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The service books of the Church


The first place among the books used in the divine services is occupied by the books of the Gospel, the Epistle and the Psalter, which are from the Bible. The next place belongs to the following books: the Priestís Service Book (Hieratikon or Sluzhebnik), the Horologion (Book of Hours), the Book of Needs (Trebnik), the Octoechos, the Monthly Menaion, the Lenten Triodion and the Pentecostarion. These liturgical books were composed by the fathers and teachers of the Orthodox Church.

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, His miracles, His Passion and Death on the Cross, His glorious Resurrection and His Ascension into heaven. At the end of an altar Gospel book, several tables indicate the portions read on various days throughout the church year.

The book of the Epistles, or Apostle, contains the following books of the New Testament: the Acts of the Apostles, the Catholic or General epistles and the epistles of the Apostle Paul. The Epistle book excludes only the book of Revelation. Like the Gospel, the Epistle is divided into 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 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. For liturgical use the Psalter is divided into twenty sections called kathismata (derived from the Greek word "to sit," as it is customary to sit while they are being read.)

The Priestís Service Book is used by 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 Horologion is the book which serves as the basic guide for readers and chanters in the choir. It contains the unchanging parts of all the daily services. The Book of Needs includes the order of service for the various Sacraments. Other services found in the Book of Needs are the Burial Service, the Blessing of Water, the Prayers at 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 poetic hymns, in the form of 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 in tones was the work of the famous hymnographer of the Byzantine Church, St. John of Damascus (eighth century).

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 Lenten Triodion contains the special parts of the services for the season of Lent and leading up to Pascha, beginning with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. The Lenten Triodion derives its name from the Greek word meaning "three odes," since the Canon of Matins is based on only three of the scriptural odes or canticles, instead of the usual nine.

The Pentecostarion contains the hymnography used from the feast of Holy Pascha through the first Sunday after Pentecost, the Sunday of All Saints.

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