Definitions of Terms


So that someone who is not necessarily familiar with liturgical terminology in general, or with the terminology of the Orthodox Church in particular, can profitably  read or study the following texts, the following definitions and descriptions are provided :

Vespers: Any of the evening services. These services follow a basic format which is as follows:  a: the opening Psalm 103/4,  b: the "Lamplighting" or "Lord I have cried" Psalms,  c: the Hymn "O Joyful (or Gladsome) light,  d: the evening Prokeimenon (the Orthodox equivalent of the Western "Gradual"),  e: the prayer sequence beginning "Vouchsafe O Lord",   f: the Aposticha (lit. Verses on Verses, i.e. hymn verses based upon or relating selected Psalm verses to a given observance),  g: Song of Simeon (the western Nunc Dimittis) h:  the trisagion prayers (a sequence of prayers beginning with the prayer Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal. . .),  i: the Lords Prayer,  j: the Apolytikion (dismissal hymn or Troparion proper to the observance),  k: Conclusion. Interspersed among these basic elements are various litanies, readings from the Psalter (kathismata-- i.e. readings from the Psalter which is divided into twenty sections or kathismata which are meant to be read through every week), readings from the Old and New Testaments,  and other blessings particular to given observances. In the service book which is translated here, Great Vespers is treated as the normal service with all the other forms of Vespers  are treated as variations of Great Vespers

Compline: The services offered after dinner and before bedtime. There are two kinds Great or Grand Compline and Small compline. This service began as a rite observed by monastics in their cells before going to bed. In time it was given a more public expression and developed as we have it today.

The Midnight Office: The office or service which begins during the middle of the night i.e. anytime well after sundown and well before daybreak. In ordinary parishes, practically the only time the midnight office is served is at the Paschal services.

The Hours: Offices or services which mark the various principal hours of the day. The First Hour is about 6:00 a.m., or early morning just after sunrise,  the Third Hour is about 9:00 a.m., or mid-morning.  The Sixth Hour is about noon or midday, the Ninth Hour is about 3:00 p.m. or mid-afternoon. While the original intent of these services was to mark the passage of the day, it is now usual for them to be combined or "aggregated" with other services so that there is a block of services served together in the morning and another block of services served together in the evening.

Matins: The Liturgy of Morning Prayers of the the Church. Matins consists of a:  the Six Psalms, b: The Great Litany and  the verses on "God is the Lord" with the troparion for the day, c: the kathisma readings, d: Psalm 50/1 e: the Canon (a type of hymnography in which Biblical "Odes" are augmented by hymnography appropriate to a particular occasion -- not to be confused with the prayer of consecration of the Roman Catholic Mass) f: Lauds or Psalms of Praise with appropriate verses, g: the Doxology h: Conclusion. As with Vespers, there are various litanies and other prayers and blessings interspersed according to the observance of the day.

Vigil: The service created by combining Vespers and Matins. Vigil is usually prescribed on the eves of Sundays and Great feasts or Holy Days. This is often called the All Night Vigil because when it is done in its absolute entirety it takes all night (12-14 hours)

Divine Liturgy: The Eucharistic Liturgy. The Orthodox equivalent to the Roman Catholic Mass or to the Protestant service of Holy Communion. In the Orthodox Church there are four Eucharistic Liturgies used. The most common is the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the liturgy used on all Sundays except those which fall during the Great Lent, and all holy days on which a eucharistic liturgy is served except for the eves of Pascha, Christmas and Theophany, Holy Thursday,  and the feastday of St. Basil the Great (January 1). The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, used on the Sundays of Great Lent, Holy Thursday, the Eves of Pascha, Christmas, and Theophany, and the Feast of St. Basil the Great.  The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts which is actually an extended Vespers service at which Holy Communion which was consecrated on the previous Sunday is distributed. The Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts is used during weekdays of Great Lent when the full celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy is prohibited.  The Liturgy of St. James, is served only in certain places on the feastday of St. James the "Brother of the Lord" and first Bishop of Jerusalem.


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