The all-night Vigil (Agrypnía)
The Vigil is not a service in itself, but is rather a way of combining the all daily services so as to create one long service, ideally lasting throughout the night.
In the early evening, the service of the 9th Hour is read together with the Small Vespers (a shorter and less elaborate form of the Vesper service). After the vespers, the faithful will have a light meal before beginning the fast for Holy Communion.
Later in the evening, we return to church for the service of Compline (evening prayers), but we omit the prayer, ‘Grant us, O Master, as we go to sleep’, since the intention is to stay awake. (For the same reason, the vigil does not include the service of the Midnight Office, since the prayers of that service imply that one has just woken up from sleep).
Once Compline has finished, the doors to the Sanctuary are opened, and the priest censes the altar and the entire church in silence, reminding us of the beginning of creation, when “the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Genesis 1).
Once the priest has finished censing and has returned to the Sanctuary, we begin the vigil proper — namely, the services of Great Vespers and Matins combined into a single service. The content of these services will be as described in the entries for Vespers and Matins above, but with a few additions:
- On great feasts and the patronal feast of the parish, the last part of the opening Psalm (103, ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul), is sung to a slow and elaborate melody, with refrains of praise repeated after each verse of the Psalm. Because we begin to chant at the verse, ‘When Thou openest Thy hand, all things shall be filled with goodness’, we refer to this as ‘the openings’ (anoixantária).
- On certain feasts, instead of reading the Káthisma of the day following the Litany of Peace, the first stanza of the first Káthisma (‘Blessed is the man’) may be sung.
- After the priestly prayer ending, ‘For blessed and glorified be the might of Thy Kingdom’, the icon of the feast is carried in procession to the inner narthex at the back of the church, where a number of petitions are read for all the people of God. This part of the service (and, indeed, the narthex itself) is known as the Litý.
- The usual dismissal hymns (apolytíkia) sung towards the end of the service will end with the singing of the ‘Hail Mary’ (Theotóke Parthéne) during which the priest will cense around a table carrying five loaves of bread, wheat, wine, and oil. He will then read the prayer of the breaking of bread (artoklasía), which will be distributed to the faithful at the end of the vigil.
- When Vespers has finished, it is common for there to be a reading (non-Scriptural) related to the feast celebrated. This can be of any length.
- At matins, after the reading of the kathísmata from the Psalter, the Polyélaios (Psalms 134–5) are sung to a rhythmic and joyous melody, during which the church is censed with the hand-censer (katzíon). In monasteries, the large chandelier in the centre of the church is often swung, symbolising the angels joining us in praise as they encircle the throne of God.
After Matins is finished, the prayers of the first, third, and sixth hours will be read in their usual manner, after which we conclude with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
Needless to say, vigils held in parishes will usually be somewhat abbreviated for practical reasons, and so might only last 4-6 hours, unlike the 8–10 hours common in monasteries.
At St Andrew’s we try to hold one Vigil every month. Please see our programme of services for more details.