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The Liturgical Cycles and Their Significance in Orthodox Chanting and Worship
The Orthodox Church is composed of many cycles of various durations. These cycles repeat themselves while traveling along a linear time progression which leads to the second coming of Christ. The services of the Orthodox Church are both a part of and exist within these cycles and are modified according to the influences of each cycle at a given point in time To better understand the significance of the liturgical cycles on Orthodox Worship, it is first necessary to understand the cycles themselves.

The Daily Cycle
A day in the Church begins at sunset For this reason, the first service in the daily cycle is Vespers. This means that a Vespers service held on a Saturday evening is actually associated with Sunday (since in the eyes of the Church, Sunday begins at sunset on Saturday). The remaining daily liturgical offices are: Compline, Nocturn, Matins, First Hour, Third Hour, Sixth Hour, and Ninth Hour.[i]

The complete daily cycle is implemented today primarily in monasteries. Very few, if any, local parishes currently follow the complete daily cycle of services When all services are performed, they can be grouped into times of day.  Ninth Hour (of the previous day), Vespers and Compline are celebrated in the evening hours. Nocturn, Matins and the First Hour are celebrated prior to sunrise The Third Hour, Sixth Hour and Divine Liturgy are celebrated prior to midday.[ii]

Each of the daily services has a theme, and in some cases many themes. Vespers has four themes: Creation, Fall of Man, Covenant with God, and the End Times. Compline has two themes: Keeping the night without sin and Sabbath rest. Nocturn and Midnight office share the themes of the second coming of Christ and vigilance. Matins has the same four themes as does Vespers, however the order is reversed: End Times, Covenant with God, Fall of Man, and Creation.  The First Hour deals with keeping the day without sin. The Third Hour commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  The theme of the Sixth Hour is the crucifixion of Christ, and the Ninth Hour remembers Christ’s death on the cross.[iii]

Weekly Cycle
The weekly cycle is composed of the days of the week, beginning with Sunday and ending with Saturday. Each day of the week has its own theme or themes. Although the themes can change based on other cycles, the basic themes for each day of the week are as shown:[iv]

Bodiless Powers, Angelic Hosts, and Incorporeals
John the Baptist and the Prophets
The Cross and Christ’s Betrayal
The Apostles
The Crucifixion
Saints and Martyrs

Octoechos Cycle
The Octoechos is an eight week cycle. During each phase (week) of this cycle a different tone is the primary tone used in chanting components of the liturgical services to be held during that week. Each week the tone increments beginning with Tone 1 and continuing through Tone 8. Many hymns will change based on the Tone of the Day. Two examples of hymns which will change following the Octoechos cycle are “Lord I have cried…” in Vespers, and “The Praises” in Matins. After the eighth week, the cycle repeats with Tone 1 again.  Other than a few specific Sundays (e.g., Palm Sunday, Pascha, Thomas Sunday and Pentecost) this cycle continues without interruption.

Eothina (Sunday Matins Gospel) Cycle
The Eothina is an eleven week cycle. During each phase (week) of this cycle a different gospel is read during Matins. Each week the eothina increments beginning with Matins Gospel 1 and continuing to Matins Gospel 11. After the eleventh week, the cycle repeats again. This cycle remains consistent except during the period between Pascha and Pentecost where the cycle jumps around (no doubt based on the fact that Pascha occurs on a different date each year).[v] In addition to the Gospel reading during Matins, some of the other hymns that change based on the Eothina include the Exaposteilarion and the Glory following the Praises - also known as the Doxastika (both of which refer to the Gospel).

Annual Cycles of Feasts
Rank of Feasts
There are five ranks of feasts:

Rank 1
Great Feasts of the Lord
Rank 2
Great Feasts of the Theotokos
Nativity and Beheading of the Forerunner
Saints Peter and Paul
Patron Saint of a Church
Rank 3
Great Saints
Some Apostles
Rank 4
Well Known (but not “Great”) Saints
Rank 5
Lesser Known Saints

The higher the rank of the feast, the more the liturgical services will be modified to reflect the feast. For example, a Rank 1 feast will replace almost all components of the regular services for that day. In a Rank 5 feast, perhaps only one or two hymns would change to commemorate the Saint.
Fixed Feasts
There is a set of feasts that occur on the same date each year. This cycle repeats each year but is fixed to the calendar, that is the dates of the feasts remain constant. There are commemorations each day of the Church year based on the cycle of fixed feasts. Each commemoration will be of one of the ranks indicated above. The most popular of the fixed feasts are the ten “Major Fixed Feast Days” of the Church. The are summarized as follows:

Sept 1
Ecclesiastical New Year
Sept 8
Nativity of the Theotokos
Sept 14
Exaltation of the Cross
Nov 21
Presentation of the Theotokos in the Temple
Dec 25
Nativity of Christ
Jan 6
Feb 2
Presentation of Christ in the Temple
Mar 25
Aug 6
Transfiguration of Christ
Aug 15
Dormition of the Theotokos

Moveable Feasts
There is a set of feasts that occur on a different day each year, based on the lunar cycle which influences the calculation of Pascha. This cycle repeats each year but the actual dates of the feasts will change each year. The cycle begins with Pascha and continues through the year until Holy Saturday (the day before the following Pascha). Feasts on this moveable cycle include:

Pascha, Ascension of Christ and Pentecost (Pentecostarion)
The Pre-Lenten and Lenten (Triodion) Period
Holy Week (Ending with Holy Saturday)

In addition to these specific feasts, the movable cycle also determines the lectionaries (that is the schedule of readings) for the Epistles and Gospels read during the year.

Cycle of Life
In addition to the various liturgical cycles identified above, we can also include the cycle of the lifetime of an Orthodox Christian into the set of cycles.[vi] The cycle of life is, just as it sounds, the sequence of sacramental events that a person participates in during a lifetime. In chronological order, this cycle includes:  Baptism, Chrismation, Confession, Communion, Unction, Marriage, Ordination, Funeral, and Memorial Services. Just as the above cycles repeat over a time continuum which extends to the second coming of Christ, the cycle of our life continues throughout our lifetime.

The Significance of Liturgical Cycles on Orthodox Worship
Interaction Over Time

Each of the liturgical cycles continues to repeat over and over again. We should not assume from this that the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church is simple repetition of the same things again and again with not purpose other than the repetition. The cycles do repeat but they are viewed as moving forward as they repeat.

If you were to draw a time line from here to the second coming of Christ and then you placed several wheels in parallel along that line and all the wheels moved up the line together, you would get an idea of the interaction of the cycles. The smaller wheels (the daily cycle, the weekly cycle, …) would have to rotate more quickly to keep up with the larger wheels (the yearly cycles, the cycle of life, …).

If you were to freeze the wheels at a specific point in time, a day, you would see the interaction of the cycles for that day. Perhaps when you froze the wheels, we were at Vespers on a Sunday, on the 8th Sunday of Matthew (lectionary), in Tone 8, in Eothina 9, on the day of a Rank 2 Feast (such as the Dormition of the Theotokos). As you can see, each of these cycles (or wheels) place an impact on the content of the Worship Services. And, because there is a mix of fixed and moveable elements that effect the calendar, the same feast may have a different Tone or Eothina defined for the day it is commemorated in a subsequent year.

Basic Effect on Hymnography
Of all the services in the daily cycle, the two services which will be effected the most by the status of the other cycles are Vespers and Matins. The other services contain significantly fewer sung hymns and so are less effected by the changes in cycles.

The Vespers and Matins services will change literally every day. The day of the week requires certain changes (e.g., the Prokeimenon for Tuesday is different than the Prokeimenon for Friday). In addition the Otoechos prescribes hymns for each day of the week in a given tone. In addition, the two yearly cycles (fixed feasts and movable feasts) effect the hymns that are to be used. To make matters more complex, the significance of the feasts to be celebrated is the basis for how much change the feast places on the service.

In order to properly prepare a service taking into account each of these cycles, the chanter must consult the Otoechos (hymns of the eight tones for each day of the week), the Pentecostarion (hymns from Pascha to Pentecost), the Triodion (hymns of pre-lent, lent, and Holy Week), the Menaion (book of feast day hymns), Service Book (to get the basic structure of the service and the non-changing components), and possibly a Typicon (a book listing the proper order of services).

Normally, only two of the cyclical texts will be required at any given time. If we are not in the Triodion or Pentecostarion periods, only the Octoechos and Menaion will be required. During lent, the Triodion or the Pentecostarion along with the Menaion will be necessary.

Luckily, the Antiochian Archdiocese publishes a guide for all Vespers, Matins and Divine Liturgies for each Sunday of the year. This document points the chanter to all the proper hymns in the proper order. It is still necessary to understand the rules because if a service is to be performed in the middle of a week, the chanter must put it together from scratch.

Effects on Hymnography Based on Rank of Feast
As described earlier, a service being held on a feast day will include some changes (replacement of some Resurrectional texts with texts to commemorate that feast). The more significant the feast, the more the services (primarily Vespers and Matins) will be changed to add emphasis to the feast. In addition, if a fixed feast were to fall in one of the movable feast periods (e.g., The Feast of the Three Hierarchs could occur during the Triodion period) both the fixed and movable feast would have an effect on the nature of the service. The significance of the feast will also determine if the “daily” or “festal” versions of the services are to be celebrated.

A higher ranked feast will absorb more of the changeable portions of a service than a lower ranked feast. On Feasts of the Lord (Rank 1) there are commemorations in the weeks before and after the feast. In addition, on the feast day, the entire service is supplanted by one commemorating the feast. In lower ranked feasts, less emphasis on the feast is included in the service.; Examples of where these emphases can occur in Vespers and Matins are:

Stichera, Glory and Now in “Lord, I have cried”
Stichera, Glory and Now in Latya and Artoklasia
Stichera, Glory and Now in Aposticha
Troparia in “God is the Lord”
Now of the Kathismata (Rank 2 only)
Matins Gospel (Rank 2 only)
9th Ode of the Katavasia
Glory and Now in Exaposteilaria
Stichera, Glory and Now in Praises

Effect of Overlapping Cycles
Services for each day of the year can be described by knowing the state of each of the liturgical cycles. Unfortunately, this does not mean that the hymns prescribed for a particular feast in one year will be the same as those for the same feast in a subsequent year.

For example, the Feast of the Three Hierarchs will be celebrated every year on January 30. The hymns for this feast day Vespers and Matins will not be exactly the same from year to year. This is because in some years, the movable feast cycle of the Triodion will overlap with this feast and in other years it will not. In the years where the Triodion period has begun by January 30 (the fixed date for this feast), it is necessary to include the texts of the Triodion along with the texts associated with this feast day.

Building Services With Respect to Overlapping Cycles
In order to build services properly, it is necessary to consult the proper guides based on the date of the service and the status of each of the liturgical cycles. For daily services, the following ground rules apply[vii]:

Triodion Period
Consult the Triodion and Menaion for basic lenten services and special commemorations of saints.
Pentecostarion Period
Consult the Pentecostarion and Menaion for basic lenten services and special commemorations of saints.
All other periods
Check the Menaion for the feast of the day (and its rank). The rank will determine how much of the service is based on the Octoechos and how much is based on the Menaion.

Proper care should be taken to read the fine print (usually in the form of a reference to the Typicon) which describes how the various references should be used, which text takes precedence over which, and how to properly integrate the various texts.

To build Sunday Vespers and Matins services, the task is much easier. By following the “Liturgical Guide for Combination of Sunday Resurrectional Texts with an X Class Feast”[viii] as a guideline, any Sunday service with a feast can be built. In addition, the “Liturgical Guide”[ix] published each year by the Antiochian Archdiocese, as well as weekly rubrics and service texts published by the Diocese of Los Angeles and the West provides an exact guide for any Sunday Vespers, Matins, and Liturgy.

There are several liturgical cycles in the life of The Church. Each of these cycles continues to repeat along a continuum of time moving ever forward towards the day of the second coming of Christ. As the cycles continue they, on their own and in interaction with each other, effect the nature and content of the services that are part of the daily cycle.

By properly following the appropriate reference material, it is possible to build services that appropriately commemorate the effect of each of these cycles on every service, on every day of the year. By properly preparing and participating in these services, we become both a part of and a witness to the liturgical cycles.

As we live these cycles throughout time, we remember our Lord, His mother, and the Saints and what they did for us. By participating in these services, we also know that the miraculous events commemorated in the services are real today and continue to exist for us in concrete terms. By learning from the hymnography, we are prepared for the eventual end of this mortal timeline, at the second coming of Christ.

[i] In some texts, the Divine Liturgy is inserted between the Sixth and Ninth Hours.
[ii] Russian Church Singing by Johann von Gardner, page 71.
[iii]Introduction to the Liturgical Cycles (tape) by Archdeacon John Finley.
[v] Based on the Church Calendar for the Year 1996 as published by the Antiochian Archdiocese.
[vi] Introduction to the Liturgical Cycles (tape) by Archdeacon John Finley.
[vii] Based on Putting Together Liturgical Services by Fr. David Barr.
[viii] Available from the Antiochian Archdiocese Department of Liturgics and Translations.
[ix] Ibid.




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