The Gospel, the Epistle and the Psalter occupy the first
place among the books used in the divine services. These books are taken from
the Sacred Scriptures, the Bible. They are therefore termed the "divine
service" books. The next place is occupied by 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 use in the services,
the Gospel is divided into the usual chapters and verses, but also into special
sections. At the end of the volume, a series of tables indicate when the
various sections are to be read during the church year.
The Epistle 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. The Epistle excludes
only the book of Revelation. Like the Gospel, the Epistle is divided into
chapters and verses, as well as special sections with tables at the back of the
book, indicating when and how they are to be read.
The Psalter is the book of David, the King and
Prophet. 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 grief in repenting for the sins he has committed, and with joy in
glorifying the endless perfection of God. He expresses his gratitude for all
the mercies of His care; he seeks help amidst 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:
the troparia and
kontakia taken from all the other service books
the entire prayer rule
which should be said by those intending to partake of the Mystery of Holy
The Clergy Service Book is for the use of priests and
deacons. It contains the order of Vespers, Matins and the Liturgy, emphasizing
the parts said by those serving. At the end of the book are found the
dismissals, prokeimena, megalynaria, and a menologion, a list of saints
commemorated daily by the Church.
The Pontifical Service Book is distinguished from
the Clergy Service Book by the fact that it contains the order of consecrating
an Antimins, the services for tonsuring readers, and those for ordaining
subdeacons, deacons and priests.
The Horologion is the book which serves as the
basic guide for readers and chanters in the cliros. The Horologion contains the
unchanging parts of all the daily services, except for the Liturgy. The Book of
Needs is the book which includes the order of services for the various
Mysteries, except for the Mysteries of Holy Communion and Ordination. Other
services included in the Book of Needs 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
The Octoechos, or Book of the Eight Tones,
contains all the hymns in the form of verses, troparia, kontakia, canons, and
so forth. They are divided into eight groups of melodies, or "tones."
Each tone 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 for each day of the year, as well as the solemn festival
services for the feasts of the Lord and the Theotokos which fall on fixed
calendar dates. Following the number of 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 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. It also
contains the Sunday services before Pascha, beginning with the Sunday of the
Publican and the Pharisee. The Lenten Triodion derives its name from the Greek
word "triod," which means tri-hymned. This is because in the usual
services, there are nine odes, based on nine great hymns from the Old and New
Testament. However, for each day of the Fast the canons chanted do not comprise
the usual nine, but only three.
The Pentecostarion contains the hymnography used
from the feast of Holy Pascha through the first Sunday after Pentecost, the
Sunday of All Saints.
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 service books.
The Irmologion contains the "irmosi," or
initial hymns, which are chanted at Matins. They are from the nine odes of the
various canons. The irmologion is used because the irmosi are not always
printed in full in the various service books.
Return to the first page