Sacred Services of the Orthodox Church

Icon of the Mother of God “Virgin of Tenderness” of the Pskov Caves

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

PSALM 142 (143)

Lord, hear my prayer, in Your truth, give ear to my supplication; in Your Righteousness, hear me. Enter not into judgment with Your servant, for no one living is justified in Your sight. For the Enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me dwell in darkness, like those who have long been dead, and my spirit is overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is distressed. I remembered the days of old; I mediated on all Your works; I pondered on the work of Your hands. I spread out my hands to You; my soul longs for You like a thirsty land. Lord, hear me quickly; my spirit fails. Turn not Your face away from me, lest I be like those who go down into the pit. Let me hear Your mercy in the morning, for in You I have put my trust. Lord, teach me to know the way in which I should walk, for I lift up my soul to You. Rescue me, Lord, for my enemies; to You have I fled for refuge. Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God. Your Good Spirit shall lead me on a level path; Lord, for Your name's sake You shall preserve my life. In Your Righteousness, You shall bring my soul out of trouble, and in Your mercy, You shall utterly destroy my enemies. And You shall destroy all those who afflict my soul, for I am Your servant.



by Rev. George Mastrantonis
The first Christians, including the Holy Apostles, were Jews who were versed in the tradition and the heritage of Jewish religion. Their only task was to identify the promised Messiah and Savior of the Prophets with Jesus Christ the Lord. They did not reject the existing Holy Bible, the Old Testament; they tried to fulfill it, as did Jesus Himself. It was very natural for them to adopt the order of services which were in practice in the Jewish synagogues and temples, to use symbolic objects and expressions to signify the new interpretation of their faith in Jesus Christ. The first Christians were blessed by the necessity of organizing the adherents of a new belief--the Christian Church, which was destined to be the bulwark and the Pillar of the Truth.

   Because the intent of the holy Apostles and their followers was not only to adopt the new interpretation of the Old Testament, but are more to promote the New Faith in Christ among the nations, they prepared and heralded announcements to proclaim the new Faith, and created divine services for worship and prayer for all Christians, who together constitute the Sacred Body of Jesus Christ--His Church.

Besides selected prayers of the Jewish synagogues, the leaders of the new Church composed freely prayers to proclaim their beliefs and to offer their petitions to Almighty God. Especially, the early Church composed prayers to be used for the sanctification of the Divine Liturgy through which they found themselves in communion with God and with each other.

Through the first centuries of the Christian era, the Church formulated standards of order for various types of services. The intent of the first Christians was not to standardize the words of the various services, as they are today. This is why the prayers and hymnology of the Orthodox Church are very rich both in quantity and quality, according to outstanding philologists. The contents of services of the Orthodox Church today are preserved in an unchangeable nature in their ritual officiations. Nevertheless, the reader of the hymnology and especially the one who sincerely prays, will find a limitless variety of forms of hymns and prayers to convey his inner beseechings to the Lord.

It will be helpful to the Orthodox Christian believer to have a knowledge of: (1) the content and order of the services and (2) the various sacred books which are used in the Church and in the home, in order to use their rich and thoughtful prayers and hymns to glorify Almighty God. There are cycles of prayers for the day, the week, and the year as well as for various events of the life of our Savior and His Saints.  The believer will find parts of the Holy Bible, prayers and psalms, from the Old Testament, and rich hymnology to read and to chant, all of them referring to the Glory of Almighty God.

Sacred Services: Calendar and Cycles of Services

There are various types of services, some of which require the participation of a priest and layman. Others could be held by laymen, either with or without participation of a priest. For instance, such services are the Great Compline (Mega Apodeipnon) and Morning Prayers (by omitting the parts said by the priest).

The Christians adopted the Jewish calendar by which the day of celebrations starts from the preceding evening at sunset with vespers (esperinos) and continues with other services during the day. Also, they adopted the week of seven days, the first of which--Lord's Day (Sunday)--was dedicated to the Lord Jesus Christ. Also, the Christian Church preserved a standard cycle of services around the year.

The Divine Liturgy which is considered the center of worship is officiated always during the morning, usually preceded by the Orthros (Matins), only on a few occasions by the Vespers.

The Weekly Cycle is dedicated by the Christians as follows: Sunday (Lord's Day), to the Resurrection of Christ; Monday, to the honor of the Holy Angels; Tuesday, to the memory of the Prophets, especially to Saint John the Baptist; Wednesday, to the Cross of Christ; Thursday, to the memory of the Saints; Friday, to the Crucifixion of Christ; Saturday, to the Saints and especially to the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary, and to all who have died in the hope of resurrection and eternal life.

The Yearly Cycle is dedicated to the honor of the Saints every day of the year. Especially, the Church celebrates the Twelve Great Feasts of our Lord and of the Theotokos. They are:

1. The Nativity of Christ (Christmas, December 25th);
2. Epiphany (Baptism of Christ, Jan. 6);
3. The Transfiguration of the Savior (Aug. 6th);
4. The Entrance of Christ into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday);
5. Ascension of Christ (40 days after Pascha);
6. The Pentecost (the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, 50th day after Pascha);
7. The Exaltation of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross (in memory of the finding of the Holy Cross, Sept. 14th);
8. The Nativity of the Ever-Virgin Mary (Sept. 8th);
9. The Presantation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple (Nov. 21st);
10. The Annunciation of the Ever-Virgin Mary (March 25th);
11. The Presentation in the Temple of the Infant Christ (Feb. 2nd);
12. The Dormition (repose) or Koimisis of the Theotokos (Aug. 15th).

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is considered the Feast of Feasts and it is preceded and followed by various celebrations 10 weeks before Pascha and seven weeks after, up to the Pentecost. Also, in the Orthodox Church, every Sunday (Lord's Day) is dedicated to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

During the year, except for the celebrations mentioned, the Church worships God and honors the memory of His Saints, and thus, the Church maintains the union of its members living in this world with those living in the Kingdom of God. The Church honors for instance, Saint Paul and Saint Peter on June 29th and Saint Nicholas on December 6th, etc.

Following is the order and a short explanation of each divine service as performed today.

The Service of Vespers (Esperinos)

The Vespers (Esperinos) is a service to glorify God the Creator and His Providence as well as an offering of petitions to fulfill the needs of the participants. The faithful chant Psalms and Hymns to praise the Lord, the Hope of Salvation, and to honor His Saints. The faithful submit their prayers of repentance, beseeching the Lord to grant them spiritual mercies and guidance. The Vespers end with Hymns in honor of the Theotokos (Mother of God), the Utterances of the Blessed Simeon when he recognized the Infant Christ as the Lord and Savior and the Lord's Prayer, and close with the Dismissal Hymn of the feast of the day or the Saint of the day, and finally with the Benediction from the priest.

The highlight of the Vespers is the entrance of the priest with the censer and the Gospel when he exclaims, "Wisdom", and chants a very ancient hymn of praise to Christ: "O Gladsome radiance of the holy glory of the Father Immortal, Heavenly, Holy, Blessed, Jesus Christ..."

The Service of the Compline (Apodeipnos)

The Service of the Compline (Apodeipnos) consists of prayers before retiring for sleep. The believer invokes the Grace of God to illuminate his faith and strengthen his will to serve God after his rest.

There are two services: the Great Compline (Megas Apodeipnos) and the Lesser (Mikros Apodeipnos) Compline. The Great Compline consists of three parts: 1) a thanksgiving to God and the invocation to grant a restful sleep; 2) hymns of penitential nature; and 3) hymns to the glorification of the Lord. The Lesser Compline is a condensed version of the Great Compline.

The Service of Nocturnes (Midnight Service) [Mesonyktikon]

Nocturnes are prayers held at midnight; this service is held in memory of Jesus Christ's prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Christian faithful is urged to "watch and pray" for his spiritual welfare and to be in communion with Christ, Who will come unexpectedly to judge the world. The weekday Nocturnes depict the Second Coming of Christ and the judgments, the second part, containing prayers for the dead. The Sunday Nocturne consists of glorification of the Holy Trinity, usually held before the Sunday Orthros (Matins).

The Service of Matins (Orthros)

The Matins (Orthros) is a service of penitence and hope in the Redeemer and of prayers for mercy. Also, this service glorifies God, and honors the Saint of the day or commemorates the celebration (feast) of the day. The service continues with prayers for the granting of spiritual gifts to the faithful participants. More hymns are dedicated for the Matins than for any other service. These hymns are written in poetical expressions which depict the Message of the Gospel and are among some of the most beautiful written.

The Service of the Hours (Ores)

The Hours are the services which are held in the Four Watches of the day. Originally, they were held to invite the devout Christians to pray regularly to Almighty God. They refer to the spiritual and moral welfare of the faithful and they remind the believer of Christ's Passion during certain hours of His arrest, trial, and Crucifixion.

The First Hour (6 to 9 a.m.) commemorates Christ before Pilate. The Third Hour (9 to 12 noon) commemorates the judgment by Pilate of Christ. The Sixth Hour (12 noon to 3 p.m.) commemorates Golgotha and the Crucifixion of Christ. The Ninth Hour (3 to 6 p.m.) commemorates the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross.

The Service of the Imperial (Royal) Hours (Vasilikes Ores)

On the days preceding Holy Nativity (Christmas), Theophany and Holy and Great Friday, these Hours are read instead of the regular Hours of the day. Each Royal Hour consists of Psalms, Prophecies, and the Lessons from the New Testament, specifically referring to the feast of the day. They are to be found in the books, Menea; for Holy and Great Friday the book Triodion.

The Service of the Office of Oblation (Proskomide)

The Office of Oblation is a service of preparation of the priest for the Divine Liturgy. In order to prepare, according to the ecclesiastical Typikon, for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, the celebrant priest reads the "entrance prayers" before the closed doors of the Royal Doors (the center doors of the Holy Altar) and then enters the Sanctuary and vest. As the priest puts on his vestments, he is obliged to clothe himself in the "robes of the Spirit". For this reason as he puts on each of his vestments, he recites verses from the Holy Bible, which disclose the meaning of his vestments. So, while vesting he is reminded of his high Service and, splendidly clothed externally and internally like Aaron, he may worthily perform the Divine Liturgy (Exodus 28:2-29, Ecclesiasticus 45:7-17).

Prothesis signifies the table on which the solemn preparation (Proskomide) of the Eucharistic Gifts takes place. It is on the left of the altar, and it can be a separately standing ornamented small table or a built into the wall apse, with a large shelf at its base at the height of the altar. The shelf is covered with vestments and the inside of the apse is decorated with the holy icon of the Nativity of Christ in mosaic or fresco. The apse of the Prothesis symbolizes the Manger. The celebrant priest blesses the beginning of Proskomide. On it are placed the following sacred Accessories, used in the preparation of the Mysterion of Holy Eucharist.

Proskomide is the service of preparation of the bread and wine for the Holy Eucharist taking place during the Orthros (Matins) at the table known as the Prothesis. The priest extracts from the seal of the Prosphora the lamb, the portion of Theotokos, the portions of the nine orders of Angels and Saints, and the portions of living and dead and arranges them on the diskarion as prescribed.

Prosphora or prosphoron means 'offering' and is a round loaf of leavened bread also known as altar bread. Before baking it is stamped with a round seal bearing important symbols. After the bread is baked, the symbols of the seal appear in relief. There is a cross, on the upper two quarters of which the first and last letters of the Greek name for Jesus Christ (ΙΣ-ΧΣ) appear; on the lower two quarters, the Greek for the word 'conquers' (NI-KA) appears, reading in all 'Jesus Christ Conquers'. This portion is called the Lamb (Amnos), and it is from this--as the Body of Christ following consecration--that Holy Communion is taken by the clergy and then imparted to the faithful Orthodox Christians with the consecrated wine, the Precious Blood of Christ. To the right of the Lamb there is a portion of the Theotokos (the Mother of God). On its left side there are the nine orders of Angels and Saints, and underneath the Lamb are the portions of living and dead members of the Church that are to be mentioned by the priest when he conducts the Proskomide. The remaining portions of the Prosphora are cut into small pieces, blessed by the priest after the Consecration, and distributed to the faithful as Antithoron.


Divine Liturgy
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts
The Service of Preparation for Holy Communion
The Services of the Sacraments
The Service of the Funeral
The Service of the Sanctification of the Waters
The Service of the Consecration of a Church
The Service of the Akathist Hymn
The Service of the Paraklesis (Supplication)
The Service of the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete

Please note: It is extremely important for all Orthodox Christians to know and participate in all of the divine services of our Holy Orthodox Church. We cannot reduce the Liturgical Tradition of our Church only to the Divine Liturgy. Many Orthodox Christians are not aware of the other sacred services.

The holy services are there to encourage us pray more often, worship more often, to find edification , inspiration, to be unite us to Christ, to find comfort, hope, to strengthen our faith in Christ, to be assured of the constant presence and infinite love of God, to be reconciled and forgiven, etc. etc. Let us not deprive ourselves of such incredible wealth of Orthodox Christian spiritual Tradition.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George