The first place among the books used in the divine services
is occupied by the Gospel, the Epistle and the Psalter. These books are taken
from the Sacred Scriptures, the Bible, and therefore are termed the
"divine service" books.
After these come the following books: the Clergy
Service Books, the Horologion (Book of Hours), the Book of Needs, the
Octoechos, the Monthly Menaion, the General Menaion, the Festal Menaion, the
Lenten Triodion, the Pentecostarion, the Typicon (or Book of Rubrics), the
Irmologion, and the Canonik. These books were composed in accordance with the
Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition by the fathers and teachers of the Orthodox
Church and are called the church service books.
The Gospel is the Word of God. It consists of the
first four books of the New Testament written by the Evangelists Matthew, Mark,
Luke and John. The Gospels contain an account of the earthly life of our Lord
Jesus Christ: His teaching, miracles, passion and death on the Cross, His
glorious Resurrection and His Ascension into Heaven. For the services, the
Gospel is specially divided into the usual chapters and verses, but also into
special sections. At the end of the volume one finds a series of tables which
indicate when the various sections are to be read during the church year.
The Epistle is the term which refers to the book
which contains the following books of the New Testament: the Acts of the
Apostles, the catholic (general) epistles and the epistles of the Apostle Paul,
thus excluding only the book of Revelation. The Epistle, like the Gospel, is
divided, in addition to chapters and verses, into sections with tables at the
back of the book indicating when and how to read them.
The Psalter is the book of the Prophet and King
David. It is so termed because the majority of the psalms in it were written by
the holy Prophet David. In these psalms the holy Prophet opens his soul to God
with all the grief of repentance for sins committed, and joy and glorification
of the infinite perfection of God. He expresses his gratitude for all the
mercies of His care and seeks help amid all the obstacles that confront him.
For this reason the Psalter is used more than any other service book during the
course of the services.
The Psalter is divided, for use during services,
into twenty sections called "kathismas" (derived from the Greek word
"to sit," as it is customary to sit while they are being read). Each
of these is divided into three portions called "Glories," since
"Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit..." is
read between each part.
In addition to the simple Psalter there is also a
"service" Psalter which contains three additions: a) the Horologion,
b) the troparia and kontakia taken from all the other service books, and c) the
entire prayer rule which should be said by those intending to partake of the
Mystery of Holy Communion.
The Clergy Service Book is for the use of priests
and deacons. It contains the order of Vespers, Matins and the Liturgy, with
emphasis on the parts said by those serving. At the end of the book are found
the dismissals, prokeimena, megalynaria, and a menologion, or list of saints
commemorated daily by the Church.
The Pontifical Service Book is distinguished by
the fact that it also contains the order of consecrating an Antimins and the
services for tonsuring readers, and ordaining subdeacons, deacons and priests.
The Horologion is the book which serves as the
basic guide for readers and chanters on cliros. The Horologion contains the
unchanging parts of all the daily services, except the Liturgy.
The Book of Needs is the book which includes the
order of services for the various Mysteries with the exception of the Mysteries
of Holy Communion and Ordination. Other services included are the Order of
Burial of the Reposed, the Order of Blessing of Water, the Prayers for the
Birth of a Child, the Naming of a Child and his "Churching," as well
as blessings for other occasions.
The Octoechos, or Book of the Eight Tones,
contains all the hymns in the form of verses, troparia, kontakia, canons, etc.,
which are divided into eight groups of melodies, or "tones." Each
tone in turn contains the hymnody for an entire week, so that the complete
Octoechos is repeated every eight weeks throughout most of the year. The
arrangement of ecclesiastical chanting into tones was entirely the work of the
famous hymnographer of the Byzantine
Church, St. John of Damascus (eighth century). The text of the
Octoechos is ascribed to him, although one should note that many parts of it
are the work of St. Metrophanes, bishop of Smyrna, St. Joseph the Hymnographer,
and others over the centuries.
The Monthly Menaion contains the prayers and hymns
in honor of the saints of each day of the year and the solemn festival services
for the feasts of the Lord and the Theotokos which fall on fixed calendar
dates. Following the number of twelve months, it is divided into twelve
The General Menaion contains the hymnography
common to an entire category of saints, for example, in honor of prophets, or
apostles, or martyrs, or monastics. It is used in cases when a special service
to a particular saint is not available.
The Festal Menaion contains all the services for
the immovable great feasts, as extracted from the Monthly Menaion.
The Lenten Triodion contains all the special parts
of the services for the course of the Great Fast prior to Pascha and the Sunday
services in the weeks preceding it, beginning with the Sunday of the Publican
and the Pharisee. This service book derives its name from the Greek word
"triod," which means tri-hymned, and refers to the fact that for each
day of the Fast the canons chanted do not comprise the usual nine odes, based
on nine great hymns from the Old and New Testament, but only three.
The Pentecostarion includes the hymnography used
from the feast of Holy Pascha through the Sunday of All Saints, the first
Sunday after Pentecost.
The Typikon or Book of Rubrics contains a detailed
account of which days and times different services ought to be conducted and in
which specific order they should be read or chanted, as contained in the
Service Book of the Clergy, the Horologion, the Octoechos and the other divine
The Irmologion contains the initial hymns or
"irrnosi" from each of the nine odes of the various canons as chanted
at Matins since these are not always printed in full in the various service
The Ectenias (Litanies).
During the course of the divine services we often
hear a series of prayerful supplications which are intoned slowly by either a
deacon or the priest in the name of all those praying. After each petition the
choir sings, "Lord, have mercy" or "Grant this, O Lord."
These are called ectenias (litanies), which are Greek words meaning "entreaty"
or "ardent supplication."
These are five of the most frequently used
1) The Great Litany or Litany of Peace which
begins with the words "In peace, let us pray to the Lord." It
contains many different petitions for prosperity and salvation of various
groups, and after each one the choir chants "Lord, have mercy."
2) The Small Litany is a shortened form of the
Great Litany. It begins with the words "Again and again in peace let us
pray to the Lord." It contains three petitions.
3) The Augmented Litany begins with the words
"Have mercy upon us, O God, according to Thy great mercy, we pray Thee,
hearken and have mercy." After each petition the choir responds with
"Lord, have mercy" thrice. Therefore the litany is termed "augmented,"
since it is an intensified supplication.
4) The Litany of Fervent Supplication begins with
the words "Let us complete our morning (or evening) prayer unto the
Lord." After each of the petitions of this litany, except for the first
two, the choir responds with "Grant this, O Lord."
5) The Litany for the Reposed is composed of
entreaties to the Lord that He might grant rest in the Heavenly
Kingdom, to the souls of the departed by forgiving them all their
Each of these litanies concludes with an
exclamation by the priest that glorifies the Most-holy Trinity.
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