- Orthros (Matins) -
The Light of Christ which shone at Vespers now begins to shine at the next service of the Morning Cycle Matins. It shines faintly, at first, through the Star of Bethlehem, Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will to men! (chanted at the beginning of the Six Psalms) and then, as Matins proceeds, this Light gradually burns brighter and brighter and then flares up into an all-encompassing divine flame. It renews, communicates itself so that men may become bearers of light. It fills all creatures with love and tenderness; and then all Christians cry out anew to the Lord in gladness, Glory to Thee, Who hast shown us the Light! Here in the Great Doxology immediately following this exclamation, is the high point and culmination of the Matins cycle.
Daily Matins begins with the exclamation, Blessed is our God..., and then two Royal Psalms (20 and 21) addressed to the rulers, according to the command of St. Paul on prayer for the Emperor and those who are in power (Rom. 13:1-7; cf. 1 Pet. 2:13-14). The Psalms are followed by the Trisagion and the Lord's Prayer, and then the Troparion and Kontakion of the Cross, followed by a short litany and then the beginning of Matins proper. At the All-Night Vigil, this introductory part is omitted.
Matins proper begins with the Trinitarian exclamation, Glory to the Holy, Consubstantial and Life-Creating Trinity... (transferred to the beginning of Vespers at the Ail-Night Vigil) which, in contrast to the Old Testamental character of Vespers, gives to Matins the content of a New Testament prayer. This is especially seen in the opening exclamations of the Reader at this point, Glory to God in the Highest... (the Song of the Angels at the Birth of Christ Luke 2:14) and the verse from Psalm 51, O Lord, open Thou my lips.... Now follows the Six Psalms, which are penitential in character and refer to the wretched condition of the human race in the Old Testament days, as well as the hope of a Savior from on High. The Six Psalms concludes with a Psalm expressing the firm hope of the righteous in all hostile actions, on God's help.
The Six Psalms (during which the Priest reads special Morning Prayers) are followed by the Great Litany (just as at the beginning of Vespers) and then God is the Lord and hast revealed Himself to us. Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord! [During the Great Lent and on Memorial Saturdays, this is replaced by Alleluia.] When the Lord revealed Himself to the people assembled beside the Jordan River, St. John the Baptist greeted Him with joy and reverence. At this point of Matins, the Priest (or Deacon) makes the proclamation beholding the Lord Himself coming to minister to the world. This is followed by Troparia dedicated to the Feast, Sunday or the Saints, depicting the flourishing of the Church after Christ's Coming to earth and it also constitutes the end of the first part of Matins.
The second part of Matins begins with the reading of the Kathismas, selections from the Psalter, at which the faithful are permitted to sit. This part of Matins, consisting of long, continuous readings of Psalms, interspersed only by brief doxologies in honor of Christ's coming into the world and in memory of the mercies which He brought by His coming, reminds us of the time when He already lived on earth, but was recognized by almost no one, while men continued waiting for His coming and prayed to God for mercy, listening in doubt and perplexity to the news that the Lord had already appeared on earth. Because of the primarily penitential nature of these Psalms, the Holy Doors are closed during this part of Matins.
At the conclusion of the Kathismas, there are appointed special Kathisma Hymns (Sessional Hymns Sedalens) related to the day or Feast. At the conclusion of the Kathisma readings, at the All-Night Vigil, the Polieley now follows. The Priest, preceeded by a Deacon bearing a lit candle, comes out of the Altar and censes the whole church and the faithful. This reminds us of the time when the holy Myrrh bearing Women, as well as the other Disciples of the Lord, came early to His sepulcher, before the dawn, and there learning of the Savior's Resurrection, brought to the remaining Disciples the joyous news. The incense typifies the sweet spices which the women brought to the tomb of the Lord and the candle typifies the light and joy of the glad tidings of the Resurrection, and the light of faith therein and in our future life. The procession of the Priest around the inside of the church typifies the return of the Myrrh bearers and the Disciples from the grave of the Savior, bringing the good news to the remaining Disciples.
The Polieley, consisting of Psalms 135 and 136, is so called, from the Greek words poll (much) and elea (oil or mercy), because the word mercy is frequently repeated in these Psalms and because all of the lamps, filled with pure oil, are lit, while the Psalms are being sung. On Feast days the Polieley is followed by a short verse (the Magnification) magnifying the person or event celebrated, and is sung before an icon placed on a stand in the middle of the church. The Magnifications are interspersed with the singing of special selected verses from the Psalms, which illustrate the inner meaning of the Feast.
The Polieley (and Magnifications, if any) are followed by a Little Litany, a short Kathisma Hymn glorifying the Saint or event commemorated, and then the 1st Antiphon of the 4th Tone, From my youth.... This moving hymn reminds us, in the midst of the festal celebrations, of how far we have fallen from the joys of the life with God that rejoices the soul, which we have lost because of our sins. Those who would wage war against God and His Church shall be put to shame by the Lord. And we, who have fallen, will again be enlivened by the Holy Spirit, be exalted and illumined by the bright radiance of the Holy Trinity.
On Sundays, whether a Great Feast or not, the Polieley (and Magnifications, if any) is followed by verses from Psalm 119, Blessed art Thou, O Lord... and special verses which speak of the Resurrection of Christ and invite the faithful to worship the Holy Trinity, ending with a hymn in honor of the Mother of God (Theotokion). These are followed by a Little Litany, the Ypakoe (a short hymn) and several Antiphons (sung alternately by two choirs in the ancient practice) according to the Tone of the Week.
On Great Feasts and Sundays, a Gospel Reading is prescribed, preceded by a Prokeimenon (as before all Scripture Readings). On Feast days, the text of the Reading is appropriate to the Feast, and on Sundays it is appropriate to the Resurrection. Our Lord Jesus Christ, after He had arisen from the dead, quickly showed Himself to His Disciples. Thus, the Church, by the reading of the Gospel after the Song of the Myrrh bearers, announces to the people one of the manifestations of the Risen Savior to His Disciples, in the form of eleven Resurrection Gospel Readings prescribed for Sundays.
At the conclusion of the Gospel Reading, on Sundays the Resurrectional Hymn, Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ... is sung, followed by Psalm 51 and special supplications to the Apostles and the Mother of God, as well as entreating the Lord to have mercy on us. On Great Feasts a special supplication is made to the Saint (s) commemorated that day and also a special Stikheron dedicated to the Saint (s) or event being commemorated. As at the Litya of Vespers, the Litya prayer, O God, save Thy people... is read. The faithful venerate the Gospel Book placed on a stand in the center of the church and if it be a Feast, the Icon of the day, after which, on Feast days, they are anointed with oil and given a piece of the holy bread (anointed with wine) which had been blessed at Vespers. On weekdays, the Polieley, Magnifications, Gospel, etc., are omitted and only Psalm 51 is read. This ends the second part of Matins.
The third part of Matins begins with the singing of the Canons. The Church has appointed to be sung the Nine Songs (or Odes) of the Canon, which contain the Hymns of those godly persons of the Old Covenant, from Moses to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, who magnified the Lord in spiritual songs. Each Song, in the vast number of Canons of the Holy Orthodox Church, is inspired by the Biblical Canticle appointed to precede it. These Canticles, however, are generally omitted, with the exception of the Song of the Theotokos, My soul magnifies the Lord..., which precedes Ode Nine. The second Song of Holy Scripture (Deut. 33) is not, properly speaking, so much a hymn as an announcement of God's judgments upon the Israelites. Therefore it is sung only on the Tuesdays of Great Lent.
In the shortened version of the Canons, as they are actually sung in modern practice, only the Theme Song (based on the Biblical Canticle which precedes it) is sung, here called the Irmos, and at the end of each Ode, the choirs normally came down from the soleas into the center of the church to repeat the Irmos of the Ode (or sometimes a special Irmos) for which reason this repeated Irmos is called the Katavasia (descent).
The singing of the Canon is divided into three parts by Little Litanies after the 3rd, 6th and 9th Odes. After the 3rd, a special Kathisma Hymn is sung (sometimes a Kontakion, too, or an Ypakoe) and after the 6th, the Kontakion of the Saint or event of the Day (on Saturday night the Resurrection Kontakion is usually sung) and the Ikos, if there be one. On Great Feasts, the Song of the Theotokos (the Magnificat) is often replaced by special magnifications.
At the conclusion of the Canon and the following Little Litany, the fourth part of the Matins begins. Here is sung the Hymns of Light, which are also called the Exapostilaria. They are called Hymns of Light because their subject is chiefly the illumination of the soul from on High, and because the singing of them at Matins precedes the daybreak and the Doxology. They are called Exapostilaria because in ancient times a Cantor was sent out into the center of the church to sing them (Greek: Exapostilarion one who is sent forth).
These are followed by the singing of Psalms 148, 149 and 150 the Praises (on weekdays they are read), Let every breath praise the Lord.... All God's creatures are summoned to praise the Lord their Creator. On Feast days and Sundays, the final verses of the Praises are interspersed with special stikhera in honor of the Saint or event of the day and end with a hymn to the Theotokos (Theotokion).
The Exapostilaria had anticipated one more part of Matins which praises the Light, and which now immediately follows the Priest's (or Deacon's) exclamation, Glory to Thee, Who hast shown us the Light! the Doxology. On Feast days and Sundays, the Doxology is sung the Great Doxology; on ordinary days it is read the Small Doxology. Each begins with the words, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men! The Great Doxology ends with the Trisagion.
At the All-Night Vigil, the Great Doxology is followed by petitions for all Christians and the asking of special mercies in the words of the Litany of Fervent Supplication and the Morning Litany (just as did the Litany of Fervent Supplication and the Evening Litany at Vespers), after which the Dismissal is made. At Weekday Matins, the Doxology is followed by the Morning Litany, Apostikha, Trisagion, Lord's Prayer, Troparia and the Litany of Supplication, just as at Daily Vespers. At the All-Night Vigil the 1st Hour follows immediately after the Matins Dismissal and after the Litany of Fervent Supplications at Daily Matins. Thus we have now come into the full Light of Christ, the Dayspring from on High.