About the Services

Liturgical Tradition

“In antiquity the day was considered to begin at sunset and this was divided according to the following order. Night began at 6:00pm (according to our reckoning) and was divided into four parts (called watches – the time of changing guards) Evening (6:00 pm to 9:00 pm); Midnight (9:00 pm to 12:00 midnight); Cock-crow (12:00 midnight to 3:00 am); and Morning (3:00 am to 6:00 am). Day began at 6:00 am (or reckoning) and it, too, was divided into four watches (or hours). First Hour (6:00 am to 9:00 am); Third Hour (9:00 am to 12:00 noon); Sixth Hour (12:00 noon to 3:00 pm); and Ninth Hour (3:00 pm to 6:00 pm).

Following this ancient pattern, Orthodox Christians begin each portion of the day with common prayer, which has resulted in the following eight services, customarily divided into three groups: Ninth Hour, Vespers and Compline; Nocturns (Midnight Service), Matins and First Hour; Third and Sixth Hours….”

“The Divine Liturgy is often included in this daily cycle, normally being served after the Sixth Hour (although, during Fast Periods it is celebrated after Vespers). Often treated as part of the daily cycle, the Divine Liturgy is not prescribed to be celebrated every day (as it is in many cathedrals and monasteries) and in a theological and mystical sense actually stands outside the chronological time since it also serves as a point of contact with the eternal, where its participants (by virtue of their partaking of the Holy Eucharist) are transported to a point outside of time ‘where there is no past, present or future, but only the eternal Now.’ [The Festal Menaion, trans. Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, p. 40]”

entire quote taken from These Truths We Hold, (South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1986, pp. 94 – 95)

Parish Life

In parish life, the above order of services is greatly abbreviated. A typical weekly cycle includes just Great Vespers on Saturday evening, and the First and Third Hours followed by the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. The twelve Great Feasts are always celebrated in parish usage, often with a Vesperal Liturgy on the Eve, or with a Vigil (consisting of Vespers and Matins combined) on the Eve and Divine Liturgy on the morning of the Feast itself. Great and Holy Lent is marked most importantly by the service of the Presanctified Liturgy, served on Wednesday evenings.

Great and Holy Week

Great and Holy Week is distinguished by the services of Bridegroom Matins on the nights of Palm Sunday, Holy Monday and Holy Tuesday, the service of Holy Unction on the night of Holy Wednesday, Divine Liturgy on Holy Thursday morning, Matins of the Twelve Gospels on the night of Holy Thursday. Holy Friday has three services: Royal Hours in the morning, Great Vespers with veneration of the plashchanitsa around 2:00pm, and Matins (with the Lamentations) served later that evening. Holy Saturday morning has a Vesperal Liturgy of St. Basil with 16 Old Testament readings. Pascha begins with Nocturns at 11:30pm on Holy Saturday night, and Paschal Matins begin at Midnight, followed by the Divine Liturgy and the Pascal Agape. Paschal Vespers are served later that morning at 9:30 and Divine Liturgy is celebrated again on Bright Monday, with its own procession and Agape following.

The Holy Mysteries

The whole of Orthodox liturgical life – and even life itself – is considered sacramental, in that it can bring one closer to God. Orthodox Christians celebrate at least seven sacraments, although even to say so seems to limit the activity of the Holy Spirit in a way that is not fully consonant with Orthodox Tradition. The term “sacrament” is often used to translate what Orthodox prefer to call the Holy Mysteries, which emphasizes the apophatic (unknowable) aspect as well as the experiential aspect of the faith.  (Read more about the sacraments.)

The Liturgical Services

Vespers – a service that incorporates an ancient Roman custom in which the evening lamplighter was greeted with the singing of a poetic “ode” to celebrate his arrival and the good light that he brought. Christianized by the early church, this hymn was directed to celebrate Christ as the true light who overcomes the darkness of sin and death. When Vespers is celebrated back-to-back with Matins on the eve of a Sunday or Feast-day, it is referred to as the All-Night Vigil (or just “Vigil”).

Matins – a morning service that celebrates the Resurrection of Our Lord and forms the basis for many other liturgical services during the course of the year. When Matins is served on Saturday evenings, it features the reading of a Gospel from an eleven reading cycle of Resurrection gospels; these readings are done from the Altar – as opposed to from the Ambo – which represents the tomb from which Christ rose from the dead. The Gospel is then carried into the Nave and the faithful come forward to venerate it. Matins served on a Great Feast will include, among many other things, a hymn called the Magnification, which is sung majestically while the priest performs a great censing of the Church.

Compline – a short service to “complete” the day, shortly before retiring for sleep. A form of this service is traditionally served as part of the Vigil on the eves of Nativity and Theophany.

The Divine Liturgy – the completion of the liturgical services, a service both within and outside of the order of time, in which the Church is revealed as the Body of Christ and her faithful members gather to share the Eucharist, the living and true memorial of Christ’s passion, death, resurrection, ascension and his sitting at the right hand of the Father.

Panikhida – a memorial service for the departed, served at the time of death and then on the 1st, 9th and 40th day after one’s repose. Based on Matins, the term “panikhida” means “All-night Vigil” and refers to the practice of the early church to remain in prayer for an extended period of time. The panikhida touches on both the sadness and sense of loss that we experience upon the death of a loved one, and the state of true blessedness that the Christian is called to as a result of Christ’s death and Resurrection. A much shorter version of this service is referred to as a Litya and is celebrated at the grave at the time of burial.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Susanne June 14, 2014 at 1:19 PM

I will be attending a Panikhida on Sunday June 15 and traveling from New Jersey. Can you advise me what time this will be and the length of service. Thank you


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