The liturgical life of the Orthodox Church has a language of its own, with many special terms that have their origins in Greek, Latin and Slavonic. Some of the more commonly used liturgical terms are set out below. Some of these definitions are based in part on material in the glossaries of The Festal Menaion (South Canaan, Pennsylvania: St Tikhon's Seminary Press, 1990) and The Unabbreviated Horologion or Book of the Hours (Jordanville, New York: 1995), the use of which is acknowledged with thanks.
The evening service which begins the observance of any great feast, comprised of Vespers, Matins and the First Hour combined. On the Eves of the Nativity of Christ and Theophany All-night Vigil is comprised of Great Compline, Matins and First Hour. In earlier times this service lasted all night, or most of it, hence the name. In parish practice in the Russian Orthodox Church it lasts for around two hours and is usually also served every Saturday evening. At All-Night Vigil for Great Feasts and certain holy days, Vespers or Great Compline is followed by a litia with the blessing of wheat, wine, oil and five loaves.
In the Orthodox Church there are two rites for the blessing of water. The Lesser Blessing of Water is served at various times throughout the year, sometimes on special occasions such as the patronal feast of a parish, and sometimes because the Typikon calls for it, such as on the feast of Mid-Pentecost and the feast of the Procession of the Precious Wood of the Life-Giving Cross of the Lord. The Great Blessing of Water is served on the Great Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, both on the eve and on the day of the feast itself. Underlying these services is the understanding that water, like all created matter, may be an instrument of the grace of God. The water so blessed is consumed by the faithful and is also used for blessing homes, various foods, church items, and such things as fields, vehicles and boats.
A liturgical poem consisting of nine portions called odes. Each ode consists of an irmos and a number of stanzas called troparia. Canons were initially composed in imitation of the nine Scriptural Odes and were inserted between the verses of those odes, as is still done on weekdays during Great Lent. Canons make up a great portion of the Matins service, being the chief variable of any liturgical day. In practice only eight odes are read, the second being omitted other than on certain days in Great Lent.
The after-supper service. There are two forms, Small and Great Compline. In the parish practice of the Russian Orthodox Church Small Compline is rarely served – in our parish it is only served following Vespers with the bringing out of the Shroud of Christ on Great and Holy Friday. Great Compline is served on the eves of the Nativity of Christ and Theophany. During Great Lent, Great Compline is appointed to be read on weekday evenings. In our parish Great Compline is served on most Wednesday evenings during Great Lent.
This is the name given to the service of Holy Communion in the Orthodox Church. The forms in common use are the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, used on Saturdays, most Sundays, and on weekdays outside Great Lent; the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, used on the first five Sundays of Great Lent, Great and Holy Thursday, Great and Holy Saturday, and on the Eves of the Nativity of Christ and Theophany; and the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, used on Wednesdays, Fridays and certain other days during Great Lent, and on the first three days of Holy Week.
Great Lent is the name given in the Orthodox Church to the seven-week period of fasting and repentance that precedes Pascha. It is made up of three consecutive periods: the Holy Forty Days that begins on Monday of the first week (“Clean Monday”) and ends on Friday of the sixth week; two festive days commemorating the raising of Lazarus from the dead (“Lazarus Saturday”) and the triumphant Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem (“Palm Sunday”); and Holy Week, the week immediately preceding Pascha. According to the traditional rules of fasting observed in the Orthodox Church, no meat, eggs, or dairy products are eaten during Great Lent. The services appointed for this period, the texts for which are to be found in the Lenten Triodion, have unique features: less splendor, greater length, solemn melodies, prostrations, and the use of the penitential Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian.
The short services originally appointed to be read at 6.00am (the First Hour), 9.00am (the Third Hour), 12 noon (the Sixth Hour), and 3.00pm (the Ninth Hour), and taking their names from the ancient system of timekeeping. In the parish practice of the Russian Orthodox Church the First Hour is read immediately following Matins and the Third and Sixth Hours are read immediately before Divine Liturgy. The Ninth Hour is usually only read on those days when Typika is served. All four services consist of prayers, psalms, troparia and kontakia. There are no litanies.
A special hymn verse always to be found after the sixth ode of a canon. The word kontakion comes to us from a Greek word meaning ‘pole’ or ‘shaft’, referring to the stick of wood around which a scroll was rolled. Originally a long poem, hence the name, the kontakion is now a single stanza. Second in importance only to the troparion of a feast-day or saint, the kontakion usually gives a more concise summary of the event or person celebrated.
This word, which comes from the Greek and means ‘entreaty’, is used for two distinct types of liturgical prayer. The first is a procession and solemn intercession, served at the end of Vespers or Great Compline on Great Feasts and certain holy days, following which wheat, wine, oil and five loaves are blessed. The second is an abbreviated form of the pannikhida, customarily served following Divine Liturgy.
The morning service, and the service that contains the largest number of variables of any of the daily offices. The word matins comes to us from a Latin word pertaining to the morning. In the parish practice of the Russian Orthodox Church Matins is almost always served on the evening preceding the feast or saint commemorated, either alone or together with Vespers and the First Hour as All-night Vigil. The service consists of psalms and canons interspersed with litanies, verses and hymns. Parts of Matins have their roots in the worship of the Old Testament.
Pascha is the name most used in the Orthodox Church for Easter, the annual commemoration of the Resurrection of Christ. The term Pascha comes from the Aramaic word for Passover, Christ being “our Passover Lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7), the fulfilment of all that was prefigured in the Old Testament Passover. The most important celebration in the Orthodox Christian year, it is observed on the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs after the March equinox according to the Julian calendar. The services appointed for the Paschal period have unique features: greater splendour, shorter duration, joyful melodies, and the complete absence of prostrations. The texts for these services are found in the Pentecostarion.
The service book containing the Paschal services and variables for every day through until the Sunday of Pentecost and the two Sundays following it, the Sunday of All Saints and the Sunday of All Saints of Russia. In Slavonic it is called the Цветная Триодь, the ‘Flowery Triodion’, as a number of the canons within it have only three odes.
Nine songs found in the Holy Scriptures that form the basis of each ode of a canon. They are: (I) the Song of Moses in thanksgiving after the passing of Israel through the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-19); (II) the Song of Moses before his death (Deuteronomy 32:1-43); (III) the Prayer of Hannah after she gave birth to the Prophet Samuel (1 Kings (Samuel) 2:1-10); (IV) the Prayer of the Prophet Habbakuk, in which he sees the coming forth of Christ (Habbakuk 3:2-19); (V) the Prayer of the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 26:9-19); (VI) the Prayer of Jonah the Prophet, out of the belly of the whale (Jonah 2:3-10); (VII) the Prayer of the Three Holy Children (Daniel 3:26-56); (VIII) the Song of the Three Holy Children (Daniel 3:57-88); and (IX) the Song of the Theotokos (Luke 1:46-59) and the Prayer of Zacharias on the birth of his son John the Baptist (Luke 1:68-79).
A book containing all of the rules for the performance of the divine services, giving directions for every possible combination of circumstances. No comprehensive English-language translation exists.
The evening service, and the beginning service of the daily cycle. The word vespers comes to us from Latin and Greek words pertaining to the setting of the sun. In the parish practice of the Russian Orthodox Church Vespers is usually served on the evening preceding the feast or saint commemorated, together with Matins and the First Hour as All-Night Vigil. The service consists of psalms and litanies interspersed with verses and hymns. As is the case with Matins, parts of Vespers have their roots in the worship of the Old Testament.