims, "Holy things are for the holy." This means that the Holy Gifts may be given only to the "holy," that is, the faithful who have sanctified themselves with prayer, fasting, and the Mystery of Repentance. In recognition of their During the exclamation of the deacon, "Let us attend," the curtain is closed and the priest lifts unworthiness, the chanters, in the name of the faithful, exclaim, "One is Holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ ..."

The faithful who intend to come to Holy Communion should have attended Vigil the preceding evening; and they should have repented their sins and read the prayers of preparation for Holy Communion at home.


Now the communion of the serving clergy takes place in the altar. The priest divides the Holy Lamb into four parts, communes himself and then gives the Holy Mysteries to the deacon. After the communion of the clergy, the portions intended for the communion of the laity are put into the chalice. During the communion of the clergy various verses of the Psalms called "Communion verses" are chanted, followed by various hymns relating to the feast; or the prayers before Communion are read. The Royal Doors are opened in preparation of the communion of the faithful laity. The deacon, with the sacred chalice in his hands, then calls out:

Диакон: Со страхом Божиим и верою приступите.

Хор: Благословен Грядый во имя Господне: Бог Господь и явися нам.

Священник: Верую, Господи, и исповедую, яко Ты еси воистину Христос, Сын Бога живаго, пришедый в мир грешные спасти, от них же первый есмь аз. Еще верую, яко сие самое есть пречистое Тело Твое, и сия самая есть честная Кровь Твоя. Молюся убо Тебе: помилуй мя, и прости ми прегрешения моя, вольная и невольная, яже словом, яже делом, яже ведением и неведением, и сподоби мя неосужденно причаститися святых Твоих Таинств, во оставление грехов, и в жизнь вечную. Аминь.

Вечери Твоея тайныя днесь, Сыне Божий, причастника мя приими: не бо врагом Твоим тайну повем, ни лобзания Ти дам, яко Иуда, но яко разбойник, исповедаю Тя: помяни мя, Господи, во Царствии Твоем!

Да не в суд или осуждение будет мне причащение пречистых Твоих Тайн, Господи, но во исцеление души и тела. Аминь.

Хор: Тело Христово приимите, источника безсмертнаго вкусите (хор повторяет этот стих, пока причащаются). Аллилуия, Аллилуия, Аллилуия.

Deacon: In the fear of God, with faith and love, draw near.

Choir: Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord! God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us.

Priest: I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who camest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. I believe also that this is Thine own immaculate Body, and that this is Thine own precious Blood. Therefore, I pray Thee: have mercy upon me, and forgive my offenses both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, committed in knowledge or in ignorance. And make me worthy to partake without condemnation of Thine immaculate Mysteries, unto the forgiveness of my sins and life 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 will I give Thee a kiss; but like the thief will 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 healing of soul and body

Choir: Receive the Body of Christ; taste the fountain of immortality (The choir repeats this as many times as needed). Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

The opened Royal Doors are symbolic of the open tomb of the Savior, and the bringing forth of the Holy Gifts symbolizes the appearance of Jesus Christ after His resurrection. The faithful bow to the holy chalice as before the very risen Savior Himself, while the choir, representing them, chants: "Blessed is He that cometh ... " Those of the faithful who are to commune, "In the fear of God, faith," make a bow to the Holy Chalice and then listen quietly to the prayer before Communion, "I believe, O Lord, and I confess...," in which they confess their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Savior of sinners, and their faith in the Mystery of Communion by which, in the visible form of bread and wine, they receive the true Body and Blood of Christ as a pledge of eternal life and the Mystery of Communion with Him.

The faithful step forward and go up to the ambo. To keep good order and to show reverence, you should not impede or embarrass others with a desire to be first. Likewise, you should not be overly cautious and fearful but should step forward with gratitude and serenity of faith. Each person should remember that he is the first among sinners but that the mercy of the Lord is infinite. With your hands crossed over your chest, you should step forward toward the Royal Doors for Communion and, without making a sign of the Cross, while near the chalice, receive Communion from the spoon held by the priest. After receiving the Holy Gifts, you should kiss the base of the chalice, again without making any sign of the Cross, so that the chalice will not be accidentally hit.

Children are encouraged to take Communion often, from their earliest infancy, in the name of the faith of their parents and educators, and in accordance with the words of the Savior: "Suffer the little children to come unto Me" and "Drink of it, all of you." Children under seven or so are allowed to take Communion without confession, as they have not reached the age of responsibility or discernment.

Following Communion, the communicants go to the small table on which are placed wine mixed with water, together with some small portions of prosphora, They are to eat and drink these to wash down any of the Holy Gifts remaining in their mouths. After the communion of the faithful, the priest puts all the particles taken from the offered prosphora into the holy chalice and prays that the Lord will purify with His Blood the sins of all those commemorated through the prayers of the saints. He then blesses the congregation:

Священник: Спаси, Боже, люди Твоя и благослови достояние Твое!

Хор: Видехом свет истинный, прияхом Духа Небеснаго, обретохом веру истинную, нераздельней Троице поклоняемся: Та бо нас спасла есть.

Priest: O God, save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance!

Choir: We have seen the true light! We have received the heavenly Spirit! We have found the true faith! Worshipping the undivided Trinity, Who has saved us.

We have seen the true light since, having washed our sins in the Mystery of Baptism, we are called the sons of God by Grace, and the sons of the Light. We have received the Holy Spirit by means of sacred Chrismation. We confess the true Orthodox Faith and worship the undivided Trinity, because He has saved us.

The priest hands the diskos to the deacon, who raises it over his head and carries it to the Table of Preparation. The priest then takes the holy chalice and blesses the faithful with the exclamation, "Always, now and eve, and unto the ages of ages," and carries it to the Table of Preparation. This last elevation and presentation of the Holy Gifts to the congregation, and their removal to the Table of Preparation, and the exclamation, are to remind us of the Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ into heaven and His promise to remain in the Church "always, even unto the end of the world" (Matt. 28:20).

Thanksgiving for Communion and the Dismissal

Bowing to the Holy Gifts for the last time, as to the very Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the faithful express their thanks to the Lord for Communion of the Holy Mysteries. The choir chants the hymn of gratitude:

Да исполнятся

уста наша

Let our mouths

be Filled

Священник: (Благословен Бог наш) всегда, ныне и присно, и во веки веков.

Хор: Аминь. Да исполнятся уста наша хваления Твоего, Господи, яко да поем славу Твою, яко сподобил еси нас причаститися святым Твоим, Божественным, безсмертным и животворящим Тайнам: соблюди нас во Твоей святыни, весь день поучатися правде Твоей. Аллилуия, Аллилуия, Аллилуия.

Priest: (Blessed is our God) Always, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

Choir: Amen. Let our mouths be filled with Thy praise, O Lord that we may sing of Thy glory; for Thou hast made us worthy to partake of Thy holy, divine, immortal and life-giving Mysteries. Keep us in Thy holiness, that all the day long we may meditate upon Thy righteousness. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Having glorified the Lord because He has deemed us worthy of partaking of the divine and immortal and life-giving Mysteries, we ask Him to preserve us in the holiness which we have received through the Mystery of Holy Communion, that we may contemplate the righteousness of God throughout the day. Following this, the deacon chants the Litany of Thanksgiving:

Благодарственная Ектения

The Litany of Thanksgiving

Диакон: Прости приемше Божественных, святых, пречистых, безсмертных, страшных Христовых Таин, достойно благодарим Господа.

Хор: Господи, помилуй.

— Заступи, спаси, помилуй и сохрани нас, Боже, Твоею благодатию.

— День весь совершен свят, мирен и безгрешен испросивше, сами себе и друг друга и весь живот наш Христу Богу предадим

Хор: Тебе, Господи.

Священник: Яко Ты еси освящение наше, и Тебе славу возсылаем, Отцу и Сыну, и Святому Духу, ныне и присно, и во веки веков.

Хор: Аминь.

Deacon: Aright! Having partaken of the divine, holy, immaculate, immortal, heavenly, life-giving, and awesome Mysteries of Christ, let us worthily give thanks unto the Lord.

Choir: Lord, have mercy.

Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by Thy grace.

Priest: Asking that the whole day may be perfect, holy, peaceful, and sinless, let us commend ourselves, and each other, and all our life unto Christ our God.

Choir: To Thee, O Lord.

Priest: For Thou art our Sanctification and unto Thee do we send up glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever unto the ages of ages.

Choir: Amen.


The priest, folding up the antimins and placing it on the Gospel, exclaims, "For Thou art our sanctification ..." And then he adds, "Let us depart in peace." This indicates that the Liturgy has concluded and that we should leave the Church at peace with all. The choir responds: "In the name of the Lord" — and we go home with the blessing of the Lord.

The priest then comes out through the Royal Doors, descends the stairs, and stands facing the altar in front of the ambo. He reads a prayer which summarizes all the supplications made throughout the Divine Liturgy:



Prayer Before

the Ambo

Священник: С миром изыдем.

Хор: О имени Господни

Диакон: Господу помолимся.

Хор: Господи, помилуй.

Священник: Благословляя благословящия Тя, Господи, и освящаяй на Тя уповающия! Спаси люди Твоя и благослови достояние Твое, исполнение Церкве Твоея сохрани, освяти любящия благолепие дому Твоего: Ты тех воспрослави Божественною Твоею силою, и не остави нас, уповающих на Тя. Мир мирови Твоему даруй, церквам Твоим, священникам, и всем людям Твоим. Яко всякое даяние благо, и всяк дар совершен свыше есть, сходяй от Тебе Отца светов: и Тебе славу, и благодарение, и поклонение возсылаем, Отцу и Сыну, и Святому Духу ныне и присно, и во веки веков.


Хор: Аминь. Буди имя Господне благословенно отныне и до века (трижды).

Priest: Let us depart in peace.

Choir: In the name of the Lord.

Deacon: Let us pray to the Lord.

Choir: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: O Lord, who blesses those who bless Thee, and sanctifies those who trust in Thee: Save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance. Preserve the fullness of Thy Church. Sanctify those that love the beauty of Thy house; glorify them in return by Thy divine power, and forsake us not who put our hope in Thee. Give peace to Thy world, to Thy churches, to Thy priests, to all those in civil authorities, and to all Thy people. For every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from Thee, the Father of Lights, and unto Thee do we send up glory, thanksgiving, and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

Choir: Amen. Blessed be the name of the Lord, henceforth and forevermore (three times).

The faithful devote themselves to the will of God with the prayer of the Psalmist "Blessed be the name of the Lord ... " Sometimes a pastoral sermon, based on the Word of God, is given at this point for the spiritual enlightenment and edification of the people. The priest then offers a final blessing, "The blessing of the Lord ... " and gives thanks unto God. Then turning to the people and signing himself with the sign of the Cross, the people should also make the sign; the priest gives the final blessing.




Священник: Благословение Господне на вас, Того благодатию и человеколюбием, всегда, ныне и присно, и во веки веков.

Хор: Аминь.

Священник: Слава Тебе, Христе Боже, упование наше, слава Тебе.

Хор: Слава Отцу, и Сыну, и Святому Духу, и ныне, и присно, и во веки веков, Аминь. Господи помилуй (трижды), благослови.

Священник: Христос, истинный Бог наш, молитвами Пречистыя Своея Матере, святых славных и всехвальных апостолов, иже во святых отца нашего Иоанна, архиепископа Константина–града, Златоустаго, святых … и всех святых, помилует и спасет нас, яко благ и человеколюбец.

Хор: Аминь.

Priest: The blessing of the Lord be upon you through His grace and love for mankind always, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

Choir: Amen.

Priest: Glory to Thee, O Christ our God and our hope, glory to Thee!

Choir: Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen. Lord, have mercy (three times). Father, bless!

Priest: May Christ our true God, through the intercessions of His all-immaculate Mother, of the holy and glorious Apostles, of our Father among the Saints, John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople ... and of all the Saints, have mercy on us and save us, for He is good and the Lover of mankind.

Choir: Amen.

At the Dismissal, the priest asked on our behalf for the prayers of the Theotokos, the saint of the church, the saint whose memory we celebrated today, the righteous ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna (the parents of the Mother of God), and all the saints. He expresses the hope that Christ, our true God, will have mercy and save us, for He is good and the Lover of mankind. Then he steps down and standing before the ambo and he holds the Holy Cross for the faithful to venerate while distributing the antidoron, the remainder of the prosphora which are cut into small pieces. The faithful come forward to kiss the Cross as proof of their faith in our Savior, in whose memory the Divine Liturgy has just been celebrated.

Bishop Alexander Mileant

Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission

466 Fort Hill Blvd., Box 397

La Canada, CA 91011

Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete

The Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete


Explanation of the Canon liturgical format

Short Explanation of the Great Canon

Themes of the Great Canon.

Full Text of the Great Canon as chanted on 5 days of Great Lent

Biography of St Andrew


The Great Canon of St Andrew, Bishop of Crete, is the longest canon in all of our services, and is associated with Great Lent, since the only times it is appointed to be read in church are the first four nights of Great Lent (Clean Monday through Clean Thursday, at Great Compline, when it is serialized) and at Matins for Thursday of the fifth week of Great Lent, when it is read in its entirety (in this latter service, the entire life of St Mary of Egypt is also read).


There is no other sacred hymn which compares with this monumental work, which St Andrew wrote for his personal meditations.  Nothing else has its extensive typology and mystical explanations of the scripture, from both the Old and New Testaments.  One can almost consider this hymn to be a “survey of the Old and New Testament”. Its other distinguishing features are a spirit of mournful humility, hope in God, and complex and beautiful Trinitarian Doxologies and hymns to the Theotokos in each Ode.


The canon is a dialog between St. Andrew and his soul. The ongoing theme is an urgent exhortation to change one’s life. St Andrew always  mentions his own sinfulness placed in juxtaposition to God’s mercy, and uses literally hundreds of references to good and bad examples from the OT and NT to “convince himself” to repent.


A canon is an ancient liturgical hymn, with a very strict format. It consists of a variable number of parts, each called an “ode”. Most common canons have eight Odes, numbered from one to nine, with Ode 2 being omitted. The most penitential canons have all nine odes. Some canons have only three Odes, such as many of the canons in the “Triodion” (which means “Three Odes”).


In any case, all Odes have the same basic format.  An “Irmos” begins each Ode. This is generally sung, and each Irmos has a reference to one of the nine biblical canticles, which are selections from the Old and New Testament, which can be found in an appendix in any complete liturgical Psalter (book of Psalms, arranged for reading in the services). A variable number of “troparia” follow, which are short hymns about the subject of the canon. These are usually chanted, and not sung. After each troparion a “refrain” is chanted. At the end of each Ode, another hymn, called the “Katavasia”, either  the Irmos previously sung, or one like it is sung.


The troparia of the Great Canon in all its twelve Odes are usually chanted by the priest in the center of the church, with the choir singing the Irmos and Katavasia. There are varying traditions about bows and prostrations. Some prostrate and some make the sign of the cross and bow three times after the Irmos and each troparion.

General Themes of the Great Canon.


How we should think about ourselves

Where shall I begin to lament the deeds of my wretched life? What first-fruit shall I offer, O Christ, for my present lamentation? But in Thy compassion grant me release from my fallsMon:1.1


Desire to change - dialogue with the soul

Come, wretched soul, with your flesh, confess to the Creator of all. In the future refrain from you former brutishness, and offer to God tears of repentanceMon:1.2


Recognizing Reality

The end is drawing near, my soul, is drawing near! But you neither care nor prepare. The time is growing short. Rise! The Judge is at the very doors. Like a dream, like a flower, the time of this life passes. Why do we bustle about in vain? Mon:4.2


How to pray - Laments and supplications to God

Thou art the Good Shepherd; seek me, Thy lamb, and neglect no me who have gone astray Mon:3.5


OT and NT examples of righteousness and unrighteousness, for the purpose of emulation or avoidance.

Do not be a pillar of salt, my soul, by turning back; but let the example of the Sodomites frighten you, and take refuge up in Zoar.(Genesis 19:26) Thu Ode 3:5


I have reviewed all the people of the Old Testament as examples for you, my soul. Imitate the God-loving deeds of the righteous and shun the sins of the wicked.Tue Ode 8




The Great Canon was written by a holy man to teach himself the right way to live. We cannot benefit from it unless we make it a priority to stand in prayer, in the church, and listen to it, with a great desire and expectation for God’s grace to teach us and heal us. Our theology is first and foremost – experienced and prayed, and not only “studied”.





The Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete


All these texts are available at http://www.orthodox.net/greatlent/


As chanted on Monday of the first Week


As chanted on Tuesday of the first Week


As chanted on Wednesday of the first Week


As chanted on Thursday of the first Week


As chanted on Thursday of the Fifth Week


St Andrew, Archbishop of Crete.


Commemorated July 4


From the Prologue




Born in Damascus of Christian parents, he was dumb until the age of seven. When his parents took him to church for Communion, the power of speech was given to him. Such is the divine power of Communion.




He went to Jerusalem at the age of fourteen and was tonsured in the monastery of St Sava the Sanctified. In his understanding and ascesis, he surpassed many of the older monks and was an example to all. The Patriarch took him as his secretary.




When the Monothelite heresy, which taught that the Lord had no human will but only a divine one, began to rage, the Sixth Ecumenical Council met in Constantinople in 681, in the reign of Constantine IV. Theodore, Patriarch of Jerusalem, was not able to be present at the Council, and sent Andrew, then a deacon, as his representative. At the Council, Andrew showed his great gifts: his articulateness, his zeal for the Faith and his rare prudence. Being instrumental in confirming the Orthodox faith, Andrew returned to his work in Jerusalem.




He was later chosen and enthroned as archbishop of the island of Crete. As archbishop, he was greatly beloved by the people. He was filled with zeal for Orthodoxy and strongly withstood all heresy. He worked miracles through his prayers, driving the Saracens from the island of Crete by means of them. He wrote many learned books, poems and canons, of which the best-known is the Great Canon of Repentance which is read in full on the Thursday of the Fifth Week of the Great Fast.




Such was his outward appearance that, 'looking at his face and listening to the words that flowed like honey from his lips, each man was touched and renewed'. Returning from Constantinople on one occasion, he foretold his death before reaching Crete. And so it happened. As the ship approached the island of Mitylene, this light of the Church finished his earthly course and his soul went to the Kingdom of Christ, in about the year 740.

Brief explanations of the Service Cycles of the Orthodox Church

Cycle of Services in the Eastern Orthodox Church
Compiled By Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
Boise, Idaho

Introduction by Father Nektarios Serfes:

Nothing is so spiritually uplifting, and so rewarding then prayer before God in the Church. The Orthodox Church has a cycle of services, and all of us should make every means to attend these services. It’s not really how long are these services, but what we put into them that is spiritually rewarding.

When the Church calls us to prayer, we should rush with great Christian love to go to these services, and give our Lord God due honor and worship, at the same time we should think about our spiritual relationship with our God, and our path to our salvation. During these cycle of services we begin to realize how much our Lord God loves us, and wants us to be a part of His Kingdom. We can participate in His Kingdom in prayer, and we can behold His great spiritual beauty as we gaze around the Church and behold Him, as well as the opening arms of the Mother of God, the saints, the prophets, the apostles, and the martyrs all surrounding us with their prayers and intercession on our behalf, what a blessing!

Then again preparations before the Divine Liturgy are spiritually necessary, and that is if when we will go to Holy Communion, we should consider speaking to our priest about going to Holy Confession. We also should fast from certain foods anticipation of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, i.e. at the least, fast from meats on Wednesday and Friday, and all foods and liquids the morning of the liturgy unless these are deemed necessary for medical reasons.

We also have prayers to be read before taking Holy Communion, they are called Prayers in Preparation for Holy Communion, or prayers before Holy Communion, should speak to our parish priest about these prayers. Some of the faithful begin reading these prayers on Thursday, so that we do not have to wait to the last minute. Then again we have prayers of Thanksgiving after Holy Communion, eventually throughout the day we should read these prayers of thanksgiving, some parishes read these prayers of Thanksgiving at the end of the Divine Liturgy, as well as the faithful who took Holy Communion remain in the church until these prayers are finished.

Attend these services with your children, and rush with great love to the Church and pray. Let us make every effort to go to the Church in prayer, and let us realize when we come to late, we miss many blessings, after we leave we shall be spiritually rewarded.

Love to pray in the Temple of our Lord God His Church, and when we pray, let us pray with all our heart, mind, and soul! Well aware of the work at hand, we should attend services prepared to labor as unique members of the body of Christ. Ultimately, each of us, that is every man, woman, and child, should be ready to “put aside all the cares of life, and receive the King of all…”

I am humbly presenting to you the Cycle of Services that are celebrated in the Orthodox Church, which by understanding these services we begin to realize how important these services are in our Church, and how rewarding spiritually they can be for us all!

May our Lord God bless you!

Humbly In Christ Our Lord,
+Very Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
Who prays for you and with you!

The Cycle of Services in the Orthodox Church

The First Hour

The Third Hour

The Sixth Hour

The Ninth Hour

Small Compline & Great Compline

Small & Great Vespers: two types of Vespers - Small Vespers celebrated during evening weekdays, and Great Vespers celebrated Saturday evenings, and for Feast Days. Vespers are in preparation for the next day Divine Liturgy.

Artokolasia Service celebrated on special occasions at the end of Vespers, or at the end of Matins or even at the end of the Liturgy

Midnight Services

Matins (Gr. Orthros) In the Greek Orthodox tradition on a parish level this service is celebrated in the morning proceeded by the Doxology and the Divine Liturgy.

The Doxology: The Great Doxology and the Small Doxology.
Prayers for entrance and Liturgical vesting of the priest Proskomedia

Divine Liturgy

The Hierarchal Divine Liturgy (Divine Liturgy celebrated by a bishop).

In the Greek, Albanian, Romanian, Syrian, and Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s the tradition (on a parish level) Vespers are held in the evenings, and during the morning hours Matins followed by the Great Doxology, and the Divine Liturgy. In the Russian Carpatho Russian, and Serbian Orthodox tradition (on a parish level) both Vespers and Matins, and the Great Doxology are normally held in the evenings, followed by the first hour, then in the morning the third, sixth, and ninth hours are read, followed by the Divine Liturgy.

In the monastic communities the cycle of services are different then on a parish level. In the Greek Orthodox tradition for example the following services are observed at St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, Arizona, which follows the Athonite tradition of Mt. Athos the daily schedule of services is as follows:

3:30 AM7 AM  Midnight Hour
  Divine Liturgy
5:00 PM6:15 PM  Ninth Hour
  Small Compline

Authors of the Divine Liturgies celebrated in the Orthodox Church:

Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom: celebrated on most Sundays and weekdays.
Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts: author St. Gregory the Dialogos (celebrated during Holy Great Lent, during the weekdays). Others attributed to this service see notes.
Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great: celebrated ten times a year, namely, the first five Sundays of the Great Lent before Pascha-Easter, on Thursday and Saturday of the Holy week, Christmas Day, St. Basil’s feast (January 1) and Theophany-Epiphany Day (January 6).
Divine Liturgy of St. James the Apostle: (celebrated October 23rd the feast day of St. James the Apostle).
The Hours

In Orthodox monasteries, monks maintain special services for the hours of the day. The Royal Hours are also observed on a parish level in the Orthodox Church for the Forefeast of our Lord’s Holy Nativity and Holy Theophany. The Ninth Hour is observed before the celebration of the Presanctified Liturgy. Each hour commemorates a special event, as follows:

1. First hour (6:00 A.M.): Thanksgiving for the new morning and
Prayers for sinless day.
2. Third hour (9:00 A.M.): the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
3. Sixth hour (12:00 noon): the nailing of Christ to the Cross.
4. Ninth hour (3:00 P.M.): the death of Christ on the Cross.

The First Hour

The first hour (hour one after the rise of the sun or 7 a.m., has as its central theme the coming of light in the dawn of a new day. The coming of the physical light remind the Christian of the coming of Him Who is the Light of the World. The physical light is but an icon or image of Christ. Thus, the Christian begins the day by praising God for the dawn of the physical light as well as the Light of the World which shines brightly in the face of Jesus. We pray that His light may guide us and show us the way for the day, blessing also the works of our hands, which begin daily at this hour.

O Christ the true light, enlightening and
Sanctifying ever man who comes into
The world;
Let the light of Your countenance shine on
us, that in it we may behold the
Ineffable light.
Guide our footsteps aright in keeping Your
Through the intercessions of you’re all pure
Mother and of all the saints. Amen.

-From the Prayers of the First Hour

The Third Hour

The third hour (three hours after sunrise 9 a.m.), was the exact time the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:15). This single theme dominates the third hour. One of the three psalms that are read is the 51st which contains petitions for the sending of the Holy Spirit: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me…take not Thy holy Spirit from me…and upon me with Thy free spirit.” (Psalm 51: 10-12).

Special prayers are said to thank God for sending the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, beseeching Him also to bestow the gift of the Holy Spirit’s presence upon us for the works of that day. The third hour is a daily reminder that the life of the faithful Christian remains empty without the inner presence of the Spirit. He is the One who provides inner peace and power. He is the One “in Whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

O Lord, You sent down Your Most Holy
Spirit upon Your apostles at the Third
Take Him not from us, O Good One, but
renew Him in us who pray to You.

-From the Prayers of the Third Hour

The Sixth Hour

The sixth hour (six hours following sunrise – noon), reminds us of the crucifixion (Matthew 27:45, Luke 23:44 and John 19:14). Each day at noon the Church tries to focus our attention of this great event in the history of our salvation. We offer God prayers of gratitude for so loving each one of us that He gave his only begotten Son so that we who believe in Him may not perish but have life everlasting (John 3:16). Our noontime prayers (sixth hour) include petitions that He save us from the sins and temptations of that day.

O Christ God, on the sixth day and hour,
You nailed to the Cross the sin which
rebellious Adam committed in paradise.
Tear asunder also the bond of our iniquities,
and save us!

You have wrought salvation in the midst of
the earth, O Christ God. You stretched
out Your all-pure hands upon the Cross;
You gathered together all the nations
that cry aloud to You: Glory to You,
O Lord!

-From the Prayers of the Sixth Hour

The Ninth Hour

The ninth hour, nine hours following sunrise (3 p.m.), is the time when Jesus died on the cross. “And at about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani?” That is to say, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”… When He cried again with a loud voice (Jesus) yielded up the ghost” (Matthew 27:46, 50). At this time prayers of thanksgiving are offered to Him Who by His death-destroyed death for each one of us. The prayers of the ninth hour conclude with a petition that we put to death the old sinful nature with us to enable us to live the new life in Christ Jesus with Whom we were not only crucified but also resurrected through baptism.

O Master, Lord Jesus Christ our God,
You have led us to the present hour,
in which as you hung upon the life-giving Tree,
You made a way into Paradise
for the penitent thief,
and by death destroyed death:
Cleanse us; you’re unworthy servants,
for we fall into sin continuously and
are not worthy to lift up our eyes and
look upon the heights of heaven.
Forgive us for departing from the path of righteousness
and following the desires of our own hearts.

-From the Prayers of the Ninth Hour

Small & Great Compline (Gr. Apodeipnon)

A worship service performed after dusk. It is often combined with Vespers, to form an all-night vigil. There is a Great Compline and its abridgement, known as Small Compline. Great Compline is celebrated during Great Lent, whereas Little or also known as Small Compline can be celebrated daily when it’s not Great Lent.

Small & Great Vespers (Gr. Espermos)

Morning and evening were always considered to be proper times for prayer. Worship services were held every morning and evening in the Temple of Jerusalem and were continued by the early Christians even after they separated themselves from the worship of the Temple. The old Jewish forms are still used. The theme of Vespers takes us through creation, sin and salvation in Christ. It includes thanksgiving for the day now coming to an end and God’s protection for the evening.

In the Orthodox Church the liturgical day begins in the evening with the setting of the sun. One the great themes of Vespers is the coming of Christ, the Light to dispel the darkness. The coming of evening darkness reminds us of the darkness of sin and death. In that darkness Jesus is praised as “the gladsome light of the holy glory of the Immortal Father” and “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” Vesper services are offered daily in monasteries and usually only on Saturday evenings in some parishes. Orthodox Christians daily may offer evening prayers in private by praying the Psalter and the other Vesper prayers at home. It should be noted in the Greek Orthodox tradition on a parish level Vespers are held in the evenings, Matins-Orthros service held in the mornings, followed by the Doxology and the Divine Liturgy.

O Gladsome Light
O Gladsome Light of the holy glory of the Immortal,
Heavenly, Holy Father: Blessed Jesus Christ!
Now that we have come to the setting of the sun,
and see the light of evening,
we praise God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
For it is right at all times to worship you with voices of praise,
O Son of God and Giver of life.
Therefore all the world glorifies You!

-From the Prayers of Vespers

Aktoklasia Service

The artoklasia service held at the end of Vespers or at the end of Matins, or even at the end of the Liturgy. Five round loaves of bread are offered by individual faithful as a sign of devotion for personal or family anniversaries such as name days and other occasions bearing close connection with the experience of the Orthodox. The five loaves are reminiscent of the five loaves that Jesus Christ blessed in the desert by which five thousand of His bearers were fed. The artoklasia also symbolizes and brings into practice the Agape meals of the very early Christian communities. Then, after the faithful received the Body and Blood of Christ, they would gather in a common meal, thus signifying the brotherly association established between them by their common faith and by their receiving the same sacramental Lord. Also, the Agape meals served a charitable purpose by providing meals to the poorer from among them.

The significance behind the Orthodox artoklasia includes also the fact that, among the Orthodox, bread continues to be highly valued not only as a basic food but also as the supreme symbol of the Body of Christ; for it is the bread which changed by consecration in the Liturgy into the Body of Christ. Christ has been repeatedly designated as the Bread of Life, and also as ‘the Bread which came from heaven.’ Bread does also symbolize the Church of Christ, which has spread all over “as the wheat on the mountains and which was gathered by Christ into one body’. (see DIDACHE.) Thus, bread has been given a mystical meaning according to which it constitutes the essence of the spiritual life of the Christian.

The blessed bread of the Orthodox artoklasia has been from ancient times considered to effect personal sanctification and to help the individual against bodily infirmities and illness ‘if taken with faith’. The Greek term ‘artoklasia’ derives from the very words used by the Evangelists in describing the Mystical Supper at which Christ ‘broke bread’ and offered it to His disciples as His own Body. Also, ‘bread is broken’ in the Orthodox artoklasia, signifying not only an identity in terms but a far more significant affinity between the Lord’s and His Church’s breaking of bread.


The hour of midnight was designated as a time for prayer for three reasons. First, the Jewish people were led out of Egypt at midnight (Exodus 12:29). In remembrance of this even, the Messiah at the time of Jesus was expected to come at midnight. This expectation was fulfilled when Jesus was resurrected in the early morning while it was still dark (Matthew 28:1). Midnight also became associated in early Christian thought with the hour of the Second Coming of Jesus (Mark 13:35). He was expected to come “as a thief in the night” (I Thessalonians 5:2,4). See Matthew 25:6 and Mark 13:35. This hour of prayer is kept today only in certain monasteries where monks rise at midnight, as if from the grave of death, to meet the risen Lord in prayer. The prayers offered at this hour remember those who have died in Christ and also invoke God’s mercy upon us for the coming judgment. Although we do not live in monasteries, we may use midnight as an hour of prayer if we happen to waken during the night. Instead of counting sheep, we can use the time to speak and pray to the Shepherd of our souls.

O Lord our God, through your Holy Spirit
You gave us an example in David,
Inspiring him to sing psalms and
even at this hour of the night to say:
‘At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws’;
make us worthy to offer you from the bottom of our hearts
our grateful confession of faith;
in your goodness look with compassion on our wretched state
and at your dreadful day of judgment
let us too be like the faithful and wise servants;
we ask it through the mediation of the holy Mother of God and
all your saints –

From the Prayers of the Midnight Office

Matins (Gr. Orthros)

This is a morning service that can be heard by it self or be followed by the Liturgy on Sundays and other feast days. It begins with the reading of the well known Six-Psalms (Exaspsalmos), includes the reading of a Matins Gospel and hymns pertaining to the day, and ends with the small Doxology (if not to be followed by the Liturgy), or by great Doxology if the Liturgy is to follow. When Matins is celebrated on Sunday morning hymns are sung for the Resurrection of our Lord.

The Doxology: The Great Doxology and the Small Doxology

The Theological Emphases of the Doxology

Both the Orthros (Matins) and the Vespers – which comprise the two most important corporate prayer times in the daily cycle of worship – are more than times of prayer. They are a place of Theophany, where we glimpse and experience the presence of the eternal Triune God.

At the core of this revelation are the four great theological themes; creation, the fall, salvation, and eschaton. Special emphasis is given to Christ and to his redemptive work and to the Kingdom which He established and which is here now and yet to come in fullness.

Light and Darkness

The theme of light and darkness as related to Christ is of particular significance, forming the fundamental symbolism of the two services.

It is recorded in many of their fixed prayers and hymns, as well as in several liturgical actions that accompany these hymns and prayers. For example, the lighting of the evening lamp while the hymn O joyful Light, blessed Jesus Christ, is chanted at Vespers. Or when the lamps or lights are lit at the beginning of Orthros when we sing the Theos Kyrios – God is the Lord and has revealed himself to us.

The Doxology is a glorious triumphant song of praise that completes the Orthros. It is filled with references to light and to the day, to Christ, the true Light and Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and to the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who is the refuge, the salvation, the source of life and revealer of the light to all who accept and live by the divine precepts.

The Structure of the Doxology

The Doxology is comprised of three parts. Many of the fifteen verses of the Doxology contain direct or indirect quotes from the Psalms and other phrases of the Scripture. The Doxology is an ancient prayer of the Church, whose composer(s) remain anonymous, that has two forms, one that is sung (Great Doxology) and another that is recited (Small Doxology).

The first part of the Doxology begins with the words of the Hymn, which the Angels sang at the Nativity of Christ, “Glory to God in the highest…” The second part begins with the verse, “Every day I will bless you and will praise your name…” The third section begins with the words, "Let your mercy come upon us.” A part of the read Doxology also comprises a fixed element in the Vesper service (“Kataxioson Kyrie” – Grant Lord to keep us without sin…”).

The first part is a song of praise to the Holy Trinity and to the Lord Christ, the Son and Lamb of God, who is entreated to accept our prayers and to show mercy on us. The second section is a prayer of praise for God, whose name is blessed and a prayer of hope that the day will be completed without sin. In their third section, God is blessed and recognized as the source of life and light and the refuge of the just. He is implored to teach us his precepts, by which we ought to live our lives, and to extend his mercy upon those who know Him.

The sung Doxology, is “flanked,” at the beginning with the verse “Glory to You who has shown us Your light” and at the end with the repeated singing of “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.

The Introductory Verse

The introductory verse “Glory be to You who has shown us Your light” is not based on any passage from the Scriptures. It must be understood rather in relation to the position of the Doxology in the Orthros. In the monastic tradition, the end of the Orthros coincides with the sunrise, which is greeted with the Doxology. The phrase “Doxa soi tw deixanti to phos,” is related to the appearance of the physical light, itself a part of God’s wondrous creation – “Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw how good the light was” (Gen. 1:3). The phrase also has a metaphorical meaning and is related to the appearance of the true Light, Jesus Christ.

The Great Doxology

Introductory Verse

(+ means to make the sign of the cross)

Glory to You who has shown us your light.

Part One: A Song of Praise to the Holy Trinity

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men.

We praise You, we bless You, we worship You, we glorify You, and we offer thanks to You for Your great glory.

Lord King, heavenly God: + Father almighty; Lord, only-begotten Son Jesus Christ; and Holy Spirit.

Lord God, Lamb of God, the Son of the Father Who takes away the sin of the world: have mercy on us You who take away the sins of the world.

Accept our prayer, You Who sit at the right hand of the Father, and have on us.

You only are holy; You only are Lord: Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Part Two: Prayer of Praise and Protection from sin

Every evening will I bless You, and praise Your name to the ages, and to the ages of ages.

Lord, You are our refuge from generation to generation. I said: “Lord have mercy on me; heal my soul, for I have sinned against You.”

In You, Lord, I take refuge: teach me to do Your will, do You are my God.

For in You is the fountain of life, in Your light shall we see light.

Extend Your mercy to those who know You.

Make us worthy, O Lord, to be kept without sin this night.

Blessed are You, O Lord, the God of our fathers, and praised and glorified is Your name to the ages. Amen.

Part Three: Prayer of Praise and Dependence upon God

May Your mercy, Lord be upon us, as we have hoped in You.

+Blessed are You, Lord: teach me Your statutes.

+Blessed are You, Master: make me understand Your statues.

+Blessed are You, Holy One: enlighten me with Your statues.

Lord, Your mercy is to the ages; do not disregard the words of Your hands.

Lord, I flee to You, teach me to Your will; for You are my God.

You are the fountain life, and in Your light we shall see light.

Extend Your mercy to them that know You.

Concluding Verses: The Trisagion

+Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us (three times)

+Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen. Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us.
+Holy God, Holy Mighty , Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us. Amen.

Prayers of entrance and Liturgical vesting of the priest

Before the priest serves the Divine Liturgy he arrives to first say the prescribed prayers in the middle of the church before entering the holy Altar. After the priest has finished with the entrance prayers, he then puts on his Liturgical vestments, and putting on each liturgical vestment he says certain prayers. At the conclusion of vesting the priest washes his hands and prepares the Proskomedia.

The Greek, Syrian, and Bulgarian, Orthodox traditions for a bishop during Matins when the local diocesan bishop serves a Hierarchal Divine Liturgy, he says entrance prayer in the middle of the church, and before the Doxology begins the bishop is vested in the altar and comes out of the altar goes to the bishop throne, he remains until the Small Entrance. In the Russian and Serbian Orthodox traditions the bishop also says his entrance prayers, as he enters the Church, and vests in the middle of the Church, and remains until the Small Entrance.


Proskomedia is the service of preparation of the bread and wine for the Eucharist taking place during the Matins-Orthros at the table (within the Holy Altar) known as the Prothesis. The priest extracts from the seal of the Prosphora the lamb, the portion of Theotokos, the portions of the nine orders of angels and saints, and portions of living and dead and arranges them on the diskarion as prescribed. Then, wine and water are ceremoniously poured into the Chalice, diskarion and chalice is both covered (with prayers), and both veiled with a larger vestment called the Aer. After the end of the ceremony, the prepared Gifts are conserved and prayer is said for these to be accepted to God’s heavenly altar. The Proskomedia is sometimes signified by the term Prothesis that, actually, is the table, or conch, to the left of the altar on which Proskomedia takes place.

Liturgy also known as the Divine Liturgy
The institution of the Eucharist, that is, of the Mystic Supper by the Lord, is recorded by St. Matthew 26:26-28; St. Mark 14:22-24; St. Luke 22:19-20, and the Apostle Paul, I Corinthians. 11:23-25. What was created at the Eucharist the gathering of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles was for our Lord, “to create the Holy Eucharist and leave His own Being to the Church.”

The term (Liturgy) originally signified a public duty of any kind, including religious assignments. In the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, the term is used for the first time to denote services in the Temple. In its Orthodox usage the term denotes the Eucharist as the chief act of public Christian worship. In a derived sense, the term also denotes the text containing the words and order of the Eucharist. There are three main Orthodox Liturgies; St. Chrysostom’ s, St. Basil’s, and Presanctified. Another Liturgy, that of St. James, the Brother of the Lord.

Liturgy of St. James

This is a very ancient Liturgy existing in a Greek and Syriac form. It is traditionally ascribed to St. James, the Lord’s brother and first bishop of Jerusalem. It bears many common elements with the Liturgy known to St. Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem who died about the year 386, and contains an apparent reference to the discovery of the Cross of Christ in Jerusalem in the year 326. It was mostly used in the Syriac, Armenian, and Georgian speaking provinces of the Church. The fact that the Syrian Jacobites, separated from Orthodoxy in 451, as well as by the Orthodox themselves, used it proves that the Liturgy cannot have been composed later than the middle of the 5th century. It is celebrated in the Orthodox Church on the anniversary of the death of St. James (October 23) and at Jerusalem on Sunday after Christmas. The Liturgy of St. James is important specimen of liturgical antiquity reflecting the liturgical practices of the 4th century, if not earlier. There is little doubt that the rite of St. Cyril of Jerusalem was describing in the famous Catechetical Sermon was the Liturgy of St. James in the form of that time. But around the 13th to 14th century this Liturgy was faded out in favor of the Byzantine rite that included the other three Liturgies-St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil, and the Presanctified.

Liturgy of St. Basil

The origin of the Liturgy of St. Basil is Antiochian, specifically from Cappadocia where St. Basil was bishop. In all probability, St. Basil was the celebrant, if not in its present form, at least in its essentials. And through we have ancient documents ascribing to St. Basil a specific liturgical formula in the form of ‘Anaphora’, the liturgy in its present form is obviously the collective work of many composers. But still, most of the important prayers in it are the work of St. Basil on the strength of style, vocabulary and ideas.

St. Basil’s Liturgy appears to be older than St. Chrysostom’ s perhaps by two centuries. The Liturgy of St. Basil is celebrated ten times a year, namely, the first five Sundays of the Great Lent, before Pascha-Easter, on Thursday and Saturday of Holy Week, the Nativity feast of our Lord, St. Basil’s day (January 1) and Theophany-Epiphany Day (January 6).

Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

St. John Chrysostom Liturgy is well known and very common in the Eastern Orthodox Church. It may be celebrated every day of the year except the ones of St. Basil and those of the Presanctified Gifts, and on Good Friday. It is shorter than that of St. Basil and much reduced compared to St. James’. St. Chrysostom Liturgy put an end to the free prayers and hymns in the officiating of the Holy Eucharist. The Liturgy placed a seal on the free forms of the re-enactment of the Mystic Supper of the Lord, depicting it in its finest form with a destiny of enduring far into the future. Despite the addition of hymns at later times, the St. Chrysostom Liturgy remains the same majestic religious masterpiece with grandeur and dramatic appeal matching the human expression and the divine act. St. Chrysostom (345-407A.D.) was an eloquent preacher, writer and one of the Fathers of the Orthodox Church, whose writings have been translated into many languages and have nourished the Christian Church throughout the centuries.

Presanctified Liturgy

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is in reality a religious service composed of elements drawn from Hesperinos, the Vespers service, and from the first part of the Divine Liturgy beginning with ‘Blessed be the kingdom…’ and ending just before the Cherubic hymn begins. It includes no Consecration, but prepared believers can receive Communion from the Consecrated Elements reserved from the Liturgy of the previous Sunday. A service of the nature of the Presanctified can be traced back to pre-Nicene times. St. Sophronios at Jerusalem calls the Presanctified in 646 an ‘Apostolic’ institution. The Presanctified is attested as a Lenten substitute for the Eucharist is Canon 52 of the Trullan Synod (Quinisext) in 692. One should bear in mind, however, that the Councils hardly introduced anything new; either in faith or in the liturgical practice of the Church; rather, they verified and vested with universal authority teachings or practices that the conscience of the Church had in sufficient measure already accepted. This means that the Trullan canon in reality aimed at safeguarding an established practice within the Church at large.

The Presanctified Liturgy is attributed to St. Gregory Dialogos (540-604), but also to St. Epiphanios (315-403), St. Germanos, Patriarch of Constantinople (about 6634-733), and even to St. James, St. Peter; and in Sinai it was ascribed to St. Basil and St. Chrysostom. Obviously, the pre-Byzantine core of the Presanctified goes deeply back into the beginnings and only a little later than the ‘Synaxes’ of the primitive Church. Its present Byzantine form appears to be the work of more than one composer. Parts obviously added to the ancient core are of different dates and different hands.

Hierarchal Liturgy

Service celebrated by a bishop.

When we gather as an Orthodox family for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy we gather as unique individuals with unique responsibilities in the life of the Church. Each of us, by the virtue of our role in the Church, is a member of the Eucharistic community. In this light, each of us is an invaluable steward to the Church, offering much with his/her ministry.

Early in the history, each community had a presiding bishop who was assisted in the services with the presbyters and deacons. After the churches began to increase to meet the needs of growing number of faithful within a particular diocese, the presbyter was appointed by the bishop as the chief celebrant in a local community, the parish. Even so the concept of the Church is understood not in terms of the presbyter, but in terms of his diocesan bishop.

When the bishop is in our midst, celebrating the Divine Liturgy it then becomes a Hierarchal Divine Liturgy, he is the chief celebrant of the assembly of the faithful. On account of his presence we add seemingly unique phrases and hymns making the service hierarchal.

In the hierarchal Divine Liturgy, we commemorate the hierarch as celebrant. Additionally, the celebrating hierarch commemorates his presiding bishop, demonstrating the local parishes unity to the greater Orthodox community. And, ultimately as stewards with unique ministries, the presbyter(s) and the laity under the direction of the bishop, offer up glory to God.


Daily Vitamins for Spiritual Growth Vol. 1. Rev. Anthony M. Coniaris., Light and Life Publishing Company., Minneapolis, Minnesota 1994.

A Dictionary of Greek Orthodoxy. Rev. Nicon D. Patrianacos. Hellenic Heritage Publications, Pleasantville, N.Y. 1984

Introduction to the Divine Liturgy. Rev. George Mastrantonis. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America website http://www.goarch.org/en/ourfaith/artices/article7117.asp

Sources for The Doxology: Rev. Dr. Stantley S. Harakas, The Hellenic Chronicle, Framingham, MA. Feb. 2, 2000. p.4

Glory Be To God For All Things!

Content written/compiled by Father Nektarios Serfes.
(c) Father Nektarios Serfes

Feast of Feasts - PASCHA Service: An Explanation
Pascha (Greek: Πάσχα), also called Easter, is the feast of the Resurrection of the Lord. Pascha is a transliteration of the Greek word, which is itself a transliteration of the Hebrew pesach, both words meaning Passover. (A minority of English-speaking Orthodox prefer the English word 'Pasch.')

Pascha normally falls either one or five weeks later than the feast as observed by Christians who follow the Gregorian calendar. However, occasionally the two observances coincide, and on occasion they can be four weeks apart. The reason for the difference is that, though the two calendars use the same underlying formula to determine the festival, they compute from different starting points. The older Julian calendar's solar calendar is 13 days behind the Gregorian's and its lunar calendar is four to five days behind the Gregorian's.


Celebration of the feast

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the center of the Orthodox Christian faith. Twelve weeks of preparation precede it. This is made up of pre-lenten Sundays, Great Lent, and Holy Week. The faithful try to make this long journey with repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and study. When the feast finally arrives, it is celebrated with a collection of services combined as one.

Midnight Office

Sometime before midnight, on the Blessed Sabbath the Midnight Office service is chanted. In the Slavic practice, the priest goes to the tomb and removes the epitaphios and carries it through the Holy Doors and places it on the altar table where it remains for forty days until the day of Ascension. In the Byzantine practice, the epitaphios has already been removed (during the Lamentations Orthros on Holy Friday evening).


Paschal matins begins with a procession that starts around midnight. The people leave the dark church building singing, carrying banners, icons, candles, and the Gospel. The procession circles the outside of the church and returns to the closed front doors. In Greek practice, the Gospel which tells of the empty tomb is now read. In Syrian practice, following the Gospel reading, the priest beats on the door and takes part in a dialogue with an interlocutor inside the church doors, crying out with the words of Psalm 23 (24): "Lift up your heads, O gates! And be exalted, you everlasting doors, that the king of glory may enter in!" In Slavic practice, neither of these rites is preserved. Next, the Paschal troparion is sung for the first time, together with the verses of Psalm 67 (68) which will begin all of the Church services during the Paschal season.

Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee from before his face!
As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish; as wax melts before the fire,
So the sinners will perish before the face of God; but let the righteous be glad.
This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death,
and on those in the grave bestowing life.

The doors are opened and the faithful re-enter. The church is brightly lit and adorned with flowers. It is the heavenly bride and the symbol of the empty tomb. The celebrants change to white vestments, the bright robes of the resurrection. The Easter icon stands in the center of the church, where the grave just was. It shows Christ destroying the gates of hell and freeing Adam and Eve from the captivity of death. There constant proclamation of the celebrant: Christ is risen! The faithful continually respond: Indeed he is risen! and censing of the icons and the people.

Following the entrance into the church, the Paschal canon ascribed to St. John of Damascus is chanted with the Paschal troparion as the constantly recurring refrain. Matins ends with the Paschal stichera:

O day of resurrection! Let us beam with God's own pride! Let everyone embrace in joy! Let us warmly greet those we meet and treat them all like brothers, even those who hate us! Let all the earth resound with this song: Christ is risen from the dead, conquering death by death, and on those in the grave bestowing life!


Next, in some traditions, the Paschal Hours are also sung. At the conclusion, the celebrant solemnly proclaims the famous Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom. This sermon is an invitation to all of the faithful to forget their sins and to join fully in the feast of the resurrection of Christ.

Divine Liturgy

Next, the Paschal Divine Liturgy begins with the singing once more of the festal troparion with the verses of Psalm 67 (68). The antiphons of the liturgy are special psalm verses that praise and glorify the salvation of God. Again, the troparion is repeated over and over. And the baptismal verse from Galatians: As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Galatians 3:27) replaces the Thrice-Holy Hymn.

The readings take the faithful back again to the beginning, and announces God's creation and re-creation of the world through the living Word of God, his Son Jesus Christ. The epistle reading is the first nine verses of the Book of Acts. The gospel reading is the first seventeen verses of the Gospel of John. It is customary on this day to read the Gospel in several languages.

The Liturgy of St John Chrysostom continues as usual. Holy communion has, again and again, the troparion of the Resurrection. It is sung while the faithful partake. To Orthodox Christians, receiving communion on Easter Sunday is very important. Many parishes take the Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom literally and commune all Orthodox Christians who are in attendance.

Day without evening

To the Orthodox, the celebration of Pascha reveals the mystery of the eighth day. It is not merely an historical reenactment of the event of Christ's Resurrection. It is a way to experience the new creation of the world a taste of the new and unending day of the Kingdom of God.

This new day is conveyed to the faithful in the length of the paschal services, in the repetition of the paschal order for all the services of Bright Week, and in the special paschal features retained in the services for the forty days until Ascension. Forty days are, as it were, treated as one day.

Other traditions

Foods from which the faithful have been asked to abstain during the lenten journey are often brought in baskets and blessed by the priest. This may include eggs, cheese, meat, and a rich, cake-like bread, called Kulitch. These are then eaten after the Divine Liturgy.

In Greek practice there is a lamb soup that is shared after the Liturgy. In Slavic practice, foods which were blessed earlier are shared.

Another tradition at the feast of the Pascha, is the consecration of a bread stamped with the image of the Cross, or of the Resurrection, named Artos. This special Artos is consecrated at the close of the Paschal Liturgy in memory of the Risen Christ, Who is "the Bread of Life Eternal descended from Heaven and nourishing us with the food of His divine mercies." On the next Saturday, after the Liturgy, it is broken and distributed in the place of Antidoron.

The faithful also sometimes exchange Red-dyed egg. The egg symbolizes the renovated life, received through the Blood of Christ.

The Term Easter

Some Orthodox Christians discourage the use of the word Easter, believing that the term has roots in pagan rites of the spring equinox and overtones of fertility. Most English speakers are unaware of the etymological origins of Easter, however, and use it without any sense of pagan connotations, and so Easter is also used by many Orthodox English speakers.

The origin of the term Easter comes from the Germanic name for the month in which the Christian feast usually fell, and so, just as the American civic holiday of the Fourth of July has nothing to do with Julius Caesar for whom July was named, neither does Easter have anything to do with the pagan goddess Eostre, the namesake of the month in which Pascha fell. This potential difficulty only exists for speakers of Germanic languages, however. Most languages in the world use a cognate form of the Greek term Pascha and so are free of any pagan connotations for the name of the feast.

According to Bede, writing in De Tempore Rationum ("On the Reckoning of Time"), Ch. xv, "The English months," the word is derived from Eostre, a festival. Bede connects it with an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, to whom the month answering to our April, and called Eostur-monath, was dedicated. The connection is often assumed, without quoting Bede himself, who says,

In olden times the English people— for it did not seem fitting to me that I should speak of other nations' observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation's— calculated their months according to the course of the Moon. Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans, [the months] take their name from the Moon, for the moon is called mona and each month monath.
The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath[...etc.]
Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated "Paschal month", and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.

Pascha and Natural Religion

There is, however, a connection which may be drawn between the pre-Christian celebrations and the feast of the Resurrection of Christ. Just as Christ's incarnation is the ultimate fulfilment of the best hopes of all "natural" religion, so can Pascha be understood as being the ultimate springtime of mankind. The pre-Christian celebrations of the renewal of creation in the Spring find their completion in the Resurrection, the passage from death to life of the incarnate Son of God, and with him all creation.


Troparion (Special Melody)

Christ is risen from the dead,
trampling down death by death,
and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!


Before the dawn,
Mary and the women came and found the stone
rolled away from the tomb.
They heard the angelic voice:
"Why do you seek among the dead as a man the One who is everlasting light?
Behold the clothes in the grave!
Go and proclaim to the world: The Lord is risen!
He has slain death, as He is the Son of God,
saving the race of men."

Kontakion (Tone 8)

Thou didst decend into the tomb, O Immortal,
Thou didst destory the power of death!
In victory didst Thou arise, O Christ God,
proclaiming "Rejoice" to the myrrhbearing women,
granting peace to Thy apostles,
and bestowing resurrection to the fallen.

Paschal hymn to the Theotokos:

The angel cried to the Lady Full of Grace: Rejoice, O Pure Virgin!
Again I say: Rejoice! Your Son is risen from His three days in the tomb!
With Himself He has raised all the dead! Rejoice, all you people!
Shine! Shine! O New Jerusalem!
The Glory of the Lord has shone on you!
Exalt now and be glad, O Zion!
Be radiant, O Pure Theotokos, in the Resurrection of your Son!

The Orthodox Faith: A time line
How old is the orthodox faith?

If you are a Lutheran, your religion was founded by Martin Luther, an ex-monk of the Catholic Church, in the year 1517. If you belong to the Church of England, your religion was founded by King Henry VIII in the year 1534 because the Pope would not grant him a divorce with the right to re-marry. If you are a Presbyterian, your religion was founded by John Knox in Scotland in the year 1560. If you are a Congregationalist, your religion was originated by Robert Brown in Holland in 1582. If you are Protestant Episcopalian, your religion was an offshoot of the Church of England, founded by Samuel Senbury in the American colonies in the 17th century. If you are a Baptist, you owe the tenets of your religion to John Smyth, who launched it in Amsterdam in 1606. If you are of the Dutch Reformed Church, you recognize Michelis Jones as founder because he originated your religion in New York in 1628. If you are a Methodist, your religion was founded by John and Charles Wesley in England in 1774. If you are a Mormon (Latter Day Saints), Joseph Smith started your religion in Palmyra, New York, in 1829. If you worship with the Salvation Army, your sect began with William Booth in London in 1865. If you are Christian Scientist, you look to 1879 as the year in which your religion was born and to Mary Baker Eddy as its founder.

If you belong to one of the religious organizations known as "Church of the Nazarene, Pentecostal Gospel," "Holiness Church," or "Jehovah's Witnesses," your religion is one of the hundreds of new sects founded by men within the past hundred years.

If you are Roman Catholic, your church shared the same rich apostolic and doctrinal heritage as the Orthodox Church for the first thousand years of its history, since during the first millennium they were one and the same Church. Lamentably, in 1054, the Pope of Rome broke away from the other four Apostolic Patriarchates (which include Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem), by tampering with the Original Creed of the Church, and considering himself to be infallible. Thus your church is 1,000 years old.

If you are Orthodox Christian, your religion was founded in the year 33 by Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It has not changed since that time. Our church is now almost 2,000 years old. And it is for this reason, that Orthodoxy, the Church of the Apostles and the Fathers is considered the true "one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church." This is the greatest legacy that we can pass on to the young people of the new millennium.

by Rev. Dr. Miltiades Efthimiou

Glossary of Liturgical Terms
Glossary of Liturgical Terminology

Antiphon – a general title for a hymn or a section of the Psalter; the title describes the manner in which the hymn or Psalter are to be chanted, i.e., by two choirs in turn.

Kathisma – one of the twenty sections into which the Psalter is divided in the liturgical use of the Orthodox Church. Each Kathisma is composed of a number of Psalms, e.g., Kathisma #1 = Psalms 1-8, Kathisma #2 = Psalms 9-17, etc.

Kathisma Hymn (Sedalen) – a hymn sung as an introduction to "sitting," i.e., a period of rest following such things as the lengthy chanting of the Psalter, the singing of the Polyeleos, or the singing of several Odes from the Canon at Matins.

Polyeleos – The Psalms of "much oil" or "many mercies" (Psalms 135-136) sung during Resurrectional and Festal Matins.

Canon – a principal element in Matins (although it may also appear elsewhere); a lengthy hymn composed of nine odes, with each ode being made up of many hymns (usually 12-14), the number and source of which are regulated by the Typikon. At least theoretically each ode takes its theme from the Biblical canticle (e.g., Ode 1 is patterned after Exodus 15:1-19, the Canticle of Moses) which serves as its prototype.

Irmos – a word meaning "link" in Greek. The Irmos is the theme-song and the first hymn of each ode of a Canon. It has a double function: it "links" the ode thematically with the Biblical canticle which serves as its prototype, and, by establishing the meter and melody for all the other hymns (troparia) of the ode, it is the first "link" in their chain.

Troparion – one of the oldest titles used in the Orthodox Church for a particular piece of composed hymnography. In Greek the word means "a sign of victory" or a "way of life," and in general implies that the composed hymn is a succinct summary of the event or saintly person being celebrated in the Church. As a title, Troparion can be applied to virtually any composed hymn used in Orthodox worship. Present use, however, usually limits it to the hymn sung after the Lord’s Prayer at Vespers, after "God is the Lord" at Matins, and after the Little Entrance at the Divine Liturgy. It also denotes the hymns that follow the Irmos in the ode of a canon.

Katavasia – in Greek this word implies the act of "descending" or "coming down." It is the name given to the hymn that concludes the ode of a Canon. During the singing of the Katavasia the two choirs are to "descend" from their places (the kliros) and assemble in the center of the church. The Katavasia may be the Irmos from another canon, or, as on Pascha, it may be the Irmos of the given ode repeated. These matters are regulated by the Typikon.

Hypakoe – perhaps the most ancient title used by the Church to denote a piece of composed hymnography. In Greek this word means "to be obedient," "to hear," "to respond." Presently, the Hypakoe is the particular title of a hymn sung during Resurrectional Matins. It varies according to the tone of the week from the Octoechos and comes after the Resurrectional hymns which are sung together with the refrain from Ps. 119: "Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes." The Hypakoe of Pascha is the one most commonly known. It is sung after the third ode of the Paschal Canon, during the Paschal Hours, and again after the Little Entrance at Divine Liturgy.

Stikheron – another general title referring to a composed hymn written in verses. Such hymns occur throughout Orthodox worship, e.g.: they are inserted at the places appointed by the Typikon during the chanting of "Lord, I call" (Psalms 141, 142, 130 and 117) at Vespers. They are usually associated with Psalmody.

Automelon (samopodoben) – a stikheron having its own meter and melody and serving in turn as a model for other stihhera.

Idiomelon (samoglasen) – a stikheron having its own meter and melody which never serve as a model for other stikhera.

Prosomoia (podoben) – a stikheron whose meter and melody are taken from those of an automelon.

Apostikhastikhera that appear together with selected Psalm verses before St. Simeon’s Prayer at Vespers as well as near the end of Daily and Lenten Matins.

Lity (litia) – a word implying a fervent, prolonged prayer. It generally designates the procession to the narthex of the church for petitions, hymns and the blessing of loaves, which is a typical feature of the latter part of Great Vespers on feast days.

Theotokian – a hymn to the Theotokos that usually concludes a larger body of hymnography, e.g.: troparia at the end of Vespers, stikhera on "Lord, I call," apostikha, etc.

Stavrotheotokian – hymns to the Theotokos that refer to her standing at the Cross of Christ. They are typically found in the Octoechos in the hymnography for Wednesdays and Fridays.

Dogmatikon – those Theotokia that conclude the stikhera on "Lord, I call" at Great Vespers on the eves of the Lord’s Day. Their title comes from the fact that they are usually succinct presentations of the dogma of the Incarnation, with particular stress on the ever-virginity and motherhood of Mary.

Verses on the Praisesstikhera inserted at those places appointed by the Typikon during the chanting of the Psalms of Praise (148-150) at Matins.

Gospel Stikhera – hymns sung during Resurrectional Matins at "Glory" of the Verses on the Praises. There are eleven Gospel Stikhera, and they vary from week to week depending upon which of the eleven Gospel lessons for Sunday Matins is read.

Exapostilarion – a Greek word implying "to dismiss," which is used for the title of a short hymn that comes at the end of the Canon at Matins. In Slavonic service books this hymn is called the Svetilen or "song of light." For Sunday Matins, after the brief "Holy is the Lord our God," there are eleven other Exapostilaria – one for each week depending upon which of the eleven Gospel lessons of Sunday Matins is read.

Kontakion – derived from a Greek word that made reference to a wooden stick around which a parchment was wrapped. Originally, the Kontakion was a hymn of many stanzas (18-24) whose lengthy text indeed required the use of a scroll. St. Roman the Melodist (+556) is the most famous composer of such lengthy, free-style hymns. The hymns in their original, lengthy form have all but fallen into disuse in Orthodox worship. What now remains in the liturgical books as Kontakia are merely the short, preliminary stanzas of the earlier and longer hymns. The Kontakion is sung after ode 6 (together with the Ikos, or first strophe of the more ancient, lengthy kontakion) of the Canon at Matins, during the Hours, and after the Troparia at the Divine Liturgy.

Akathistos – a long hymn of 24 stanzas, similar to the ancient Kontakion. Greek word itself means that the hymn is to be sung while everyone stands. Many Akathistos hymns have been composed for saints and even particular icons. They are generally used for devotional purposes and may be inserted after the ode 6 of the Matins Canon during the celebration of a feast (for which an Akathistos has been composed). The Akathistos to the Theotokos is in regular liturgical use and is prescribed in the Triodion for the 5th Saturday of Great Lent. In Greek and Antiochian use this Akathistos is divided into sections and spread throughout the Friday evenings of Great Lent.

Prokeimenon – the Greek word implies something that is "set before" or "introduces." The Prokeimenon was originally an entire Psalm that served to "introduce" the reading of Scripture that followed it. One verse from the Psalm was selected as the refrain to the chanting of all the others. In current liturgical use, the Prokeimenon is reduced to the refrain and one to four verses of the Psalm being employed.

Holy Virgin Protection Russian Orthodox Church
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