The Daily Services
In Psalm 118, we say
“Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments” (v. 164) and “At midnight I rise up to give thanks unto thee, because of thy righteous judgments” (v. 62).
Since ancient times, the Church has maintained the tradition of holding services throughout the day, roughly every three hours, as a way of sanctifying the passing of earthly time by connecting it with eternal spiritual realities. We refer to these services as the Daily Office or the Canonical Hours. They are as follows:
06.00pm — Vespers
09.00pm — Compline
12.00am — Midnight Office
03.00am — Matins / Órthros
06.00am — 1st Hour
09.00am — 3rd Hour
12.00pm — 6th Hour
03.00pm — 9th Hour
In practice, these services are normally combined into groups of three, based on the verse
“Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice” (Psalm 54:17).
Evening — 9th Hour, Vespers, and Compline
Morning — Midnight Office, Matins, 1st Hour
Noon — 3rd & 6th Hours
In the entries below, you will find a brief overview of the content and significance of each daily service.
The daily services are found in the Book of Hours (Hōrológion).
The Weekly Cycle
In addition to the daily cycle of services, we have also have the weekly cycle. Each day of the week is associated with a particular theme, and relevant hymns for each day are added to the daily services (particularly Vespers and Matins):
Sunday — the Resurrection
Monday — the Angels
Tuesday — St John the Baptist
Wednesday and Friday — the Cross
Thursday — the Apostles and St Nicholas
Saturday — the Martyrs and the departed
These hymns are found in the Paraklētikē (Book of Supplication), which is also known as the Octōēchos (Book of Eight Tones).
The Tonal Cycle
The Book of Eight Tones is so called because it has eight sets of hymns for each day of the week, corresponding to the eight tones (eight musical scales) employed in Orthodox (Byzantine) ecclesiastical music: Tone 1, Tone 2, Tone 3, Tone 4, Plagal of Tone 1, Plagal of Tone 2, Plagal of Tone 3 (Grave Tone), Plagal of Tone 4.
We use a different tone every week, beginning with Tone 1 (after Easter) and moving through all the tones for an eight-week period, ending with Plagal of Tone 4, and then starting again from Tone 1.
The Monthly Cycle
In addition to the weekly and tonal cycles, each day of the month is dedicated to a particular event or saintly person. December 25th, for example, is dedicated to the Birth of Christ, the 30th of November to St Andrew the Apostle.
The hymns and readings for every day of each month are found in the Mēnaíon (Book of Months), published in twelve volumes (one per month), the first of which is September (1 September being the beginning of the Church year).
The Paschal Cycle
While the monthly cycle determines ‘fixed’ dates on the church calendar, we also have a number of movable periods of feasting and fasting based on the date of Easter.
Hymns and readings for the period of Great Lent and Holy Week are found in the Triōdion (Book of Three Odes), while those for the period between Easter and Pentecost are found in the Pentēcostárion (Book of Fifty Days).
The cycle of New Testament readings
Two New Testament readings are appointed to every day throughout the year: one from the Gospels and one from the Acts or Epistles. This cycle of readings begins with the reading of St John’s Gospel at the Easter Sunday Liturgy.
An ornate book with the Four Gospels (Evangélion), arranged according to the lectionary, is kept on the Holy Altar. Another book, containing the Acts and Epistles (Apóstolos) is kept at the cantor stand.
This combination of intersecting cycles would be difficult were it not for the Typikon, essentially an instruction manual — published annually by the Ecumenical Patriarchate — which tells you which parts of which books should be used at the different services on any given day of the year.