This slight sketch of some of the Services of the Orthodox Church, based upon the Evchologion and frequent personal observation, makes no claim to be complete in all details, but is designed rather for the bringing into relief of essential points, more especially those with which we are familiar in our own Prayer Book.
The Orthodox Church has always maintained that seven Sacraments, or Mysteries, as they are called, were established by Christ and His Apostles. [Although this enumeration is not found in the literature of the Orthodox Church before the latter part of the thirteenth century, the observance of seven Mysteries dates from much earlier times, as is evident from the fact that, as we find them in both the independent Churches, the Nestorian and the Monophysite, the teaching must have been taken over from the Mother Church when they separated in the fifth century.] Four of these are regarded as of universal obligation, Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion, and Penance or Confession, while the remaining three, Ordination, Marriage, and Unction, are voluntary. Marriage before the diaconate is, however, obligatory upon every parish priest.
The most important Service of the Orthodox Church, as of our own, is that of Holy Communion, called the Divine Liturgy. It is at this Service that one sees best the spirit of devotion and earnest reverence which is characteristic of the worshipper of the Eastern Church. In consequence, perhaps, of the fact that the Eastern churches are without seats, the faithful feel themselves at liberty to move, during the Service, from place to place, to light a candle before an icon, to draw near to the iconostasis for personal devotion, or for some other like reason, which in no way detracts from their essential reverence.
We shall briefly describe the daily Offices performed in the Orthodox Church. It will be remembered that in our own Church the various daily Offices were said separately, at the hours appointed for them, till by degrees, as life became more complex, it seemed impossible, except in Religious Houses, to carry out such an arrangement, and by the sixteenth century the Hours had been so combined as to form the Offices of Matins, Lauds, and Evensong, which later developed into our Daily Morning and Evening Prayer.
The same sort of thing happened in the Orthodox Church, where the Hours in their entirety are now said only in monastic institutions, and the Offices have been so combined as to form three Services for use in the parish churches (cf. Archpriest Sokolof, A Manual of the Orthodox Church's Divine Services, p. 36, sq.). The Evening Service is composed of the Ninth Hour, None, with hesperinos, Vespers, and apodeipnon (literally "after supper") Compline, but chiefly from hesperinos. The Morning Service answers to the Offices of mesonyktikon, Nocturn, orthros (dawn) Lauds, and hora prote (First Hour) chiefly from orthros. The Midday Service is composed of the Third and Sixth Hours--Terce and Sext--and the Divine Liturgy. As in our own Church, certain greater festivals, among which the Orthodox count Sunday, are preceded by a Vigil. The Offices from Vespers to the First Hour, that is, both the Evening and Morning Services, are said, in an abbreviated form, on the preceding evening. In Monasteries they are still said in their entirety, and as this lasts all night the Service is known as the All-Night Vigil, a name which is also retained for the abbreviated form in general use. On such occasions bread and wine, blessed at a Service called the artoklasia, are distributed to the faithful as refreshment after the lengthy devotions. During their consumption portions of the Acts of the Apostles are read aloud. The Ail-Night Vigil is maintained in many churches at Christmas and Easter-tide. In former days thousands of Russian pilgrims observed it strictly at various feasts in the sanctuaries of Palestine.
As the day, according to oriental reckoning, begins at sunset, the first Service is Vespers. We find a trace of this in our own Prayer Book in the second rubric before the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels.
The Royal Door being open, the priest, standing before it, censer in hand, recites a blessing and the invitation to worship, and then, preceded by the deacon with a lighted candle, he censes the entire church, after which the Royal Door is closed. He now stands in front of it bareheaded, and recites, inaudibly, the Seven Prayers of Light, so called because God is glorified in them as dwelling in the Light. Prayers are offered for the illumination of the souls of the faithful, and thanks are given for the light of day. Meanwhile Psalm 104 is sung, and the deacon, standing in "his accustomed place" or the priest, if no deacon be present, recites the Great Litany with responses by the choir. [The deacon's "accustomed place," a phrase which occurs in the rubrics very frequently, denotes a point on the solion in front of the iconostasis opposite the Royal Door, facing the icon of our Lord.] The people may always join in the responses, though their doing so is not so general as with us.
This Litany, which is used at other Offices as well as at the Liturgy, opens with suffrages for peace, including that of "the whole world . . . the good estate of the holy Churches of God, and the union of them all ..." Others follow, corresponding to our own petitions for Church and State, for the fruits of the earth, for peace in our time, for those who travel by land or by water, for the sick, etc. Then comes one of the twenty divisions of the Psalter called kathisma, a word which means "sitting." This formerly indicated that the standing posture was here exchanged for that of sitting, but came later to designate the section itself. A Lesser Litany follows, and then Psalms 141, 142, 130, and 137 in whole or part.
The Royal Door is opened. The dogmatikon, a hymn having reference to a given dogma, is sung, and the priest and deacon take their position by the altar. The deacon calls upon the priest to bless the Entrance, and then censes the icons. Meanwhile the vesper hymn, phos hilaron, is sung, familiar to us in Keble's translation, "Hail Gladdening Light." [This is one of several beautiful, well-known hymns historically interesting, omitted from the Hymnal of our Church (authorized 1916).] After a gradual the Litany is recited, known as the Augmented Litany, which is, in the main, the same as the Great Litany, having among other additional suffrages one for the Departed, and one for the people present "who are expecting rich and great mercy that is from Thee." Versicles follow, beginning with the familiar "Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this night without sin." The priest silently recites the Prayer of the Bowing of the Head, so called because of the phrase "unto Thee the fearful Judge and Lover of Man, Thy servants have bowed down their heads." The Nunc Dimittis, known as the Prayer of Simeon, the Receiver of God, is then chanted, and the Trisagion is sung three times.
The Trisagion, frequently used, is as follows: "Holy God, Holy Strong One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us."
The Gloria Patri, the Lord's Prayer, and the apolitykion, the festal hymn, follow, and the apolysis, Dismissal, now ends the Service.
The Lite and Artoklasia. The Lite is a litany introduced into the Vesper Office on the Eve of a Feast. The name, which means "a fervent prayer," refers to the frequent recurrence of the phrase, "Lord, have mercy." The name Artoklasia, "breaking of bread," refers to the breaking of a loaf blessed by the priest, a ceremony which follows.
The Vesper Service is said as far as the Nunc Dimittis, after which the priest and deacon, led by light-bearers, proceed to the narthex, or to some point in the nave distant from the sanctuary, the choir meanwhile singing canticles. The "fervent prayers" are said by the deacon and priest, with responses by the choir, and then all return to the middle of the church. Here a table has been prepared, covered with a white cloth. Two lighted candles are placed upon it, with five small loaves of bread, a dish of wheat, a cruet of wine, and one of oil. Prayers are offered, and while the apolytikion is being sung, the deacon censes the table and the loaves cross-wise. The priest, always facing eastward, makes the sign of the cross with one of the loaves upon the remainder, breaks it, and asks for a blessing upon what has been prepared, in a prayer which refers to the feeding of the five thousand. Returning to the Holy Door, he dismisses the people with a blessing. [For a detailed account of this service see my article in The Michigan Churchman, April, 1924, "The Litiya of the Orthodox Church."] The Service closes as already described.
On the Eve of the Lord's Day or of a Feast, Orthros is sung as a continuation of the All-Night Vigil, otherwise it is a separate Office.
The Service opens with the Trisagion, the Gloria, the Lord's Prayer, and the reading of Psalms 20 and 21; the priest meanwhile censing the Holy Table, and coming out by the north door, the Royal Door being shut, he censes the icons and the people. The symbolism is noteworthy, and is intended to carry the thoughts of the worshippers to the morning of the world. The censing typifies the true Light, the Spirit of God, which moved upon the face of the waters. The closing of the Royal Door is a reminder that mankind was banished from Paradise after the Fall, and when the priest, standing in front of it, with head uncovered in token of repentance and humility, says silently the twelve Prayers of Light, he typifies Adam sorrowing before the closed gates of Paradise.
Meanwhile the hexapsalmos (Psalms 3, 37, 62, 87, 102, 142) is chanted. The Great and Little Litany of Vespers are sung, the Holy Door is opened, and the sanctuary, the icons, the people, and the church are censed by the priest, accompanied by the deacon carrying a lighted candle, which denotes the spiritual light brought to earth by the Son of God. The priest stands erect, his chasuble hanging straight, to express, at the same time, humility and dignity, while the censer in his hand teaches that the prayers of the people are borne upwards to God like incense, through the mediation of His Son, and that the Holy Spirit is present in the church.
The polyeleos is sung, a name given to Psalms 135 and 136, on account of the frequent occurrence of the word eleos, mercy. After the triadikon, hymn to the Trinity, and the theotokion, hymn to the Virgin, an antiphon and gradual lead up to the reading of the Gospel for the day. The Kanon of the day is read, which consists of nine Scriptural Odes, the second of which is, however, omitted on account of its penitential character. Each has its troparion called katabasis, descent, because, originally, the two choirs would descend from their places to sing together.
The timeotera, Magnificat, is sung before the ninth ode, followed by the ainoi, Praises, and the Benedicite, with some slight variations, ending with the Great Doxology which is the Gloria in Excelsis as we have it in our Liturgy, augmented by verses mainly from the Psalms. The Gloria, the Trisagion, prayers, and Exclamations follow, varying, as in our own Church, according to the place which the Sunday or festival holds in the Church's Calendar. The Service ends with the Dismissal.
The reading of the First Hour follows upon Orthros, praying for spiritual light. The Third Hour, read at about nine o'clock, commemorates the Descent of the Holy Spirit, who is invoked to come and make His abode with us. The celebration of the Divine Liturgy follows, after which the Sixth Hour is read, its subject being the Crucifixion of our Lord. The Hours from the First to the Ninth are known as the Little Hours, mikrai horai. Upon certain feasts--Christmas, Epiphany, etc.--they are lengthened by additional matter and are known as megalai horai, the Great Hours.