The order of divine services are divided into three cycles:
daily, weekly, and yearly.
The Daily Cycle of Divine Services
The daily cycle of divine services consists of
those services celebrated by the holy Orthodox Church during the course of one
day. There are nine daily services: (1) Vespers, (2) Compline, (3) Midnight
Office, (4) Matins, (5) First Hour, (6) Third Hour, (7) Sixth Hour, (8) Ninth
Hour, and (9) the Divine Liturgy.
Following the example of Moses, who, describing
the creation of the world by God, began the "day" with evening, the
Orthodox Church begins the day with the evening service, Vespers.
Vespers is the service celebrated towards the end
of daylight, in which we express our gratitude to God for the day which has
Compline is composed of the reading of a series of
prayers, in which we ask the Lord God for the forgiveness of sins. We also ask
that He grant us repose of body and soul as we retire, and to preserve us from
the wiles of the Devil as we sleep.
The Midnight Office is to be read at midnight in
remembrance of the prayer of the Saviour during His night in the Garden of
Gethsemane. This service summons the faithful to be ready at all times for the
day of the Dread Judgement, which will come unexpectedly like "the
bridegroom in the night" in the parable of the ten virgins.
Matins is celebrated in the morning prior to the
rising of the sun. In this service we give thanks to God for the night which
has passed, and we ask Him His mercy for the approaching day.
In Old and New Testament times, an
"hour" meant a "watch" that lasted for three of our modern
hours. Each service of the daily cycle corresponds to one of these three-hour
The First Hour covers the time from 6 A.M. to 9
A.M. The First Hour sanctifies the already breaking day with prayer.
The Third Hour covers the time from 9 A.M. to 12 P.M.
It reminds us of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles.
The Sixth Hour covers the time from 12 P.M. to 3
P.M. It reminds us of the Passion and Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Ninth Hour covers the time from 3 P.M. to 6
P.M. It reminds us of the death on the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Divine Liturgy is the main divine service.
During the course of its celebration, the entire earthly life of the Saviour is
called to mind, and the Mystery of Holy Communion is celebrated as instituted
by the Saviour Himself in the Mystical Supper. It must be celebrated in the
morning before the midday meal.
In ancient times, monastics and hermits conducted
all of these services at the time appointed for each. Later, to accommodate the
faithful, they were combined into three groups: evening, morning and daytime.
The evening services consist of the Ninth Hour,
Vespers and Compline.
The morning services consist of Midnight Office,
Matins and the First Hour.
The daytime services are the Third and Sixth
Hours, and the Divine Liturgy.
On the eve of major feasts, and on Sundays, a
service is conducted in the evening combining Vespers, Matins and the First
Hour. This service is termed an All Night Vigil because early Christians (and
some monasteries today) continued the service through the course of the entire
A Schematic Outline
of the Daily Cycle of Services
1. Ninth Hour - three o'clock in the afternoon
2. Vespers - six o'clock in the afternoon
3. Compline - nine o'clock in the evening
1. Midnight Office - twelve midnight
2. Matins - three o'clock in the morning
3. First Hour - six o'clock in the morning
1. Third Hour - nine o'clock in the morning
2. Sixth Hour - twelve noon
3. Divine Liturgy
The Weekly Cycle of
The Weekly, or Seven-day, Cycle of Divine Services
is the term for the order of services extending throughout the seven weekdays.
Each day of the week is dedicated to an important event, or else an exceptionally
the Church remembers and glorifies the Resurrection of Christ.
the first day after the Resurrection, the bodiless hosts are celebrated. They
are the angels created before the human race, who are the servants closest to
St. John the Baptist is glorified, as the greatest of the prophets and the
righteous of the Old Testament.
the betrayal of the Lord by Judas is remembered; the services are thus centered
around the Cross of the Lord. This day is a fast day.
the Holy Apostles and St. Nicholas the Wonderworker are glorified.
the Passion and death of the Saviour on the Cross is remembered, and the
services honor the Cross of the Lord. This day is kept as a fast day also.
the Sabbath or Day of Rest, the Mother of God is glorified (she is also
glorified every other day), along with the forefathers, prophets, apostles,
martyrs, monastics, righteous and all the saints who have attained peace in the
Lord. All those who have reposed in the true faith and in the hope of
resurrection and life eternal are also remembered.
The Annual Cycle of
The Annual Cycle of Divine Services is the term
for the order of services conducted during the course of the entire calendar
Each day of the year is dedicated to the memory of
one or more saints, as well as special sacred events, either in the form of
feast days or fasts.
Of all the feasts, the greatest is that of the
Bright Resurrection of Christ, Pascha. It is thus called the feast of feasts.
Pascha occurs no earlier than the twenty-second of March (the fourth of April,
new style), and no later than the twenty-fifth of April (the eighth of May).
Pascha is on the first Sunday after the equinoxal new moon and always after the
Jewish celebration of Passover.
In addition, twelve great feasts are held in honor
of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Theotokos throughout the year. There are also
feasts in honor of the great saints and of the bodiless hosts of heaven, the
angels. Thus, the festivals of the year are distinguished, by their content,
into those of the Lord, the Theotokos, and the saints.
The celebration of the feasts is further divided
into the immovable and the movable. The immovable occur every year on the same
calendar date of the month; the movable occur every year on the same day of the
week, but fall on various dates of the month due to their relationship to
The celebration of the church services of the
feasts are distinguished according to various degrees of solemnity. The great
feasts are always celebrated with an All Night Vigil; lesser feasts will have a
Vigil according to custom. The solemnity and joy of all other days in the
church year is indicated by guidelines in the rubrics.
The church year begins on the first of September,
according to the Julian (Old Style) calendar. The entire yearly cycle of divine
services is constructed around its relationship to Pascha.
A more detailed account of the feasts and fasts is
to be found in the section on "Faith and the Christian Life," [not
included here] under the explanation of the fourth commandment of the Law of
God, and in the sacred history of the New Testament.
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