The Chanting of the Epistle


The chanting of the “Epistle” or “Apostle/Apostolic Reading” is an integral part of each Divine Liturgy. Along with the Gospel lesson, they form the heart of the “Synaxis” (Gathering) of the Eucharistic Liturgy. This reading takes place during the “Liturgy of the Catechumens” also referred to as the “Liturgy of the Word.” The appointed lesson is always from the letters of Saint Paul or Peter, the letter to the Hebrews, letters of Jude or John or the Acts of the Apostles. The only book of the New Testament Canon that is not read publicly is the Book of the Revelation (Apocalypse).

Within the average parish, the Epistle is chanted by the cantor or a (non-ordained) pious layperson. When a tonsured Reader is present, it is proper for the reading of the Epistle to be done by one who is “set aside” for this purpose. A “Tonsured Reader” has been admitted to Minor Orders during a special Rite (ceremony) and therefore subject to the obedience of diocesan hierarch. However, for the purpose of this blog entry, and using a type of liturgical shorthand, I choose to use the term “Lector” for anyone who chants the Epistle. Additionally, my use of the term “Reader” is reserved for a male “set apart” or “tonsured” to the Office. Functionally, both perform the same task.

All Scripture readings are chanted within our time-honored Tradition. Like most Churches of the Christian East and others of apostolic origin, it is the custom of the Rusyn/Ruthenian Churches to chant the Epistle lesson as opposed to being read in a plain voice. Father Casmir Kucharek writes in the Byzantine-Slav Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom: Its Origin and Evolution” Alleluia Press, 1971, that the Epistle is “always chanted “recto tono”, but with certain cadences or melodic figures to indicate the various punctuation marks. It is can be described as speech-song. The church probably borrowed this method from the culture of antiquity.”

I recommend highly a book entitled: “Roles of the Liturgical Assembly” Pueblo Press, 1981. Contained are a collection of essays and papers delivered at the 23rd Week of Liturgical Studies held at the Saint Serge Orthodox Institute in Paris, France, in 1976. Miguel Arranz’s contribution is “The Functions of the Christian Assembly in the Testament of Our Lord” in which he discusses the historical role of “Reader.”

Since my early teenage years, I have been chanting the Epistle. My late uncle, Paul Bereznak was the cantor at Saint Michael the Archangel Byzantine Catholic Cathedral in Passaic, New Jersey. He took me under his wing and taught me the essentials and principles of chanting. I remember those days fondly, even when he told me politely yet firmly when making a mistake. In 8th Grade (1974-75) the late Father Michael Mondik, assistant at the Cathedral instructed us in Epistle chanting as a group. Each of us received a Doubleday paperback copy of the “Jerusalem New Testament” and given a scripture assignment to practice. My task was to learn 1 Corinthians 11:23-32, the Epistle for the Holy Thursday Vesperal Divine Liturgy and sing it that day. I have relived this experience every Holy and Great Thursday for the past forty-five years.

Practical Tools

Every lector needs to be equipped properly with the tools for their unique ministry of proclaiming God’s Word publicly within the Byzantine Tradition.

The first consideration is to differentiate between reading in church (during the Divine Liturgy, Great Vespers, other liturgical services) and other types of public reading. During the Divine Liturgy, the lector is fulfilling a sacred mission to the Gathering. It requires the skills of adequate audibility, proper phrasing, emphasis and pointing, and good physical posture. It means that these skills are used in a context in which God’s Word can speak to His people. The chanting the Epistle should not possess operatic or dramatic effects or be sung like one is typing on a keyboard, but the realization of our Savior’s mission of imparting the Word to His Bride, the Church. Chanting is both music and a “delivery system.”

The lector is a messenger, not the Message. A good lector allows the family of believers to sense the presence of the Risen Lord in their midst without focusing too much attention on the lector. The lector’s goal is to allow the congregation to hear that life-giving message. Jesus told us, “My mother and brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it” (Luke 18:21). The Word possesses great power and is able to challenge, transform, comfort, build up and unite the Body of Christ.

Reading Within the Liturgy

I have prepared a sample Epistle for the Feast of the Holy Cross sept14 in musical notation. It follows a simple A(a)-B-A(a)-B-C Epistlepattern. Two alternatives are provided for Brethren.” There exists variants of this model, however, one is presented here as a practicum for you. The same melody is used to chant the Paramia (Old Testament Parable) during Great Vespers and the Lenten Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctifed Gifts.

Some Concrete Techniques for Public Reading

  1. The appointed readings are part of the sacred rhythm of the liturgical cycle. Besides concrete preparation and the learning of the techniques of chanting the Epistle in the Rusyn/Ruthenian Byzantine tradition, the lector should deepen own’s understanding of Scripture through the daily reading of the Bible as prescribed by the church calendar.
  1. The rule of moderation is always good to follow: not too fast; not too slow. Its delivery is consistent throughout the whole appointed text. Proper pronunciation and diction shows that you value and possess a deep love for the Scripture. Improper pronunciation indicates our own sinfulness and lack of devotion. Make sure to complete your words.
  1. You are being given a blessing to assume for a brief moment the liturgical role of “Reader” within the community. Like the deacon who receives the blessing from the priest to read the Gospel, the blessing of the celebrant is given to the lector at the appropriate moment. Follow the direction of your pastor on this matter and whether or not this is observed in your parish. He may ask you to approach the Ambon to receive this blessing or to receive it prior to the Divine Liturgy. If the lector is serving in the altar, he receives the blessing there, exits out of the North Door and will enter the sanctuary again through the South Door of the iconostas prior to the Gospel. If the lector is chanting the Epistle in the choir loft, make sure you receive this blessing before the Liturgy. At the appropriate time, the cantor should step aside and allow you to occupy that middle spot. Ample lighting is also a consideration when chanting in that venue.
  1. When chanting, hold the Lectionary in a way that does not make your head bow down. Your voice needs to project forward and not toward the floor.
  1. You should not take too long to get in place. A good rule is to be there by the second or third singing of the “Trisagion” (Holy God). The Lectionary should be held in a manner of reverence and not be like any book. It is held in front of you and not at your side with the title of the Lectionary toward the people while walking to your position. Then face east toward the altar.
  1. The lector must have the proper “Prokimenon” verse(s) ready to be chanted. When in doubt, check with the cantor or consult the Typikon prior to the Liturgy.
  1. The introduction of the reading should not be rushed. One of the common faults is to begin before the congregation is seated and attentive. To do this loses not just the beginning of the reading, but the sense that the reader is ministering to the community. The following introduction is my preference for a Pauline epistle: “A reading from the (first, second) Epistle of the holy Apostle Paul to the _____.” The deacon or priest then calls the congregation to “Be attentive!” because they are about to hear the words from the Apostle. There should be a three second pause after the “be attentive” so the congregation is seated and quiet. Then, begin with “Brethren.”
  1. The public reading of God’s Word is holy and are moments of grace. Reverence for this is signaled by the proclamation of “Wisdom!” by the priest or deacon. Reading Scripture from booklets or loose sheets of paper looses its solemnity and is something to be avoided except maybe in an informal setting. Their continued use should be seen as an imperfect situation.
  1. If you mispronounce a word, keep on going. Trying to backtrack will bring more attention to the mistake and may cause you to lose your place. Remember, it can happen to the best of us. Nobody is perfect. If you do not know how to pronounce a word, you should never be too shy to ask the pastor or cantor ahead of time about the pronunciation. This is especially true concerning proper names. The Epistle for the Sunday before the Nativity of our Lord is a perfect example which is found on page 217 of “The Epistles and Old Testament Reading for the Liturgical Year” Byzantine Seminary Press, 1979, where you will find the phonetic spelling after each name.
  1. The singing of the “Alleluia” is not the ending of the Epistle reading but is actually the introduction to the Gospel lesson of the day. Again, make sure that you have the appropriate verses ready.
  1. If the lesson is read from the middle of the church, the lector should not linger there for too long after the Alleluia with its verses are concluded. Do not leave in a jarring fashion.
  1. At the conclusion of the Epistle the priest will say: “Peace + be to you. Wisdom! Be attentive!” This bestowal of “peace” at this part in the Liturgy is actually addressed to the lector. Bow slightly to acknowledge this blessing.


Preparation Is Vital

As part of your physical preparation, you should always present yourself well-groomed and of good hygiene. Your clothing should be clean and neat. Arrive to the church before hand. As a courtesy, meet with the cantor who needs to know that you are there and prepared. You may want to confirm the order of the Prokimenon and Alleluia of the day and which Epistle will be read. This is the one of the marks of a conscientious lector. On occasion, you will not be aware that an additional Epistle is chanted in conjunction with the Feast celebrated.

Beforehand, make sure to mark your page with a full-page ribbon. Fumbling around with or dropping paper holy cards or bookmarks is an unnecessary distraction.

Never forget to ask the Lord’s blessing the day you are scheduled to read. Christ reminds us: Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). A good lector reviews the prescribed text beforehand. Preparation includes reading the passages aloud, and more than once if necessary, even to yourself. There is a need not just to let your mind become familiar with the ideas and words, but also to allow them “get around your tongue” as you practice the rhythm of the phrasing. Even if you think you have prepared the reading, you may find yourself “off-step” in your verbal rhythm in mid-sentence.

If your parish has a monthly lector schedule, please notify the cantor if you cannot attend the Liturgy that day. It is understandable that your plans may change due to travel, work or sickness. The Divine Liturgy often remembers those who are “absent for a cause worthy of a blessing.”

Care of the Lectionary

Since the Lectionary contains the words of the Holy Scripture, a responsible lector takes physical care of the Lectionary whether it is your personal copy or that belonging to the church. Most liturgical books are bound well offering a lifetime or multi-generational time of use. My suggestion for the parish is to possess a cloth-bound sown edition if possible and to avoid a glued bound copy. It may cost a little bit more, but it is worth the price. As a good Christian steward, every care should be taken in handling or transporting the Lectionary so that it is not tossed around like any ordinary book. It should never be placed on the bottom of a stack of books, placed flat on a chair or pew were someone sits, but placed on a shelf or icon corner for storage where it is easily accessible. When picking it up for the first time or putting it back in its place, it is proper to reverently make the sign of the Cross and kiss it. Like other liturgical books, the Lectionary should only be handled with clean hands. Writing notes or adding pointing marks on the pages is not proper. Many churches have an ornate cover on the Lectionary.

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Unforeseen Circumstances

Published in 1646, “The Book of Needs” (Trebnik) of the Saint Peter Mohila (+1647) analyzes numerous accidents and pastoral oversights during the Eucharistic Liturgy. Citing Mohila as one of his resources, the Very Reverend Father Arkady Mironko was a presenter at a March 2007 Lenten retreat for the clergy of the Diocese of Washington and New York, Orthodox Church in America, entitled: “The Practical Instructions in Unfortunate and Unexpected Accidents that Can Happen During the Divine Liturgy, and What to Do in These Cases.” This informative paper is based on a compilation of resources and solutions and is a most fascinating read. Mironko mentions events such as a fire in the church building or if the celebrant falls ill or dies while serving.

Absent from these instructions are the unplanned events that may occur specifically when one is chanting the Epistle (or even the Gospel): babies crying, uncontrolled outbursts of a mentally-challenged individual, somebody passing out, loud trucks or motor vehicles passing by, fire and police sirens blazing, liturgical or other objects falling to the ground. The above happenings do not cause the Divine Liturgy to stop abruptly though. However, when an outdoor noise is so loud as to drown out your voice, yet knowing that it will soon diminish, my suggestion is to complete the sentence, pause and continue where you left off. While these circumstances are rare, knowing proper order allows continuity of the liturgical celebration.

Give Thanks

After the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, spend a few moments in quiet prayer to thank God for allowing you to proclaim the Word today. Our Lord blesses those who take the time to thank Him, and will grant you the grace to continue this special ministry which uses your voice for His glory in His holy Church.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

– Acts 2: 42

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Tone 2 Come, let us extol the apostles Peter and Paul, those divine leader of the apostles and lights of the universe, the preachers of faith and two trumpets of the Word of God, the interpreters of teachings, pillars of the Church, and those who refute error.


We magnify you, O Peter and Paul, Apostles of Christ. By your teachings you have enlightened the whole world and have drawn the ends of the earth near to Christ.


The Psalter


“King David” fragment from the Virgin Hodegetria with Prophets, Mirol’a, Slovakia, 17th century

One who prays the divine Services in the Eastern-Byzantine tradition will discover quickly that at its very core are the words of sacred Scripture. The one book used most frequently is the “The Psalter” (Slavonic: Псалтирь). This inspired hymnbook from the Old Testament was adopted by the early Christian Church not only as a part of the canon of sacred scripture, but as an integral part for her worship.


Currently, there are many great versions of the Psalter. Among them are from the Fathers of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Brookline, MA and the New Skete Monasteries, Cambridge, NY who created new translations based on monastic models. The Archdiocese of Canada (OCA) published “The Psalter According to the Seventy” in 2001. The Orthodox Study Bible utilizes the New King James Version with minor changes noted in the margins. Christ Himself prayed and quoted the Septuagint Psalms as well did as the Church Fathers who used it for their Biblical commentary.

The numbering of the Psalms differs depending on which version of the Bible is used. King James, New King James, Revised Standard Versions use the Hebrew numbering; those using the Septuagint (of the Seventy) follow the Greek. My preference is the Hebrew numbering for this blog entry, however, it is necessary to understand the reason for the two differing systems.  The Orthodox Study Bible has an informative introduction on this subject on page 635. Another explanation may be found in “The Holy Psalter: The Psalms of David from the Septuagint” by the late Father Lazarus Moore (1966).


All Psalters are not appropriate for liturgical use such as texts from the “Living Bible”, “The Message” , “New International Version” or “Today’s English Version” aka “Good News Version.” Though these versions may be helpful for personal study in trying to understand the meaning of a text, however, we are instructed by Saint Peter the Apostle: “no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). Orthodox theologian Archpriest John Breck wrote in “The Power of the Word” (Saint Vladimir’s Press, 1986) that “our responsibility is to insist upon the fact that a true place of the Word – its exegesis as well as it’s proclamation – is within the liturgical, sacramental community of the Church.”

The question of the appropriateness, adoption and use of so-called “gender-neutral language” continues to be a particular challenge for the Church in our time.  It is not our responsibility to shape the Scripture in our image but to allow the Scripture to shape us in the Image of God.



Many of our Rusyn/Ruthenian ancestors immigrated to the United States in the 1880’s. The bi-lingual Church Slavonic/English Psalter “Book of Psalms of King David/Psaltir Tsarja Davida” published by the “Greek Catholic Union” Homestead, PA, first made its appearance in 1921. It was approved for use by the Very Reverend Gabriel Martyak, Lansford, PA, then, Apostolic Administrator for Ruthenian Greek Catholics in the United States. The volume relied on the Douay Edition of the Bible printed in 1609 as its English standard. The GCU Psalter was one of the first liturgical and devotional books published in America showing its importance in the life of the Rusyn people. It was just not any Psalter, but one replete with the traditional troparia and prayers between each Kathisma. One could find this volume practically in every Greek Catholic and Orthodox parish of Rusyn origin in America. As their heirs, we have yet to unwrap their precious gift to us.

Dissecting the Psalter
The Psalter consists of 150 Psalms and is read liturgically once a week during the year and twice a week during Great Lent in a monastic setting.  The Septuagint and Syriac versions include Psalm 151 recalling the victory of David over Goliath, though never read in church. The beginning of the Psalter begins on Saturday evening with the singing of the First Kathisma (Psalms 1-8). In parochial usage, only select verses are sung to an appointed melody during Great Vespers. During the Fifth Week of Great Lent (week of the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete) and Passion Week the reading is intensified. There is no reading from the Psalter on Sunday afternoon Vespers throughout the year or the whole of Bright Week in celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection.

View an outline of the Psalter divided for daily reading by Kathisma according to Septuagint and Hebrew usage here.

The Psalter is separated into twenty sections called a “kathisma” meaning “to be seated”. Each kathisma is comprised of three sections called a “stasis” or “station”. It is customary to sit during the chanting of psalmody and stand at the conclusion of each stasis. A stasis generally consists of two or three psalms. Each section is separated by the Trinitarian doxology: “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and forever. Amen.” The following is then said thrice: “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia! + Glory to You, O God.” Signaling the conclusion of each kathisma, the final phrase: “Glory to You, O God and our Hope; glory to You” is said.

The chanting of Troparia and a prayer between each Kathisma distinguishes the Byzantine psalter from other Christian editions. Since it would take about six hours to chant the Psalter straight through, these prayers may serve also as a rest for the chanter(s) (Slavonic: psalomčik/псаломщикъ; Greek: ψάλτης/psaltis) and maybe a way for another cantor to begin the next Kathisma. While these prayers are contained in the GCU Psalter and other Old World editions in Church Slavonic, I am only aware of three English texts for the Kathisma Prayers: the Sisters of the Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Monastery in Ellwood City PA; the Canadian Orthodox source listed above (2001) and the now defunct Monastery of the Savior, Steubenville, OH (1977). A 2001 reprint of the Steubenville text along with additions was made available through the Educational Services of the Melkite Greek-Catholic Church Diocese of Newton, MA and may be found here.

The Assignment of Psalmody
Each of the Canonical Hours and other services consists of Psalms, Troparia, Kontakia, and various prayers:
(Note: Hebrew numbering as in the Orthodox Study Bible)
1st Hour: 5, 90, 101
3rd Hour: 17, 25, 51
6th Hour: 54, 55, 91
9th Hour: 84, 85, 86
Great and Daily Vespers: 104, 141, 130, 117
Great Compline: 4, 6, 13, 25, 30, 91, 51, 102, 70, 143
Matins: 3, 38, 63, 88,103, 143, 51, 148-150
Divine Liturgy: (select verses) Sunday 66, 67, 68; Daily: 92, 93, 95; or Festal Antiphons (according to the Feast according to the Typikon) or Typical Psalms: 103, 146
Moleben: depending on the occassion;
Parastas and other Services for the Departed: 91, 119, 51
Pre-Communion Preparation by the Faithful: 23, 24, 116
Wedding: 127

In times gone by, the Psalter was read also as part of a vigil for the deceased prior to their funeral and burial. Many of the older generation still recall its recitation at the home or funeral home of the deceased where he or she lay in state, and on Good Friday at the Grave of our Lord. This time-honored tradition is still practiced in monasteries.


Psalter of the Pochaiv Monastery, 1789

Verses from the Psalms are used (with a few exceptions) for the Prokimenon, Alleluia and Communion Hymn of the Divine Liturgy, Great and Daily Vespers, Matins, as well as Royal Hours, Weddings, Baptisms, Holy Unction and Funerals. A general rule is that whenever an Epistle and Gospel are proclaimed in a service, a Prokimenon accompanies it. The Prokimenon and Alleluia possess and share a unique melody, while the setting of the Communion Hymn (Slavonic: Причастен/Pričasten; Greek: Κοινωνικον/Kinonikon) usually corresponds to the Cherubic Hymn sung earlier in the Divine Liturgy.

The 2006 Divine Liturgy promulgated by Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church in America revived an ancient practice of chanting the appointed Psalm during the Communion of the faithful. Interspersed are the verses of the Psalm with the triple “Alleluia” sung as the refrain in the same melody.

Psalm 104 from Great Vespers is sung to its own melody using an A, B pattern. Bokshaj gives us the first line of the text followed by the “Glory…now and ever…” on page 52 and instructs: “подобно сему поются слідующіи стіхй/in a similar manner this melody is sung for the next verses.”

The “Polyeleos” Greek “many mercies” comprising of Psalms 135-136 or selections thereof for Sunday and Festal Matins also has its own melody for each psalm. The refrain for Psalm 135 is a triple “Alleluia.” The first part of the melody for Psalm 136 changes and the first refrain is replaced with: “Alleluia! For His mercy endures forever. Alleluia, Alleluia.” In normal parochial usage four verses from each Psalm are sung.

The Psalms are not only a collection of songs used in worship, they are of prophetic nature. The Risen Jesus told His disciples on the road the Emmaus: “These are My words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24: 44).

Every Christian should commit one or more psalms to memory. “The Lord is my Shepherd” remains a favorite psalm for many since their youth. Psalm 51 “Have mercy on me, O God…” is used for a number of liturgical services and known by heart by clergy and faithful alike. This Psalm of Repentance is also said by the priest or deacon as he incenses the nave of the church prior to the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.

Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm in the Psalter with 176 verses and is read at the Midnight Office and at Funerals or selections thereof.  Psalm 117 is the shortest consisting of two verses and are read at Great or Daily Vespers.


Antiphonal Chanting
Some modern biblical scholars believe that they can detect the names of melodies used in antiquity from each superscription or title of a Psalm. While this may be conjecture for many, we do know that according to Professor Jerry Jumba, there are about nine different psalm chants in the Rusyn/Ruthenian Plain Chant tradition. These melodies are not assigned to any given psalm though. Antiphonal chanting remains our standard. In the past, men and women sat on opposite sides of the congregation. So, when we say antiphonal singing between the right and left side, it actually may have meant between men and women.

In my opinion, the trend toward a sole Reader or cantor chanting the Psalm texts is foreign to our time-honored tradition, though may be necessary in some circumstances. Additionally, the recitation (recitando) of Psalms by a hierarch or the congregation is not in accordance with the eleven and a half century old Cyrilo-Methodian tradition either. In current practice, the priest and or clergy often alternate the chanting of the Psalms with the congregation, thus preserving the basics of antiphonal chanting.

According to tradition, Saint Cyril, Equal to the Apostles and Enlightener of the Slavs (+869) translated the Book of the Psalms from Greek into Slavonic thereby aiding and advancing the Christianization of the Slavic peoples. During the Canon at Matins for the Feast of Saint Cyril and Methodius (May 11), the second Troparion of Irmos 8 says: ” As “sons of thunder”, at first your words were unearthly, as with “In the beginning was the Word…” which you thundered out as the “starting point” of our faith, O all- praised Fathers! Yet then, you translated to sweet-voice Psalter of David into Slavonic words; over which, even now, the Holy Church makes glad and shouts: Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord! (Translation by the late Subdeacon David T. Fritz, Wilkes-Barre, PA, 2006) All Churches of a Slavic origin owe a debt of gratitude to these great and tireless saintly brothers who took an active part in the Christian foundation of our ancestors.

There is rarely a church service that goes by without using the words of the King, Prophet and Psalmist David. Saint John Chrysostom (+407) expresses it this way:

“If we keep vigil in church, David comes first, last and central. If early in the morning we want songs and hymns, first, last and central is David again. If we are occupied with the funeral solemnities of those who have fallen asleep, or if virgins sit at home and spin, David is first, last and central. O amazing wonder! Many who have made little progress in literature know the Psalter by heart. Nor is it only in cities and churches that David is famous; in the village market, in the desert, and in uninhabitable land, he excites the praise of God. In monasteries, among those holy choirs of angelic armies, David is first, last and central. In the convents of virgins, where are the communities of those who imitate Mary; in the deserts where there are men crucified to the world, who live their life in heaven with God, David is first, last and central. All other men at night are overcome by sleep. David alone is active, and gathering the servants of God into seraphic bands, he turns earth into heaven, and converts men into angels.”

Kondakion 13 of the Akathist Hymn to the Holy Prophet David reads, “Blessed are you, O holy king and prophet David, for the All-holy Spirit, abiding in you, filled your mouth with the praises of the Most High, and by your inspired words teaches us how rightly to worship the consubstantial Trinity!  For evening, morning and at noontime, seven times a day, our divine glorification begins, proceeds and concludes with your wondrous psalms.  Therefore, following your marvelous works, we all cry out to God:  Alleluia!

The Kontakion in honor of the Prophet, King and Psalmist David read before the reading of the Psalter says,

” Heaven reveals Your honorable prophet David to the Church, O Lord, and angels join mankind in songs of entreaty to You, Christ God : put our lives in order by his prayers, that we might sing to you : Alleluia!”

We begin the reading of the First Kathisma of the Psalter with this prayer: “All Holy Trinity , O God, Creator of the world: grant me the ability to undertake and complete this exercise of holy and spiritual psalmody which the Holy Spirit brought to the lips of David, and which I hope to repeat now, unworthy though I be. I know my ignorance, and so I fall before You, praying and beseeching Your help as I cry out: O Lord, strengthen my mind and do not permit me to offend you with my lips. Strengthen my heart to receive these Psalms with joy and understanding, that they might lead me on to good works. Let me be sanctified by these good works and at the time of judgment, let me have a place at Your right side in the company of Heaven. Having declared my sincerity, Master, permit me to sing:

Come, + let us adore God, our King.
Come, + let us adore Christ, our King and our God.
Come, + let us adore and bow down to Christ Himself, are King and our God.”

Psalm 1
“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked….”



revised:  2/2/19

The Season of Prophets


The Nativity Fast is now upon us. It is sometimes called the “Saint Philip’s Fast” or commonly known as “Filipovka” among the Carpatho-Rusyn people. During the 40-day period prior to Christmas, the ascetical efforts of prayer, fasting and alms-giving are practiced by the faithful in a more conscious manner, although its character is less strict compared to that of Great Lent. Unlike the Great Fast, there are no preparatory Sundays before the season and the Divine Liturgy may be offered each day.

During our preparation for the Birth of our Savior, no festivities are held and the faithful are encouraged to refrain from activities such as dances, entertainment, etc.  Many parishes serve a weekly Advent Moleben, Paraklis or an Akathist having a particular concentration on the coming Feast.

A Season of Prophets 

The late Protopresbyter Peter G. Kohanik writes in his “Instruction in God’s Law” (Svit-The Light, Wilkes-Barre, PA, 1949)God revealed His will to His chosen people through His special messengers – the Prophets. They were saintly men who not only studied God’s word, but announced it to the kings and the people in general. They were, therefore: speakers for God; Transmitters of His holy will to the nation; Predicted, foretold, and revealed all future events in the life of the nation.”

He continues: There are sixteen prophetical books in the holy Bible. In all the holy Bible recognizes twenty-six Prophets. The Prophet Isaiah is recognized as a “Great Prophet.” He foretold 793 years before Christ the Birth of Jesus Christ our Savior, from a Virgin, and that His Name shall be Emmanuel, which means. “God is with us” (Isaiah 7:14).

Isaiah is also called the “Evangelical Prophet.”

Our Byzantine liturgical calendar commemorates the following prophets during the Nativity Fast:

November 19  Prophet Obadiah (“Servant of God”), fourth of the Twelve Minor Prophets, and he lived during the ninth century B.C. He was from the village of Betharam, near Sichem, and he served as steward of the impious Israelite King Ahab. When the whole of Israel had turned away from the true God and had begun to offer sacrifice to Baal, Obadiah faithfully served the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in secret.

December 1  Prophet Nahum (“Comforter, Penitent”), one of the Minor Prophets, lived in the seventh century B.C.. He saw the fulfillment of his prophecy concerning the destruction of Nineveh.

December 2 Prophet Habakkuk (“Loving Embrace”), the eighth of the Twelve Minor Prophets was descended from the Tribe of Simeon, and he prophesied around 650 B.C. He foresaw the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, the Babylonian Captivity and the later return of the captives to their native land. His relics were discovered during the reign of the Emperor Theodosius the Great in the year 379 A.D.

December 3  Prophet Zephaniah (“Hidden or Protected by God”) said to be of the Tribe of Simeon foretold God’s judgments upon Jerusalem, and the ultimate conversion of the Jews.  He lived in the seventh century B.C.

December 16  Prophet Haggai (“Feast, Solemnity”) the tenth of the Twelve Minor Prophets, is believed to have been born during the Babylonian exile, and that he lived to see the second Temple 516 B.C.

December 17  Prophet Daniel (“God is my judge”) one of the Four Great Prophets. He died a centenarian in Persia in the fifth century B.C.

Second Sunday before the Nativity/Sunday of the Holy Forefathers   All the great Fathers, Mothers and Prophets of the Old Testament, starting with Adam, Abraham, the Righteous Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, including Holy Prophet Elijah and Daniel, and concluding with Holy Prophet Zechariah, Joachim and Anna, Holy Prophet and Forerunner John the Baptizer and the Theotokos are remembered on this day. They lived before and under the Law, especially the Patriarch Abraham, to whom God said, “In your seed shall all of the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:3, 22:18).

The Aposticha for Vespers says: Come, you lovers of the feasts of the Church, and with psalms let us praise the assembly of the forefathers: Adam, the forefather of us all, Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and, after the Law, Moses and Aaron, Joshua, Samuel and David, and, with them, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and the twelve prophets, together with Elijah, Elisha and all the rest, Zachariah and the Forerunner; who all preached Christ, the Life and Resurrection of our race.

Sunday before the Nativity/Sunday of the holy Genealogy of Christ  (Matthew 1:1-25)  The Sunday before the Nativity of the Lord (December 18-24) is known as the Sunday of the Holy Fathers. On this day the Church commemorates all those who were well-pleasing to God from from all time, from Adam to Saint Joseph the Betrothed, those who are mentioned in the genealogy of Luke 3:23-38. The holy prophets and prophetesses are also remembered today, especially the Prophet Daniel and the three holy youths (December 17).3youths

If during any of these days or throughout the liturgical year a prophet does not have a dedicated Troparion and Kontakion, the following general texts are used:


Tone 2   Today, we honor Your Prophet (name), O Lord; through his prayers save our souls.


Tone 4   Enlightened by the Spirit of God, your heart received prophetic insights.  For you saw as present, events yet to come, O you, who spoke for God.  Today, we honor you, blessed Prophet, O glorious (name).

A Season of Pre-Views

The beginning of the fast is not marked by any special hymnology, but five days later, on the eve of the Feast of the Presentation of the Birth-giver of God (November 21), we hear the first announcement from the nine “Odes” of the Nativity Canon: “Christ is born, glorify Him!” On the Feasts of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called (November 30) and Saint Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia (December 6), sticheri are sung to announce the coming birthday of the Lord: “Adorn yourself, O cavern. Make ready, O manger. O Shepherds and wisemen, bring your gifts and bear witness. For the Virgin is coming bearing Christ in her womb.”

The two Sundays prior to the Nativity are served with special liturgical propers (Troparion, Kontakion, Prokimenon, Alleluia). Starting on December 20, our focus is intensified. At Vespers on this first day of the Pre-feast we sing, “O faithful, let us celebrate beforehand the Nativity of Christ; let us praise up our minds to Bethlehem and we shall be raise up in spirit. We shall meditate upon the Virgin who is on the way to the cave to give birth to the Lord of all, and our God.”

The Vesperal Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great is served on December 24/Christmas Eve (except if the Feast falls on a Saturday, Sunday or Monday) during which eight Old Testament prophecies are read concerning the birth of the Messiah. Special Troparia accompanied by psalm verses are sung after the third and sixth readings. The first proclamation of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is read at the Gospel lesson. At the conclusion of the Liturgy, the festal Troparion and Kondakion of the Nativity are sung for the first time by the cantor holding a lit candle in the center of the church.

godiswithushilkoOriginal Prostopinije adaptation of “God is with Us”  into SATB by the late Professor Michael P. Hilko, 1964

Our preparation for the Feast is about to be completed. In the evening at the sight of the first star, families gather to share a holy meal (Svjaty Večer) consisting of strict-fast foods (meatless and dairyless). Then all attend the Great Compline service (Slavonic: Povečerije Velikoje; Greek: Apodeipnon to Mega literally: “After Supper”). The Canticle of the Prophet Isaiah is sung with much solemnity with the refrain,God is with us, understand, O you nations, and submit yourselves: for God is with us.” The same prophet revealed the name of the Messiah to us: “Emmanuel” meaning “God is with us” (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:22-23).

These prophetic verses of the Canticle are most appropriate for the Feast of the Nativity:

“The people that walk in darkness have seen a great light. You that dwell in the region and shadow of death, a light shall shine upon you. For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given. Whose government is upon His shoulder.  And of His peace there is no end.”

– Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

Hand-written fragment of “S’nami Boh” (“God is with us”) found in an old Orthodox priest’s prayerbook.

Many people are quite surprised that the singing of “God is With Us/S’nami Boh is not reserved for Christmas and Theophany eves, but is sung during Great Lent at Great Compline as appointed by the Typikon.

A Season of Joyful Expectation

Even within our modern society where Christmas has become more and more secular, the individual Christian can use this time profitably by being busy about the Lord’s work: preparing gifts, engaging in charitable work and giving, visiting the sick, nursing-home and home-bound, volunteering time, mentoring, increase prayer and Scripture readings, to take a spiritual inventory of one’s soul (not others), preparing for sacramental confession and to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord in Holy Communion on Christmas Day.

The Nativity Fast invites us to the entrance of the dark and cold Cave, there to wait in anxious anticipation for the “Light of the World” to enter. We cannot enter until Joseph and Mary arrive first and the heavenly choir of angels make the birth announcement.  Today, we prepare ourselves and ask to be made worthy to enter and see for ourselves, “the place where the young infant, the Eternal God, is born.” What better way to do this than become child-like again; to rediscover as a child of God what it means to curious about the wonders of God, life, nature and the universe, and how the universe and creation come together and are united in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Let us immerse ourselves in the sayings of the prophets and the life-giving words of the One Who fulfilled their meanings. Christ Himself told His apostles: Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:17). The priest prays at the conclusion of each Divine Liturgy:

O Christ our God, Who Yourself are the fulfillment of the law and the prophets and Who fulfilled the entire plan of the Father, fill our hearts with joy and gladness, always, now and ever, and forever.  Amen.”


“The sayings of the prophets are now fulfilled  

for our God shall be born tomorrow of the Virgin Mary

in a manner beyond our understanding.”

-Matins for the Eve of the Nativity


Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Christos Raždajetsja! Slavite Jeho!

“Let Us Give Thanks To The Lord”


In the year 1901, a translation of the Prayer Service of Thanksgiving (Blahodarstvennyi Moleben) was published with the blessing of then Bishop Tikhon (Bellavin) , Exarch of the Russian Orthodox Diocese in North America. It was prefaced with the following dedication:


While +Tikhon blessed and promulgated this Moleben, it is doubtful that he is the author of the text. The dedication reflects the importance of “Thanksgiving” in both American secular and religious life.  In 1907, he returned to his homeland and later elected Patriarch of Moscow. He reposed in the Lord in 1925 after suffering much for the sake of Christ and the Church. This Confessor for the Faith was canonized Saint in 1989.

About 25 years ago, I came across a photocopied booklet entitled: “American Divine Office of Vespers for Thanksgiving.” There was also a matins service that accompanied of which in not in my possession. No author or approbation were cited in both texts, however, many cite Monsignor Russell Duker as its author. A “Synaxarion” was written of which I have edited and expanded for today:


On this day, the fourth Thursday in the month of November, we render our solemn Thanksgiving to Almighty God for all the bounties given us.

Verse: Let all people, extolling Your loving-kindness, give praise, thanksgiving, and worship to You, O Lord our God, by proclaiming: “Glory to You, our Benefactor and Redeemer!”

On this day, we chant the solemn “Service of Thanksgiving” in expressing our deep gratitude to the Lord our God.

In the year 1620 about 102 immigrants landed on the rocky shores of New England. Almost half of their number died after the agony of the first winter in the New World. However, in the summer that followed, they were able to clear some land and plant crops. The earth yielded forth is fruits, and these pilgrims were filled with a deep sense of gratitude toward their heavenly Father. In the Autumn of 1621, these settlers of the Plymouth Colony set aside a day of offering thanksgiving to Almighty God for their survival in this new land of America.

In 1863, when the United States was a nation weary from civil strife and downcast with regard to the future, President Abraham Lincoln asked each American to look beyond the dismal situations and discover all the evidence of God’s bounty both to himself and this nation. A nationalDay of Thanksgiving  thus was proclaimed, for by a person’s declaration of their gratitude to his or her Creator, they are strengthened, because by the act of giving thanks, each person renews their own realization of their relationship with God.

In like manner, our ancestors came to these shores and brought with them the heritage of our holy Orthodox Catholic Faith. Many escaped tyrannical and authoritarian regimes, some sought religious and personal freedom, while others immigrated seeking greater opportunities for themselves, their family and children. They thanked God for having provided so well for them in this country where they worshiped freely according to the rites, customs and traditions of our Church. They erected churches and monasteries to the glory of God and organized societies for the spiritual edification and betterment of the faithful. They taught us how to worship the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; give honor to the most-holy, most-pure and glorious Lady, the Birth-giver of God and ever-virgin Mary, the angels and saints; engage in the reading of the sacred Scripture and be instructed in God’s Law.

They set an example for us in celebrating this Day of Thanksgiving so that God might ever endow us with His divine gifts and earthly favors. As a result, many saints have been raised among us and have been shone forth in this New Land.

With this in mind, we pause annually and render our solemn thanksgiving to our heavenly Father, asking Him to always make us worthy of His favor and bounty. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

In many parishes, a “Divine Liturgy of Thanksgiving” is offered on this day or the eve thereof. Others take a different approach serving a moleben or Akathist offering gratitude to God. During these services, special petitions for the litanies are inserted into the usual ones, the Troparion and Kontakion of Thanksgiving are sung, and specific Scripture readings which reflect the theme of thanksgiving are chanted.

The Monks of the New Skete Monastery in Cambridge, New York were the first to compose officially a special troparion in honor of the American Holiday of Thanksgiving which was included in “Troparia and Kondakia” printed in 1984:

Tone 8    Today, we give You thanks for Your bounty, O Lord, * as our fathers did in times gone by. * Be praised for filling our emptiness with Yourself, * for blessing the works of our hands. * For all Your favors glory be forever Yours, * O Lord, so rich in loving kindness.

The Kontakion used is the familiar “We give thanks to You/Blahodarim t’ja, Christe Bože nassung after communal meals and deemed as most appropriate.

In 2006, the American Ruthenian Catholics in their new Divine Liturgy book promulgated Duker’s Troparion with slight modifications:

Tone 7   You made the earth, O God, and all it contains. * You have given us a share in Your life. * All creation sings praise to You. * As our forefathers gave thanks to You after coming to these shores, * we, Your unworthy servants, also give thanks on this day * for all Your benefits bestowed throughout the years.

Another interesting set of propers for Vespers, Matins and Liturgy for Thanksgiving Day may be viewed on the internet.

It’s origin is unknown, though from a liturgical ear it is written very well, scripture replete, possesses sound theology and deserves to be served with the blessing of the local bishop. The traditional Thanksgiving Troparion is used:

Tone 4   We, Thy thankful and unworthy servants,* praise and glorify Thee, O Lord, * for Thy great benefits which we have received.* We bless Thee, we thank Thee, we sing to Thee, * and we magnify Thy great goodness.* and in lowliness and love we hymn Thee:* O Benefactor and Savior, glory to Thee!

There are hymns of a para-liturgical nature which express ‘thankfulness.” One such favorite is We Thank You God Most High According to Professor Jerry Jumba, the hymn consists of eight stanzas.  Verse two appears to be gleened from Revelation 7:12: Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.”

Both Eastern Orthodox and Greek Catholics in America seem to have unique approaches to the idea of remembering Thanksgiving Day, though not technically a liturgical holyday nor a Polyelei-rank feast on our Byzantine calendar.  So the inclusion of Festal antiphons could be the subject of debate.  Truthfully, Propers for “Thanksgiving” have existed for centuries since the time of Saint Peter Mohila (+1647), however, expressing ourselves in a truly Byzantine manner on this day within the context of our shared American experience is our unique contribution to liturgical hymnology. It is a living testimony as to our maturity as a Church.



“Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.”

– Revelation 7:12

“Litany of Fervent Supplication”


The “Augmented Litany” also referred to as the “Litany of Fervent Supplication” (Slavonic: Сугубая ектения /Suhabaja Ektenija) is chanted after the reading of the Holy Gospel during the Divine Liturgies of Saint John Chrysostom, Basil the Great and the Presanctified Liturgy, after the Great Prokimenon of Saturday evening Great Vespers (old Testament lessons if appointed) and at the conclusion of Matins. During daily Vespers, its position is placed immediately after the Troparia beginning with the third petition. It is also intoned during special services such as a Moleben beginning with “Have mercy on us, O God according to Your great mercy…”

The purpose of this Litany during the Divine Liturgy is to intensify our supplications and add petitions for people and situations not previously mentioned during the Great Litany. The first petition invites those gathered to unite their whole minds and souls; the second reminds us of God’s sovereignty and our spiritual connection with all who have gone before us in the Faith. A single “Lord have mercy” is the response to the first two petitions, and a triple response for the remaining.

In “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 2 – Worship” the “Litany of Fervent Supplication” is explained by the late Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko who writes: This litany is the one through which the people pray for their own particular needs, as well as those of the entire Church, their neighbors, their country and the entire world. At this time the intercessions are not made generally, as in the Great Litany, but very specifically on behalf of all persons in need of God’s blessings, strength and guidance. Thus prayers are made for the sick, the suffering, the needy, the afflicted and the departed by name; as well as for such specific things as national guidance, deliverance from some particular threat, etc. Also at this time special prayers of thanksgiving and praise may be offered in response to some particular blessing of God. Because the offertory will follow, prayers are also made at the end of the litany “for those who bring offerings and do good work” in the particular community.”

While all Churches place this Litany within the Divine Liturgy after the proclamation of the Gospel, the current Greek practice omits it altogether by proceeding directly to the Cherubic Hymn.

The number of petitions differs in various liturgical recensions. For those who follow a northern Slavic practice, after mid-point in the litany, the celebrant may also offer unique petitions for special intentions.

The text I chose for the “Litany of Fervent Supplication” is taken from ACROD. The deacon or priest begins:

Let us all say with our whole soul and with our whole mind, let us say.

People: Lord, have mercy.

O Lord Almighty, God of our Fathers, we pray to You, hear us and have mercy.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Have mercy on us, O God, according to Your great mercy, we pray to You, hear us and have mercy.

People:  Lord, have mercy. (three times)   (and after each petition)

Furthermore we pray for our holy Ecumenical Patriarch (Name), the Archbishop of Constantinople, for our Most Reverend Metropolitan (Name), for our God-loving Bishop (Name), for our spiritual fathers and all other clergy and for all our brethren in Christ; for their welfare, peace, health, salvation and for the remission of their sins, and that the Lord, our God, may prompt and help them in all things.

(The following petition is included in Ruthenian books:)

Furthermore we pray for the honorable government of our country and all civil authorities and for our armed forces.

Petitions of Special Intention may be offered at this point.  The usual ending for each petition is “We pray to You, O Lord, hear us and have mercy.”

Furthermore we pray for those who give their offerings and do good works in this holy and venerable church, for those who labor in its service, for those who sing, and for all the people here present who await Your great and abundant mercy, for those who have shown us kindness and for all Orthodox Christians.

The priest prays inaudibly:  O Lord our God, accept this fervent prayer from Your servants and have mercy on us according to the multitude of Your mercy, and bestow Your compassion upon us and upon all Your people who await the abundant mercies that come from You.

Exclamation:  For You are a merciful God who loves mankind, and we give glory to You, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever.

People:  Amen.

Page 46 of Andrew Sokol’s “Plain Chant” contains eight sets of triple “Lord have mercy” entitled “Occasional.” Three out of the eight are used regularly by ACROD and two by the Ruthenian-Byzantine Catholics. There are other melodies not shown on that page such as for the first and last of the Fervent Supplication petitions, Ordination, Requiem, Exaltation of the Cross, and before a reading from the holy Gospel. Only the eight that Sokol transcribed are included here.

For those interested in choir arrangements, here is a 4-part SATB version of the “Litany of Fervent Supplication” fervent as adapted by the late Professor Michael P. Hilko. It should be noted that in common practice, #3 in that set is reserved for a special intention petition. The late Very Reverend Joseph A. Havriliak in his “Liturgy – Mass of St. John Chrysostom of the Uhro-Carpatho-Russian Common Church Hymnology” on page 54 also gives eight melodies used for this litany arranged in 4-part harmony.

Today, various parish communities often sing “Lord, have mercy” in a variety of languages due to the diverse ethnic backgrounds of the faithful.


+ + +

Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

– Matthew 18: 19-20

+ + +

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all.”

– 1 Timothy 2:1

The “Magnificat”


My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” or commonly called the “Magnificat” are the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the Archangel Gabriel at the time of Annunciation as recorded in the Gospel according to Saint Luke (1:46-55). It is here that Mary gives her famous consent (fiat) and becomes the Mother of God. The term “Magnificat” is derived from the Latin which is the first word of the hymn Magnificat anima mea Dominum” It is called “Velicanije” in Church Slavonic.

At daily and Sunday Matins, the “Magnificat” is sung in between Odes 8 and 9 of the Canon. It is introduced by the deacon or priest, who first incensing the altar area, emerges through the North Door of the iconostas to incense its south side. He waits at the icon of the Mother of God until the conclusion of the eighth Ode of the Canon. Raising the censer, he intones: “The Birth-giver of God and Mother of the Light, let us magnify in song.” He incenses the icon thrice and then the remaining part of the iconostas, the people and the icons in the rest of the church.


The “Magnificat” is then sung with much solemnity with “More honorable than the Cherubim” as the refrain. This canticle is omitted rarely, except on the great Twelve Great Feast Days when the “Magnification/O my soul, magnify…” is substituted for it. The Ninth Irmos honors the Mother of God and the Incarnation of Christ.

The text for this rendition is taken from the “Revised Standard Bible” while the words for the refrain are taken from ACROD. It is adapted here to a Tone 6 Kontakion melody featuring a not very well known variant from present-day Slovakia where many of the parishioners of Saint John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Passaic, New Jersey originated. It was later transcribed by the late Professor Michael P. Hilko, the parish choir director who used its pattern in adapting “O Undisputed Protectress of Christians/Zastupince.” into English. It follows and simple A, B pattern with an ultima. This adaptation is offered here for your consideration. Please note that the traditional melody for the “Magnificat” may be found on page 28 in the bi-lingual “Marian Hymnal” published in 1984 by the Byzantine Seminary Press; Bokshaj’s Tserkovnoje Prostopinije (The Church Plain Chant) and Andrew Sokol’s “Basic Chant” both on page 48.

The “Magnificat” is also a perfect piece on how to apply the eight samohlasen melodies. Since it consists of six scriptural verses (pripivi) and a refrain (stichera), it reinforces the chant patterns in a practical way. A few years ago for my chant class practicum in Wilkes-Barre, PA. we did exactly that with good results. We will discuss this in a later blog entry.


“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

– Luke 1:35

Burying the Departed


The Rusyn/Ruthenian liturgical tradition has a unique Rite of Interment for the Departed” not found in other service books.

As the family, friends and faithful proceed in solemn procession to the place of burial with the earthly remains of the departed loved one, the Trisagion Holy God” is sung. When all have assembled, the priest intones the customary introduction, and the final reading from the Holy Gospel (John 11:1-45) is chanted recounting the death, burial and resurrection of Lazarus, Friend of Christ.

The priest may pronounce a Prayer of Absolution if not said in church. The last section of the prayer is most fitting at the cemetery:

O Lord our God, we again humbly beseech You and Your eternal Father, and Your most-holy, consubstantial, and life-giving Spirit: do not reject Your servant, nor allow him(her) to be condemned to perdition, but rather allow his (her) body to return to the earth from which it was made, and to decay accord to Your word, “Dust you are and into dust you shall return.” Place his(her) soul in the dwelling-place with the Just in Your heavenly court until the general Resurrection; for You have said: “All that the Father gives to Me shall come to Me, and him who comes to Me I will not cast out.” You also said: “This is the will of My father Who sent Me, that of all which He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise them up on the last day.” You also said, “He who believes Him Who sent Me has everlasting life and does not come to judgment, but has passed from death to life.” For You are the resurrection, the life, and the repose of those who truly believe in You and who present themselves before You, O Christ our God, in the hope of resurrection and eternal life; and we glorify You, together with Your eternal Father, and Your all-holy, gracious and life-giving Spirit, now and ever, and forever. Amen.

The priest now places earth from the grave on the top of the casket in the form of a cross while he says a verse from Psalm 24:1:

The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.”

Immediately, the following Troparion “O Gaping Earth/Zemle zinuvši” is sung is Tone 8 (Samohlasen):

O gaping earth! Receive the body formed of you by the hand of God, and again returning to you as to its mother; for what has been in His image, the Creator has already reclaimed; receive then this as your own.”

In anticipation of the sealing of the grave, the priest makes the sign of the Cross over the grave and says:

This grave is being sealed until the Second Coming of Christ, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

The dismissal follows concluding with the singing of “Eternal Memory.”

Various burial hymns or “Nadhrobnyja Pisni” may also be sung along the processional route to and at graveside, however, they are not known as a general custom in the West, because such processions are done in automobiles today, except in those places where the parish cemetery is next to the church. These para-liturgical compositions concerned themselves with the futility of earthly existence and the relationship of the deceased to his or her survivors, eg: for a son or child. These songs, most of which were recorded in hand-written hymnbooks (pisenniki) from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries were lead by the cantor. In the English/Slavonic bi-lingual funeral bookHoly Services for the Dead” edited by Father Julius Grigassy in 1943, Part Five contains fourteen such hymns.

What interests me about this order is the uniqueness of the Troparion “O gaping earth” and the sound theology and catechetical strength it expresses. Ruthenians/Rusyns share the singing of this hymn with Galicians and Western Ukrainians and others in the Carpathian regions. Its absence in the practice of the Great Russian tradition is of great curiosity to me especially since this Troparion is mentioned as a rubric in theService Book of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church” compiled and translated by Isabel Hapgood and published with the blessing of the Russian Church in 1906. It states for the burial of a layman, “the mortal remains are buried with thanksgiving and with joy: and with the song: “Open, O earth, and receive that which was made from thee.”It continues to say that “then the body is laid in the grave.”

The Rite of “Departure Office for Monks” (for monks and nuns) in the “Great Book of Needs – Volume 3 translated from the Church Slavonic and published by Saint Tikhon’s Seminary Press in 2002 on page 251 contains the same Troparion yet uses a different translation: O Earth, open wide”. The rubric specially states: “And they fill the grave singing these troparia.”  The monastic Typikon often reflects older usages and gives us “O Gaping Earth” in plain view.


In the Russian funeral tradition and renewed by many living in the West, the coffin is lowered into the ground after which each person assembled will take a shovelful of earth covering the casket. It is my humble suggestion that “O Gaping Earth” be interspersed with verses from Psalm 24(23) “The earth is the Lord’s” be sung at this time. The hymn is sung once followed by each verse of the psalm. The refrain “receive then this as your own” would be repeated after each verse. At the conclusion, the Troparion is repeated in its entirety. This would follow the pattern of the Troparia sung in between the Old Testament lessons during the Vesper-Liturgy of Saint Basil on the Feasts of the Theophany and Nativity of our Lord.

The grave is then sealed. Some argue that this is not an authentic Byzantine/Orthodox practice. However, within the context of our Typikon and diverse traditions, what liturgical act is performed without a blessing? One will be hard-pressed to find any.

This version of “O Gaping Earth” uses an updated wording of the late Father Grigassy and the Tone 8 variant melody of ACROD.

Вѣчная Память



“In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

– Genesis 3:19