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Divine Service Books


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:

o        the Horologion

o        the troparia and kontakia taken from all the other service books

o        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, 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 occasions.

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 volumes.

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.

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