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Services (Orthodox church)

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Part of the series Orthodox Church
Vladimirskaya
'
1 Meaning of Orthodox
2 Typica
3 Organization and leadership
4 Number of adherents
5 beliefs
6 Traditions
7 Services
8 Mysteries
9 History
10 Relations with other christians
11 The church today



The services of the church are properly conducted each day following a rigid, but constantly changing annual schedule (i.e., parts of the service remain the same while others change depending on the day of the year). Services are conducted in the church and involve both the clergy and faithful. Services cannot properly be conducted by a single person, but must have at least one other person present (i.e. a Priest cannot celebrate alone, but must have at least a Chanter present and participating). Usually, all of the services are conducted on a daily basis only in monasteries and cathedrals, while parish churches might only do the services on the weekend and major feast days. On certain Great Feasts (and, according to some traditions, every Sunday) a special All-Night Vigil (Agrypnia) will be celebrated from late at night on the eve of the feast until early the next morning. Because of its festal nature it is usually followed by a breakfast feast shared together by the congregation.

The journey is to the Kingdom. This is where we are going-not symbolically, but really.

—Fr. Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World

We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth.

—Ambassadors of Kievan Rus (10th Century), Apocryphal quote from conversion of Kievan Rus.


Services, especially the Divine Liturgy, can only be performed once a day on a single altar (some churches have multiple altars in order to accommodate large congregations). Each priest may only celebrate the Divine Liturgy once a day. From its Jewish roots, the liturgical day begins at sundown. The traditional daily cycle of services is as follows:

  • Vespers – (Greek Hesperinos) Sundown, the beginning of the liturgical day.
  • Compline (Greek Apodeipnon, lit. "After-supper") – After the evening meal prior to bedtime.
  • Midnight Office – Usually served only in monasteries.
  • Matins (Greek Orthros) – First service of the morning. Usually starts before sunrise.
  • Divine Liturgy – The Eucharist service (see below)
  • Hours – First, Third, Sixth, and Ninth – Sung either at their appropriate times, or in aggregate at other customary times of convenience. If the latter, The First Hour is sung immediately following Orthros, the Third and Sixth prior to the Divine Liturgy, and the Ninth prior to Vespers.

The Divine Liturgy is the celebration of the Eucharist. Although it is usually celebrated between the Sixth and Ninth Hours, it is not considered to be part of the daily cycle of services, as it occurs outside the normal time of the world. The Divine Liturgy is not celebrated on weekdays during the preparatory season of Great Lent and in some places during the lesser fasting seasons either. Reserve communion is prepared on Sundays and is distributed during the week at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.

This daily cycle services are conceived of as both the sanctification of time (chronos, the specific times during which they are celebrated), and entry into eternity (kairos). They consist to a large degree of litanies asking for God's mercy on the living and the dead, readings from the Psalter with introductory prayers, troparia, and other prayers and hymns surrounding them. The Psalms are so arranged that when all the services are celebrated the entire Psalter is read through in their course once a week, and twice a week during Great Lent when the services are celebrated in an extended form.

Chanting

Eastern Orthodox services are sung nearly in their entirety. Services consist in part of a dialogue between the clergy and the people (often represented by the choir or the Psaltis Cantor). In each case the prayers are sung or chanted following a prescribed musical form. Almost nothing is read in a normal speaking voice, with the exception of the homily if one is given. Because the human voice is seen as the most perfect instrument of praise, musical instruments (organs, guitars, etc.) are not generally used to accompany the choir. The church has developed eight Modes or Tones, (see Octoechos) within which a chant may be set, depending on the time of year, feast days, or other considerations of the Typikon. There are numerous versions and styles that are traditional and acceptable and these vary a great deal between cultures.[1] It is common, especially in the United States, for a choir to learn many different styles and to mix them, singing one response in Greek, then English, then Russian, etc. It should also be noted that in the Russian tradition there have been some very famous composers of Church music such as Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff; and many Church tones can likewise be seen influencing their music.

Incense

As part of the legacy handed down from its Judaic roots, incense is used during all services in the Eastern Orthodox Church as an offering of worship to God as it was done in the Jewish First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (Exodus chapter 30). Traditionally, the base of the incense used is the resin of Boswellia thurifera, also known as frankincense, but the resin of fir trees has been used as well. It is usually mixed with various floral essential oils giving it a sweet smell. Incense represents the sweetness of the prayers of the saints rising up to God (Psalm 141:2, Revelation 5:8, 8:4). The incense is burned in an ornate golden censer that hangs at the end of four chains representing the Trinity. Two chains represent the human and Godly nature of the Son, one chain for the Father and one chain for the Holy Spirit. The lower cup represents the earth and the upper cup the heaven. In the Greek and Syrian traditions there are 12 bells hung along these chains representing the 12 apostles (usually no bells in Slavic tradition). There are also 72 links representing 72 evangelists. The charcoal represents the sinners. Fire signifies the Holy Spirit and frankincense the good deeds. The incense also represents the grace of the Holy Trinity. The censer is used (swung back and forth) by the priest/deacon to venerate all four sides of the altar, the holy gifts, the clergy, the icons, the congregation, and the church structure itself.



  1. Ware, p. 238

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